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Best electric guitar strings 2021: the best guitar strings for every budget

Included in this guide:

Best electric guitar strings 2021: top choices for every budget
(Image credit: Getty/Paul/500px)

The quickest, easiest and cheapest way of freshening up your guitar is to fit it with a new set of strings. There are no set rules on how often you should restring your electric guitar, but doing so regularly can help you get the most out of your pride and joy. Now, finding the best electric guitar strings for you can be daunting, but we've put this handy guide together to help you through the process. 

Over time you might notice your guitar starting to sound dull and losing some of the top-end definition - you might even notice problems with your tuning or intonation. Nine times out of ten, once you've fitted a new set of the best electric guitar strings, you'll see the improvement straight away - your guitar will sound brighter, more lively and it will feel better under your fingers. 

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. 

Best electric guitar strings: Guitar World's choice

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. 

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: Product guide

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...

Specifications
Launch price: from $5.49/£6
Spec: nickel-plated, available in Regular, Power, Hybrid, Skinny Top - Heavy Bottom andSuper models
Reasons to buy
+Tried and tested+Durable+Great sound+Loads of choice
Reasons to avoid
-None, really

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.

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

Specifications
Launch price: from $12.99/£10.95
Spec: Nickel-plated steel wrapped wire, variety of gauges available
Reasons to buy
+Extremely hard wearing+Coating doesn't impact sound+Bright and resonant
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than some

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. 

Best electric guitar strings: D’Addario XL

(Image credit: D'Addario)

3. D'Addario EXL

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

Specifications
Launch price: from $6.49/£7.50
Spec: nickel-wound
Reasons to buy
+Massive range of materials+Wide gauge options+A best seller
Reasons to avoid
-None

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. 

Best electric guitar strings: GHS Boomers electric guitar strings

(Image credit: GHS)

4. GHS Boomers Electric Guitar Strings

The best electric guitar strings for quality and value

Specifications
Launch price: from $6.49/£7.99
Spec: Coated roundwound nickel-plated steel
Reasons to buy
+Bright tone+Nickel-plated+Reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-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 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.

Best electric guitar strings: D'Addario XT Strings

(Image credit: D'Addario)

5. D’Addario XT Electric Guitar Strings

Coatings on all six strings and tough to break

Specifications
Launch price: From $12.99/£10.95
Spec: High-carbon steel core, coating, nickel plated steel
Reasons to buy
+Flagship D’addario range+Coating on all strings+Great feel 
Reasons to avoid
-Coating can feel a bit too slippery

These premium electric guitar strings combine some of D’Addario’s finest technology. Featuring the high-carbon steel core seen in the NYXL series, as well as a thin, hydrophobic coating, the D’Addario XT sets retain that fresh string sound for longer, deliver amazing break resistance and hold their tuning well.

All six strings enjoy a coating too - it’s not just the wound strings like in some other coated sets. The feel isn’t wildly different from uncoated strings too so the D’Addario XTs provide the best of both worlds. 

If you’re looking for the best electric guitar strings for tuning stability, sound, break and corrosion resistance, and longevity then these could well be the ones!

Best electric guitar strings: Gibson Vintage Reissue guitar strings

(Image credit: Gibson)

6. Gibson Vintage Reissue

Electric guitar strings fit for a vintage Les Paul

Specifications
Launch price: from $11.99/£7.99
Spec: Pure nickel
Reasons to buy
+100 percent pure nickel+Warm, clear tone+Great for string bends
Reasons to avoid
-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)

7. Rotosound Ultramag

Innovative electric guitar strings from the UK

Specifications
Launch price: from $12/£9.99
Spec: 52% nickel/48% Iron type 52 alloy
Reasons to buy
+Made in the UK+Innovative design+Great tuning stability+Corrosion-resistant
Reasons to avoid
-None

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.

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

(Image credit: D'Addario)

8. D'Addario NYXL Electric Guitar Strings

These strings can take one hell of a beating

Specifications
Launch price: from $12.99/£10.70
Spec: Nickel-plated
Reasons to buy
+Great for whammy playing+Top tuning stability+Huge range
Reasons to avoid
-Getting expensive

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: Ernie Ball Cobalt electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

9. Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt Electric Guitar Strings

The pull is strong with these guitar strings

Specifications
Launch price: from $8.99/£10.99
Spec: Cobalt
Reasons to buy
+Another innovative string set+Improved dynamic range+8 gauges available
Reasons to avoid
-Too niche for some

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.

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

Specifications
Launch price: from $4.49/£6.49
Spec: nickel core, wrapped with nickel wire
Reasons to buy
+For Strat owners+Vintage tone+Reduced finger squeak+Blues-friendly
Reasons to avoid
-If you don't want vintage

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.

