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Thread: Thoughts on String Gauges

  1. #1

    Default Thoughts on String Gauges

    I'm a beginning mandolin player and I just recently bought a mandolin (Eastman 505). It came strung with medium guage strings. I'm also a guitar player and all of my guitars are strung with light guage strings. I'm wondering how many members/readers are using light guage strings on their mandolins? If I change to a light guage, from medium guage, will I have to do a new set up?


  2. #2

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    I use GHS A240 Ultra Light mandolin strings on my mandolins, and I use equivalent gauges on my mandolas.

    Some instruments are very overbuilt, and need much heavier strings to drive the top. Mine are responsive, and do well with the ultralight set.

    In the past I have owned the Eastman 614 (F-body oval-hole) and used the ultra lights on it with success. Most of what I currently have are flat tops, except for one F-body oval-hole mandola and one F-body oval-hole octave mandolin, and all have ultra-light stringing.

    In general, when one changes string gauges, one will have to do adjustments. I had to change my bridge position a little, and as being able to occasionally play chord-melody was the goal on all of them, I lowered the action as well. I actually let each of them sit for a while with virtually no string tension for a while, so the neck and body could relax, and then set intonation with tension only on the highest and lowest outermost strings, so I didn't have more than those two strings total pushing the bridge down and making intonation difficult. I also used a strobe tuner for intonation, the cheapest of which for those purposes has been my Korg CA Custom with that big display.

    However you decide to proceed, good luck!

  3. #3
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Oct 2002
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.

    Exclamation not opinion

    Physics; a thinner string reaches pitch at a lower tension than a thicker one..\

    I have 2 mandolins with light strings and a couple with heavier ones..
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  4. #4
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Sep 2006
    Upstate New York
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    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    Several thoughts.

    Ultimately the decision is yours and the right to change your mind is yours. It does not matter how many others are doing it.

    I think you can get used to anything, and any gauge is going to take getting used to if you are just beginning, because the whole mandolin experience takes getting used to. So if you are thinking of using the lighter strings as a way of easing into the mandolin and eventually go to medium, I would skip to the chase and get the medium.

    I can tell you from my experience. I prefer medium strings on most of my instruments, D'Addario EJ74 for example, though I use ultra-light on my bowl backs because they are old and sensitive, and one instrument I use EJ75, a little heaver than medium, because I heard the maker built the instrument with that gauge in mind.

    I think EJ74 or equivalent are perfect for your 505. My opinion, YMMV etc. And a really good place to start. Later you can try up or down in thickness and other brands and see what you like.

    To my ear the lighter strings on arch top instruments give a more tinny sound with less volume. A player I know says he agrees, but he prefers the lighter strings because it is easier to play faster and he can always use a microphone.

    I think changing string gauges does mean the set up needs a tweak. What I have done is to wait till I really really need a set up, and then tell my set up guy to put the new gauge on at that time.

    I will repeat however, it is entirely up to you. What most mandolinners do might be exactly the wrong choice for you. And it is not an irrevocable decision anyway. Try stuff, adapt, enjoy.
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  6. #5
    Registered User
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    Nov 2011
    Victoria, British Columbia

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    I use a heavy gauge on my main mandolin because I play bluegrass and a) need the volume and b) love the chop sound they provide.Recently, however, as I’ve been struggling with developing new skills (double stops with tremolo), I’ve been playing a different mandolin with light/medium strings. My progress has been much better than before, and I’m sure those skills will be easy to transfer to the heavier strings, but the light/mediums have made learning much more accessible.

  7. #6
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Aug 2007
    Sydney, Australia

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    I use light strings on my guitar. But that’s mostly because I bend a lot. 009 - 42 on my hard tail. 010-46 on bigsby equipped.

