Have You Gone Extra Slinky Yet?

December 14, 2011 | By | 14 Replies More

Heavy or light?

When I recently got an email from a WoodyTone reader – let’s call him Mike because…that’s his real name – I was stoked because I like light strings.

I played 10s for years, then went to 9s after getting back into the whole EVH tone quest. With 9s I noticed that the notes “opened up,” like there was more “space” around each note in chords, rather than these fat notes all competing for your ears’ attention. Guess I could say I found the guitar more expressive.

Ed played 8s and 9s back in the day. For some reason I still haven’t checked out the 8s, but Mike did, and not because of Ed but because of Jimmy Page. Here’s what he said about his experience trying to get closer to Jimmy’s, uh, wood:

The [string gauge] change came about because I like the feel of 9s on my Les Paul, and I wanted my Strat and Tele to feel the same way. So I bought the Ernie Ball 8s [Extra Slinky] – the guitar store had them in stock and they were cheap, which makes me feel like everyone else already knows this but me.

I put 8s on all three guitars – the Strat and the Tele loosened up, but still didn’t quite feel the same as the Les Paul – and I did play each one before and after the string swap because I wanted to have a good baseline for what the 9s sounded like.

The first thing I noticed is that if you play a 4-6 note chord, there’s a texture, or a note separation, that the 9s didn’t have. Its very much like Jimmy’s 90’s guitar tone, its got that same texture. Not the greatest example but:

The second thing you notice is the strings are much easier to bend (duh), but this gives you way more control over all the little nuances…Yngwie Malmsteen says something similar about scalloped fret boards.

You DO have lots of control. You can bend a string, add vibrato and release – you can vibrato chords! You can do those big EVH bends. The downside is that if you get excited everything is sharp, but that’s part of the Jimmy Page vibe….

The things I thought might change didn’t: Sustain, volume and overall tone are about the same as before. Except for the texture/note separation, I doubt the string change would be noticeable to a listener.

The [Page] amp setting is a bit dark, but with the now relatively bigger pick [relative to the lighter strings] you have a lot of control over the sound coming out of the speaker. In my case the amp is the weak part of the setup, but in a small room my [Roland] Cube 30 has made the 5150 obsolete (small amp, small room, another topic). I have no presence knob, so I’m a little off of the 9,5,3, EQ, but it’s in the ballpark. Volume is fairly loud, and on the clean side.

To sum up, the results were interesting, almost the opposite of what I was expecting. I think I actually sound less like Jimmy and more like me, and certainly the guitars are easier to play in some ways but more demanding in others. My playing is not any faster, although I think generally it’s easier to make the right notes and chords.

It is certainly more demanding because it puts a lot more control over what comes out of the speakers in your hands, which is great!

That’s all he wrote. Interesting to think that lower/lighter string gauges may help some of us express ourselves better, with the rest of the setup – notably a good amp – pounding out the wood.

Mike, thanks much for sharing these tonealicious tidbits.

Yep, 8s are now on my list…you?


Category: Edward Van Halen, Ernie Ball/Music Man, Jimmy Page/Zep

Comments (14)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. T.L. says:

    I’ll stick with my 009-046 gauge…

  2. matº says:

    You also have the 009.5 .
    Is there 008.5?

  3. Rich Dickerson says:

    I use the Super Slinkys, .009-.042, and I like them plenty. The new issue of Guitar World has a feature on Billy Gibbons and he’s using .007s! I’ve heard that Brian May used .008s, but I never thought I’d hear of someone of note using .007s. I do like the fact that all the guys mentioned are “tone” guys…sorta throws the SRV “.013s for good tone” thing out the window, eh?

  4. Jon says:

    I quite like using Ritchie Blackmores picato’s which are

    0.10 (I replace with 0.9)

    I like the beef of the lower strings.
    I als0 use ernie ball hybrids 0.9 – 0.46. I like the G being 0.16 as a 0.14 can feel too light and I end up missing the target on bends etc

    I find 0.08 too light and have tried these with the Yngwie guage. Great for bending high up the neck but like playing a strand of hair. You do get use to it.
    I definitely agree that you do not need heavy strings for good tone. I prefer the elasticity of lighter guages on the tone. Less brittle , less rigid. Better for inflections, micro bends etc. Just look at Steve Vai.

    I think EVH uses 0.9 to 0.46 these days and have tried his customs guage strings which were very similar the Ernie Ball i mentioned


  5. guitthumper says:

    I recently tried GHS 8.5’s and love ’em. You have to order them online though because few stores carry them. They bend like butter on a Les Paul and stay in tune surprisingly well for such a light gauge.

  6. Danny R says:

    String gauge is such a personal thing with lots of factors that go into what will end up sounding best. How strong the players hands are. How and what type of pick they prefer. How they like their guitar setup etc. Anyway, it’s almost silly how much internet debate that goes into this topic when we are all different.

  7. j9fd3s says:

    Thanks for reading. I do agree that string choice is a personal one, we all have different sized hands, and stuff.

    The fun part of this, of course is that its $3 to try it, so getting away from my normal set of fender 9’s to 8’s just wasn’t a big deal.

    the difference in tone/sustain/volume is so small, that IMO its worth looking for the right set of strings.


  8. Jed says:

    I’d agree that a lot of this is all subjective, but it’s a good reminder to try simple things to improve your tone. No need to buy a new amp/guitar or some effect, change your strings!
    When my supply of 10s run out I’ll try a set of 9s.

  9. Bob453 says:

    I have Super Slinky on my Frankenstein and on my 80-something ealr slick signature phantom, which give me a nice Brown / 80’s metal tone (with the right amp settings). I keep .10’s on my other guitars for playing Priest (higher gain) and AC/DC (lower gain) and GnR (somewhere in the middle)for a little more heft. So many factors depending on the tone you seek……….

  10. mike says:

    well the same strings have been on since early november, and i haven’t broken one yet, so i’m going to say that the smaller strings don’t effect reliability….

    tuning stability doesn’t seem to be as good, but maybe its a setup thing.

  11. Ian says:

    I’ve Ernie Ball strings but I think they go dead too easily and begin stretching out and going out of tune too fast as well. I’m not a pro and I don’t (can’t afford to) change strings constantly, so they had to go. I like D’Addario Pro Steels and their standard nickel models. They seem to keep tonal life and keep intonation longer.

    But size, wise, I love the 9-42 models. However, I’m very curious about the Fender XL’s (9-40’s).

    • guitthumper says:

      The Fender XL’s are now only available in pure nickel bullet ends, I use them on my Strat. EVH used Fender pure nickel 9-40 back in the day. They were discontinued for a while and they only brought them back recently.

  12. spaz says:

    >I’m a little off of the 9,5,3, EQ,
    Could you clarify those settings?

    On CUBE 30 there are total 20 markers on each knob, though they are labeled on the panel from 0 to 5 (12 o’clock) to 10. So the label somehow counts each two markers as one.

    So, these are 9,5,3
    1. while counting the 20 markers?
    2. while counting the 10 labeled “virtual” (haha) markers?
    3. o’clock settings?


    What’s funny is that 1. and 3. are completely opposite. First one is really bass heavy, second bright as hell.

  13. Gee Halen says:

    That’s interesting, because when I went from 9s to 10s, I felt I have more control over bent notes with the 10s.

    I guess it has to do with the way you play.

Leave a Reply