How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be? [ANSWERED]

This is one of those questions the answer comes down more to personal preference than anything else. Once you’ve grown accustomed to playing the guitar, you can decide on whether you’d prefer to have them tighter or looser. After you’ve experimented with different tunings and gauges, you’ll have a better idea of how to proceed.

For instance, if you’ve tuned your guitar lower than standard tuning, you’ll probably need thicker strings but if you’ve chosen to tune it sharp, you’ll need thinner gauge strings. It depends on what you’re doing, but there are some common guidelines you can follow.

Simply put, the strings need to be tight enough for the strings to vibrate at the desired pitch which is usually standard tuning, E, A, D, G, B, and E, with the low E tuned at 82.4 hertz exactly and the high E at 330 hertz exactly.

If your strings are too tight, the guitar will be hard to play. For example, the strings will not bend easily, they may break if you play them too hard, the pitch is too high and the continuous tension will have it so that you need to adjust the truss rod and re-set the action and everything (my guide on this), which isn’t a big deal, but it’ll need to get done. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t hard to tell whether your strings are too tight or too loose.

By the way, there are always deals going on in the guitar and music world, so here are some of my favorite products and gear that are on sale right now:

JamPlay $24.99 $9.49/Monthly Membership
Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 6 Pro $259.00 $129.50 on Native Instruments’ Website
Punkademic’s [Beginner to Advanced] Music Theory Course $20.00 [FREE] 5-Day Trial
Use the coupon code: “producersociety”

Guitar Strings Need To Be Tight Enough To Vibrate

Light vs Medium - How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be [ANSWERED]
Light vs Medium strings

As we’ve already said, guitar strings have to be tight enough to vibrate at a discernible pitch. If one or more of your strings is going out of tune more quickly and has a little more tightness to it than the rest of the strings, it may be too tight or too loose. Use a tuner to determine if your strings are in tune.

Just remember that tighter strings produce a higher pitch while looser strings produce a lower pitch. How tight or loose you want your guitar strings also depends on the string gauges. 9-42s will be quite slinky at standard tuning whereas 12-52s will be incredibly stiff at the same tuning.

Just as a frame of reference, I have my ESP Eclipse II (you can get one here from Sam Ash) tuned to D standard (1 whole step down) and I have 11-49s on it right now. The reason for that is that 9-42s on a guitar tuned one full step down will be far too loose to the point that the guitar will feel like a toy. At least I don’t like to play it like that.

I’ve touched on this topic many times before including in this article, but I find that lighter gauge strings are easier to play than thicker gauge strings, and the difference in action isn’t worth it to me. People say you can afford to get a lower action when you’re using thicker strings, but I don’t find the difference that big.

Do you want to tune to standard tuning? Get the 9-42s from Elixir (from Amazon). If you intend on dropping down to D Standard, get these Elixir 11-49’s (also from Amazon). There are other options out there too though, including slinky top heavy bottom strings from Ernie Ball (also from Amazon).

Skinny top heavy bottom strings are made for guitarists who like to drop the Low-E string another full step which is called a “Drop” tuning. This allows you to play power chords with one finger which is extremely common among metal and rock guitarists.

How Much Tension Should There Be On A Guitar String? 

Tuning - How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be [ANSWERED]
The tuning and the string gauges determine how tight they’ll be

There needs to be enough tension on the strings that they produce sound. There are a few types of guitar strings, and some require more tension to produce the sound than the others. 

Nylon strings are typically only used on classical guitars and need the right amount of tension or you won’t yield much sound, they will also break easily if turned too tight. Brass/bronze or steel/nickel strings are mainly what is used on acoustic and electric guitars.

These can get pretty tight without breaking, so refer to the pitches below for correct tightness for pitch. The correct pitch depends on what tuning the guitarist wants to play.

In standard tuning on a tuner, the guitar’s strings will read from lowest to highest:

  • E2 or 82.41 Hz
  • A2 or 110 Hz
  • D3 or 146.8 Hz
  • G3 196 Hz
  • B3 246.9Hz
  • E4 329.6 Hz

Tuning tighter or looser will not have these results. If you aren’t familiar with Hz or Gigahertz as they are called, then a Chromatic Tuner like the Boss TU-3 (the one I use from Amazon). There’s nothing wrong with the Snark Clip-on Tuner though (also from Amazon) which I actually use more because of how convenient it is.

Can You Over-Tighten Guitar Strings?

Snapped String - How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be [ANSWERED]
If your strings are tight, you could snap them

You can over-tighten guitar strings which will either tune them to a point where they play too sharp or until they break. If by pressing on the string you get a lot of resistance, it may be too tight which means you should probably try lighter gauge strings.

How Do I Know If My Guitar Strings Are Too Loose?

Snark Tuner - How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be [ANSWERED]
People like to talk badly about them, but I love the Snark clip-on tuners

Your guitar strings are too loose if they’re not tuned to pitch, or if they vibrate so loosely that they fail to produce a discernible sound. Between an electric guitar and an acoustic, the electric strings should be a little looser because of how thin they are compared to acoustic gauges.

The pitch, however, should be the same when played.

Important Things to Note About String Tightness

1) Increase Or Decrease Your String Gauges If They’re Too Loose or Too Tight

Whether or not your guitar strings are too tight or too loose depends not so much on the tuning but more on the gauges, considering most of us tune to standard tuning or a similar tuning. A person who feels that their strings are too looser probably needs to increase the gauges, whereas if they’re too difficult to play, you’ll probably have to decrease the gauges.

This is one reason why beginner guitarists, I believe, should start out with lighter string gauges. 9-42 gauge strings are the standard, but if you find even these are hard on your fingers, 8s might be even better. These days, I prefer 9-42 gauge strings for standard tuning because they’re easier to play.

Gear Mentioned 

1) ESP Eclipse II (from Sam Ash)

2) Elixir 9-42 gauge strings (from Amazon)

3) Elixir 11-49 gauge strings (from Amazon)

4) Boss TU-3 tuner (from Amazon)

5) Snark Clip-on tuner (from Amazon)