What gauge string do I need for my musical instrument?

We often hear from folks that have "found an old zither in the attic" or "picked up this instrument at a garage sale" or had an instrument given to them by a well-intentioned friend or relative. There are a myriad variety of these old zithers, psalteries, ukelins, and other musical instruments around and most of them need some strings. Unfortunately, if you have ever brought one of these instruments into a modern music shop and asked for some new strings, you are not likely to get much help.

The purpose of this page is to help you find the correct replacement string for your instrument. This information could also be used as a resource for those that wish to design their own musical instrument and need to figure out how to string it.

In order to make good use of this information and find the correct string, it helps to understand a few concepts about strings on musical instruments and about how the chart below is set up. I'll start with a brief overview of these ideas and then give you a few scenarios where this table would come in handy and how to make use of it.

Note Names

The table below uses Scientific Pitch Notation (SPN). SPN is a way to identify a specific musical pitch using the musical note name and a number which identifies the pitch's octave. In this system, Middle C on a piano is C4. The number, or octave, changes occur on the C notes. So the C one octave above middle C would be C5 and so on. See the keyboard below.

Vibrating Length (VL)

This is simply the length of string that is allowed to freely vibrate when plucked. Usually this distance is measured from the bridge to a guide pin or tuning pin. It should be fairly straight forward to figure this out.

String Gauge

This is the diameter of the string. If the old string is still on the instrument you can measure the diameter with a digital caliper. Do a quick google search and you should be able to find a digital caliper for less than $20. They are also often sold at home improvement stores.

Some of the gauges in the chart below are highlighted orange. This indicates the use of a wound strings. Wound strings have a steel core and a bronze winding. A wound string is necessary to provide enough mass when the string tension for a given note and VL falls below 30% of its breaking point.

String Gauge Table

The table below contains a collection of several strings we use on our instruments. The table is sortable. You can click on the Header of each column to sort from smallest to largest. Click the Header again and the table will sort from largest to smallest. (The mouse may just look like a cursor when you hover over a column header but click anyway. It works.)

The Sort by Pitch column is there to easily sort the notes from low to high. If you sort the Note column you do not get all of the A notes together, then all of the B notes, etc. This can also be useful.

How to use this table

Scenario 1:

You have a zither that is missing a string. You know that the string is supposed to be tuned to G above Middle C and you have measured the Vibrating Length to be 18" but you don't know what gauge replacement string to use.

If you sort the table by note you can scroll down until you see all the examples of G4 (G above Middle C) You'll find six examples from different instruments. Look for the example that has the VL closest to what you need. Your VL is 18" which is right between the Autoharp (17.375") and the Hognose Psaltery (19"). Both of those instruments use a .016" diameter string. So it is safe to conclude that a .016" string will work for your instrument.

Scenario 2:

You are designing an instrument and need to know what gauge string to use. For example, let's say the vibrating length is 14" and you want the note to be tuned to a D. You can sort the table below by VL. You find a few D notes in the 14" range to chose from. The mandolin uses a wound .024" string for D4 (the D right next to Middle C). More common in that vibrating length would be a D5 (the D above the C one octave above Middle C). You'll find the Bowed Psaltery uses a .010" and the Kantele and Hognose use a .014.

A note about tension.

When you find you have a different gauge options to choose from - remember that increasing the diameter for a given note and VL will increase the tension. More tensions will generally result in a louder, clearer tone. You have to balance this against the additional stress you will place on the instrument. If you are concerned about the structural integrity of your instrument, it might be wise to lean toward the lighter gauge string. If your instrument seems overbuilt, it would be safe to lean toward the heavier gauge.

