Wondering how to find the best electric guitar strings for you? We’ve got you covered. Though there aren’t a ton of options as far as brand variety, prominent brands do make a wide array of strings you can choose from. For this review, we’re going to focus on four of the most popular (and in our opinion the best) brands that make electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball, D’Addario, and Elixir.
But first, let’s talk about string gauge. This can seems confusing, but it really isn’t – trust me. There are 5 main types of string gauges: eights, nines, tens, elevens and twelves in the order from thinnest to thickest. The most common gauges are nines, tens, and elevens. In a nutshell, those numbers refer to the decimal fraction measurement of the smallest string, the high E.
For typical styles of play, meaning for 6-string regular tunings (EADGBE), it’s as simple as choosing what fits you best among those three gauges. Factors to consider are how hard you play, what kind of feel you like, and your finger size. If you feel more comfortable with thicker strings, go with those. And likewise, if you’re at home with nines, go with those. But in general, tens are the most common.
Here are some of the best types of electric guitar strings.
You’ll find that Ernie Ball makes some of the brightest and most beautiful sounding strings out there. They are my number one choice, so they are going to get a little extra attention in this review. They are used by artists including Hunter Hayes, Sum 41, Maroon 5, Of Mice and Men, Florida Georgia Line, and Bruno Mars among so many others.
They are by far some of the most widely used strings on the market, and if you play on them, you’ll quickly learn why. They have a power to them that brings the most your of your electric, they cut through midrange beautifully, and they have a resonant kick that allows your guitar to completely own the room.There are several types of Ernie Ball electric guitar strings:
The Slinky Series
These include Regular Slinky, Super Slinky, Hybrid Slinky, Power Slinky, Skinny Top Heavy Bottom Slinky, Beefy Slinky, Extra Slinky, and Not Even Slinky strings.
These are the thinnest of all the options, running from a high E of 8 to a low E of 38. They are an outlier – a niche string, per say. If you want some of the thinnest strings out there, be it for comfortable leads or ease of play, try these out. Just know that you won’t get much power out of a gauge this small.
These are the size nine (9-42) version. So if you want something a little heavier than eights and lighter than tens, try these out. You’ll find that, like the eights, these won’t give you a ton of power – but they will feel good to play on if you’re a speedster.
These size ten strings (10-46) are the go-to choice of many guitarists out there, including the likes of John Mayor and Eric Clapton according to their website. Enough said? If you’re looking to find the perfect string, try these out – they may be the first and last that you ever use.
These strings are the combination of the above two, meaning they start with a size 9 High E string and end up as a size 46 low E. So they are smaller in the high-pitched, uncoiled strings, and thicker in the low-pitched, coiled strings. This is purely a stylistic/preference thing. If you like to have thicker strings at the deep end for heavier rhythms, and lighter strings in the high register for smooth gliding, try them out.
These are the size eleven strings (11-48). So if you want something thicker/beefier sounding, try these. As a tonal point of reference, their website states that Slash and Metallica both use these strings.
Skinny Top Heavy Bottom Slinky
This is another hybrid that starts with a 10 and ends with a 52. As you’ll see above, 52 is bigger than the 48 they put on their Power Slinky elevens. So again, these are for people who like thick rhythm and slightly thinner high strings.
These elevens are on the thicker side of electric guitar strings (11-54). They are for heavier styles of music, as they are meant for drop tunings such as drop D or C. Strings like this are excellent for hard rock and metal.
Not Even Slinky
These twelves are massive as far as six-string sets go (12-56). Like the Beefy Slinkies, these are also meant for low tunings and the heaviest types of music. You’ll want these if you want the lowest, beefiest, thickest string out there outside of baritone guitars.
Treated Ernie Ball Strings
If you want treated strings, take a look at the Ernie Ball Paradigms. They are stronger and tend to last longer than the regular ones above.
They are rated highly, as they sound very similar to the uncoated version, which is a surprising and impressive feat.
Their treated strings come in the following sizes:
There are all sorts of other types of Ernie Ball strings as well. I’m not paid to say that anything from them is golden, so you should be satisfied with any of their strings.
D’Addario Electric Guitar Strings
Another reputable brand, D’Addario makes some of the best strings for both acoustic and electric guitars.Here are some of their options:
You’ll find that there are strings in this series that fit a lot of different of styles of play. There are sizes ranging from 8-38 to 13-56. Also, this is a break resistant string, so you shouldn’t have to worry if you like to play on the harder side.
But not only are these strings break resistant -- they are gorgeous sounding as well. If you’re on the hunt for a silky tone, you’ll want to take these for a spin.
These are beautiful strings that have a nice warm presence. If you’re looking for strings that don’t get in the way of the guitar, these would be a good bet for you. They have a nice rich tone that resonates well, but it’s not at all too treble-driven. These are highly recommended.
These are even warmer than the Nickel strings above. They have a very thick tone – perfect for rhythm guitar. But if you’re a lead guitarist who doesn’t like to pierce ears with solos – this is great for you as well. Try these out of you want something nice and solid-sounding.
Elixir Electric Guitar Strings
And finally, we have to mention Elixir strings. This company was really the pioneer for the long-lasting strings that have become so popular as of late.
And thankfully, in addition to their impressive acoustic guitar lineup, they also make three sets of electric guitar strings. Elixir strings have sizing options ranging from 9-42 to 12-52 for their six-string sets, though not all sizes are available for each set (see their website for more details).There are three types of Elixir strings:
Nanoweb strings are nice and warm. If you like Jazz, metal, and rhythm guitar, you’ll love these. That’s not to say they are incapable of playing brighter styles with the right guitar, but these strings sound right at home in a rhythm role.
They don’t have a big presence, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not all guitarists want something that’s bright and punchy. If, however, you’re looking to stand out a lot, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
These strings, on the other hand, are more than capable of tackling a wide variety of tones, though they do sound thick and heavy, in general. If you’re into hard rock and strong guitar presence, you’ll love these.
You shouldn’t find yourself too dissatisfied with Polyweb strings unless you are completely sold on bright tone. And if that’s the case, the Optiweb strings below are the answer.
The newest addition to the club, the Optiweb strings are designed to feel a lot like a regular string, though they still have a protective coating. So if you are really hesitant about getting into the trend of coated strings, yet you’re tempted to try them due to the convenience factor, this is where you could end up.
These hardly have a dampened sound at all. It’s almost hard to imagine how Elixir pulled this off. So definitely try these out if you want to keep that bright, unhampered tone with a string that can stay good for a lot longer.
You’ll need to have your guitar set up for whichever string gauge you choose. So if you’re picking strings for the first time, or if you’re changing gauges, leave your guitar at the shop and let them set it up appropriately for the strings you decide to lace up.
Don’t just go out and put twelves on a guitar that was formerly set up for tens, as doing so will bend the neck horribly and possibly damage your guitar.
So go out and try some guitar string and see what you like best! Find that tone that brings the best out of you and your guitar!