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.