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Thread: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

  1. #1

    Default Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    Im about to change my first set of strings and as a beginner I was wondering what strings are best and whats the difference between medium/light and medium/heavy strings.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    Short answer (IMO) is stick with medium unless you have really got to the point where you are sounding clearly on all strings, and feel like there's some imbalance that might be attributable to string gauge.

    Different brands might have slightly different spins on their hybrid sets, so you have to look at the individual set gauges. D'Addario has a medium/heavy set in the EJ (and XT) series that only has the D strings the same as their medium set, with the other 3 strings slightly heavier. The XT "custom medium" set has the E and A strings like the medium/heavy, but the bottom strings are like the medium set.

    The EJ medium/light set has ball-ends, so likely designed for Ovation mandolins, or similar.

    I have NO idea what drives the formulations of sets, but presumably market demand. If you find your top strings sounding a little thin, maybe a "custom medium" kind of configuration might help, but your mandolin (or fingers!) might not like the change.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    Thank you any info helps.

  4. #4
    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
    Pottstown, Pennsylvania, United States
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    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    Most modern arch top mandolins are built for mediums. I mostly tell people to start with D'Addario EJ-74s. They are phosphor bronze, readily available, and inexpensive. Depending on your skin chemistry and playing style they last about 1-12 months. They are 40, 26, 15, and 11 gauges (GDAE respectively).

    If you change your string gauges considerably, you may need to adjust the slots on your nut and bridge. If you stick with similar gauges you can try different materials and relatively easily change your mandolin's tone with string and pick combinations. I liked Silk and bronze for a warmer tone, or flat wound strings for smooth playability. Different strings have different advantages and disadvantages.

    A place like Just Stings makes it easy to compare shop and try things out.

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  5. #5
    Registered User
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    Jun 2005
    High Peak - UK

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    In my experience, most of it is marketing hype. Back in the “good old days” you could mostly only buy light, medium or heavy gauges whereas, today, there are, as you’ve found, a bewildering range of alternatives.

    I’ve been using d’Addario strings since they were first produced in 1974 and, for mandolin, I use EJ74s (medium) on everything from a 1914 Gibson A to a 2008 Kimble F. I suggest you start with these and, if you find them too heavy, try the 73s of, if you find them too light, try the 75s. When yiu’ve made your fortune as a mandolin player and can afford to pay someone to change your strings for you, you might like to spend time convincing yourself that some of the more exotic gauges are worthwhile trying.

    To be serious for a moment, the setup of your instrument can be far more critical than the gauge of strings you’re using.

  6. #6
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    May 2012
    Seattle WA

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    I mainly use an 11 gauge set (11 / 15 / 26 / 40). I may move up to 11.5 though.

    The basic differences in gauges I've always heard is basically:

    Lighter gauge = less pressure to make a note, which helps with speed - but less mass on the string, which detracts from tone / volume

    Heavier gauge = more pressure to make a note, which means a bit slower generally - but more mass on the string, so more volume etc.

    From my experience, I believe that's accurate.

    If you have any idea what gauge is currently on your mandolin, it might be best to stick with that right away to avoid setup issues (i.e. the string not fitting in the nut / bridge grooves). If you're not sure, I would suggest either 10s or 11s. The 10s will be easier to play than the 11s most likely - which might be best if you're just starting out.
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  7. #7
    Registered User Kirk Higgins's Avatar
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    Nov 2020
    Halifax, Nova Scotia

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    I use John Pearse phosphor bronze heavy (12,15,26,40) on my 2007 Kimble F5 and 12,16,26,40 on my 85 Kentucky KM 650.

    The action is fairly low on both mandolins with EVO gold frets that are fairly high.

    I find the trebles sound thicker with 12’s on the high e strings.

    I have used D’Addario 11.5’s on the e strings with good results as well.

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  8. #8
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    Saint Augustine Beach FL

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    Welcome to the Cafe! What type of mandolin do you have? That can make a difference. As a beginner you might want to start with the light (D'Addario set EJ73) strings
    and as others have said move up to the J74's as your calluses build up and you get more comfortable with the instrument.

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  9. #9

    Default Re: Medium/light and medium/heavy strings whats the difference?

    My mandolin is an a5 style hola.

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