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is there a limit for string tension?

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Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 4
Topic starter  

is there a rule for how much i can change the tuning on a partiuclar string in terms of steps before i have to change guage?

Illustrious Member
Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 5108

I don't know if there's a rule, but I start getting nervous when I tune up one whole step.

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 124

Generally you can tune about a step either way on individual strings, but if you are changing the entire tuning of the guitar up or down you will affect the action and playability by changing tunings. There are string guage charts available online at a few different websites that will tell you what size to use for each note you are tuning to; maybe someone will chime in here with a link. Just remember that even a small tension change will affect the angle of the neck, and can throw the other strings out of tune, as well as changing the setup of a tremolo unit on a Strat or similar guitar.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 5381

Right before it snaps I'd say.

But seriously, that snapping point changes over the life of the strings.

A whole step gives me the willies. I dunno, anyone want to tune up and keep track of how high you can get your E string before it breaks?

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

I've always used a minor third as the limit for altered tunings before changing gauges.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL

Honorable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 503

I dunno, anyone want to tune up and keep track of how high you can get your E string before it breaks?

I've done some experimenting with this on my 25" scale lap steels - I've had a 011 tuned up to G without problems. So I think most strings can take more abuse than we imagine - problem is when you tune them down to 'normal' tension again, most of the 'snap', 'twang', or whatever will be gone because it's been overstretched. This is especially true regarding the wound strings,- tune a 056 string up to G for a 'dobro' tuning, play it a little and bring it down to D for an open-D tuning, and it's completely lifeless and dull sounding...


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Illustrious Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 5381

You're a brave man steinar

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 7833

Hey, the strings Martin sells for dobros in GBDGBD tuning are .016-.056" gauge. Some of the squareneck players use .070 bottom strings in that tuning. I notice D'Addario shows their .070" nickel wound string going all the way up to A on the tension chart!

For a while I was on a heavy string craze and had .017-.070" nickel wounds on my roundneck Johnson Tricone for Open G or Open D tunings, having figured each string's gauge for the heaviest I'd want for the pitch it would be tuned to in either of those tunings that would give the higher tension. An idiot borrowed it and tuned it to standard tuning after I'd expressly forbidden him to do so, warning that the strings were so gauged to be the heaviest for the downtuned tunings, then he complained that the strings were hard on his fingers. Didn't hurt the Johnson, but I think as Steinar said the strings may have lost some sparkle. Total tension in Open D or G on the 25.5" scale was in the 210-220 pound range. Dunno in standard, that would have been off of D'Addario's chart.

I found that the heavy string tension overloads the resonator cones with too much downforce. They vibrate more freely and give better volume and tone with lighter strings. I'm using .012-.052" strings now, same as on my electrics. I'm saving the heavy ones to put on my lap steels where they work fine for D, G or E tuning. Hard on the tuners to crank 'em up to high bass G, though, and I've never learned to do much that's useful with that tuning.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."