Finding the best electric guitar strings for your instrument is just as important as choosing the right guitar itself. After all, the strings are your primary way of interacting with your guitar. Choosing the correct set of strings can significantly affect the overall tone and playability of an instrument.
There are several different factors to consider when choosing your strings. This article will help you select the best electric guitar strings for your particular play style and/ or instrument. I will try to keep it brief and only cover the most significant factors that the majority of consumers are interested in.
Here are the top factors to consider…
Which String Gauge is Best for You?
When choosing guitar strings, string gauge is one of the most important factors to consider. String gauge essentially refers to the thickness of the electric guitar strings. You often hear people refer to their string gauge as “10’s” or “10-46” and this basically refers to their set of strings’ range, from thinnest to thickest, the thinnest being 0.010. There are various different gauge sets that you can choose from based on personal preference or style.
Here are the standard set gauges for an electric guitar, though it is possible to mix and match strings from sets, or purchase hybrids if you want light strings for the higher strings and heavier strings for the low strings. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to take the first 3 strings from the “super light” pack and the last 3 strings from the “medium” pack
Here’s a string gauge guide for electric guitars:
- “extra super light”:008 .010 .015 .021 .030 .038
- “super light”:.009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042
- “light”:.010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046 (Most Common “Sweet Spot”)
- “medium”:.011 .015 .018 .026 .036 .050
- “heavy”:.012 .016 .020 .032 .042 .054
Lighter Gauge Strings
The lighter string gauges such as 8’s or 9’s are significantly easier to play. Since the strings are thinner, they do not require as much pressure from your fingers to press down of the frets. These are probably the best electric guitar strings for beginners. Since new players have likely not built up their calluses and finger strength, the lighter string gauges are more user-friendly.
Anyone new to playing guitar knows the pain of trying to play barre chords for the first time. Using lighter strings will help beginners ease their way into learning the instrument without damaging their fingers after only a short period of time. Once you progress as a player, then you may want to start experimenting with different string gauges based on your style.
Though light string gauges are easy to play, they do come with downsides as well. The strings are smaller, which results in less sustain, less output volume, and tone that can be described as “watered down.” Also, there is less tension on the strings which can result in fret buzz.
Techniques such as alternate picking can be a bit more difficult on lighter strings due to the travel distance of the strings’ vibration. In addition, players who incorporate frequent bends in their style of play may find that they “overbend,” or bend their string higher than their desired pitch simply due to how little force is required to lift the string.
Heavier Gauge Strings
Heavier gauge strings such as 11-50s and up are generally much harder to play. They require more force to fret and bend notes, which is why these strings are not for beginners. Once you develop your finger strength and technique, you can consider moving up to heavier strings to achieve tones that might fit your style better.
Heavier strings produce more volume and sustain and exert more tension on the neck. Lower gauge guitar strings also tend to buzz less than lighter strings. You’ll typically see the lower gauge strings used in metal or “djent” music. They produce thick and punchy tones, and sound significantly better than light strings in lower tunings such as Drop D and Drop C. If you’re interested in finding the best strings specifically for metal, be sure to check out Guitar Fella’s guide.
When in Doubt Just Go With 10’s
If you are not sure what string gauge you want, a safe bet is to go with the standard 10-46 strings. They are the most common string gauge because they are well rounded and a nice middle ground between light gauge strings and heavy gauge strings. They produce a solid tone and minimal fret buzz, while at the same time being reasonably easy to play on.
What Are Electric Guitar Strings Made of?
There are various different materials of the strings that can affect the overall tone and feel of a guitar. Since the pickups of an electric guitar use magnets to pick up the signal from the strings, the type of metal used for the strings can significantly affect the output. In addition, some strings also coated in order to resist finger oils and last longer.
Nickel Guitar Strings
The most common material used for strings is nickel. Nickel strings are consistent, sound good, and most importantly are affordable. However, these strings tend not to last as long as newer technologies that have been developed. Expect to change these strings every month or two.
These strings are great for people who love the feel of new strings because you will be changing them often. There is no point in paying more for longer lasting strings if you want to change frequently to get the fresh feel. Other string materials that last longer simply do not maintain the clean feel of a new set of strings.
Other popular materials for strings are cobalt and stainless steel. The material used for these strings are better conductors for the magnetic pickups of your guitar. This results in higher output and better tones. They are also more resistant to corrosion, meaning they will last longer than nickel strings and can be worth it if you do not want to be bothered changing your strings frequently.
Since these strings are made with newer technology and better materials, they are typically more expensive, so you have to decide if it is worth buying strings that will last longer, or simply buying a larger quantity of less expensive strings to change more frequently.
Best Electric Guitar String Brands
When trying to find the best electric guitar strings that fit you, the first question people typically ask is what brand to go for. The most popular brands include Ernie Ball, Elixir, and D’ Addario. Honestly, you cannot go wrong with any of these brands as they are the industry standard, and used even by the best professionals in the music industry.
Ernie Ball Guitar Strings
Ernie Ball is the most popular brand when it comes to making guitar strings. The Ernie Ball Regular Slinky (10-46) is the most common string set that you will come across. Ernie Ball electric guitar strings are the industry standard and are known for being reliable, consistent, and affordable. They also offer higher end strings such as the Ernie Ball Cobalt strings, and the M-steel strings that pack a huge punch in terms of output volume, tone, feel, and durability. If you can’t decide on which pair of strings to choose after reading this guide, Ernie Ball strings are always a safe bet. You can purchase Ernie Ball Strings on Amazon by clicking the link
Elixir Guitar Strings
Elixir is another giant in the guitar string industry. These are my personal favorite. They known for producing premium strings for those who are looking for higher end strings. Elixir Strings typically coated with their Nanoweb/ Polyweb technology that make the strings last significantly longer than regular strings.
Though they may not pack the same punch as fresh Ernie Ball strings on day one, after a week of playing the Elixir strings will sound, and feel the same as they did the day you put them on. This isn’t something you can say about regular guitar strings from other brands. However, with premium strings, comes a premium price point.
A regular pair of Elixir strings will typically cost up to 3 times more than other brands’ regular strings. You ultimately have to make the decision if it’s worth the investment. If you play a lot and hate changing strings, then I would recommend Elixirs. If you like the fresh sound and feel of new strings, then I would advise against Elixirs. Instead, opt to simply purchase a larger quantity of regular strings from another brand. You can check them out on Amazon by clicking the link.
D’ Addario Guitar Strings
D’Addario strings are more in line with Ernie Ball strings. They are more or less identical in terms of the material, quality, sound, and feel. They are just as consistent and all really boils down to personal preference. There really isn’t a wrong choice when choosing between Ernie Ball and D’Addario strings. There is no general consensus among the guitar community as to which brand objectively sounds better, or lasts longer. Loyalists of either brand will tell you the same reasons as to why they prefer their brand. Check them out on Amazon by clicking the link.
How to Choose Guitar Strings
To wrap things up, here’s a brief recap of how to choose guitar strings.
The brand name is probably the least significant factor when it comes to purchasing guitar strings. All of the most popular brands are comparable in terms of quality and price, so you can’t really go wrong with any brand.
String gauge and material are much more important in determining the best electric guitar strings that fit your style and comfort.
The best way to find the perfect guitar strings that fit your play style and instrument is to try them all out yourself.
Instead of buying a large set with multiple packs of one string, you should try out several different ones. When it’s time to change your strings, just swap them out for a different pair and see how they feel. If you want more guitar gear advice, be sure to check out other articles on Guitar Advise as well.
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