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Best guitar strings for metal 2022: our top string picks for the metalheads

Best guitar strings for metal
(Image credit: Future)

Metal guitarists demand more from their strings. Utilising ultra fast alternate picking, heavy downstrokes, and a whole host of extreme techniques, nothing quite puts a set of strings through its paces like metal does. With the best guitar strings for metal you can reliably chug, sweep, tremolo pick, and abuse your whammy bar, safe in the knowledge your strings won’t let you down. If you like to down-tune your guitar then don’t fear either, we’ve picked out the heftiest available strings across all the range to ensure neither you nor your strings get in a flap. 

Best guitar strings for metal: Guitar World’s Choice

The Ernie Ball Slinky Skinny Top Heavy Bottom (opens in new tab) guitar strings are the ultimate choice for the discerning heavy metal fan. Combining heavy gauge low strings for more chug than a frat party with slim treble strings to ensure your solos really sing, this combo makes them a formidable opponent.

D’Addario’s NYXL Nickel Wound strings are another excellent choice for players on the heavier end of the scale. Thanks to their high carbon steel alloy construction and mid-range frequency boost, they pair excellently with high gain and intense playing.

Best Guitar Strings for Metal: Product Guide

Best guitar strings for metal: Ernie Ball Slinky Skinny Top Heavy Bottom

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

1. Ernie Ball Slinky Skinny Top Heavy Bottom – 10-52

A versatile set of strings perfect for metal

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Handle’s various tunings
Excellent versatility
Won’t do drop B and below

Ernie Ball strings have been the professionals' choice for more than half a century now, ever since the man himself noticed players struggling with the thicker strings of that era. Ernie Ball’s Slinky Skinny Top Heavy Bottom strings give you the best of both worlds.

With a thicker set of bass strings and thinner treble set, you get all the power and heft to chug, with plenty of slinkiness for your solo work. As a metal guitarist you’ll want to be versatile, which makes these strings perfect for the genre.

The top strings are thick enough to handle dropped tunings down to C, and are also great for those Tom Morello-esque tunings where you only drop the low E. With a hex core you have excellent tensile strength, ensuring they’ll put up with plenty of abuse on stage or in the studio.

Best guitar strings for metal: D’Addario NYXL Nickel Wound

(Image credit: D'Addario)

2. D’Addario NYXL Nickel Wound – 12-54

The most durable guitar strings for metal

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Excellent clarity
Incredible durable
Won’t last as long as coated

D'Addario are one of the most popular names in the string game, and they have a huge selection of string types to choose from. The set we’ve picked works particularly well for dropped tunings, and these should see you go all the way down to B with ease.

Manufactured in New York, these strings use a high carbon steel alloy to deliver outstanding durability, perfect for when you need to get heavy. They also offer an improvement over traditional nickel-wound strings, resulting in better tuning stability and less stretching when new.

The wound strings have also been designed for enhanced mid range frequencies, which means better clarity when riffing. This is particularly useful for metal players, as you’ll likely be using dropped tunings with plenty of distortion!

Best guitar strings for metal: Jim Dunlop Heavy Core

(Image credit: Jim Dunlop)

3. Jim Dunlop Heavy Core – 12-54

Designed to help you dig in with those riffs and solos

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Designed for heavy players
Excels at lower tunings
Not for standard tuning
Not as long lasting as coated

Jim Dunlop have been one of the top brands for guitar accessories for a long time but they also do a great range of guitar strings. The clue’s in the name here, these Jim Dunlop Heavy Core strings are specifically designed for metal.

The trick with these strings is the thicker than usual core, which adds more tensile strength, allowing you to really dig in with those chugging riffs. Made in California, these strings have outstanding quality and consistency too.

Proprietary wrap ratios allow for a tight low end, focused mid range, and harmonically rich highs even when playing with tonnes of fuzz and distortion. This means you’ll get great clarity even with those slow, doomy riffs.

Best guitar strings for metal: DR Strings DDT

(Image credit: DR Strings)

4. DR Strings DDT – 12-60

Strings for players of the most extreme metal

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Cobalt | Coating: N/A

Superb at drop tuning
Outstanding stability
Not for standard tuning
Won’t last as long as coated

When the pack features a menacing spider and says ‘drop-down tuning’ you know what you’re letting yourself in for. DR Strings DDT do exactly what they say, specialising in drop tunings for that are perfect metal, doom, and other extreme forms of music.

