What is the best electric guitar string? Best for what and for who? Personal sound preferences enter into this as does what guitar you are playing.
We had a guy who played an SG Standard and changed from Rotosound to Ernie Ball – it sounded great. He did the same with his Fender Telecaster, and they made it sound like a cheese grater.
It is such a personal issue because what one person likes another doesn’t. The guitar comes into it as well. The Ernie Ball strings on the humbucking SG was thick and screaming but on the single-coil Telecaster was thin and insipid.
Nowadays it’s a bit different because effects pedals will make the sound change and it becomes more of what feels good.
There are a lot to choose from, so let’s take a look at the best electric guitar strings…
- Top 7 Best Electric Guitar Strings In 2020 Reviews
- 1 D’addario Xl Nickel Wound
- 2 D’addario Nyxl1046 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings
- 3 Elixir Strings 16542 Electric Guitar Strings
- 4 Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Nickel Wound Sets, .010 – .046 (3 Pack)
- 5 Ernie Ball Super Slinky Nickel Wound Sets, .009 – .042 (3 Pack)
- 6 Fender 150r Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings
- 7 Dr Strings Hi-Def Neon Electric Guitar Strings (Nmce-10)
- Best Electric Guitar Strings Buyers Guide
- So What’s The Best Electric Guitar Strings?
Top 7 Best Electric Guitar Strings In 2020 Reviews
1 D’addario Xl Nickel Wound
In 1680, if you can cast your mind back that far, in Italy, the D’Addario family started making strings for instruments. Fast forward to 1905, and we find them in New York beginning to expand their string making business. Fast forward another eighty years, and Mark Knopfler is gently reminding us that he may be the greatest songwriter/guitarist the world has seen using their strings. Quite a journey.
They know what they are talking about, and when the great guitar strings are mentioned, their name will inevitably arise. Italy has given us four great things – wine, pizza, pasta, and D’Addario guitar strings.
The XL is possibly the most well-known of their strings. The core material is steel and then they are round wound with more steel but nickel-plated. Contrary to some, they are not coated.
They are well-known for their bright tone and near-perfect intonation. They have a reputation for being long-lasting, but of course, many musicians never get to find that out. Using highly magnetic steel that is nickel-plated the XL’s are precision wound.
Great for playing most styles…
Vital to a guitar players sound, of course, one of the great things about the XL Nickel wound is that it will sit comfortably in many different genres and with many guitar styles. One of the reasons it is a popular and a big seller. This ability to be used in a variety of styles has seen people like Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, and Joe Satriani all use them.
They come in a corrosion-free packaging with string gauges 009, 011 and 016 (all plain steel) and 026, 036 and 046 that are nickel wound.
Not cheap, of course, but they justify the cost.
- Well-made with long-lasting structure.
- Vivid and clear bright tone.
- Considered expensive by some.
2 D’addario Nyxl1046 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings
Aimed at the beginner guitarist, this specially produced package offers a great way to introduce new and maybe young players to D’Addario strings.
Ideal for the young musician…
The package features a set of budget range D’Addario strings made from carbon steel alloy instead of the more usual pure steel that will provide a lot of strength and longevity of use. They are a lot easier to use than the more well-known steel and nickel-plated strings the company produces, being a little easier to tune and less likely to lose their tuning with playing.
Being a bit tougher in construction and without the nuances of the steel base, they form a formidable sound. The Nickel winding is still evident in the sound though, but they don’t have the brightness of an XL string, but carry a punch just the same.
They come packaged in gauges 010, 013 and 017 ( plain carbon steel alloy) and 026, 036 and 046 (nickel wound).
A good trade-off for the young musician…
If you compare the gauges of these NYXL’s to the XL nickel wound, you will see that the three nickel wound strings carry the same gauges in both sets. It is just the plain strings where the gauge is a little heavier with these strings. That gives them a little more strength and longevity, but of course, loses a little brightness along the way.
Included in the package is a pro-winder for easy string changes, an article we wish was around a few years ago — actually quite a few.
