String tension

I’ve been thinking about how much I miss playing a short scale guitar.  The Harmony Bobkat I had back in the day was a 24″ scale and due to this, the strings were very “slinky” and easy to depress.  This is less a factor of the scale and more just basic low string tension.  Given the same size string, the smaller scale guitar will have a lower tension at the same pitch.  But, you can always run a smaller string on a longer scale guitar for the same tension.  Of course this does affect the tone.  Larger strings have more “umph” and put out more voltage across the pickups.  But, for what it is worth, a “normal” size string set for electric guitar is 10-46 and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top runs a set of 8-38, “lite – lite” strings.  His tone seems fine.

There is another problem with light gauge strings though.  They tend to get “buzzy” on cheap guitars with poor fretwork, and they also don’t work well with drop tunings.  Lastly, they require a light touch – something I’ve been working on, but still lack almost entirely.

So I started using a string tension calculator and found that the set of 10’s I was running on the Bobkat would have had about 14.4 lbs of tension on the high e string.  I currently run 10’s on my Telecaster (25.5″ scale) which equates to a tension of 16.2 lbs.  I was thinking I would have to run a set of 9’s to get into the comfy range, but that would actually get me down to about 13.1 lbs.  It turns out, DR (and probably some other manufacturers), has solved this problem and created a set of 9.5 strings.  They run 9.5 to 44.  On my tele that would end up with a tension of 14.6 lbs – perfect.  Some call these string sets “halfsies” because there is a 9.5 and 11.5 string on the top end, the rest are standard whole integers.  So, my conclusion is that whenever I get my fretwork done, I will have it restrung with a set of 9.5’s.  Then things should be buzz free, still be able to drop tune if wanted, and have the easy playing lower string tension I was use to on my old guitar.

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