String Gauges of Madness: A 90s Hangover.
Ahhhh the 90's.
The 16 bit graphic video game consoles, the baggy skate shorts, the slow mo on Baywatch. It was a glorious time to be alive. And as a young heavy music obsessed teenager I was right in the middle of a sonic revolution.
There was a real spirit of experimentality. Styles were being blended, technology was capturing sound better and better, the boundaries of heavy music were being pushed further and further into to insane gain saturation and low tunings. This led to heavier string gauges, the rise of 7 string and baritone guitars. And like all counter culture hangovers it left an undeniable impression on guitarists ever since that heavy strings are better than lighter, which was the earlier preference.
But is that really a thing?
Well... sometimes. The problem with many extremes of opinion is the lack of consideration for nuance. When setting out to achieve a sound and feel you should consider two factors.
What have progenitors of your musical preference used in the past to achieve their ends?
Take a look at the equipment you are using. What kind of limitations need to be considered in regards to tension capacity?
This second step is extremely important. Sure Max Cavalera used to string up a Warlock with a bass E string and 3 heavy gauge guitar strings to play in drop B but do you have a guitar endorsement to replace your guitar with a neck now twisted like M. Night Shyamalan's pretzel? Probably not. And that is the biggest problem to consider about string gauge. Your guitar is really just a beautiful lump of glue and wood. It has limitations.
Dig if you will this ripper Gibson custom E339 The owner had decided to use a very heavy string gauge in standard E tuning. The resulting pressure apart from bowing the neck into dissonance, had begun to twist the neck and put hairline cracks in the join. This is seriously bad news, had this been left much longer the damage may have been irreparable.
Luckily corrections were able to be made, and a more suitable string gauge was introduced. One that maintains a taut action without causing damage to the instrument.
At the end of the day string choice is about resonance, playability and comfort. Experimentation is a great thing but always consider the stress on the instrument. There are tension guides available online to assist your journey. And as always if you would like some advice i am always available to help.
Till next time stay safe and riff hard friends.