Last Updated on August 12, 2022 by Play Guitar Notes
Strings are often an underappreciated part of our guitars. They play an important role in how well a guitar feels to play, how well it stays in tune and most importantly, how good it sounds.
As strings age, their tone tends to dull and that glassy, crisp sound that was once so present will fade into a duller and warmer tone.
Too often we as guitarists neglect this, buying expensive guitars only to have the sound marred by old strings we are too lazy to change. So today we are taking a look at 10 stellar string sets so you can always have a fresh set ready to go at a moment’s notice!
|Ernie Ball Nickel Super Slinky|
|D’Addario EXL110-3D Nickel Wound|
|Ernie Ball Burly Slinky Nickelwound|
|GHS 7-String Boomers|
|D’Addario NYXL Nickel Wound|
|Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky|
|DR Strings Dimebag Darrell Signature|
|D’Addario ECG23 Flat Wound|
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky
If you were tasked with visiting a music store to buy a set of strings for a guitarist, but had absolutely no knowledge of the instrument, these strings would offer a safe option that’s appropriate for most players.
This is one of Ernie Ball’s best selling string sets and is used and trusted by many very high profile musicians.
Because of their popularity they are always readily available and come in a convenient array of string gauges in case you need something other than the standard 10 – 46. Plus, it also comes in sets of 3 making it great value for money to boot!
Ernie Ball Nickel Super Slinky
Another great ‘all rounder’ set. But this time with a slightly thinner 9 gauge top string, making certain techniques such as bends or vibrato a little less strenuous on the fingers. Likewise, the low 42 gauge string will add some additional bite and snap when picking hard during your rhythms.
Many people may begin playing a thicker set and then decide to try thinner strings on a whim. Only to discover that they really like the feel and tonal qualities those sets bring to the table. Many musicians, even in heavier styles of music, swear by thin strings.
The super slinkies are something everyone should try at least once, you don’t know if you’ll like it until you’ve tried it!
D’Addario EXL110-3D Nickel Wound
D’addario are of equal popularity to that of Ernie Ball. With their EXL nickel wound series being their standard ‘go to’ set, and as such have the same incredible versatility. These strings are a relatively safe buy with the nickel winding giving it a bright and lively sound that will work well for both clean and distorted tones.
D’addario always put a lot of effort into ensuring their strings have longevity and retain their tone for as long as possible, and this extends to the packaging so you can easily stock a few of these sets up for future use.
It’s a standard light gauge string set which makes it appropriate for anything in the D and E range.
Ernie Ball Burly Slinky Nickelwound
Aptly named, the ‘burly slinky’ set is similar to the super slinky set in so much as it has the same nickel-plated steel winding around the carbon steel core. Which provides that same, snappy and bright tone that so many guitarists are looking for.
The main difference with this set is that the string gauges are quite a bit thicker than normal. Which makes them ideal for down tuning your guitar, the low 52 is easily able to handle drop D.
This set might also be appropriate if you are using a short-scale guitar where the strings will naturally be a little more floppy, so increasing the string gauge is a great way to compensate for this.
GHS 7-String Boomers
These days the 7 string guitar is a very common sight, with many people playing them exclusively or even choosing one as their first ever guitar. Due to this increased popularity, there is also an increase in demand for 7 string sets.
GHS offers one of the best value for money 7 string sets on the market. It’s a fairly standard nickel plated 9-42 set, but with an added 58 to accommodate the low B.
Another unique way people like to use these sets is to tune a 6 string guitar down, throw away the high 009, and use it as an 11-58 set with a wound fourth string.
D’Addario NYXL Nickel Wound
The NYXL series of strings are one of the newer players on this list and are considered the crème de la crème of strings. A little more expensive than some other brands, these strings are the fruits of much engineering and research efforts from D’addario.
Offering a new break-resistant carbon steel core that provides not only increased security from string snaps, but also increased tuning stability due to their high resilience. These are designed for the modern player and as such have an enhanced mid-range to help your guitar stand out amongst the other musicians in your band.
The ‘boomers’ from GHS are their main flagship product. Featuring the tried and true steel core with nickel-plated wrapping giving it that iconic, snappy tone and response. And while a little darker than something like D’addario, they still offer plenty of glassy top end for you.
A lot of effort has been put into the packaging to make it resistant to corrosion, ensuring the tone remains intact even if you store the strings for some time. This is ideal as these strings can come in a batch of 6 sets offering great value for money, and you can keep them for a long time.
Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky
While not quite as popular as the steel and nickel-plated ones, Ernie Balls’ cobalt strings are still very popular. Offering all the same protective packaging and quality we expect from the company.
The benefit of Cobalt strings is that they provide a stronger magnetic relationship towards the pickups. This makes them a little bit louder when amplified, have a little more high end and brightness compared to nickel, and some say there is an added depth to the tone.
While not everyone is sold on this idea, Cobalt strings definitely have their place amongst guitarists with some people swearing by them.
DR Strings Dimebag Darrell Signature
Although Dimebag has now tragically left this world, his impact and influence on rock and metal guitarists burns as brightly as ever. With many still regarding Dime’s tone to be the gold standard of high gain sounds.
DR strings signature Dime set is not just a marketing tool, they are a very functional and reliable set that many have come to use as their primary strings.
Boasting everything a metal player could ask for, stability when doing those ripping bends, good feedback when playing those heavy chugging riffs. They have also been treated to ensure they retain their tone for as long as possible.