For the price, this is a great little package made all the better by the inclusion of the winder.
- Longevity and ease of use of string.
- Winder to assist in string changes.
- Strings lose a little brightness.
3 Elixir Strings 16542 Electric Guitar Strings
We can argue long into the night about the benefits or otherwise of coated strings. The Polymer coating applied to strings can improve the length of use. A non-coated string can collect dirt and sweat from a live performance and if it’s a wound string can get clogged up. It was originally designed to prevent string corrosion. We are sure we’ve all seen a guitar with strings almost rusting away.
Is there a sound difference?
Most will say yes, the coated strings are not as bright and don’t cut through so much. Coating strings dulls the sound they will claim. If you are talking about an acoustic guitar that could be a big advantage to give it a smoother sound.
So why are we going on about this?
Elixir is the leading innovator in coated strings, and it has developed into a very interesting situation. Let’s look at the positives from the Elixir 16542 string.
The Nanoweb coating on this string is actually very thin, and it does have the effect of making the strings last longer. Principally because they are not corroding with use, they will actually stay in tune a little longer because of the coating and then there will be hardly any tonal string change at all. Friction and ‘squeaking’ of fingers on strings, whilst not eliminated, are greatly reduced.
All positive things that Elixir use to sell their strings.
And they are all correct…
Elixir strings are good and fulfill all of those issues we mentioned. You cannot ignore the fact that they are good strings, produce a good sound, and will last a long time and in that Elixir have done a good job. There is a slight tonal difference, but it is very slight.
These are a quality string and will last you a long time. Gauges are 010 to 046.
- Long-lasting and durable.
- Hold their tone well.
- Some just do not like coated strings.
We don’t need too much of an introduction, just say the name. The man himself was a professional musician turned businessman who built what can only be termed as an empire.
Every guitarist around the world knows the name Ernie Ball and the quality it stands for. There are a few you might have heard of that use them, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend Angus Young, Joe Perry – ok we’ve been told to get on with it! We’ll just say they are quite popular.
Built to last…
The Slinky string is made from a high carbon steel core that has been tin-plated and then wound with nickel-plated steel. Both elements, the core, and the nickel winding, are plated. This does affect the sound, but it also makes them more durable. The regular Slinky has a sound that is almost recognizable and is very tight and precise. When compared to its cousin the Super Slinky, it feels almost sedate.
The slinky then is more of an all-rounder string that will fit into most genres and playing styles comfortably.with its balanced tones and ease of playing.
Element Shield packaging…
This particular package offers three packs of Regular Slinky strings in a single package for a very competitive price. Gauges are the usual mid-range of 010 to 046. They are despatched in Element Shield packaging which will prolong their life.
A chance then at this price for everyone to play what many consider the best electric guitar strings. So join the rock n roll bandwagon and get a slice of what has contributed so much to modern-day rock music, Ernie Ball strings.
Now, where were we… Albert Lee, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, Steve Vai…
- Three pack package at a great price.
- Ernie Ball quality strings.
- At this price absolutely none at all.
The gauge of the string has a lot to do with personal feel, but it also has an impact on the sound. The sound comes from the vibration of the string, which is then amplified. Not only does the gauge of the string have an impact on the sound it feels different. It is lighter, needs less pressure to hold it down, but more accurate in finger position. It is likely to snap more often and can lose tone very quickly. So there are positives, but a few negatives as well.
It was a natural progression from the original Slinky strings to create the Super Slinky. They first arrived in the 70s, causing quite a stir with their bright pink packaging which has hardly changed at all.
Superb for rock!
Of course, we all rushed out and bought them, and then most of us realized we couldn’t play with them. They are a light gauge. Easy to bend, great for rock music, but you need to get used to them.
Now, of course, they are a virtual industry standard. The difference between Slinky and Super Slinky is only from 10 gauge down to 9, but it feels a world apart.
The construction is the same…
A steel core wire with a nickel-plated steel wire around it. The plain strings, 09, 011 and 016 are made from tin-plated carbon steel, 014, 0323 and 042 are wound.
