Best Electric Guitar Strings

13th September


What are the best strings for electric guitar?

Best electric guitar stringsOne of the most common question I get about electric guitars – from beginners as well as more advanced players – is this: “What are the best electric guitar strings?”

Before we can attempt to answer this question, we will have a brief discussion about guitar strings in general.

I would however first of all like to draw your attention to a really magnificent string guide by ‘Professor String’ – Think You Know Guitar Strings?

This excellent, no fluff and to the point guide is hands down the best I’ve seen if you want to know more about the subject. And why wouldn’t you?

Any down sides? The only one I can think of is that the author doesn’t directly say which strings are best… Apart from that – top notch in all areas!

If you want to be better armed with knowledge about guitar strings, then do yourself a favor and check this guitar string guide out today. This could really help you get the best out of your guitar and eventually make it so much more enjoyable and efficient to learn electric guitar.

The types of guitars and guitar strings

There are in general three major types of guitar strings, each designed to get the best out of their respective instruments. Strings designed for acoustic steel string (flat top) guitars; there’s nylon strings and finally strings designed for electric guitars.

Rather than going into great detail about the various types and all the various upsides and downsides of strings for acoustic guitars (classic/nylon string guitars and flat top/steel string guitars), I encourage you to get hold of the thorough string guide by professor String.

However, there are some major points that needs to be addressed here in reference to electric guitars.

Nylon guitar strings

Nylon (or its predecessor, gut strings) are designed for nylon string guitars/classical guitars – period. I can’t even begin to count the number of times people have asked if they can put these nylon strings on steel string guitars or even on electrics.

The tension in these strings is far too moderate to properly drive the heavier braced tops on steel string acoustics + you can’t fasten them easily on these guitars.

It goes without saying really, that the material in these strings have no magnetic property what so ever. Hence they are no good to use on electric guitars.

Acoustic steel strings:

The windings on these acoustic strings are usually in some form of bronze or phosphor bronze. These are made to enhance the acoustic sound, but they lack the magnetic properties you will need to have fully functional with magnetic guitar pickups.

The tension in these strings are much too high for the lighter construction (bracing, top, tuners, neck and saddle) of a classical/nylon string guitar. So again you are out of luck as far as electric usage goes (electric acoustic guitars is of course another matter).

Electric guitar strings:

Strings designed for use with a magnetic guitar pickup incorporate alloys such as steel and nickel. These materials don’t sound very good on acoustic steel string guitars but they do work well with the magnetic field in single coil or humbucker guitar pickups.

The best guitar strings:

Some will argue that it really doesn’t matter which type of strings you put on your electric guitar, since that argue that there are only a handful of factories making strings.

As Professor String outlines in his book, this is far from the truth. There are in fact a great number of string factories – smaller and larger – in operation today. He also argues that it is indeed a great deal of variation in the quality of many of the brands available today.

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, he does not give any hints (apart from a very vague mention of one particular guitar brand) as to what the better makes are.

Personally, I tend to prefer D’addario strings on most of my electric guitars. These seems to work very well for me, plus they have always been in tune intonation wise as far as I have been able to tell.

You will need to make up your own mind and test some of the various brands for yourself. But trust me, you will be so much wiser after having read the previous mentioned book!

Coated guitar strings:

One of the things you may consider is to test out a set of coated electric guitar strings. I use Elixir Nanoweb strings on some guitars and they are usually working very good. Others swear by Cleartone strings. I haven’t tested these enough to offer my recommendations though.

The very thin polymer coating on these strings makes them last quite a bit longer and they don’t sound quite as dull as some other coated strings can.

String gauge:

One thing you need to be aware of is the issue of string gauges. Gauge is a measurement of the thickness of strings in thousands of an inch. When you hear numbers like 9 or 10 being mentioned, they are in fact referring to 0.009 and 0.010 (9/thousands and 10/thousands of inches).

Keeping it simplified, lighter/thinner strings have less mass and less volume than thicker strings. The upside is that they are easier to bend and fret.

Heavier strings are harder to fret and bend, but they tend to give more sound (and some times also sustain) than lighter strings. The higher tension is usually more important on acoustic guitars, and you will typically find that heavier strings are used on acoustic steel strings as opposed to electric guitars.

So what is the right gauge of strings for you? Unfortunately this is also one of these things you will have to work out for yourself. Here are some pointers though:

Playing slide guitar? If so, then you will probably need heavier strings and also raise the action on the guitar.

Are you tuning down? It that’s the case, then you will also want to try heavier strings. Be aware that heavier strings alone may not be enough if you tune way down. Some times a longer neck scale is also needed to keep the guitar in tune.

Lots of tapping and finger bends? If you are more of a typical “shredder”, then you may want to go for lighter strings and perhaps even adjust the action (string height) accordingly – setting it a bit lower.

Old style rock and roll or rock-a-billy guitar? Some players of these styles of music prefer the older type of flat wound or the compromise of half wound strings (also termed ground wound or pressure wound). These types of strings – the usual today is regular round wound strings – is some times even preferred by slide guitar players or those who play lap steel guitar.

Adjusting your guitar to the gauge and tuning you use:

When you have decided what string gauge you want to use or try out, and what tuning you want to play in, you will typically need to have your guitar set-up properly in order to get the best out of your strings and your playing. You can read more about that here.

Here’s some great tips about electric guitar string gauges from the good folks at Next Level Guitar. Their course is as you probably know highly recommended:

And of course, speaking of Professor String, here’s a video of the guy demonstrating the hand crafted way of making strings. And in case you wonder, the shades are there to protect the eyes – it’s not some attempt to look cool:

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