D’Addario ECG23 Flat Wound
One of the more unique and niche areas of the guitar string market. Flat wound strings are named as such because the winding that is wrapped around the string’s core gets flattened making the string’s surface smooth.
This offers a couple of differences over the regular wound strings where the texture is still present. Firstly, the ‘string squeak’ you will sometimes hear when changing position is alleviated.
Secondly, the overall tone is a little bit warmer and fuller which makes them very popular amongst jazz players. Lastly, the pick attack is somewhat reduced due to the pick being able to glide over the smoother surface.
Is Ernie Ball better than Daddario?
While both of these brands are extremely popular, with some musicians swearing adamantly by one or the other. Whether because they have grown attached to it and don’t want to risk changing, or simply one kind is more readily available at their local music store.
Whatever the reason, the reality is both of these brands are excellent. Both of them are producing a wide variety of different string types that span a wide variety of tonal qualities. So regardless of what type of player you are, you will be able to find something from either brand that will work for you.
Which brand of guitar strings is the best?
While there is no singular set of strings that are going to be perfect for every guitarist, due to there being so much variation in what someone will look for in terms of the tone of the strings. Fortunately, there is a huge range of varied string types on the market so no matter your preference you will surely be able to find one suited to your needs.
If you are a beginner I highly recommend testing out a new brand of strings each time you come to restring your guitar, this will allow you to get a good feel for what’s available and begin informing yourself on what aspects of a particular brand you like and dislike.
What Are Guitar Strings Made Of?
The standard electric guitar string is usually made from a steel alloy core which is then wrapped in a nickel plated winding. The core is hexagonal shaped to help the winding sit on the string.
Classical guitar strings are most commonly made from nylon, you will commonly see what looks like metal strings on the bass side. But those still have a nylon core and have been wrapped for additional stability and tonal qualities.
These days many guitar strings also have an additional protective coating applied to them in order to preserve the tone, and provide a barrier to protect the string against corrosion from the oils on your hand.
What guitar string material is best?
Certainly the most common material is the steel/nickel combination, this has been the best selling string type for a while and has definitely been able to keep up with the demands of players.
However, there are many other kinds of guitar strings on the market offering varied tones and feels such as the all nickel string, steel strings, cobalt, and for the acoustic there’s brass and bronze, just to name a few.
If you are unsure of what to pick, the standard steel/nickel string is a great place to start. But I also encourage you to experiment as there is absolutely value in the other materials.
Are guitar strings toxic?
With guitar strings being made from all these different types of metal, it’s understandable you might have some apprehension about touching them for prolonged periods of time.
But I’m happy to say that guitar strings are not toxic. The kinds of materials used for the strings such as nickel, steel, bronze will not absorb into the skin easily. And even the chemicals used during the manufacturing process would require substantial amounts of prolonged exposure to have any adverse effects.
And if that’s not enough for you, many strings these days have an additional protective coating on to preserve the tone for longer, so in many cases, you aren’t even truly touching the string at all.
What are the best electric guitar strings for blues?
Blues is one of the most common kinds of styles guitarists will play, so naturally, there are plenty of products available specifically geared towards those players.
D’Addario’s XL, nickel-coated EXP115’s is one such string. They are a medium gauge string, meaning they will have a little more tension than a standard set which is ideal for that stability and offering a bit of resistance as you play.
If the medium gauge is not your cup of tea, DR strings also make the ‘pure blues’ set which is a little thinner while still specifically being geared towards the blues player.
What guitar strings are best for classic rock?
Generally speaking, to get those loud, screaming rock rhythms we need strings that are bright and have a good snap to them. The string gauge can also be quite thin to allow for those huge, expressive, ripping bends.
For those reasons, we recommend the Ernie Ball Super Slinky 2223. These are nickel-plated strings that will have a bright, chimey sound that works so well with distortion and overdrive.
There are equivalencies of this set from other brands which I recommend trying out, but the Ernie Ball Super Slinkys are one of the most popular brands for a reason and are a safe bet if you are looking for a reliable place to begin.
What string gauge is the best for metal?
There are a few aspects of metal music that make its demands from strings a little different than other styles. Firstly, down tuning is extremely standard for metal, with people commonly tuning to B and sometimes even lower.
If you tune this low with regular strings they will be extremely loose on the guitar and also be prone to going out of tune at the slightest touch.
It’s for that reason we recommend the D’addario NYXL series which has been designed with contemporary guitar playing in mind. The string gauge will depend on your tuning, but if you wish to be around C or B, the 12-54 set should serve you well.
Are electric guitar strings easier to press?
We use the term ‘action’ to describe the distance between the frets and the strings, this indicates how far you will need to press the string down before it can touch the fret and produce a note.
Generally speaking, an electric guitar will have a lower action than an acoustic or classical guitar. And as such it is a little easier to fret a note.
With that being said, as you continue playing your hands will develop strength and the tips of your fingers will become calloused, allowing you to play with ease regardless of what type of guitar you use.
What are the names of the strings on an electric guitar?
For a standard tuned guitar, the notes from lowest to highest are E A D B G E. However, there are many alternate tunings guitarists enjoy using. With rock/metal players tuning much lower, as well as many bands tuning their guitar so it matches that of a chord (we call this an ‘open’ tuning).
For that reason sometimes it can be difficult to use the standard tuned letters to describe guitar. So it’s also possible to use numbers, with 1 being your lowest/thickest string climbing up to 6 as your highest/thinnest string.
The benefit of this is that it transcends tuning and makes communication with another guitarist faster if you are playing in a tuning you don’t always commonly use aso there’s no need to spend time working out what a particular note is.