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Experimenting with new gear is one
of the most fun aspects of playing the electric guitar — and a set of strings is one of the cheapest new toys that you can buy. You might like to try a new string brand every time your old strings begin to lose their brightness and sustain.
You could try just about every popular string brand on the market and still spend less than what you spent on your guitar. There’s value in experimentation — every brand has its loyal contingent of followers claiming that they’ve found the best electric guitar strings on the market. Still, it’s helpful to have a starting point for your exploration. We’ve played our share of electric guitar strings over the years. We believe that these are the best electric guitar strings of 2017.
Quick Look: Our Favorite Electric Guitar Strings
In this article, we’ll outline all of the factors that you’ll need to consider when choosing electric guitar strings. If you don’t have the time to stick with us, though, these are the four strings that we rate highest.
|Ernie Ball Slinky||$4.99||Ernie Ball Slinky strings are the standard against which you should judge all other electric guitar strings. Slinky players include Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Angus Young. If that list doesn’t sell you, nothing will.|
|Elixir NANOWEB||$7.99||Elixir’s refinements have resulted in a thinner coating that feels more like a bare string while still resisting corrosion.|
|D’Addario NYXL||$12.99||D’Addario’s latest offering uses a carbon steel alloy for strings that cut through a mix, bend further without breaking and resist corrosion — without a slick coating.|
|DR Tite-Fit||$5.31||Made by hand in the United States, the round core of DR Tite-Fit strings increases sustain and lends a unique tonal character.|
Buying Electric Guitar Strings: Basic Advice
When you buy a set of electric guitar strings, try to look beyond the fancy packaging and slick marketing terms. If you learn how the construction of guitar strings affects the way in which they play and sound, you’ll make the right decision every time. The best electric guitar strings are the ones that feel and sound best to you. We’ll discuss the specifications of electric guitar strings in the next section.
The type of metal used to make a set of electric guitar strings will greatly affect the experience you’ll have playing those strings. Some of the factors that the metal type can affect include:
How quickly the strings corrode and lose their original bright tone
How the vibrating strings interact with your guitar’s pickups
The tonal character of the strings
The three most common string materials are stainless steel, pure nickel and nickel-plated steel. Stainless steel strings corrode slowly and have a bright tonal character. Nickel strings have a warmer tone that you might associate with vintage rock, but they corrode quickly. Nickel-plated steel strings also corrode quickly, but they balance the tonal qualities of steel and pure nickel strings.
Manufacturers measure string gauges in thousandths of an inch with the high E string typically measuring .009, .010 or .011 of an inch. Lighter string gauges bend more easily, so they’re often best for lead guitarists. Lighter gauges are also easier on the hands and create less strain on the necks of vintage guitars. Heavier string gauges sound fuller and tolerate heavy-handed rhythm guitar work without breaking, but they’re difficult to bend.
Guitarists usually use the gauge of the high E string to describe the full set. Here are the preferences of a few well-known guitarists:
- .007: Billy Gibbons
- .008: Chuck Berry, Jimmy Page
- .009: Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen
- .010: Eric Clapton, David Gilmour
- .011: Dimebag Darrell, Keith Richards
- .012: Malcolm Young
- .013: Stevie Ray Vaughan
As you can see from the above list, you can get a great tone with any string gauge. Choosing the right string gauge is merely a matter of selecting what works for your playing style. Guitarists who use heavier string gauges often do so simply to avoid breaking strings while on stage.
In a set of electric guitar strings, some of the strings — typically the low E, A and D strings — have outer wires wrapped around their inner cores. The shape of the outer wire affects the feel and tone of the string.
The outer wire is round, creating the signature “squeak” when you slide your fingers across the fretboard. Roundwound strings sound brightest, have the most sustain and cost the least.
The outer wire is a flat ribbon that reduces friction and eliminates most fretboard noise. Flatwound strings have a warm tonal character and are less responsive than roundwound strings to changes in the player’s picking attack. Jazz guitarists often use flatwound strings.
A halfround string has a round outer wire that’s compressed or polished to create a flatter surface. Halfround strings partially eliminate fretboard squeaks while slightly reducing tonal brightness.
When guitarists refer to coated strings, they’re almost always talking about Elixir strings. In 1997, Elixir created a polymer coating that prevented dead skin cells from accumulating on guitar strings and helped the strings resist corrosion. Elixir’s new NANOWEB coating is thinner than ever and feels more like a bare string than coated strings from the past.
Coating an electric guitar string changes its tone. Some players also dislike the “slick” feeling of a coated string. However, most guitarists find that coated strings last much longer than bare strings without losing their original tone.
The Best Electric Guitar Strings of 2017
Ernie Ball Slinky
One of America’s oldest electric guitar string makers and a pioneer in the industry of rock music equipment, Ernie Ball is the preferred string brand of many of history’s most famous guitarists.
- Extremely low price makes it easy to buy in bulk
- Industry-leading consistency
- Ideal for recreating the vintage rock sound of the ’60s and ’70s
- Doesn’t capitalize on newer technological advancements
To prolong the life of your guitar strings, wash your hands before playing. Wipe the strings with a clean cloth after playing.
Beefy, Extra, Hybrid, Not Even, Power, Regular, Skinny Top Heavy Bottom, Super
|Core Material:||High-carbon steel|
|Wind Material:||Nickel-plated steel|
If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of visible corrosion on your guitar strings after just a few hours of playing, Elixir strings are for you. The NANOWEB coating resists the rust and corrosion that acidic perspiration can cause.
- New NANOWEB coating feels more like a traditional guitar string
- May last months between string changes
- Signature bright tone cuts through a mix
- Some players may have difficulty adjusting to the different feel
Try Elixir strings on your less frequently used guitars. The coating helps to prevent the string degradation that can occur in storage.
|Gauges Available:||Super Light, Custom Light, Light, Light/Heavy, Medium, Heavy, Baritone, 7-String Light, 12-String Light|
|Wind Material:||Nickel-Plated Steel|
To create the NYXL string, D’Addario created a new high-carbon steel alloy in New York City that the company claims outperforms traditional guitar string materials in several areas.
- Bends further than traditional guitar strings without breaking or losing intonation
- Better mid-range tonal response than traditional strings
- Up to 40 percent stronger than traditional strings
- Among the most expensive electric guitar strings on the market
For more fluid string bends, try the NYXL Balanced Tension string gauges. Each string in an NYXL BT set has the same tension to eliminate an inconsistent feel when bending different strings.
|Gauges Available||08-38, 09-40, 09-42, 09-46, 09-80, 095-44, 10-46, 10-52, 10-59, 10-74, 11-49, 11-52, 11-56, 11-64, 12-52, 12-54, 12-60, 13-56|
|Core Material:||High-carbon steel|
|Wind Material||Nickel-plated steel|
While most companies now use automated equipment to wind their guitar strings, DR still does things the traditional way: by hand. DR claims that winding strings by hand allows experienced string winders to compensate for natural variations in their materials.
- Round core improves wrap-to-core contact, increasing sustain
- Made by hand in the United States
- All raw materials made in the United States
- Hard to find in some stores, but easy to find online
If you suddenly find it difficult to keep your electric guitar in tune, it’s a sure sign that you need to change your strings.
|Gauges Available:||Lite-Lite, Lite, Lite & Heavy, Half-Tite, Medium, Jeff Healey, Big & Heavy, Medium Heavy, Extra Heavy, Jazz, Mega Heavy, 7-String Lite, 7-String Medium, 7-String Heavy, 8-String Medium, 8-String Heavy|
|Core Material:||Nickel-plated steel|
|Wind Material:||Nickel-plated steel|