Putting on a new set of the best electric guitar strings is one of the fastest ways to freshen up your beloved axe. Whereas something like your electric guitar or guitar amp can grow old gracefully, your strings need to be changed more often.
Why? Because electric guitar strings, like acoustic guitar strings and even guitar picks, easily accumulate a build-up of dead skin, sweat, dirt, dust and other debris – some of which will be visible to the naked eye, and some not. All of these can tarnish your strings and make your guitar sound lifeless. They're also pretty gross, too.
Another good reason to switch to a new set of strings is that any changes in humidity or heat of the room your guitar is regularly stored or played in could also lead to bland, dull tones.
We've put in the hours testing all sorts of string sets, from the biggest and most innovative brands in guitar, to bring you our pro guide to the best electric guitar strings.
Although guitar strings are a pretty inexpensive purchase compared to something like a new acoustic guitar or pedalboard, they can help you break out of a creative rut by giving your guitar a new lease of life.
For those of you in a hurry, let's unveil our top picks first before diving into the rest of our round-up...
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Best electric guitar strings: Guitar World's choice
Choosing the best electric guitar strings for you is an entirely subjective process. You may have a brand you prefer, or a tone which can only be achieved using specific materials.
On a personal preference level, we're naturally drawn to the Elixir Optiweb strings on account of the unique coating. We found that this delivered a bright, warm, resonant tone, while the coating itself made for a unique playing experience.
We're going to avoid choosing one set as being better than another for now, as everyone's opinion differs on the topic. Instead, we'll highlight the amazing range of variety on offer under the D'Addario XL banner. We feel that with so much choice, you're bound to find something that works within D'Addario's range. They're pretty inexpensive, and used by a massive range of artists.
As with many other things, your mileage may vary, but any of the brands we mention below can be trusted to deliver the goods.
Best electric guitar strings: Buying advice
Ultimately, electric guitar strings are fairly simple creatures that tend to comprise a length of metal, usually steel, wrapped in a very thin wire.
From there, you'll see some variables like different materials used for the wrapping wire, or perhaps a layer of coating on the strings to prolong their life.
That said, you will want to look for a few key characteristics as you try to find your go-to brand. First off, and perhaps most importantly, is the string set's gauge. This measures how thick the strings are, and has an impact on tuning stability, tone, durability and playability.
Players of heavier styles of music will gravitate towards thicker gauges, as the increased low-end frequencies work well with detuned music. Likewise, guitarists who play using advanced techniques like sweep picking and legato may favor slightly thinner gauges. The choice is yours.
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The amount you'll need to change your strings will also vary. Regular performers will want to change strings for every show to ensure their guitar sounds the best it can. Ditto if you're spending time in the studio. On the other hand, if you're only playing at home you'll probably look to change them once a month or so.
The reason you should change strings so often in certain situations is that strings have a short period of time when they're performing at their optimum level.
Things that can affect this include temperature and humidity changes, sweat and other corrosive materials, and your own playing technique. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the best electric guitar strings on the market today.
Best electric guitar strings: Product guide
We've gone for perhaps the most well-known packet of strings in existence to begin with. Controversial or what? But there's a reason why the Ernie Ball Slinky sets are among the best-selling strings globally. These nickel-plated strings marry up performance, durability, sound and price into a package which ticks a lot of boxes.
The range is broad too; 17 different gauges are available in total, ranging from the 8-38 gauge Extra Slinky right up to the 12-62 gauge Mammoth Slinky. Ernie Ball have even introduced some 'half' gauges, like the 10.5-52 Mondo Slinky. Whatever your playing style, there's a set that'll suit you just right.
Some string brands opt to use different coatings in an effort to prolong the life of their strings. Elixir is one such brand, utilising their patented Optiweb treatment onto the strings. Coating strings isn't without controversy; some players feel the treatment takes out some of the strings' natural resonance.
In our experience, that may be true for some brands but not for Elixir. These strings sound bright and resonant, like uncoated strings, but generally do last noticeably longer. We'd still advocate fairly regular changes, but if you do find yourself with a month-old set of Elixirs, you'll likely not be disappointed.
Next up is the only true rival to Ernie Ball, certainly in terms of the range on offer. The D'Addario XL range incorporates six different construction methods, each with its own characteristics.