Best electric guitar strings: SIT Power Wound Electric Guitar Strings

(Image credit: SIT)

11. SIT Power Wound

The sound behind Lamb Of God and Rammstein

Specifications
Launch price: from $8/£11.50
Spec: 8% nickel-plated steel cover wrap over a hexagonal-shaped core
Reasons to buy
+All-American+The choice of big name players+Long-lasting+Range of gauges available
Reasons to avoid
-None

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.

Best electric guitar strings: Dunlop Heavy Core electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Dunlop)

12. Dunlop Heavy Core Electric Guitar Strings

Best electric guitar strings for downtuned riffs and other such heaviness

Specifications
Launch price: from $4.99/£5.59
Spec: Nickel-plated steel
Reasons to buy
+Great for heavier styles+Downtune-friendly+Strong
Reasons to avoid
-Not for lighter players

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.

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

(Image credit: Optima)

13. Optima 24K Gold Plated Electric Guitar Strings

The best electric guitar strings for Brian May fans

Specifications
Launch price: from $32/£21
Spec: 24 karat gold roundwound
Reasons to buy
+Premium strings+Extra durable+Brian May-approved
Reasons to avoid
-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?

Best electric guitar strings: Buying advice

Best electric guitar strings: Heavy roadworn Fender Telecaster neck pickup/upper fret closeup

(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the best electric guitar strings for you 

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. 

There are many, many different sets of electric guitar strings out there, and different players will find that certain brands and gauges (thickness) work better for them than others. It’s a fairly subjective thing, so it’s worth trying a few different sets out and seeing what you prefer.

It’s hard to talk about electric guitar strings and not talk about Ernie Ball Slinkys - you’ll probably recognise the packet and to be honest, they’re difficult to fault. They offer loads of different gauges to suit personal preference and they sound great - the same can be said for the D’Addario EXL range too. 

We love the Elixir Optiwebs too - these have to be some of the best electric guitar strings on offer because of their unique coating which helps them sound fresher for much longer. Recently, the D’addario XT range have made some pretty great strides as well, offering a protective coating on all six strings, as opposed to just the three or four wound strings.

What are electric guitar strings made of?

Electric guitar strings usually comprise of a metal core - often steel or nickel, with the thickest three strings wrapped in wire. The different guitar string brands can sound different as a result of the materials and methods used. Some will be brighter, more balanced, mellower, and so on. You might even choose different strings to suit the guitar that you’re fitting them on to compliment the pickups.

What are the benefits of coated electric guitar strings?

Some guitar strings have a coating around them - this acts as a barrier to the sweat and skin that comes off your fingers, meaning that they don’t corrode as quickly. You won’t need to change these quite as regularly, but they’re usually more expensive and they have a slightly different feel, which some players like, but others don’t. 

Close up of Gretsch guitar

(Image credit: Future)

Electric guitar string gauges explained 

When choosing the best electric guitar strings for you, one of the main considerations is the gauge. That is, how thick the strings are. They’re usually referred to as 9s or 10s etc - this means that the thinnest string (your top E) is 0.009” thick.

Thinner strings might seem easier to play at first, as there’s simply less metal to move and push down on, though if you’re strumming hard or bending a lot then they can be more prone to snapping.

Thicker strings are harder to break and they tend to yield a little more tone, but you also might find that they’re harder to bend. If you’re tuning down, as many metal players do, a heavier gauge set of strings will hold their tuning better.  

You can also match string gauge to your guitar’s scale length. It’s often said that thicker strings on a shorter scale guitar, like a Fender Jaguar for example, feel better than lighter gauges as they add a little more tension. Ultimately though, it’s usually a case of trial and error and discovering what feels comfortable for you and your setup.

When should I replace the strings on my electric guitar?

As previously stated, there are no hard and fast rules for when you should change your strings. A lot of players do it every couple of months or so, but if you’re playing for three hours every day, then you’re going to wear the strings out much quicker. If you’re playing live, then you’re probably going to sweat more which will wear them out quicker too - most pros will usually change strings after every gig.

Time for a change?

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.

Can you use electric guitar strings on an acoustic? 

Electric guitar strings are different to acoustic strings, which are usually made from bronze or brass. In theory, electric strings will work on an acoustic, but we wouldn’t recommend it! 

Chris Corfield

Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 12 years of experience writing for some of the music world's biggest brands including Orange Amplification, MusicRadar, Guitar World Total Guitar and Dawsons Music. Chris loves getting nerdy about everything from guitar gear and synths, to microphones and music production hardware.