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Using really light electric guitar strings

Going light? Going ultra light? There are some things you need to know.

It usually comes as a surprise to most people when they find out I use 8-38 guitar strings. Or to be technically accurate about it, a set that is usually the specific sizes from thinnest to thickest of .008 .011 .014 .022w .030 .038 (the w in .022w means "wound").

Do I a have a brand preference? Yes and no.

Yes, in that when possible, I will buy GHS GBUL (Guitar Boomers Ultra Light).

No, because since 8-38 is not as common as other sizes, I have the three alternates of Ernie Ball Extra Slinky 2225, Ernie Ball Extra Slinky 2255 (this is a "pure nickel" variant), and D'Addario XL EXL130. Whatever I get literally depends on which is cheaper at the time of purchase.

Set size weirdness

Ernie ball uses a 4 string size in an 8-38 set of .022w, but D'Addario uses .021w as does the Fender 250XS set. I've no idea if this makes any real difference or not due to the fact it's a wound string. On a thin plain string, sure, you feel that. But on wound, not-so much, if at all.

The DR Strings LLT-8 set throws a curve ball by messing with the 3 string size. Instead of 8-11-14-22-30-38 like most other sets, theirs is 8-11-16-24-30-38.

I'm telling you this just so you know there really isn't an absolute standard when it comes to 8-38 set sizes. You will find slight variations from string maker to string maker.

Why I switched to 8-38

While there were several reasons I switched over to 8-38, the main reasons were that I started chording a lot more, started playing surf and country music, and turned the overdrive/distortion way, way down.

For a very long time I used nothing but 9-42 and "light top, heavy bottom" 9-46 sets. But I found that with the styles of music I favor playing now, lighter strings are just better.

What I prefer is action as low and light as I can get it so I can glide across the fretboard effortlessly. This allows me to play for longer periods of time and moreover enjoy the guitar more, so I'm all for it.

Do ultra light strings work on any electric guitar?

Yes, but whether they work for you or not depends on your hands.

If you typically have a tight grip with your fret hand (if you do, you would know it), fretted notes using 8-38 may go out-of-tune slightly.

If you use a strong pick strike with your picking hand, the same out-of-tune issue happens, especially if you favor "power chords" (5th chords).

In other words, 8-38 is not for the heavy-handed player. Even if you switch to a more flexible pick, that really doesn't help much if the fret hand grips hard and/or the picking hand strikes hard.

On the assumption you play with a lighter touch or could learn to, the only thing to know is that you will have to set up your guitar again should you switch to 8-38.

If for example you switch from 10-46 to 8-38, everything has to be readjusted. Neck relief, string saddle height, pickup height, the works.

This may sound like a big project, but it really isn't. You just have to expect it because the woods of your guitar will act differently with 8-38 compared to 10-46.

Have your guitar tools ready if you want to make the jump to 8-38.


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