What’s the difference between string gauge and tension?

December 7, 2018, 8:45 AM · What’s the difference between string gauge and tension? What does they mean? :)

Replies (5)

Edited: December 7, 2018, 9:10 AM · Gauge means diameter, and tension means pull. Tension is proportional to the square of the gauge.
December 7, 2018, 9:17 AM · With a string of the same brand and type, a thicker gauge will usually give a higher tension, and thinner will give a lower tension.

Otherwise, there is little relationship between the two. For instance, a violin D string can be a much larger diameter than a violin E, but have similar tension.

December 7, 2018, 10:00 AM · Gauge is an alternate way to specify the diameter of a string. You have to be careful when using it because a SMALLER gauge means a BIGGER diameter, which is counter-intuitive to actually specifying the diameter of the string in, say, millimeters.

Tension is the force developed in the string when you stretch it by turning the pegs.

To understand the relationship between tension and gauge, you need to understand the science behind a vibrating string. Without going into detail, here are the basics...

Suppose you want to replace your A string and have the open string vibrate at 440hz per modern tuning practice. Given the material (density), gauge (diameter) and playing length (distance between nut and bridge) you will need to stretch the string by using the peg until your tuner reads the open string vibrating at 440. Let's say this occurs at some tension.

If you replace that string with another one made of the same material (density), but double the diameter (smaller gauge), the tension would have to increase by a factor of 4 to give a tuning frequency of 440hz.

Thus, as David mentioned, a thicker string requires more tension (stretching) and a thinner string needs less tension (stretching) to tune to the same frequency, all other things being equal.

December 7, 2018, 12:46 PM · To amplify the "all things equal": wound strings aren't all things equal. The winding confounds the equation, as David mentioned, depending on whether it's lead or plastic foam, to state an extreme. So the equation only applies to pure wire of identical composition(!). The tension of a wound string depends a lot on the core material and size figured against the weight (not diameter) of the wrapping, against the intended pitch, to oversimplify.

The other thing to know is that Pirastro's PM string gauge numbers for gut strings are calculated in units equal to 1/20mm. I don't know if they actually call these numbers "gauges" but if they do, then ignore Carmen's comment about higher number = smaller wire, which is a metalworking and shotgun convention, but not necessarily a string convention.

Also confounding things, I see that Pirastro lists plain E strings in mm diameters, not their "PM" units.

Entertaining discussion here: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/cellofun/cello-string-question-t16352.html

December 7, 2018, 9:07 PM · Another common "gauge" used for strings is a set of terms which is descriptive of the thickness so, therefore, the tension needed to bring the string up to pitch. Examples are:

Heavy, Medium, Light


Stark, Mittel, Welch

In both cases, the terms represent string thickness from thicker to thinner and correspondingly, more tension to less tension.

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