One of the best things about these strings is their stability. Once you’ve dropped your tuning they really do stay there, even through the harshest chugging imaginable. This stability means less adjustments between playing sessions, a welcome feature for any guitar player.

DR Strings DDT’s also give you fantastic intonation at lower tunings, ensuring even those most dirge-like riffs are audible and in tune. This clarity translates well with clean tones too, proving these strings aren’t just a one trick pony.

Best guitar strings for metal: Ernie Ball Cobalt 7 String Slinky

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

5. Ernie Ball Cobalt 7 String Slinky - 10-62

The best strings for extended range guitar players

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Stainless steel | Coating: N/A

Excellent clarity
Smooth feel
You don’t own a 7 string

If you’re an extended range guitar player then Ernie Ball’s Cobalt 7 string set will be the perfect match for you. Thanks to its unique wrap material, you get a brilliant clarity even on the lowest strings, meaning your heaviest riffs come through loud and clear.

Cobalt is a less usual wrap material that creates a stronger magnetic relationship with your strings. This means that when you use lots of distortion with lower tunings, these strings prevent your sound from getting too muddy.

Your low 7th string will sound tight with a set of these, even if you decide to downtune it further. The highs will still be crisp and clear for solos or clean passages, giving you excellent balance across the set.

Best guitar strings for metal: Elixir Optiweb Nickel Wound

(Image credit: Elixir)

6. Elixir Optiweb Nickel Wound – 11-49

The longest lasting guitar strings for metal

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: Optiweb

Long lasting
Balanced tone
Feel not for everyone

Elixir Optiweb coated strings are famous for their long life. Thanks to the very fine coating, they prevent grime and sweat from wearing away at the string, thus expanding upon the lifespan of traditional, uncoated strings.

This heavy gauge is perfect for the regularly playing metal guitarist, more than capable of downtuning with a long life for relentless progressive metal epics. Despite being pricier than traditional strings, the fact that these last longer means you’ll probably end up paying the same when it comes down to it.

Many guitarists report these strings lasting months with regular playing, whilst still retaining their life, allowing you to eschew the dead, lifeless sound of old strings. The thin coating helps the strings feel more like a traditional guitar string.

Best guitar strings for metal: GHS Boomers Nickel Alloy

(Image credit: GHS)

7. GHS Boomers Nickel Alloy - 12-52

Strings for players who need plenty of power

Construction: Round wound | Core: Round Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Very durable
Transparent tone
Too thick for standard
Not as long lasting as coated

GHS Boomers are known colloquially as the ‘power string’, thanks to their long lasting durability. This quality is a must for any metal guitarist, where strings are going to be put through the most extreme playing techniques.

The nickel plated steel wrap delivers a nice brightness to your tone that will help those downtuned riffs stand out on stage or in the studio. The nickel alloy construction is GHS’ own creation, ensuring a long lasting string.

Being called ‘boomers’ it’s no surprise to find these strings have a fat low end response, making them perfect for downtuned riffing and chuggy breakdowns. The balanced tension across the set makes certain they feel great with riffs or lead work.

Best guitar strings for metal: Jim Dunlop Performance+

(Image credit: Jim Dunlop)

8. Jim Dunlop Performance+ – 13-56

Strings for the most extreme downtuning

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Perfect for extreme tunings
Balanced tone
Only for downtuning
Won’t last as long as coated

Jim Dunlop’s Performance+ strings have been painstakingly designed to ensure the best possible performance. This hefty set of 13s is only for downtuning really, as standard tuning on these bad boys will be nigh on impossible to play.

The proprietary core to wrap ratio marries playability with power, so while you’ll have an easy playing feel, your tone will still sound huge. Made at the Jim Dunlop factory in California, you’re also assured of great quality every time.

As you’d expect from such a huge brand, the sound quality present here is fantastic. Mixing a focused low end that’s great for sludgy riffing with a smooth high end. Road tested by pro guitarists, these strings are some of the best of the business.