Sort by Pitch NOTE VL Gauge Instrument
01 C6 6.125 .012 Limerick Lap Harp
02 C6 8.25 .010 Bowed Psaltery
03 C6 8.75 .012 Hognose Psaltery
04 B5 6.75 .012 Limerick Lap Harp
05 B5 8.875 .010 Bowed Psaltery
06 B5 9.75 .012 Hognose Psaltery
07 A5 7.375 .014 Limerick Lap Harp
08 A5 9.875 .010 Bowed Psaltery
09 A5 10.375 .010 Autoharp
10 A5 10.75 .012 Hognose Psaltery
11 G5 8 .014 Limerick Lap Harp
12 G5 10.625 .010 Bowed Psaltery
13 G5 11.5 .010 Autoharp
14 G5 11.5 .012 Hognose Psaltery
15 G5 10 .012 Reverie Harp
16 F5 8.63 .016 Limerick Lap Harp
17 F5 11.75 .010 Bowed Psaltery
18 F5 12.5 .012 Autoharp
19 F5 12.75 .014 Hognose Psaltery
20 E5 9.25 .016 Limerick Lap Harp
21 E5 10 .012 Reverie Harp
22 E5 12.5 .010 Bowed Psaltery
23 E5 12.875 .012 Autoharp
24 E5 13.75 .014 Hognose Psaltery
25 E5 14 .010 Mandolin
26 D5 10 .018 Limerick Lap Harp
27 D5 11 .014 Reverie Harp
28 D5 13.375 .012 Autoharp
29 D5 13.5 .010 Bowed Psaltery
30 D5 14.25 .014 Kantele
31 D5 14.75 .014 Hognose
32 C5 10.75 .018 Limerick Lap Harp
33 C5 12 .016 Reverie Harp
34 C5 14.25 .012 Bowed Psaltery
35 C5 14.875 .014 Autoharp
36 C5 16 .014 Hognose Psaltery
37 B4 11.5 .020 Limerick Lap Harp
38 B4 15.125 .014 Kantele
39 B4 15.25 .012 Bowed Psaltery
40 B4 15.5 .014 Autoharp
41 B4 17 .016 Hognose Psaltery
42 A4 12.25 .020 Limerick Lap Harp
43 A4 12.75 .018 Reverie Harp
44 A4 14 .014 Mandolin
45 A4 16 .016 Kantele
46 A4 16.25 .012 Bowed Psaltery
47 A4 16.375 .016 Autoharp
48 A4 17.25 .014 Mandola
49 A4 18 .016

Hognose Psaltery

50 G4 13.125 .022 Limerick Lap Harp
51 G4 13.5 .020 Reverie Harp
52 G4 17 .016 Kantele
53 G4 17.25 .012 Bowed Psaltery
54 G4 17.375 .016 Autoharp
55 G4 19 .016 Hognose Psaltery
56 F4 14 .022 Limerick Lap Harp
57 F4 18.25 .016 Kantele
58 F4 18.25 .016 Autoharp
59 F4 18.375 .014 Bowed Psaltery
60 F4 20 .016 Hognose Psaltery
61 E4 14.25 .025 Reverie Harp
62 E4 15 .022 Limerick Lap Harp
63 E4 18.875 .018 Autoharp
64 E4 19 .018 Kantele
65 E4 19.5 .014 Bowed Psaltery
66 E4 21 .018 Hognose Psaltery
67 E4 25.5 .010 Bouzouki
68 E4 25.5 .012 Guitar
69 D4 14 .024 Mandolin
70 D4 15 .025 Guitar
71 D4 16 .022 Limerick Lap Harp
72 D4 17.25 .024 Mandola
73 D4 19.875 .020 Autoharp
74 D4 21 .018 Kantele
75 D4 21 .014 Bowed Psaltery
76 D4 22 .018 Hognose Psaltery
77 D4 25.5 .014 Bouzouki
78 D4 27.25 .012 Mt. Dulcimer
79 C4 15.5 .032 Reverie Harp
80 C4 17.25 .025 Limerick Lap Harp
81 C4 20.125 .020 Autoharp
82 C4 22.375 .014 Bowed Psaltery
83 C4 22.5 .020 Kantele
84 C4 23 .018 Hognose Psaltery
85 B3 18.5 .025 Limerick Lap Harp
86 B3 20.375 .022 Autoharp
87 B3 24.25 .020 Kantele
88 B3 25.5 .016

Guitar

89 A3 15.75 .032 Reverie Harp
90 A3 19.75 .025 Limerick Lap Harp
91 A3 20.5 .025 Autoharp
92 A3 25 .022 Mandocello
93 A3 25.5 .014 Bouzouki
94 A3 26 .020 Kantele
95 A3 27.25 .012 Mt. Dulcimer
96 G3 14 .036 Mandolin
97 G3 16 .042 Reverie Harp
98 G3 17.25 .032 Mandola
99 G3 20.75 .032 Autoharp
100 G3 21 .025 Limerick Lap Harp
101 G3 25.5 .018 Bouzouki
102 G3 25.5 .025 Guitar
103 F3 21 .032 Autoharp
104 F3 22.25 .032 Limerick Lap Harp
105 E3 16 .042 Reverie Harp
106 E3 21 .032 Autoharp
107 E3 23.5 .032 Limerick Lap Harp
108 D3 21.25 .042 Autoharp
109 D3 24.75 .032 Limerick Lap Harp
110 D3 25 .034 Mandocello
111 D3 25.5 .024 Bouzouki
112 D3 25.5 .032 Guitar
113 D3 27.25 .025 Mt. Dulcimer
114 C3 16 .056 Reverie Harp
115 C3 17.25 .048 Mandola
116 C3 21.5 .048 Autoharp
117 C3 26 .032 Limerick Lap Harp
118 A2 25.5 .042 Guitar
119 G2 21.75 .056 Autoharp
120 G2 25 .048 Mandocello
121 G2 25.5 .042 Bouzouki
122 E2 25.5 .056 Guitar
123 C2 25 .074 Mandocello