The strings are your contact point on the guitar, they’re the things you squeeze in order to wring out your deepest most unspoken emotions, the things you attack to express your darkest aggressions, the things you delicately caress to play a love song to your sweetie before delicately caressing your sweetie her/himself.

Gibson Guitar Strings

You need to consider what tuning you’ll be playing in and the scale length of your guitar. That is, the distance between the nut and the bridge saddle. A standard Gibson scale length is 24.75”, but some models like the Les Paul Custom CS Long Scale have a 25.5” scale length which means a tighter feel and snappier attack to the strings. For this article we’ll keep to 24.75” scale guitars as we consider three of the more popular string gauges and what they’re best for, using Gibson Vintage Reissue strings as an example.

 

Ultra Lights - .009 - .042

Light strings are especially suited to players with a very light touch. You’ll find that if you pick really hard on a lighter string, you’ll notice that the note tends to start sharp even if the string is perfectly in tune, before settling down into its proper pitch. This can be an absolute nightmare in a recording situation, especially if you’re trying to track multiple takes of the same guitar part. On the other hand, if you play with a light touch you can get a wide range of expression out of light gauge strings, and I like their sweet tone with vintage PAF style humbucking pickups. I find lighter strings to be more precise for microtonal bends, and there’s a certain wiggly quality to the sound of vibrato on a light B string that I like. I tend to play with a very light left hand touch, especially when I’m playing lots of lead guitar and relatively little rhythm, so if I know I’ll be recording a lot of solos I’ll tend to pop some Ultra Lights on my Les Paul. If you tend to really squeeze the strings hard when you play, you might accidentally bend or squeeze light strings out of tune by tiny increments each time you press them down.

Lights - .010 - .046

This is what I’m currently using on my Les Paul, and I’ve found that it’s the best all-round option for me because they seem to hold their tuning well when I pick harder but are not quite as hard on my hands as heavier gauges. For many players a Les Paul just feels ‘right’ when it has .010 - .046 gauge strings on it: the pickups have a little more ‘oomph’ because of the stronger string vibrations, and the body seems to resonate just that little bit more.

1964-ES-345TDC-No-Varitone

Medium Lights - .011 - .050

If you tend to play really hard, or if you play in a lower tuning than standard, this gauge might be for you. They’re harder to bend - but hey, Stevie Ray Vaughan still managed to bend .013 - .060 strings, tuned to Eb on a 25.5” scale guitar, so bending is not out of the question, just harder to do by accident. Another benefit of heavier strings like this: it’s much harder to generate the ‘note starts sharp when you pick hard’ phenomenon. That’s especially handy if you’re multi-tracking very precise, hard-hitting heavy chords because each track will be more consistent and in tune with the others. A lot of thrash players tend to use strings around this gauge because it gives them that solid punch on the low end but still with a degree of flexibility in the high end.