Canyon West Guitars

You Rock. We'll Help You Prove It.

We are proud to be Your Home For Tone in beautiful Downtown Nampa, Idaho.

Bluegrass Strings? (Do I Have To Wear A Straw Hat?)

We get a lot of questions about what kind of strings are right for a particular customer's guitar, and we have a few basic guidelines that steer our recommendations. Some of these that pertain to acoustics are:

  • Smaller guitars get lighter strings.
  • Larger guitars get medium-er strings.
  • Kids and pre-truss rod models get super light strings.
  • If you have a favorite, we'll try to get it for you.

(They aren't rules. They are just guidelines and there are exceptions to all of them.)

As far as gauges go, "light", "medium", and "heavy" are pretty easy to understand, but the "bluegrass" set is one of our most highly recommended. Since we get so many questions, though, it seemed like a good thing to discuss.

Bluegrass sets are a balance between light and medium, with the heavier gauges of a medium set on the lowest strings, and the smaller gauges of light strings on the light strings. Our two favorite sets (from John Pearse and D'Addario) measure from low to high as follows:

6th (E): .056 | 5th (A): .045 | 4th (D): .035 | 3rd (G): .025/.024 | 2nd (B) .016 | 1st (E): .012

With the exception of the .001 difference on the G, the sets are just alike, size-wise, with a very similar feel. The thing we love about them is the same thing that endeared them to the flatpickers that gave them their name - the ability to have beefy rhythms and still pick a melody fluidly. The big, low-end strings still have plenty of punch and power, but the high strings retain the ability to fly between notes, bend easily, and (dare we say it?) still be easy on the fingers over the course of a long set. Most of the time when we play acoustic, we are focusing primarily on rhythm, and frankly, when we play rhythm, we need the low strings to give us the most they can.  In standard and dropped tunings, we want to let the guitar focus on the booming lows, which dropping down to a .056 allows us to do with ease. Still, for solos, melodic work, or big, open shimmery chords, Unless someone specifically needs a lighter or heavier set for a specific reason, bluegrass sets tend to maintain that balance between styles and genres.

Here's the funny part: none of us here at Canyon West are bluegrass players. We play rock, country, and more rock. Nobody said we had to be tied down to a label, though, so whatever your flavor is, maybe give a bluegrass set a try. 

My First Guitar (Ah, Memories.)

My memory isn't the greatest, I'll acknowledge, but my first guitar is not going to be forgotten any time soon. I don't have any pictures of it, or of me playing it, no known recordings of its tone exist, and the guitar itself was long since disposed of, but the memory is still fresh with me, and I plan to keep that for a long, long time.

Truth is, I can't even remember if I got that guitar for my birthday or Christmas or both. (They're only a day apart, so the lines get a little blurry sometimes.) What I distinctly recall is my sister and late brother-in-law bringing a nylon-string guitar through the front door and handing it to me. You might say a few things changed that day.

The brand was nothing to speak of - just a cheap Chinese imported guitar. It took an old guy at church with some tools and know-how to make it even nearly acceptably playable, and even at that, it was still a task to play, and a chore to hear. Mr. Virtue showed me how to get started with my first few chords, beginning with C, then G, and on we went with all the necessary lessons. By the time barre chords came around, he shook his head and said, "Good luck!", but we found a way to make it work on that mile-wide, iron-flat fretboard anyway.

That gut-string guitar stayed with me until the summer Dan wanted to borrow it, and decided it was too humble to continue being played. Without my permission, he tossed the guitar in a dumpster, and left me with pretty much nothing. Oh well. It was time to move on to better tools by that point, and on we went to the next axe. I missed it for a while until I got a good feel for what a better guitar actually felt like, and never looked back from there.

Is there some sentimentality left for that old Chinese piece? I suppose so, but it served its purpose well. I learned my notes, scales, chords, and the basics on it, and if I could play on that thing, I could play on anything. It also taught me a good lesson that I use with my students today - that a cheap guitar can be a frustration to a student. If it wasn't for Mr. Virtue and his patience, repair knowledge, and abilities, I probably would have quit playing guitar before I really got started. To this day I'm glad for someone who put in the time, care, and energy to pass along his passion for playing guitar. My sentiments aren't for the guitar itself, but instead for the experience.

The guitar is long gone, and several others have come and gone since. Not being a collector, I'm pretty well set on the four that I own and gig regularly, and perhaps the only one I really miss is the Guild, but that's another story. What it really boils down to is an appreciation for what you have when you have it. Whether it is a guitar or other piece of gear, a person or relationship, or anything else, there is no guarantee of how long we will hold on to anything we have. Appreciate it, learn from it, and do your best to be your best, and although loss might be sorrowful, it will not be in vain. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so wrap your arms (or fingers) around today. It's well worth appreciating.

Don't forget... you are important.

-- Duncan.