How Can I Reduce Acoustic Guitar String Tension?

Published Categorized as Guitar Care Tuning Restringing, Other, Setup

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Sometimes a guitarist might want to reduce their acoustic guitar string tension.

This might be for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. Hand issues
  2. To make a guitar easier to play for beginners
  3. To make a guitar easier to play for children who may not have the same hand strength
  4. To play in a certain style (for example if you do a lot of bending)
  5. To make your acoustic feel closer to an electric guitar

So how do you get a guitar that produces less tension?

Table of Contents

What Guitar String Tension is

String tension is mostly a factor of the strings used and the scale length of the guitar.

So, to reduce that tension you have to do at least 1 of 2 things:

  1. Reduce the scale length; and/or
  2. Use strings that produce less tension

Reducing the Scale Length

There is only one way to do this and that is to get a different guitar with a shorter scale length.

If you are yet to buy your first guitar or are looking for a guitar for someone else and you know they’ll need/want lower string tension, then pay attention to the scale length.

Just quickly, scale length is measured by taking the distance between the 1st fret and the 12th fret and multiplying it by 2. Essentially, though, scale length means you are taking a string that is stretched over a smaller distance but to the same pitch. This reduces the tension on that string but achieves the same pitch.

Apart from String Tension what else does scale length effect?

What this also does is reduce the distance inside the frets. There are still the same amount of frets but the amount of space for those frets to fit into is smaller.

This is great for those with small fingers because they don’t have to stretch as far between frets. But it can be an issue for those with big fingers, when you start to get to the upper frets.

Guitars with shorter scale lengths

Usually smaller bodied guitars have shorter scale lengths, though the scale lengths of larger bodied guitars do vary.

Classical (Nylon string) guitars actually have a longer scale length than Acoustic (steel string) guitars. Despite this, there is still considerably less tension on the strings of a classical guitar than there is on an acoustic guitar.

The reason for this is the strings. Classical guitars have nylon strings, which produce considerably less tension than steel strings.

This brings me to the next factor in string tension – the strings themselves.

How Can I Reduce Acoustic Guitar String Tension?

Using Strings that Produce less Tension

You may already have a guitar with a full scale-length and not want to buy another one. The other way to reduce string tension is through the strings themselves.

As mentioned above, classical guitars have nylon strings and those nylon strings produce less tension than the steel strings that are used on an acoustic guitar.

But there are also different steel strings that produce different tensions to others, depending on the materials used and the gauge (thickness) of the string).

Classical Guitars

Classical guitar strings actually come in different tensions. They have different gauges like steel strings but they also come in different tensions. But even the high tension nylon strings won’t have the same tension as steel strings.

(Learn more about choosing nylon strings here)

Acoustic Guitars

Steel strings come in a few different varieties.

Some varieties will produce more tension than others. Materials used and the gauge of the string will both effect the amount of tension exerted on the strings.

Materials Used

Steel strings usually all have a steel core but can be wound in different materials, such as:

  • Bronze
  • Phosphor Bronze
  • Silk/Nylon

Usually the 1st string and 2nd string are unwound and the 4th, 5th and 6th are wound with something. The 3rd string is sometimes wound and sometimes not.

The material that the wound strings are wound in will effect the tension.

Silk and Steel strings, for example, are wound in silk or nylon (or copper that has silk running through it). These produce less tension than other winding materials such as bronze and phosphor bronze.

(Learn more about choosing acoustic guitar strings)

String Gauge

The string gauge also plays a part in tension. The thicker the core of a string the more tension it’s going to produce.

So, light gauge strings will produce less tension than heavier gauged strings.

So, if you haven’t already, you could try reducing the gauge of string you use to see if that gives you a tension that you’re more comfortable with.

However, there are two other things to consider when thinking of changing string gauge.

  1. If you have a certain gauge of string on your guitar, then the guitar is likely to be set up for that gauge. If you change down by more than one gauge – e.g. if you were to go from Medium (13s) to Extra Light (10s), then you would need to have your guitar set up to work with the 10s. Usually just going down one gauge you shouldn’t need a set up.
  2. you’ll also have to weight up your sound preferences with string tension. If going to a lighter gauge makes your guitar sound hollow and tinny, or simply not to your tastes, then it may not be worth the trade off for the reduced tension. On larger bodied guitars especially , super light gauge strings may not sound as good as heavier gauges.

(Learn more about choosing acoustic guitar strings)

How Can I Reduce Acoustic Guitar String Tension?

Some more resources to check out

If you want to get really technical on this subject you can check out D’Addario’s tension chart.

If you want some other ideas for reducing tension you could check out: String tension: More to do with scale length or actual type of string?

Thanks for Reading

I hop this post has helped you to work out some ways that you can reduce your acoustic guitar’s string tension, for whatever reason you want to reduce it.

If you have other reasons you want to reduce your tension or if you know any other ways that are good for reducing string tension, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below. All other comments and questions welcome too.

FAQs

How do you reduce string tension?

To reduce string tension on a guitar, you can use lighter gauge strings, which are thinner and require less tension. Another method is to tune the guitar to a lower pitch; this slackens the strings, making them easier to press. Additionally, adjusting the truss rod to change the neck’s curvature can impact string tension, but it’s recommended to have a professional perform this to avoid damaging the guitar.

How do I make my acoustic guitar strings looser?

To make your acoustic guitar strings looser, you can switch to lighter gauge strings, which are thinner and require less tension. Alternatively, tuning the guitar to a lower pitch will also reduce the tension, making the strings feel looser. However, be mindful that too much slackness can affect the sound quality and intonation. Adjusting gradually and testing the feel and sound will help you find the right balance.

How do you adjust the tension on an acoustic guitar?

To adjust the tension on an acoustic guitar, you can:
Change the string gauge: Lighter strings reduce tension, while heavier strings increase it.
Tune up or down: Lower tuning decreases tension, higher tuning increases it.
Adjust the truss rod: This alters the neck’s curvature, indirectly affecting string tension. It’s a delicate task, best done by a professional or with careful research and the right tools.

Why are my acoustic guitar strings so tight?

Your acoustic guitar strings might feel tight due to several reasons:
High string gauge: Heavier strings have higher tension.
Standard or high tuning: Strings tuned to standard or above pitches are tighter.
High action: The distance between strings and fretboard, if too high, can make strings feel tighter.
Climate effects: In dry climates, wood contracts, potentially raising the action and increasing tension.
Neck curvature: Improper truss rod adjustment can affect tension.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

3 comments

  1. Acoustic guitar newbies are interested to know how to reduce string tension. I am sure this will help them a lot. Great idea for sharing!

  2. A couple other methids i have used are:
    * Drop your tuning below standard
    * Use electric guitar strings. This option does require changes to the setup of the guitas since the tension is so much less. It also reduces the sound level and affects the tone more than the other options. It is a great solution for those with arthritis in their finger joints, and younger children. It allows me to switch between my electric and acoustic guitars without much change in the feel.

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