This includes the XL Chromes – which are flatwound to deliver increased low-end smoothness; the XL Nickel Wound – ideal 'everyday' strings; the XL Pure Nickel – which give off that vintage flavor; XL Prosteels – with increased output and brightness; the XL Half Rounds – which are semi-flat to alter their feel, and the XL Coated Nickel – which have a slightly longer lifespan than a normal set of nickel wound strings - so you've got a few options to choose from there.
Each subset comes in a range of gauges, and as D'Addario's best-selling roster, you should definitely consider them.
Next on the list is another well-known, much loved set of strings. The GHS Boomers offer nickel-plated steel around a round steel core, which delivers a nice, bright tone. Whereas in the past string brands solely utilized pure nickel, for whatever reason it was found that this wasn't viable any more. Hence we have nickel plated.
Thankfully, the Boomers deliver everything you want in a package that doesn't cost the earth. While the range isn't the widest in terms of available gauges, what is there is good quality. Great value strings.
Continuing the nickel theme, we have the Gibson Vintage Reissue. These strings are 100 percent pure nickel, delivering a warm tone with amazing clarity. The pure nickel composition gives the tone a more mellow feel, as well as making them easier for string bends.
Gibson does offer other slight variants in this particular range, including the nickel-plated Brite Wires and a set specifically for its Les Paul models (you may have heard of these guitars), but we opted for the Vintage Reissue as they deliver a specific tone, and do it quite brilliantly.
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The UK's premiere string manufacturer showed its innovative streak with the launch of a new design that features increased magnetic properties which deliver extra power, volume and sustain.
What's more, reduced friction aims to provide improved overall tuning stability, while Rotosound has imbued the strings with corrosion-resistant properties to keep them sounding great for longer.
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As one of the biggest names in strings, you can expect good things from D'Addario. And, with their flagship range, they don't disappoint. The D'Addario NYXL range is designed with strength in mind. By incorporating a high-carbon steel core with nickel-plating, the NYXLs can withstand all manner of abuse from whammy bars.
D'Addario itself says the big selling point with these sets is their tuning stability. Apparently, due to the way they're constructed and the materials used, they retain tune far better than standard steel. And with nearly 20 different gauges to choose from, there will doubtless be a set to suit you.
Another entry from Ernie Ball here. The Ernie Ball Cobalt range utilizes different materials from its usual Slinky sets. Cobalt, they found, interacts with the magnets in your pickups much better than any other alloy. This means you get an improved dynamic range and increased low-end. Perfect for heavier styles of music.
Available in eight different gauges, the Cobalt range digs a little deeper to find new areas of tonality for you to explore. Well worth a look.
If you own a Strat, you'll want to look at these. The Fender Pure Nickel sets feature a nickel core, wrapped with a nickel wire cover. This delivers tons of vintage tone, and also has the side benefit of reducing finger squeak as you traverse around the fretboard.
The strings feel silky smooth straight out of the packet, and the pure nickel core allows the guitar's inherent tone to shine through. Some of the best electric guitar strings if you're playing blues or low-gain styles.
All-American string company SIT prides itself on the fact that its strings Stay In Tune, and that's down to their carefully considered construction.
That's made SIT's Power Wounds the strings of choice for powerful players such as The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Lamb Of God's Willie Adler and Rammstein's Richard Kruspe.
A combination of an 8 percent nickel-plated steel cover wrap over a hexagonal-shaped core – all sourced in the USA, no less – produces a bright treble response with long string life.
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Anyone who has played below standard E will know you can fall prey to the dreaded muddiness in your tone, or from floppy strings. The Dunlop Heavy Core strings are wrapped using a slightly different ratio to make them ideal for these playing styles and rid your life of those problems.
What you get is a defined low end, plenty of clarity in the mids and added durability so you can really dig in when you're palm muting. Well worth a look if you prefer to downtune.
For the final addition to our best electric guitar strings round-up, we've chosen something a bit different. The Optima 24K Gold Plated are, as the name would suggest, coated with actual gold. This, the company claims, makes them naturally impervious to tarnishing or corrosion. The choice of material also increases their durability.
These strings are actually the string of choice for Brian May, which is a decent endorsement to have. They're considerably more expensive than all of the other strings on the list, but why settle for silver when you can have gold?