    Mandolin I think I use the mediums. 11-48. I use the monel set from daddario on most of my instruments. I think string composition makes a bigger difference - bronze nickel monel etc

  8. #7
    Registered User
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    Feb 2009
    charlottesville, VA

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    After 15 or so years of medium/heavy strings, I decided to try out some mediums and lights in an effort to give my fingers a break. I was expecting a thinner, tinnier sound, but I honestly didn't notice much difference. TBH, I didn't really notice it being much easier on my hands either, but I think they are incrementally bendier. In fact, that's the main difference that I've noticed - it seems easier to accidentally bend strings out of tune when chording. I could honestly see that as a bonus, since it forces me to pay closer attention to my form and technique.

    I don't imagine you would need to worry about set-up when going to lighter strings. Since they are smaller in gauge, they certainly won't bind in the nut slots. Intonation will need to be checked, but it's a good idea to do that at every string change anyway. It's always been my position that strings and picks are a dirt cheap way of experimenting with your mandolin sound, so I'm always in favor of giving it a go. I always seem to be in the midst of trying out some different combination.
    Mitch Russell

  9. #8

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    Quote Originally Posted by onassis View Post
    I didn't really notice it being much easier on my hands either, but I think they are incrementally bendier. In fact, that's the main difference that I've noticed - it seems easier to accidentally bend strings out of tune when chording. I could honestly see that as a bonus, since it forces me to pay closer attention to my form and technique.
    If one is accustomed to really mashing down the strings to fret them, especially with heavier gauges, then doing the same with light strings means one will overshoot the light pressure required, and overpress the string so much it will press into bending territory. Not requiring heavy fretting, and needing less effort, opens up other avenues (like chord melody) if one is wanting to explore other areas.

    If one is playing mostly tunes, then there's no requirement to move into those other areas, of course.

  10. #9
    Registered User
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    Oct 2010
    Big Stone Gap, VA

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    I did not read the other replies, so I may be repeating many things.
    I do setups for local players and a few band members in the area. Usually guitars, banjos, mandolins. For years I personally have setup my own instruments with lighter gauge strings-simply because I don't need the projection a member of a band might require, and because I like a light feeling, easy to fret action on everything. the only time I find myself with med gauge strings on guitar is for DADGAD or other dropped tunings(which my guitars stay in). Sometimes I will put med gauge EJ74 strings on one of my mandolins if I am out of light gauge(EJ73). My setup is very low, the med gauge doesn't change the feel much if any on my mandolins.

    A setup for me is to check frets in all areas, the seating, the height level, the crowning, and then the nut slots, relief, and action are set to achieve a low buzz free playing experience. making sure the frets are as good as possible results in being able to get a really low easy playing action.

    I would advise you find someone who does and understands this sort of thing, get your mandolin really well setup and you will not feel much of a difference with either light or med gauge. I do feel med gauge offers a little more substance vs light gauge, in tone, projection, and sometimes if you get a really good setup on a well built mandolin, the med gauge can actually feel better to your fingers.

    I personally don't care for any instrument that one has to force or fight with, to play. Some people like that style of playing and that's fine for them. We are all different. I am getting more people wanting me to set things up "low and buzz free" after they have played someones instrument that has had such work above performed on it.

    if you put light gauge on your current mandolin, there's a very good chance you may need to change a few things to have it playing the way you prefer.


  11. #10
    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    May 2006
    Statesville, NC

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    I previously had a mandolin which had a bit too much fingerboard relief but no adjustable truss rod. I switched to light strings to decrease total tension and the relief decreased a bit.
    I was fortunate that the mandolin was very responsive and I could tell no difference in tone or volume of the mandolin.

    “Sharps/Flats” “Accidentals”

  12. #11
    Registered User
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    Mar 2020
    Spokane, WA

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    As beginner to beginner - In late February I pulled a Rover RM75 out of the closet as a project to be started during the Covid lockdown. I found myself fighting with the strings, changed them out for light strings and went from pain and annoyance to quite the enjoyable experience. Have been playing every day now for a couple months and making decent progress with Peghead Nation lessons.

  13. #12
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Nov 2003
    Richmond, Virginia

    Default Re: Thoughts on String Gauges

    I use lights on guitar and mediums one arch-top mandolins.

    Your ear will get used to anything, I guess? I prefer to have dynamic range and to fully energize the instrument.

    ¡papá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

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