When transitioning from an acoustic to an electric, guitarists have to get used to a completely different feel as they play the guitar. One of the most common questions from new electric guitarists is whether their strings are too loose. Are electrics really supposed to have looser strings than acoustics?
Electric guitar strings are supposed to be much looser than those of an acoustic. That’s because the strings tend to be thinner, and the action is considerably lower. If you think that your electric’s strings are uncomfortably loose, there are steps you can take to help them feel tighter.
This article will further detail why electric strings feel looser than acoustics and will help you figure out how to make them feel a bit tighter. To play your best, you want to make sure you’re playing on a comfortable setup!
Why Are Strings on Electrics Looser?
Though you may be worried that the strings on your electric are too loose, they are most likely just fine. Electrics are meant to feel a little slinkier and easier to play than acoustic guitars, and part of that is because of their looser strings.
Other qualities of an electric guitar will also ease some of the pressure off your fingers.
How Acoustic & Electric Guitars Work
Though electric guitars and acoustic guitars look very similar, the way they produce sound is very different.
Acoustics use the hollow chambers of their bodies to project their sound. Their strings’ vibrations resonate within the guitar, ringing out of the soundhole to produce a rich, complex sound all on its own. Acoustics can be amplified with pickups or microphones, but it’s not necessary to do so.
Electrics, meanwhile, work with their pickups, which are transducers that convert the strings’ vibrations into a current. This electrical current then travels to the guitar amplifier, creating the guitar’s sound. You can modify the sound with effects pedals, making the electric much more versatile than acoustics.
Pickups are extremely powerful, much more so than the hollow chamber of an acoustic guitar. Because of this, more power is required on an acoustic to develop its sound. That’s why the strings might feel so much tighter on acoustics; they require a tighter tension to produce a sound that will ring out.
The main reason electrics have strings that feel “looser” is because the action is significantly lower. The action on a guitar is the space between the fretboard and the strings.
The high action on an acoustic is what gives it its characteristically tight strings. The action on an acoustic should be between 2.8mm (7/64″) at the low E string and 2.0mm (5/64″) at the high E.
On an electric, the action will be more like 2.78mm (7/64th”) and 1.98mm (5/64th”). This may seem minor, but the relatively lower action will make the strings feel a little looser and a little bit easier to play.
Another reason your electric strings might feel looser than an acoustic is the nature of the strings themselves. An electric guitar’s strings are usually thinner than acoustic strings, making them much easier to press down on.
Medium gauge acoustic strings are between .013 at the high E and .056 at the low E (measured in thousandths of an inch). On the other hand, medium gauge electric strings are usually .011 through .049.
While this won’t make the strings looser, it will make them much easier to push down. This can feel like the strings are looser to beginners.
How To Tell if Strings Are Too Low
Though electric guitars have naturally much looser strings than acoustics, it is possible that your strings are too low. There are a few telltale signs that your electric strings are too low.
First, make sure your guitar is in tune. One surprisingly common problem is thinking that the electric is in tune when all the strings are actually an octave below the note they’re supposed to be. Check if the strings are too low by slowly tuning one string up until you’re either at the next octave or the string feels uncomfortably tight. Do this very slowly, as the string is in danger of breaking!
If the strings are on the right note, but you hear a rattling sound as you play, then the action of the guitar is slightly too low.
How To Tighten the Strings on an Electric Guitar
Luckily, if the strings on your electric guitar are too loose, you can make some minor adjustments to the guitar to make them tighter.
First, check if your guitar’s action is correctly set up. Low action means that your guitar’s strings are too loose.
Use a string action ruler to take a look at the action of the electric’s 12th fret. The Pixnor String Action Ruler has measurements for string height, bridge height, and nuts and comes for under ten dollars on Amazon.
If the action seems too low, then you should try raising it by tightening the strings at the bridge. Though this will vary by the kind of guitar you have, it’s quite simple to tighten the strings:
- Find the springs attached to the bottom of each string.
- Each spring should have a screw.
- Loosen the strings on your guitar.
- Taking a screwdriver, very slowly tighten each screw.
- Tighten in tiny increments until the strings feel tighter or the action is the right height.
This should be enough to adjust your action. Again, make sure to work slowly, since tightening too much or too quickly can cause the string to break!
Buy Thicker Strings
If your action looks like it’s measured correctly, but your strings still don’t feel right to you, consider buying thicker strings.
- The Ernie Ball Heavy Bottom Nickel Wound Set (.010 through .052 gauge) comes in single-, three-, or six-packs and is one of the most popular heavy string sets out there, with over 43,000 five-star reviews.
- The D’Addario Nickel Plated Strings (.012 through .054) are a little more expensive, with a sturdier design that allows the strings to stay in tune easier.
There are plenty of other string sets out there. Ultimately, you’ll need to test out several kinds of strings to discover what gauge feels most comfortable to you.
Take Guitar to Luthier
If you’ve tried buying thicker strings and tightening them on your guitar, and the strings still feel too loose, consider taking your guitar to a luthier. If the neck is warped or the frets are set too high, there is little you can do short of having professional work on the guitar. A good luthier will also tell you if there are no adjustments to be made, and you simply need to accustom yourself to the feel of an electric guitar!
While electric strings shouldn’t be so loose that they’re uncomfortable to play, they will be naturally looser than acoustic strings. If you’re unsure if the strings are too loose or not, check that the tuning is correct and the action isn’t too low. If all else fails, take your guitar to a luthier and have them take a look.
In the end, the electric guitar has an entirely different feel than an acoustic guitar. Looser strings make the electric easier to play and allows guitarists to play them in a completely different way.
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