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?