To aid in understanding the gauges in common use today, I’ve constructed an analysis of each string of the standard tuning. It’s worth noting that some famous players like Paul Franklin and Russ Hicks gravitate toward heavier strings for richer tone.
The scale length of a pedal steel is the distance from the center of the changer finger to the the center of the nut roller – the full vibrating string length. Most pedal steels have a scale length in the range of 24” to 24.5”, though a few are 25” or longer. Generally speaking, a shorter scale will take a slightly heavier string than a long scale.
The most common E9th gauges in use today are: .012 .015 .011 .014 .017 .020p .026w .030 .034 .038
F# – .012 or .013 plain. The most common choice today is .012. Players who don't raise the string to G# often prefer .013
D# – .015 plain. Few players use anything different.
G# – .011, .0115 or .012 plain. The traditional choice is .011, but you’ll get a better tone if your guitar can hold a heavier string without breaking. Many short scale players now use a .012, and the .0115 from Jagwire or GHS works on almost any guitar. Still, .011 is the safest choice if your guitar is prone to string breakage.
E – .014 or .015 plain. Almost everyone uses .014. The only exception I know of is Paul Franklin who uses .015 Jagwire. People have been buying his signature set, so maybe this is a forward-thinking trend. All new guitars are set up by the builders for .014.
B – .017 or .018. The most common choice is .017 because it gives you a longer, more sensitive pedal pull. The .018 has a stronger tone, it pulls more quickly and takes more effort on the pedal. Some players switch to .018 after years of using .017 because of the tone or for the shorter pull.
G# – .020, .021, .022 plain or .022 wound. The modern standard is .020 plain. Older players (or players with older guitars) often prefer the .022 wound for its rich tone and long travel on the B pedal. Most modern guitars have a lever that lowers G# to F#, and a plain string makes that change work better. The .021 or .022 are used by players who want even shorter knee lever travel.
F# – .024 or .026 wound. The standard gauge is .026. The only exceptions are John Hughey and his disciples who use .024 wound. I don’t know why.
E – .028 or .030 wound. The standard gauge is .030. Again, John Hughey’s variation is .028 and I don’t know why he went lighter than the standard. Virtually everyone else uses .030.
D – .034 wound. Few players use anything different.
B – .036 or .038 wound. There is very little difference between .036 and .038. Players who have a short scale prefer the .038. Also, players who lower the string to A on a “Franklin pedal” prefer the .038.