Our Top Guitar String Gauges for Semi-Hollow and Hollow-Body Guitars

Our Top Guitar String Gauges for Semi-Hollow and Hollow-Body Guitars

People ask us all the time what gauge we recommend for a given guitar, and the truth is, there’s no one correct answer. String gauges depend way more on the player than they do on the guitar. That said, of course we have our favorite ways to set up different guitars for different purposes, so in this series, Scott is sharing his favorite string gauges for a couple of different types of guitars, and today he’s going over his favorite strings for semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars.

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 Transcription

What’s up, everybody? I’m Scott from Stringjoy Guitar Strings in Nashville, Tennessee. Today we’re talking a little bit about what strings I prefer on a hollow body or a semi-hollow electric guitar.

Strings are obviously very particular to a given guitarist. We have some players that play as light as sevens on an electric guitar like this. We have some players that play as heavy as 19s, and we’ve got people at every single rung in between those numbers. Depending on who you are or how you like to play, what sort of sound and playability you want to get out of your guitar, these results can be totally different in terms of what you’re going to need to get the sound and the playability that you want. But today we’re talking about what I like in an electric guitar like this, and what string gauges I usually use to complement those things.

The first thing about hollow bodies and semi-hollow bodies to me is that I’m not generally expecting to get a super playable or easy to play guitar. I kind of like it when they have a little bit of fight to them. These guitars are big. They usually have sort of big boat necks like this. A lot of times jumbo frets and things like that. A lot of things that don’t make your guitar necessarily that easy to play. I’m cool with this. I like my hollow bodies and semi-hollows to play like that. It’s totally fine with me, and so I’m not generally picking string gauges that are really easy to play either.

The other thing that I love about guitars like this is how they have a big beautiful sort of booming bottom end, and a ton of resonance because of that hollow nature of the body itself. I also want my strings to help compliment that as much as possible.

In a set of strings for a hollow body like this, I want something that’s going to have a little bit of fight to it. I’m not concerned about things like a wound third that might be a little bit less playable than I would want on an Ibanez RG or something like that. At the same time, I want something that’s going to bring out that low-end body and a lot of that boom to this guitar, which is what I already like.

For these guitars, I don’t generally look to compensate for the characteristics that I think make them unique. I look more to amplify those characteristics, and that’s maybe unique to me. I’ve got a number of different guitars that I look for different things out of, so I’m not really trying to make everything play right down the middle. I more enjoy having kind of extremes in my collection that play a little bit differently.

Let’s get down to it and talk about the gauges that I prefer. The first gauge on the high E string, I am going to go with an 11.5 on this one. An 11 would work very well as well if you want a little bit less fight to it than I prefer. A 12 would also work really well. A lot of jazz guys will use things like a 12 on here. That’s totally cool. For me, an 11 and a half is right in that middle between 11 and a 12. I get the playability that I more associate with 11s, and I get a little bit more of that fight and that boom of 12s, just all in the 11 and a half.

Up next is a 15 for the B string. There’s nothing too special about this other than the fact that it matches really well in tension with that 11 and a half that we have on the high E. In general I like my strings to have really similar tension to one another.

Next up on the G string we have a 22 gauge wound third. You could certainly use a slightly heavier wound third if that’s your thing. A 24 wound is what you’d typically see in a set like this. For me, I like a wound third that sounds like a wound third, gives me all that warmth and that sort of body at that position on the guitar. But I like something that I can also bend, so I tend to more match my wound third strings to my plain strings to make them feel like they can bend a little bit more. It gives me the advantages of a wound third, without the disadvantages.

These next three gauges are sort of a package deal. I tend to pick all of my wound strings to have as close of tension as I can. Or at least a smooth slope in terms of tension altogether. I usually have kind of standard pairings. I would go 28, 38, 50. Or in this case I’m going to go 30, 40, 52. The only reason those are all going together is because I think they balance each other out really well. But the reason I chose this pairing of three strings on the bottom, it’s going to sit really nicely with that 11 and a half. It’s going to give me all that boom, all that bottom end that I’m typically used to on one of these guitars. Basically, it’s the same type of bottom end you’d see on a light top heavy bottom set. Of course, in our circumstance of course, we have something that’s like a medium plus sort of top end, which I think will complement with this very well. It’ll be playable on top. I’ll have all that boom on the bottom, and everything’s going to balance really well across the entire neck.

Now that I’ve talked about everything quite enough, I think it’s time to actually string this fellow up and see what it sounds like with this particular set of strings.

