After throwing on a set of Gretsch 11-49 strings on my Gretsch G5120, I decided to get my hands on some D’Addario EXL 115 strings for “Blues/Jazz Rock” and at .011, .014, .018, .028, .038 and .049 they’re quite a hefty string gauge and harder to bend than the Super Slinky set o’ nines I’ve been using from Ernie Ball. I bought an EXL115 tenner pack because you get such a greater value buying in bulk and the price drops to around $3.00USD a set.
The only way to know if you will be able to abide or even like a heavier gauge string is to do a live test on the same guitar using different set gauges. That means you will waste a couple of sets as you string, tune, play, re-tune, play — take a break — and re-tune and play and then re-string with the other comparison gauge set. No real changes had to be made with my guitar setup and intonation looked really good in the move up from .09s to .011s.
I strung up the D’Addario EXL115s on my Gilmour Custom Black Strat, my Clapton Custom Stratocaster, and on my beloved Les Paul Standard. They’d all previously been running with Ernie Ball Classic Rock N Rolls Super Slinkys.
The first thing you notice with .011s is they are a much meatier set of strings and it takes a lot more finger effort to get some Blues Bending done — but it is doable with effort and pratice.
There is no doubt a heavier string gives you a thumpier bottom end and a saturating and pinging upper end. The action is a bit higher with a heavier strong so you tend to play more carefully and precisely. .09s can make you a little sloppy because the strings are looser and easier to catch by mistake while bending.
Heavier strings are also quieter when you reposition your fingers up and down the fretboard. A lighter gauge string will announce those finger movements like skittering snipes on a wire in the night. Heavier strings will dampen that annoying sound.
Heavier strings like .011s will also punish your fingertips a bit more, but they will not cut your fingers as deeply as .09s will because a thinner string makes a more efficient cut because its diameter is smaller. Heavier strings can cut you, but their overall “cutting edge” isn’t as sharp as a smaller gauge because the string is thicker. I never understood the differences in cutting ability until I moved up from .09s to .011s.
If you plan to do any sort of fingerpicking — Travis Style or Chet Style or Flat — on your electric guitar, you will absolutely want a heavier string. Thicker string means you can hit the notes harder as you pluck and the same pluck on a .09 string will not sound as loud, or as good, as the same effort expended to make an .011 string ring.
Heavier strings also last longer and stay in tune better than lighter gauges.
I’m cautiously moving forward with installing D’Addario EXL115s on the rest of my guitars. After the initial live comparison test, I need to push and pull each string throughout a few practice sessions over the next week or so — that will tell me if I am able to confidently pull and pluck .011-.049 strings or not — but so far I’m betting I won’t have any trouble once I build up the necessary finger strength and I will then have a richer and beefier sound in my fingers and that is always a grand thing.