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String Tension Factors

Q: I have two guitars that seem pretty similar — same scale length and basic design. But one feels way stiffer than the other. What could cause this?

A: A number of factors can influence guitar or bass string tension, including:

  • Scale length: the longer the scale, the stiffer the strings will feel.
  • String break angle: the strings break at some angle across the bridge and the nut. This angle will influence the tension. With a Tune-o-matic bridge, the tailpiece can often be raised or lowered to change the tension a bit.
  • String gauge: it’s probably obvious, but heavier strings feel tighter than lighter strings.
  • Bridge type: A vibrato tailpiece will have a different tension than a fixed bridge. And a floating bridge will have a different feel than one that is locked down.
  • Fret size: larger frets often make heavier strings feel lighter.
  • Brand and type of strings: strings from different manufacturers feature different constructions and compositions and can feel noticeably different.
  • Neck thickness: the same strings may feel different on a thin neck than on a thick one, because of the way in which your hand grips around the neck and strings.

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