Here's a question and answer from our old (2002) surf rock message board...
Surf Rock Guitar String Sizes
Need to pick your brains (sorry about the pun), if I may. Does anyone know what size of strings I should buy to get the dark, rich sounds Dick Dale gets? I'm a woman and have only regular strength in my fingers but I can push down on a fairly good-sized string.
Thank you for helping, if you can.
There's an excellent surf guitar article, by John Blair, in the September 1996 issue of Guitar Player magazine. He interviewed five top performers and one of his questions had to do with string gauges. They all agreed that heavier strings were necessary to get that sound. Here is a list of the performers and the gauges they were using at the time the article was written:
Dick Dale: .016, .018, .020, .038, .048 and .058 / .060
Don Wilson (The Ventures): .011 to .050
Danny Amis (Los Straitjackets): .011 to .048
Mikko Lankinen (Laika & the Cosmonauts): .012 to .052
Jim Thomas (The Mermen) didn't specify the gauges, but did say that he uses heavy strings.
This is the cover of Guitar Player magazine's September '96 issue. Pretty cool, huh?!
John Blair's article is Chairmen of the Board - The Surf Guitar Summit. It's an excellent article and a fun read. For that matter, the whole September '96 issue was great. If any back issues are available, they're well worth the price, and then some.