(changes strings)

Alright. We’ve got everything set up. We just went with your pretty standard setup. Got about two wraps in the tuning peg. All the usual stuff. We did pre-stretch everything out, as I think you almost always should do when you change your strings. But now to the fun part, let’s see what it sounds like.

I love this setup for a lot of reasons. You get that really nice glassy top end out of those heavier wound strings. The third isn’t too hard to bend at all, and of course, you’ve got that nice really heavy bottom end that really compliments all the great things about guitars like these.

This guitar is a fun one. I used to play it in jazz band a long time ago. It needs a little bit of work. Some of the pots are a little bit scratchy. All that sort of stuff, which I will be doing soon. But getting the right gauges of strings can go a long way, and for me, a setup like this is just awesome to give me all the good stuff out of this guitar.

This sound that you’re hearing, it’s not actually even mic’d up. It’s just coming through my LAV mic right here. There’s no reverb, compression, or anything at all on it. It just, to me it sounds great. It’s really balanced. Have a lot of liveliness in the bottom end, and again, a lot of really nice glassiness in the top end which I absolutely love.

If you want to build a set like this, just head on over to Stringjoy.com. You can customize any of the sets of electric strings on our website, and that’ll make it really easy to just pick out these gauges, or make any changes that you want if you think this sounds pretty good, but want maybe a little bit lighter or heavier of a low E or a high E or a plain third, what have you.

If you don’t want to go all the way to these exact gauges, our balanced medium guitar string set would actually get you a lot of the way there. That one is going to go 11, 14, 18 plain. 28, 38, 50. Pretty much all around it’s just about one little notch down. It will come stock with a plain third, but you can swap that out for a wound 20, which is what I would recommend in that set, if you like. If you’re doing things that are a little bit more all-purpose or you like a little bit more playability than I have right here, that’s exactly the set that I would recommend. It’s what I would play on a semi-hollow if I was trying to play a ton of different genres, or just be able to bend a lot more than I can on this one.

Let us know what you play on your hollow body or semi-hollow guitar down in the comments!

4 Comments

  1. OK, here goes. Each to his own but in short I think you should match your string gauge to your style and approach to playing finding your ideal set based on things like touch, feel, how hard you dig in with your picking hand, whether you you use your fingers, a pick, or a combination of both. After you've played for awhile you will develop a preference based on these factors rather than saying, um, that "this is a hollow body, hence it's a 'jazz' guitar, hence I need heavier strings." Also keep in mind, Jim Hall, one of the best Jazz guitarists ever used very light strings and Stevie Ray Vaughn used a set beginning with a .012 or .013. And Mike Stern has used a Tele for years. If you gear your string choice primarily based on what "should" go on a particular guitar, unless you've consciously or unconsciously changed your approach to the instrument you will not be happy and will find yourself not picking up that guitar again for awhile. Granted, if you want to generate enough energy to vibrate the top of a hollow body arch top guitar then by necessity you will need to put on a set that has at the very least an .011 or .012 for the first string. But, IMHO, a semi-solid (notice what I did here) guitar like a Gibson ES-335 has more in common with a Les Paul than an ES-175 or L-5. And one more thing in keeping with the feel aspect as paramount - physics states that, all other things being equal (and ofttimes they are not) the tension on a guitar with a 25.5" scale (Strat, Tele) will be greater than a guitar with a 24.75" scale (Les Paul, SG, ES-3x5) and you MAY find it necessary to alter your gauge choices between these instruments. And oh yeh, neck radius, fret size, and setup parameters in general such as relief and string height at the bridge and the nut all play a role - again dictated primarily by your playing style and touch. So, develop your style and find those things, (the instrument, the strings, the right setup) which feel the best to you and then take off from there.
    • Totally, we've been preaching this for ages. Like I say in the video many times, these are the gauges that I prefer on a semi-hollow. Just what I dig. Your results may vary.
  2. I am a fan of the wound 3rd in the higher gauges as it helps balance the volume. A giant 18 or 20 plain is so loud to my ear. Keep making the best strings, thanks for the info.
  3. I've just purchased a Gretsch hollow body guitar. It came with medium guage strings on it from the factory. I didn't like it, I was used to light guage strings, that I use on my Stratocaster and Les Paul. I've discovered that I was ripping myself off when it came to tone, on my new hollow body. Light guage strings just don't take advantage of what this type of guitar has to to offer. I'm coming around to sacrificing a bit of string bend, in favor of great tone. I had to strengthen my fingers and harden my calluses, I'm getting there little by little.

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