Best guitar strings for metal: D’Addario XL Nickel Wound

(Image credit: D'Addario)

9. D’Addario XL Nickel Wound – 11-52

The perfect string set for players who need versatility

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Great value for money
Bright tone
Not the longest lasting

D'Addario XL strings are the flagship of their range, one of the most popular choices of strings for players all over the world. This set offers a medium top, heavy bottom gauge, giving you plenty of heft in the bass strings with a slightly lighter treble set.

The versatility of these strings is fantastic, they’ll do a whole range of tunings, from standard all the way to drop C. Played by everyone from Slayer's Kerry King to Mark Tremonti of Creed/Alter Bridge, you’re in good company with a set of these.

Tonally they’re nice and bright sounding with excellent intonation. The bass strings are nice and punchy whilst still remaining playable at standard tuning and drop D and there’s a lovely balance across the whole set.

Best guitar strings for metal: Ernie Ball Mammoth Slinky

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

10. Ernie Ball Mammoth Slinky – 12-62

A beasty set of strings for extreme downtuning

Construction: Round wound | Core: Hex Core | Wrap Material: Nickel plated steel | Coating: N/A

Great for extreme downtuning
Professional level quality
You play in standard
Won’t last as long as coated

Put a set of Ernie Ball Mammoth Slinky’s on and you will feel the difference. These huge gauge strings are designed for use with Drop C, Drop B, and lower tunings. Standard tuning is not recommended!

As with any set of Ernie Ball strings, you’re getting years of quality construction and consistency. This set features a wound G string, such is the heft of the gauge. This will likely feel strange at first, but is a necessity when you want to play extra low tunings. 

Tonally they deliver excellent clarity in the low end, making those room shaking doom riffs sound heavy yet clear. The steel hex core gives you rock solid durability, meaning they’ll put up with the harshest of playing technique.

Best guitar strings for metal: Buyer’s Advice

Best guitar strings for metal

(Image credit: Michael Golab/EyeEm - Getty)

One of the first things you’ll need to contemplate when selecting the best guitar strings for metal is the gauge of string. Using a standard set of strings and then down-tuning can result in the dreaded string flap, whereby the string isn’t thick enough to maintain the correct tension. 

This means you get a string that goes out of tune when you press down too hard on it and that’s not what you or your audience want to hear. If you’re going to be down-tuning to drop D, then you can probably get away with a set of 9s, but 10s would be better. For anything a step-down or below, you’re going to want at least a set of 10s or 11s. Also, it’s important to note the scale length of your guitar. A Les Paul-style guitar has a shorter scale length than a Strat-style guitar, and this means a set of 10s on an LP will feel like a set of 9s on a Stratocaster, so worth bearing in mind when purchasing a set of strings to play down-tuned metal.

Once you’ve selected your string gauge, it’s not enough to just slap them on and start down tuning. When you change the gauge of your strings, you’ll also need to adjust the setup. A string that’s thicker can cause multiple issues with your guitar, the most common will be buzz from the string not having enough clearance from the frets. The solution to this is to raise the action to compensate for the thicker string. You may also find the string doesn’t sit in the nut properly thanks to its larger circumference. 

Nut issues are a common gremlin that can often fly under the radar. Issues at the nut can cause tuning instability and fret buzz, most often due to the string not sitting properly. When you next pop a set of heavy gauge strings on your guitar, make certain to check they’re sitting in the nut nicely, ideally they should be half in and half out, with no side to side movement.

The material is a crucial component of how guitar strings sound. While metal guitars are all about the heavy, you need to make sure you’ve got the clarity to go with it. This is especially true with extended range guitars and down tuning of regular instruments. Without clarity of tone, your guitar tone will be muddy so a set of flatwound nylon strings won’t do the job here. You’ll want nickel, steel or cobalt sets to make certain you’ve got the higher range harmonic content to go with the crushing heaviness.

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Matt is a freelance writer at Guitar World, Thomann.de, and various other music and music gear-related publications. Having played for 20 years he knows a thing or two about axes, and you'll most likely find him hacking away at his guitar strings in the rehearsal space, or hunched over caveman-style, tweaking settings on his pedalboard. Matt currently plays in Manchester-based alt-rockers JACKALS and when he’s not at his guitar, likes to spend his time in his home studio with his two cats, collaborating on alternative hip-hop tracks with fellow creatives from the North-West of England.