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Thread: Better tone with light strings?

  1. #1

    Default Better tone with light strings?

    My favorite instrument I inherited from my dad is a Ray Sparks F-5, built in 1996. He played the frets off of it twice, wore all the finish off the neck, put some serious pinky divots in the top... gave this thing some serious time and love, and the resulting battle scars.

    I’ve always loved this mandolin, but since I got it, it hasn’t sounded very good. When I picked it up from his house, it was in its case, so I don’t think he’d played it in awhile. After trying various gauges and string materials, I read an interview with Don Julin where he said his Nugget F-5 prefers light gauge strings. As luck would have it, I found the same strings Don uses in my dad’s stuff. 10, 15, 24, 38, GHS.

    Much to my surprise, these strings brought it to life. It’s clear as a bell, like I took a blanket off the speaker, and the chop has this mid range punch that’s unbelievable.

    Anybody else have one like that?

  2. #2
    Registered User Ken's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I also like lighter strings on my Mandolins. Usually either GHS A 250's (10 - 36) or D'Addario J 73's (10 - 38). I feel I get a richer tone and a little more sustain, and yes, even a little better volume . I have played friends mandolins with heavier strings that sounded great so I do think that its an individual mandolin and player kind of thing. The lighter strings definitely are kinder to my old hands tho. On the down side, I've been working on Evening Prayer Blues and don't think I'll ever get that powerful open G string that Mike Compton has with my current lighter gauges.
    Peace

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Agreed, it's definitely a case-by-case thing.

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Yes, A lifelong question. Rick Beato put out this video in January this year which he claims light strings on a guitar, offer better tone and sustain. You can see it here.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGXj_NQONYM Me, I'm on the fence as it goes against a lifetime of thinking bigger is always better. It does make some sense ,that having the top under less tension will let it move more freely. Time to experiment.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Just for clarification, the post wasn’t meant to be all encompassing. My first no-name mandolin and my Eastman 315 definitely benefited from EJ75 strings, my Gibson worked well with 74 or 75, and this Sparks seems to like the lights. I’ve never met a quality acoustic guitar that didn’t sound best with 13-56, and electric guitars are completely dependent on your playing style. I use 10-52, but a friend of mine makes 8s sound awesome.

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    Registered User Murphy Slaw's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    And, always remember.

    Tone is in the eye of the earholder...
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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    All depends on the mandolin, how does it do in a jam or gig? I never had luck with playing bluegrass stuff in a setting with light strings-probably on stage its different as the mic/PA can bump one up a notch or two but in a fest-say parking lot jam-I'd bust em-for sure when a banjo player thinks he has to overpower everyone!! I can't stand that when everyone plays so darn hard and loud! Let the instrument do the work! At home by yourself and say a guitar playing with ya-ya man enjoy!

  11. #8
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I've definitely got too heavy of a picking hand for light strings in a jam setting. On my Flatbush mando which is an awesome one but a backup mostly, I put lights on it when my girlfriend was trying to learn to play and it made a big difference for her in finger pain. They sounded surprisingly good I thought. (But it had been forever since it had new strings too!)
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    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bowsman View Post
    .....

    Much to my surprise, these strings brought it to life. It’s clear as a bell, like I took a blanket off the speaker, and the chop has this mid range punch that’s unbelievable.

    Anybody else have one like that?
    I had the same experience with a very responsive Campanella a few years ago.
    Phil

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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I put GHS thin core strings 10-41, on a few guitars a while ago and was surprised at how good they sounded. Started out for an old ladder braced parlor guitar so I could tune it up to pitch. WOW it sounded great, better intonation, so put them on a few others. The Larivee likes heavier strings, but the rest sound good with the lighter ones. I do have different gauges on different mandolins and yes each instrument is an individual just like us.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I actually prefer the sound of heavier strings on my Gibson but I prefer the feel and playability of lighter strings. That might be coming with my advancement in age. If it sounds better to you then that's all that matters.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    ... and yes each instrument is an individual just like us.
    Love it!

    A "tubby" A-1 from 1917? Went lighter on just the G course and it's now nicely balanced.
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  16. #13
    Registered User mtucker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Quote Originally Posted by Frankdolin View Post
    Yes, A lifelong question. Rick Beato put out this video in January this year which he claims light strings on a guitar, offer better tone and sustain.
    There’s a story that Billy Gibbons tells about BB King that goes back a number of years ...BB asked him if he wanted to play Lucille while warming up prior to a co-performance, so Billy jumped at the chance and they proceeded to swap guitars ...after a few minutes BB looked up and asked Billy why he was using such heavy strings on his guitar? Billy just shrugged and said ‘he thought that was the way to get the best tone out of it’...BB responded by telling him that he didn’t have to work that hard to get it and that he himself uses a light gauge string, like 9’s. Billy said he immediately changed to 8’s (one down from BB’s) and has never looked back.

