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Best electric guitar strings 2020: top guitar strings for all budgets

Best electric guitar strings: top guitar strings for all budgets
(Image credit: D'Addario/Ernie Ball/Gibson/GHS/Fender)

Choosing the best electric guitar strings for your guitar is one of the fastest ways to breathe new life into your beloved axe. Whereas something like your electric guitar or amp can grow old gracefully, your strings need to be changed more often. 

Why? Because electric guitar strings, same as 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 this can cause the strings to tarnish and make your guitar sound lifeless.

Another reason why you should switch in a new set of strings is because any changes in humidity or heat of the room your guitar is regularly stored or played in could also lead to bland, dull tones.

Guitar strings are relatively inexpensive purchases compared to something like a new acoustic guitar or a pedalboard, but they can help you break out of a creative rut by giving your guitar a fresh tone and feel. 

That's why we have put in the hours testing a range of strings, from the biggest and most innovative brands in guitar, to bring you our pro guide to the best electric guitar strings. For those of you in a hurry, let's unveil our top picks first before diving into the rest of our round-up...

What are the best electric guitar strings right now?

Our top picks for the best electric guitar strings include D'addario and Elixir

(Image credit: D'Addario/Elixir)

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. For that reason, we're going to avoid choosing one set as being better than another. Instead, we'll highlight the amazing range of variety on offer under the D'Addario XL banner.

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. As with many other things, your mileage may vary, but any of the brands we mention below can be trusted to deliver the goods.

Choosing the best electric guitar strings for you

Finding a set of strings is pretty straightforward. You haven't actually got that many options. Electric guitar strings 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. But, ultimately, electric guitar strings are fairly simple creatures. 

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 favour slightly thinner gauges. The choice is yours. 

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 for changing so often 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. Let's take a look at some of the best electric guitar strings on the market today.

The best electric guitar strings to buy now

Best electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball Slinky electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

1. Ernie Ball Slinky Electric Guitar Strings

You've seen them before...

Launch price: from $8.25 | Spec: nickel-plated, available in Regular, Power, Hybrid, Skinny Top - Heavy Bottom andSuper models

Tried and tested
Durable
Great sound
Loads of choice

We've gone for perhaps the most well-known packet of strings in existence to begin with. Controversial or what? But there is 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; 13 different gauges are available in total, ranging from the 8-38 gauge Extra Slinky right up to 12-62 gauge Mammoth Slinky. So whatever your playing style, there's a set that'll suit you just right.

Best electric guitar strings: Elixir Optiweb electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Elixir)

2. Elixir Optiweb Electric Guitar Strings

The best coated electric guitar strings on the market

Launch price: from $12.99 | Spec: Nickel-plated steel wrapped wire, variety of gauges available

Extremely hard wearing
Coating doesn't impact sound
Bright and resonant
Pricier than some

In the fight against corrosion, some string brands opt to coat their products in an effort to prolong the strings' lives. 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 regular changes, but if you do find yourself with a month-old set of Elixirs, you'll likely not be disappointed. 

Best electric guitar strings: GHS Boomers electric guitar strings

(Image credit: GHS)

3. GHS Boomers Electric Guitar Strings

The best electric guitar strings for quality and value

Launch price: from $12.35 | Spec: Coated roundwound nickel-plated steel

Bright tone
Nickel-plated
Reasonably priced
Not a huge range

Next on the list is another well-known, much loved set of strings. The GHS Boomers offer nickel-plated steel around a hexagonal steel core, which delivers a nice, bright tone. Whereas in the past string brands used to solely utilise 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.

Best electric guitar strings: Gibson Vintage Reissue electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Gibson)

4. Gibson Vintage Reissue

Electric guitar strings fit for a vintage Les Paul

Launch price: from $10.99 | Spec: Pure nickel

100 percent pure nickel
Warm, clear tone
Great for string bends
Not much

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.

Best electric guitar strings: Rotosound Ultramag

(Image credit: Rotosound)

5. Rotosound Ultramag

Innovative electric guitar strings from the UK

Launch price: from $11.99 | Spec: 52% nickel/48% Iron type 52 alloy

Made in the UK
Innovative design
Great tuning stability
Corrosion-resistant

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, too, to keep them sounding great for longer.

Best electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

6. Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt Electric Guitar Strings

The pull is strong with these guitar strings

Launch price: from $9.49 | Spec: Cobalt

Another innovative string set
Improved dynamic range
8 gauges available
Too niche for some

Another entry from Ernie Ball here. The Ernie Ball Cobalt range utilises different materials within 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.

Best electric guitar strings: D'Addario NYXL electric guitar strings

(Image credit: D'Addario)

7. D'Addario NYXL Electric Guitar Strings

These strings can take one hell of a beating

Launch price: from $12.99 | Spec: Nickel-plated

Flagship D'Addario range
Great for whammy playing
Top tuning stability
Huge range

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.

Best electric guitar strings: SIT Power Wound Electric Guitar Strings

(Image credit: SIT)

8. SIT Power Wound

The sound behind Lamb Of God and Rammstein

Launch price: from $4.99 | Spec: 8% nickel-plated steel cover wrap over a hexagonal-shaped core

All-American
The choice of big name players
Long-lasting
Range of gauges available

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.

A combination of an 8% 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.

That's made Power Wounds the strings of choice for power players such as The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Lamb Of God's Willie Adler and Rammstein's Richard Kruspe.

Best electric guitar strings: Dunlop Heavy Core electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Dunlop)

9. Dunlop Heavy Core Electric Guitar Strings

Best electric guitar strings for downtuned riffs and other such heaviness

Launch price: from $4.99 | Spec: Nickel-plated steel

Great for heavier styles
Downtune-friendly
Strong
Not for lighter players

Another set designed with heavier styles in mind next. The Dunlop Heavy Core strings are built specifically with downtuning in mind. Anyone who has played below standard E will know you can fall prey to the dreaded muddiness in your tone, or from floppy strings. These sets are wrapped using a slightly different ratio to make them ideal for these playing styles. 

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.

Best electric guitar strings: Fender Pure Nickel electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Fender)

10. Fender Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings

Vintage warmth, ideal for blues tones

Launch price: from $9.99 | Spec: nickel core, wrapped with nickel wire

For Strat owners
Vintage tone
Reduced finger squeak
Blues-friendly

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 tonnes 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.

Best electric guitar strings: D’Addario XL

(Image credit: D'Addario)

11. D'Addario EXL

The widest range of electric guitar strings, with something for all

Launch price: from $13.99 | Spec: nickel-wound

Massive range of materials
Wide gauge options
A best seller

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 Prosteels, with increased output and brightness; XL Nickel Wound which are ideal 'everyday' strings; XL Coated Nickel, which have a slightly longer lifespan; XL Half Rounds which are semi-flat to alter their feel; XL Pure Nickel, which give that vintage flavour; and XL Chromes, which are flatwound to deliver increased low-end smoothness. 

Each subset comes in a range of gauges, and as D'Addario's best-selling roster, you should definitely consider them. 

Best electric guitar strings: Optima 24K Gold Plated electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Optima)

12. Optima 24K Gold Plated Electric Guitar Strings

The best electric guitar strings for Brian May fans

Launch price: from $32.95 | Spec: 24 karat gold roundwound

Premium strings
Extra durable
Brian May-approved
Expensive to replace

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?