Finding The Right String Gauge For Metal Players

Fresh off a recent tour with Jeff Loomis and currently in the studio working on a new release for his band Shaded Enmity, Joe Nurre joins us to write about picking out the right string gauge for metal. When I first started using a 7 string and guitars in alternate tunings, I found myself constantly frustrated by the flop, or lack of tension in the strings. I remember tuning my Ibanez RG 550 to C using a 10-46 set of strings and the results were terrible. In recent years I have focused a lot more on the strings I am using, as well as the scale of a guitar neck.

Finding the right string gauge for your guitar is essential to being able get the absoulte most out of your instrument. Matching the gauge of your string along with the scale of your guitar neck is very important to having a comfortable playing guitar. What I am about delve into is by no means the end all solution to your quest in finding the correct gauge for your guitar. This is from my personal experience as I have had the opportunity to play a number of guitars both 6 and 7 strings from different companies and these are the gauges I find most comfortable for the style of music I play. If you ever experience any pro longed discomfort from changing a string gauge, or the one you are currently using, it is time to make some changes!

For guitars with a 27.5 inch scale like the Strictly 7 Solar 7 string guitar model that I currently use, I tune it half a step down from standard tuning meaning Bb, Eb etc. I use 9-46, with a .60 for the low string. I used to have a .66 on there but I found the .60
to be perfect. I also have another 7 string model that is 27.5 inch scale and it is tuned 2 steps down from standard, so the 6th string is C, and the low string is G. For this tuning I found 10-52 with a .66 on the bottom string works just great.

For guitars with a 26.5 scale like the 7 string Schecter Jeff Loomis model, I prefer 9-46 with a .66 on the bottom. I tried using a .60 but it seemed a little floppy. This guitar was also tuned half a step down from standard, so Bb, Eb, etc… Other 6 string Schecter models with a 26.5 scale on it I usually prefered 9-46 unless it was in an alternate tuning. When you start tuning down, you should usually change the string gauge so you can avoid the floppy strings. For every full step that you drop down on a guitar, you should probably think about a slightly higher string gauge.

On 6 string 25.5 inch scale models like Agile, Ibanez, ESP LTD and other guitars tuned to standard tuning, I like 9-46. 9-42 is just a little too slinky feeling for me so I stick with the 9-46. And if you noticed I also use the 9-46 when I am tuning half a step down from standard as well. On 6 string models tuned a full step down to D standard, I was usually using 10-52. Tuning to C and lower on 6 string models I have often used 11-58 or something close to that. In the rare occasion that you find yourself tuning the guitar up, I had a 7 string Agile tuned to C, with my low string being a C, my 6th string was an F and so on (basically half a step up from standard) and I used an 8-38 with a 52 on the bottom.

Obviously I didn’t cover every single tuning, but as I mentioned before, as a rule of thumb I usually go slightly higher in the string gauge for every full step the guitar is tuned down. Definitely take the time to experiment with this and what works right for you because it can make a world of difference in your playing.

Hear Joe’s strings in action in this teaser of the new Shaded Enmity album:

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  • Nice typo

    Hear* Joe’s strings

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.n.sorensen Peter Sørensen

    I love how elementary this information is.

  • Ashjole

    A couple points I’d like to make:
    1: There’s more metal than just the 29-string, Drop W, “WHHHAAAAAAAARRRRRGGHHGHGGHHH KILL BABIES” stuff.
    2: Metal is not the only genre that uses alternate/dropped tunings.

    That said, this (very basic) information might be useful for some young noob that’s just starting to get into alternate tunings and doesn’t know why he can’t play Meshuggah with the 10-46′s on his Epiphone.

    • John

      He wouldn’t be able to play MEshuggah without a seven string (at least) anyways. I think that their new stuff uses 8 strings.

      • Tyler Cox

        You can play up to “Nothing” on a 7, i know the initial version has 7 strings, then they re-recorded it with 8′s but i could very well be mixing albums up and they did that with an earlier release as its been a long time since i looked into their tunings.

  • D_Sign

    i love how straight this is! its better than many forums etc shits where everybody that wants to wise everybodys ass off! :)

  • http://twitter.com/Tom_Coolberth Dream Canal

    Wow .. that’s my exact set up. 27.5″ scales, tuned down 1/2 step with a .60 as the lowest.

  • Grumpy

    13-65, 25.5″scale. does Drop C down to Drop A no problem

    • Sam Brockmann

      And I’m guessing in Drop A, you lose a lot of the punch…

      Unless, of course, you’re using strings with thicker cores.

  • Sam Brockmann

    I honestly don’t know why you didn’t talk about a strings with thicker cores. I used 11-54s on my 6-string, which is tuned to D standard (DGCFAD). If I don’t use strings with thicker cores, there’s less punch to my string tone. You really should have mentioned something like Dunlop Heavy Cores. Having a thicker core is going to give you a lot more punch.

  • DepecheMoses

    There is a program that I use pretty much every day called USTC, the Universal String Tension Calculator. Google it! If I know what strings a person prefers to play I can recommend different gauges to them for alternate tunings.

  • Dann

    I have 3 LTD (EX-360, EX-50 and M-10), and even 1 step down (DGCFAD) or Drop C (CGCFAD) I found the right string with the Ernie Ball Not Even Slinky 12-56… the tension is great!!! And you don’t have that feeling of unbalanced tone (if you play a G too hard it will sound almost like a G# and then it goes lower to G again…)