Choosing the right electric guitar strings plays an important role in getting the right sound, but with so many options it can sometimes be a little hard to find what you need. Not only are there so many brands, but there are also tons of thickness options, lots of materials, and more.
That, however, is exactly why we’ve put together this guide.
Here’s everything you need to know about electric guitar strings and how they can affect your guitar’s sound.
The first thing to consider when buying new strings is the strings’ gauges, also known as the thickness of the strings. Strings gauges are measured in thousandths of an inch. Strings are normally named after the thickness of the first, or thinnest string in the set. If someone says that they use “10s”, that means that in their set of strings, the first string is .010 inches thick.
Electric guitar strings normally range from .008 – .013. Sometimes you will see strings that are thicker than .013, but that’s normally for a baritone guitar. Standard electric guitar strings are .009 or .010. Thinner string sets are easier to press down and strum, which makes them better suited for beginners. Heavier strings have a purer tone, and are more sustained.
Here is a list of guitar string gauges, with recommendations for each.
.008 – Extra light
.009 – Light
.010 – Standard
.011 – Medium
.012 – Medium heavy
.013 – Heavy
Another thing to consider when buying electric guitar strings is the material of the strings themselves. This has an affect on overall sound too — just like the thickness of the strings. There are three types of electric guitar strings that are commonly bought — nickel-plated steel, stainless steel, and pure nickel. Here’s a rundown of each.
Nickel Plated Steel
Nickel plated steel strings are the most common electric guitar strings. In a pack of nickel-plated steel strings, the D, A and low E strings are made from a nickel plate wrapped around a steel core, while the 3 high strings are stainless steel. An advantage of these strings is that they typically last longer than other types of electric guitar strings. Nickel plated steel strings have a slightly more mellow sound, and the sustain is a little shorter. Here are some common examples, which link to places you can buy them. These vary in gauge size, but for many you can change the gauge to fit your preferences.
- Ernie Ball 2223 Nickel Super Slinky
- Elixer Super Light Nanoweb Electric Guitar Strings
- D’Addario EXL120+ Nickel Super Light
- Fender 3250L Nickel-Plated Steel
Stainless steel strings
Stainless steel strings are commonly used in rock settings, and have a much brighter sound with more sustain than other electric guitar strings. They are also a little louder. Stainless steel strings also feel a little “dryer”, and some feel that they are not as slick as other electric guitar strings. A disadvantage of these strings is that they tend to make more noise with finger movement. Here are some stainless steel string options for electric guitars. These are .009 gauges.
- Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Super Slinky
- D’Addario EPS520 ProSteels Super Light
- Fender 350L Stainless Steel Strings
Pure nickel strings
Pure nickel strings are the warmest and most mellow of the three types of strings, and are often used in blues and jazz. Pure nickel strings are good at resisting corrosion, and hence they last longer. Here are some examples of strings that are pure nickel.
- D’Addario EPN120 Pure Nickel
- DR Strings PHR9 Blues Nickel
- Fender 3150L Original 150 Pure Nickel Bullet End
- Gibson VR9 Vintage Reissue Pure Nickel
Last but not least is how the strings are wound. This may have a slightly smaller effect than string material and gauge, but still plays a role. Here’s a rundown of the different types of string winding.
Roundwound strings are the most popular types of strings. Roundwound strings are made up of a round section of steel wire with rounded wire wrapped around it. There is only winding on the three or four thicker strings. Most guitar strings are roundwound. Here are some popular brands of roundwound strings:
- D’Addario Roundwound Strings
- Ernie Ball Roundwound Strings
- DR Strings Roundwound Strings
- Fender Roundwound Strings
Flatwound strings are very popular among jazz guitarists because of their mellow tone. Flatwound strings are made by wrapping a flat wire ribbon around either a round or hex core wire. Because of the way they’re made, flatwound strings are more comfortable to play on, and string noise is greatly reduced. They also last longer, but they tend to be a little harder to bend, so take that into account when buying strings. Here are some flatwound strings that you can buy.
As you can see, there is a wide range of guitar strings available. You can see a full range of strings to choose from here. When discovering what kinds of strings work best for you, it is well worth buying a couple of different sets and choosing between them.