String Gauges of 50 Legendary Guitar Players

String Gauges of 50 Legendary Guitar Players

Choosing which guitar strings to use is one of the biggest decisions a guitarist can make regarding how their instrument plays, both in terms of tone and feel. Some players prefer thicker, heavier gauge strings for greater projection and durability, while others rely on the pliability of thinner-gauge strings to allow for “fast action” (lower string height) to better accommodate speedy note runs and frequent use of string bending techniques. Additional factors to consider when choosing one’s guitar strings include the scale length of the guitar, the tuning to be used, the style of music played, and so on. As such, when faced with the prospect of picking out a new set of new strings, many guitar players, at some point in their career, will look towards their peers and musical influences for reference. As a matter of interest (and entertainment), I’ve put together a comprehensive list matching famous guitar players with their personal choice of string gauge.

Notes to consider

— This list was culled solely from authenticated sources (i.e., Guitar World or Guitar Player magazine, among others), typically involving interviews with either the artist themselves or their personal guitar technician.

— String gauges listed are for electric guitars only.

— The string gauge listed accounts for each guitarist's choice of strings at a particular time in their career. Be aware that most guitarists experiment with different gauges at some point or another, and rarely use the same exact brand or gauge of strings their entire career.

— When referencing string gauges in this list, readers should consider the style of music and tuning for each player. For example, heavy gauge strings with loose tension feel and play more like a lighter gauge when tuned below standard tuning.

— A single string gauge (ie. .009) references the high E string, and represents the overall gauge for the set, as typically listed by string vendors.

Now without further ado...

The list

Stevie Ray Vaughan .013 (.013 - .052)
Jimi Hendrix .009 - .038 (also .010, .013, .015, .026, .032 and .038)
Chuck Berry .008
Jimmy Page .008, .009
Jeff Beck .011 - .049 (also .009 - .052)
Brian Setzer .010
Eddie Van Halen .009 - .040
James Hetfield .009, (also .011 - .048)
Billy Gibbons .008
Kirk Hammett .010 (.011 set for bottom three string)

Buddy Guy .010
B.B. King .008 (.010 for signature set)
Slash .011 - .048
Tony Iommi (For D# tuning, from high to low): .008, .008, .011 (unwound), .018 .024, and .032. (For C# tuning, from high to low) .009, .010, .012 (unwound), .020, .032 and .042.
Dimebag Darrell .011 (.009 for standard tuning)
Mark Knopfler .009
Gary Moore .009 (also .010)
Eric Clapton .010 - .046
David Gilmour .010 - .048
Joe Perry .008, .009, or .010 (depending on guitar & tuning)

Angus Young .009
Malcolm Young .012 - .056
Al Dimeola .010
Zakk Wylde .010
Randy Rhoads .009 (also .010)
Steve Vai .009 (also .010)
Joe Satriani .009
Robbie Kreiger .010
Ace Frehley .009
Vernon Reid .011

Marty Friedman .010
Joe Bonamassa .011 - .052
Albert Lee .010
Alex Leifson .010
Keith Richards .011 - .042
Yngwie Malmsteen .008 - .048
Brian May .009 - .034
Trey Anastasio .010
Brad Paisley .010
Mark Tremonti .010 (.011 on bottom three)

Jerry Garcia .011
Kenny Wayne Shepherd .010, .011, or .012
Jerry Cantrell .010 - .046
Alexi Laiho .010 - .056
Eric Johnson .010 - .046
Frank Zappa .009 - .042
George Lynch .009, .010, or .011
Lenny Kravitz .010 - .052
Adrian Smith .009 - .040
Dave Murray .009 - .040

Plus two more!

Nancy Wilson .010 - .046
John Frusciante .010

//

Notes of interest

— A common misconception among guitarists nowadays is that heavier strings are required for a “bigger” tone. However, of the players interviewed, many overwhelmingly stated that avoiding string breakage on stage was the primary reason for going with a heavier gauge.

— On casual examination, it would appear that .010 gauge is the most commonly-used string gauge set. However, you again need to consider the source; Does the player favor a Stratocaster or Les Paul-style of guitar? This makes a big difference because the LP’s shorter scale-length will make the .010 strings feel “slinkier” in comparison to the same strings on a Stratocaster. Does the guitarist typically tune to standard pitch (A = 440hz), or does he or she tune down? Tuning down a whole step or more, for example, can easily make those .010-gauge strings feel more like a set of .008s!

Conclusion

“I wonder what strings [insert name of famous guitarist] uses?”, or “Do I need heavy gauge strings to play [insert name of music genre] music?”, are familiar questions all guitarists ask themselves at some point in their career. Hopefully, this list helps quench, or at least entertain, that momentary thirst for this particular topic of guitar-lore. However, I believe it’s fair to assume that most, if not all of the guitarists listed above would say that ultimately, which strings you choose should be decided through your own experience of trial and experimentation. —Jeff Perrin


Sponsored by Guitar Tab Tutor app for iOS. Master all essential guitar techniques with the ULTIMATE reference guide to guitar TAB! Download today for FREE!