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  18. #14
    Registered User mandolinstew's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Sticking with mediums

  19. #15

    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    My $0.02 - it depends on the player for sure, but I think the construction of the instrument is an important part of which strings will work best.

    I have a rather shitty mandolin with a veneer, and I am able to get a relatively good sound of it using heavier strings from a guitar set. That is to say, the body doesn't resonate well on its own, so the heavier tension of the strings helps power the body vibrations.
    Whereas, with a well-made mandolin with a light body, you would want the strings to be lighter to allow the body resonance to take over and project the sound.

    This is my intuition based on what I've heard/read, so feel free to prove me wrong of course. As far as pure electric instruments go, there is no "body" sound to speak of, so then it's definitely all up to personal preference on the string gauge.
    Last edited by ohnoitsalobo; Aug-13-2020 at 5:30am.

  20. #16
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Yup. Depends on the player and instrument. I do think my oval hole A Jr. sounds better with lights. The Flatiron prefers medium or medium heavy.

    Am the same way with guitars. For a number of years would string up my D sized guitars with lights based on what a late friend did. He had a number of great vintage guitars, never liked mediums on them. And he was always heard at jams.
    1935 Gibson A50, 2018 Collings MT, 1989 Flatiron Performer A, 1929 Gibson A Jr., 1935 Kalamazoo KM-21, 2018 Eastman MDO-305
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  21. #17
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Better / Worse ..... who knows but the player on a specific instrument .... different ... yes ... different brand same gauge will also yield a tonal variation. Your taste , touch and instrument and expectations are what make up "better" ..... Personally I can't stand GHS strings... but many here love them. Enjoy that mandolin. R/
    Last edited by UsuallyPickin; Aug-13-2020 at 7:10am. Reason: Different thought
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  22. #18
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Someone recommended J75's for Silverangels, I tried and do agree... had them on for a while now and really like them. I understand most of the flattops are intended for light strings. I had the GHS light strings on my 1N which sounded really nice, so I bought some for the pancake I am currently building.
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  23. #19

    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    In addition to what I’ve already stated, my default set is the D’Addario Custom Medium, 11.5, 16, 26, 40. I put these on my new-to-me Northfield Big Mon. I’ll try the EJ75 next to see if the 41 G sounds better, but the 40 sounds fine for now.

    Just to stir the pot a little and irritate the “who cares what someone else uses” crowd, I started using this gauge after Adam Steffey gave me a set, and had wanted to try them because Chris Thile came up with them. Turns out, two guys with killer tone and awesome playing aren’t a bad place to look for advice.

  24. #20
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I have 10~ 38 strings on one mandolin, 11 to 41 on another..* is one better than the other? not in my opinion, just different.

    1 an A, the other an A4 made in Kalamazoo in 22..
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  25. #21
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I like 80/20 bronze strings on oval hole mandolins. I used to put EXP77's on both my Old Wave oval and my Parsons flat-top. But I switched a while ago to EJ62's (10-34). I think I get better tone and volume.

  26. #22
    🎼 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    Interesting discussion! I have always been inclined toward the heavier strings. Now I’m wondering if it’s time for some experimentation.

    I had a luthier set up my Gibson J 200 and an old Dobro with light strings after he preached at me for an hour about the evils of heavy strings. That was 20 years ago, and to this day the J 200 almost never comes out of the case. There is no power there.

    I’m new to the mandolin. I may not be as set in my ways with that.
    All Fingers At Once

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  28. #23
    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    https://www.stringsbymail.com/la-bel...-38-16934.html

    ^^^ These are what I use. To me they are the perfect balance between reg mediums and lights since they are 11-38 rather than the traditional 11-40. They also seem to be made of a slightly "softer" (lacking a better term) type of wire which makes them feel a lot better under my fingers. They also happen to sound better on my mandolin than any other strings. Highly recommended.
    ...

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  30. #24
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    I'm using EJM75C ("Medium Plus" Monel set) which are 11, 14, 25, 41. I love the "played-in" sound of the Monel strings (and their longevity), but my feeling on the 41 G is that it sounds a bit... stuffy and the 11 E is lacking tone and sustain. The D and A sound like what I'm after. I don't know much about how tension affects things, but it may be worth noting that the D and A strings are the lowest tension of the set. But, I'm still new to mandolin and experimenting with different strings, so I'll give some lighter strings a shot in future. Chasing the elusive tone...
    "Flow, river flow. Let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town." - Roger McGuinn

  31. #25
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    Default Re: Better tone with light strings?

    If your instrument sounds choked, by all means lighten the load.

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