Heavy Gauge vs Lught Guage

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by Felix Riley, Mar 22, 2014.

  1. Felix Riley

    Felix Riley

    Aug 2, 2013
    I play progressive metal (think Dream Theater, Tool, Mastodon, Death, Porcupine Tree), and I often have to play fast an complicated lines, often at the speed of a pick. To do this, I was wondering whether heavy gauge strings or light gauge strings would makes these lines easier to play. I've heard people say both will make you play more easily, but no consensus has been reached in my mind yet. Please help!
  2. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    You'll never know until you try. If you're talking only about plucking/picking speed (rather than fretting-hand speed), my guess is that heavier-gauge strings may be slightly faster for an efficient player because they are likely to move less when you strike them due to higher tension. However, I tend to dig in fairly hard when I play, so heavier strings cause fatigue to set in sooner and negatively effect my speed... so I tend to go for lighter strings (or, at least, that is one of many reasons why I prefer them).
  3. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    People say both because it's a bit of a wash. Heavier gauge strings have less excursion, so you can set your action lower. But with the higher tension, it take a bit more effort to fret a note. The opposite is true of lights. It's easier to press the string, but you have to press it further.
  4. Lighter gauge strings will have more "give" as in less resistance to your picking hand. However they will also start to buzz a lot quicker if you're going to be playing fast and possibly aggressive and not to mentioned down tuned (tool, porcupine tree..). I would stick with a medium to medium heavy gauge somewhere in the neighborhood of .110, .090, .070, .050 possibly a smidgen lighter on the D and G depending on how they feel to you.. If you go too heavy you may have some fretting difficulties. Whenever switching gauges always make sure your truss rod, string height, and intonation are compensated for (although if it's only a slight increase or decrease in gauge you might not even have to mess with the intonation at all). It all comes down to personal preference, man :)
  5. ixlramp

    ixlramp Guest

    Jan 25, 2005
    You should also consider how tension changes across a set, for progressive / advanced techniques in metal i recommend tension falling slightly and steadily from low to high (inverse or 'progressive' tension), most mainstream sets (100 80 65 45 / 105 85 65 45 etc) are very top- or middle-heavy.
    Inverse tension keeps the low strings tight to stop flop but reduces tension on the high strings that are less prone to flop, and makes chords, tapping, bending easier.
    The fact is the amount of tension needed for good tone and to keep flop under control falls with pitch.
    Use a tension chart and design a set from single strings, www.bassstringsonline have an excellent range of single strings, no string manufacturer yet sells inverse sets (but keep an eye on Kalium / Circle K).
    What gauges and tuning do you use now?
  6. Felix Riley

    Felix Riley

    Aug 2, 2013
    I use Elixir Mediums now. I play rather hard, like Steve Digorgio or John Myung would. I tune to either standard or D standard, and I also do slapping and strumming, a la Les Claypool.
  7. bluesdogblues


    Nov 13, 2007
    My strings gauges are .052 .073 .095 .110 (It's 'Medium' according to the factory LOL)
    Perhaps it's not that nice to play it, can't play as fast as I should be able to, ...but it sounds best to me.

    lighter strings = easier to play,
    heavier strings = better sound.
    but it can be subjective issue and I don't play metal tho :)
  8. Joedog


    Jan 28, 2010
    Pensacola FL
    It's all personal preference. You'll never find "consensus". Some love thick meaty strings, some love lights. You need to experiment and see what YOU like. Many say it depends on the bass....I really believe there is some truth to that, but have never seen a rational explanation. Maybe there is none.
  9. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    It's definitely a subjective thing... :meh:

    Although I can't speak to the "easier to play metal" issue, IME lighter-gauge strings not only cause less stress to the muscles & tendons of the hands & forearms because they're easier to play, but they also tend to sound relatively better because they vibrate and resonate more freely - creating a harmonically richer tone with more overtones.

    You might not get quite the same percussive attack that you generally do with heavier-gauge strings, but IMO every other part of the tone is at least as good with lighter-gauge strings, if not better - including "the bloom" and the fundamental.

  10. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    For me, lighter, most definitely. For someone else, maybe heavier works better. Only one way to tell...
  11. experimental bassist

    experimental bassist

    Mar 15, 2009
    Light strings easier for the fret hand.

    Heavy strings easier for the plucking/picking hand.

    That's strictly speaking of technique, and that's strictly just my opinion.

    However, myself I prefer lighter strings for reasons of tone, but that is another thread.
  12. i remember seeing John Myung clinic and the strings moving a lot. It seems he is on the light/flexable side..
  13. Baird6869

    Baird6869 RIP Gord Downey. A True Canadian Icon.

    I saw Billy Gibbons interviewed and he said that not using the lightest strings possible was just dumb. I forget his reasoning but it made sense IIRC.

    I generally use ultra light strings anyways as I just prefer the thinner string for bends among other things and I prefer the tension.
  14. Dredmahawkus


    Nov 4, 2012
    If your bass can get a super low set up then any string is easy to play! I have .110 on my MIA jazz it gets a super low set up and they are effortless to pluck and fret....and because they are a bit thicker can play super fast.
    Other basses that I cant set up as low I found lighter gauge are a bit easier to play......however since I got this bass that gets the craziest low action I have ever seen...the heavy gauge strings seem to play easier....probably because they are thicker and have more tension.
  15. ironbass617


    May 1, 2014
    Brockton ma
    I just tried a set of chrome flats mediums on my 03 usa jazz and its smooth as eggs
  16. I think he said that because he used to go heavy and one day a mentor to him asked " Why are you working so hard at it?"
  17. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    That mentor was BB King, BTW.
  18. MrFred


    Mar 25, 2007
    Honolulu, HI
    I play progressive death metal and prefer heavy gauges because my band plays in drop C (I play a 6 string at A standard tho).