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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Guitar Sustain

24th January


Electric Guitar Sustain – How and Why?

guitar sustainProperly executed and controlled guitar feedback/sustain is perhaps one of the most sought after skills in lead guitar playing.

When you first begin to learn electric guitar, this may not be the first thing which comes to mind. However, it will likely become something you’d want to master after a while.

A very common question goes something like this: “How does so and so guitar player (insert name here) manage to hold his tone like for ever? I would like to learn this.”

There are several factors that may come in to play and a number of ways to achieve guitar sustain in electric guitars, so why not let us look at them one by one?

Sustain in the guitar

Some guitars – usually the better ones – often times have more sustain to begin with. A quality guitar which has been played in will vibrate more freely and thus is easier to work with as far as guitar sustain goes.

It is also widely considered that a good guitar (well built, quality woods) with set neck has better sustain than a non set neck instrument.

Pick-ups, guitar strings and string height

It does not help having a good guitar if you’re using old and dead strings, or a guitar which haven’t been properly set up. A good guitar set-up is one of the important factors for achieving controlled guitar feedback (sustain).

You will need strings that are relatively new and clean, and you will have a hard time with “rubber band” (very light) strings and a very low action. Raise the action and use heavier strings, and you’re better off :-)

Also if the pick-ups are too close or too far from the strings, you may have problems. Some players prefer pickups with a higher output. In any case you need to have the distance set close to the strings, but never ever too close (this will dampen the sound)!

Guitar amp feedback

When we’re talking about electric guitar feedback, we usually talk about an interaction between the guitar player, the guitar and the guitar amp.

The player makes the string vibrate, and the pick-up sends the signal to the amp. The amp “sends” the signal back to the guitar – reinforces the vibration – and you get this desired feedback loop. It is more complicated than this, but I think you get the picture.

Anyhow, to get the loop working you will usually need a good tube/valve amplifier and quite a bit of volume. When you position yourself closer to said amp and begin to move the guitar at various angles, you will find the angle and distance that works best. But remember – you will need volume, so a small amp cranked way up (giving a healthy doze of tube distortion) may be just what the feedback doctor ordered :-)

Vibrate those strings!

To keep the strings vibrating and feeding the sound back, you’ll want to have a good clean way of playing your guitar and have the art of string vibrato down to a T.

Another way to accomplish this is to use a finger slide of brass, steel, glass or ceramics. The heavier ones give more sound.

Compressors

Something which may help you to some extent is a compressor pedal (other places also called sustain pedal).

In layman’s terms, compressors “squash” the signal and then gradually release the sound. As this release effect raises the envelope of the decaying note over time, the sound lasts a bit longer.

Guitar sustainer effect

The first to reproduce a commercial sustainer effect device for live use was the trusty E-bow. This was a hand held device which could be used on one string at the time. By placing it over the pick-up, you can get the string to vibrate, giving “infinite sustain guitar”.

Anyone who remembers “Love Hurts” by the band Nazareth? Anyhow, they guitar player used the E-bow for the solo in that hit song. There’s also a video below demonstrating the electronic device.

Fernandes is a brand that makes something similar. However the Fernandes guitar sustainer system works on all strings, not just one. Here, the neck pick-up works as the driver – setting the strings to vibrate.

This neat system comes installed in many of the Fernandes guitars. They also have kits that can be installed in other guitar makes and models. I use this myself (as well as an E-bow) and it’s way cool.

You’ll also find a video down below showing one of these great guitars in action.

Fat fingers?

Groove Tubes has a product the call Fat Fingers. This is a small device that clamps on to the neck of your guitar (or bass). It is said to increase the sustain by adding physical mass to the headstock of the instrument.

I haven’t tested this device myself, but I intend to try it. It’s discreet, fast to take on and off, leaves no marks and is not expensive … so why not?

Other means to an end

The classic British band 10CC, used a device many years ago called the Gizmo or Gizmotron. This mechanical effect was used on some of of their many hit songs.  You’ll find a video of one of them below: “I’m Not in Love”.

Here’s a piece of information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gizmo:
“The actual device, a small box which was attached to the bridge of the guitar, consisted of six small motor-driven wheels with serrated edges to match the size of each string. The continuous bowing action was activated by pressing one or all of keys located on the top of the unit. Pressing a key would allow the wheel to descend against a motor driven shaft and bow the corresponding string (…).”

Finally, other players have from time to time used other tools such as electric power drills (!) held close to the strings to produce that infinite guitar sustain effect in live settings.

Guitar feedback

The sustain effect we have discussed here is sometimes also referred to as guitar feedback.

However, feedback to me is more of an uncontrolled side effect, similar to when your acoustic guitars suddenly comes too close to a sound source or your vocal mike makes this high pitched squeal when you get too close to a PA speaker cabinet.

This type of feedback is never anything you want. Guitar sustain on the other hand can be a powerful tool in a the hands of a budding lead guitar player.

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