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My Guitar Strings Feel Too Tight! How Tight Should They Be?

Making sure your guitar feels comfortable to play is vital when it comes to your enjoyment and progression of a guitarist. If your guitar strings feel too tight this can be a problem, especially when it comes to techniques like bending.

So, what should I do if my guitar strings feel too tight? If your guitar strings feel tight and stiff, the easiest way to reduce tension is by using lighter gauge strings. Lowering the action of your guitar and making sure the intonation is correct can also help.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different ways you can reduce the tension in your guitar strings to make them easier to play. We’ll also look at a few other points to consider when your guitar strings feel too tight.

How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be?

You might be hoping for a different answer than this, but the only way to answer this question is… if your guitar is in tune then the strings are as tight as they need to be.

Some people prefer tighter feeling strings and some looser, so there isn’t a more specific answer to this question. As long as the guitar is in tune, then the strings are as tight as they should be.

But don’t worry!

If your guitar strings feel too tight, there are some things you can do to reduce the tensions in the strings and still have an in-tune guitar.

Is Your Guitar In Tune?

As I mentioned, if your guitar is in tune, then the strings are as tight as they need to be. So before you make any changes to your guitar, take a moment to check your guitar is actually in tune.

Whilst highly unlikely, make sure your guitar is not tuned an octave higher than it should be. The chances are this would snap the strings so it’s unlikely to be the case but still worth checking.

Another possibility is if you tune your guitar by ear based on a string that was slightly sharp, you might find your guitar sounds in tune on its own but is actually closer to F tuning rather than standard E tuning.

If your guitar is in tune, let’s look at some ways to reduce the tension.

Use Lighter Gauge Strings

The easiest way to reduce tension when your strings feel too tight is by using lighter gauge strings. Especially if you’re currently using 11 or 12-gauge strings, a set of 9s will feel a lot less stiff.

It is worth noting that lighter gauge strings do have a couple of disadvantages. First, they make it harder to maintain intonation because they lack that stiffness, and second, they break more easily. They also have a brighter, thinner tone which may or may not be what you’re looking for.

Guitar Setup

If you’re already using light gauge strings or really don’t want to move away from heavier strings, your guitar’s setup can impact how tight the strings feel.

  • Lower the action – If your strings are too far away from the fretboard, you will have to push them further down to fret them. This can make the strings feel stiff and harder to play. You don’t want to lower the action too much as this can cause fret buzz, but it’s possible your action is high if the strings feel tight. Sweetwater has a guide on altering the action on your guitar.
  • Check the intonation – If your bridge saddle is set too far back this can add tension to the strings making them feel stiffer. String gauge can affect intonation, so if you decide to use lighter strings, adjust your intonation after you change them. Sweetwater also has a guide on setting up your intonation.

A Couple of Points to Consider

As we have seen, it’s possible that your string gauge or guitar setup is what’s making the strings feel stiff. However, if you’re using light strings and have set up your guitar, there are a couple of points to consider when it comes to tight-feeling strings.

  • Is your technique on point? – If you’re a beginner to guitar, it might be the case that your technique isn’t quite right. This is especially true with bends. If you’re using your fingers and not your wrist to perform a bend, it will be a lot harder and the strings will feel tight.
  • Acoustic guitar strings feel stiffer than electric – If you’re moving from an electric guitar to an acoustic guitar, you will notice the strings feel tighter. This is normal due to the heavier strings and higher-action acoustic guitars tend to have.

Final Thoughts

As long as your guitar is in tune then your strings are how tight they should be. However, if your strings feel too stiff, you can try lighter gauge strings, reducing the action, and making sure your intonation is correct.

If you’re new to guitar, it might be the case that you need to improve your technique and strengthen your hand. If you’re moving from electric to acoustic guitar, it’s normal for the strings to feel tighter but you can still use lighter strings.