Your electric guitar strings greatly influence the sound it produces and overall playability. There are several things to consider when it comes to selecting the ideal strings for your electric guitar. Read on to figure out which strings are best suited for your electric guitar, style of play, and the music that comes out.
Things to Consider Before Buying Electric Guitar Strings
When shopping for an electric guitar, the following are crucial factors you should always prioritize:
- Your style of play and genre of music
- The frequency of playing
- The tone and sound character you hope to achieve
The following things impact the above factors:
- String construction material
- String gauge
- Coated vs Uncoated string treatments
- String winding method type
Let’s take a closer look at every one of these parameters to arrive at the strings that will most likely suit you and the guitar you play.
Electric guitar string gauges
Electric guitar strings come in varying gauges or thicknesses. These are usually designated in thousandths of inches. The lightest options will typically be .008- known to guitar players as an “eight”- while the heaviest is .56 or fifty-six. The string gauge has a significant influence on the sound and playability.
Strings sets can sometimes be recognized by the gauge on the high E string- this is the smallest gauge string. For example, the medium electric guitar strings may be identified as “11s”.
What is this "11" exactly? It actually refers to 0.011 inch diameter. Same logic goes for all of the other string gauges.
Check out the table below for the list of typical string gauges you’ll find in your favorite electric guitar string packs.
Hybrid strings generally use two types of sets. For example:
Hybrid sets are assembled from different standard packs in a certain range.
The above example mixes the top three strings of a medium guitar string pack with heavier low three; a great choice if you think a standard pack will be a little off the target. The lower strings sustain the strength needed for riffling whereas the light strings bring ample flexibility for soloing. These are also ideal for alternate and drop tunings.
Heavier gauges best applyare best for:
- Side playing or Drop tunings- because of the tighter string tension they hold.
- Heavy strummers- they provide higher durability, less breakage, and more sustain.
- Low-action guitar- their vibrations are tighter, hence more resistance to fret buzz.
- Jazz- this music style does not utilize much note bending.
- Unamplified acoustic playing- they are louder.
Lighter gauges will be better for:
- Blues/Soloing- Easy to bend notes.
- Beginner playing- Easier if you have not developed calluses and hand strength.
- Small-body guitars- they simply sound better.
- Vintage guitars- they place less stress on the guitar neck.
- Fingerpicking- they are more responsive to gentle finger-work.
Materials used to Construct the Electric Guitar String
Each electric guitar you see is manufactured using nickel, steel, any other metal alloys that are magnetically conductive because these play a crucial role in transmitting vibrations on the string to the magnetic pickup. The coating or plating used on the steel alloy will significantly affect the sound of the string. The following are general tonal properties on the most used types of strings:
- Pure Nickel - It is less bright compared to nickel-coated steel and has added warmth
- Nickel-Plated Steel - has balanced warmth and brightness with greater attack
- Stainless Steel - this is bright and crisp with an edgy tone. It is corrosion proof and less exposed to finger squeaks
- Titanium - has a fairly bright tone and excellent strength
- Chrome - warm with less resonance. Mostly preferred by blues and jazz guitarists
- Polymer-Coated - has less sustain than similar uncoated strings and resistant to corrosion
- Cobalt - has a wide dynamic range with clear brightness, as well as pickup response
- Color-Coated - some have added colorants to improve aesthetics and the tonality varies
Kinds of String Windings
High B, E, and at times G strings are usually unwound. The rest of the strings feature a winding wire that is wrapped tightly around the core.
The approach employed in wrapping these strings will influence both the playability and tone as explained below:
By far the most used method of winding; it has a notable ridged texture and offer more sustain, bite, and attack. It tends to bring about more fretboard wear and finger noise.
This has a smoother texture and a darker tone with less attack compared roundwounds.
This offers quite a smooth touch with a flat and dark tone that is less responsive to the picking dynamics. Quite popular with blues and jazz players.
You may also encounter terms such as “uncoated” and “coated”. The most notable case could perhaps be coated strings manufactured by Elixir. These guarantee a longer tone-life because they are more safeguarded against corrosion compared to uncoated strings.
Nonetheless, some guitarists don’t prefer coated strings due to the way they feel on their fingertips. Some have likened it to the smooth feel you get on nylon strings.
Which should you choose?
If you want to find a gauge that best suits your style of playing, the key is always in experimentation. Attempt different brands, gauges, and string compositions to arrive at those that are ideal for your fingers and appeal most to your ears. Variations between types of strings may be very subtle, but concentrating on the tone and nuances of touch can assist to lead you to a unique signature sound.
Remember that altering the string gauges may need some level of adjustment to your “action” or string height at bridge saddles and adjustments to the neck and nut. Based on your skill and type of guitar, you might want to leave this to a guitar technician.
Best electric guitar string brands
There are 3 string manufacturers that dominate the electric guitar string market. They offer all types of strings, so choosing and experimenting from their lineup is a good place to start.
Here they are in no particular order:
Fender makes strings as well, but they unlike their guitars, their strings are inferior in quality. I don't recommend Fender strings.
When Should You Change the Strings?
The following things will alert you that it may be time to change the strings:
• Visible corrosion on the strings
• A dull tone
• Staying in tune becomes a challenge
• The windings are coming apart
If you need to change the strings on your electric guitar, have a look at this video.
Tips to maximize the life of your strings
- Always have a clean cloth on hand to wipe down the strings after every session you play to increase their shelf-life.
- Washing hands before getting on stage helps to prevent string oxidation.
- Try to invest in specialized cleaning equipment to maintain the shape of your fingerboard and strings.
- You might want to buy single guitar strings in bulk.
- Have an extra set, as well as some higher-register single strings for when there is an emergency change that you may need.