They brought something new to the game and are the preferred string for many well-known pros.
This package offers three packs of Super slinky strings in a single pack. They are delivered using Element Shield packaging, which will help to keep them in perfect condition.
At the price offered, it is an offer you can hardly refuse. Best electric guitar strings? It will be close.
- Three packets at a great price.
- Lightweight strings used by many pros.
- Might be just too light for some.
6 Fender 150r Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings
I suppose if you make some of the best guitars in the world, they are going to need strings at some point, and so why not make your own? Wasn’t quite like that for Leo Fender. He was supplied with strings by the Squier company. Of course, Fender eventually bought Squier, and they are now the brand name of budget Fender guitars and the strings are made by Fender themselves.
These are the Fender 150R’s and are made from pure nickel and are a cross-genre string, suitable for just about everything. Fender pride themselves on the build quality of there strings and every Fender guitar that leaves the factory is fitted with them. The gauge is the usual mid-range 10-46, which is always a good place to start.
Finding the gauge of string suitable to you is never easy…
Different companies have different sounds of course, but if you start with heavy gauge string, heavier than the 150s produced here, then it might mean you filing down the nut so that they fit. If you later decide you want lighter strings, then they will fit too loose in the nut. So the 10-46 range is a good place to start.
It’s no surprise of course that they sound a little twangy. Fender does love their twangy sounding guitars, the Telecaster being the prime mover, and so the strings are made from nickel to add to that.
Liven up the top end…
If you like the ‘Tele twang’ you will love these strings, but they don’t only sound good on Fender guitars. Put them on anything, and they are going to liven the top end up a bit.
Very competitive priced, they are a good string and can easily be considered as one of the best electric guitar strings currently available.
- Well made with pure nickel.
- Attractive price.
- Some may not like the sharp sound they generate.
7 Dr Strings Hi-Def Neon Electric Guitar Strings (Nmce-10)
We don’t really know why no one thought of this before. Neon strings. That will light up the place.
The basics are quite well manufactured, having a core wire that is hexagonal steel, and are wound with nickel-plated steel. But then the fun starts, they are coated with a color K3 coating to create the colors. It’s a novel idea and one that is going to appeal to some players, though I can’t see Page, Townshend or Beck giving them a go. Not while they are sober anyway.
A great talking point…
They are, as we mentioned, coated, so the sound will reflect that, so don’t expect them to have the sharp cutting edge of an uncoated string. Having said that they are going to last a while and will certainly be a talking point.
The gauge is set at 10-46 which is a standard fit, though there is a lighter 9-46 version and a heavier 11-50. The 10-46 though is the place to start.
Lighten up your day…
They actually play quite well, and the sound is clear and articulate. One of the disappointing things about these strings is that with the color scheme some players won’t take them seriously as a guitar string, when in fact they sound ok. I suppose that is the price you pay.
They are a bit of fun; in fact, a lot of fun in an industry where too many people take themselves a bit too seriously. They are though a little on the expensive side.
- The string is quite well made.
- Being coated, they will last a while.
- Colors will certainly put some people off.
Best Electric Guitar Strings Buyers Guide
Time to get the best electric guitar strings you can find…
Many moons ago, about early 1966, we sat at Jim Marshall’s tiny shop in Hanwell, West London while a couple of guys worked slavishly producing the amps and speaker cabinets that in a year or so, would rock the world and still do.
In an adjoining room was a then-unknown Jimi Hendrix, recently arrived from the US., broke. But Jim saw the talent and gave him the practice room and a 100w head and sloping 4 x 12 cabinet to announce his arrival to the rest of west London. Loudly.
He even lent him one of his shop assistants, one Mitch Mitchell, to play drums for him and a local bass player, affectionately known as Sailor, filled in before the arrival later on of Noel Redding.
What’s the point of this story?
A break was taken, and a young guitarist had sat in the shop spellbound listening to early rehearsals for ‘I don’t smile today’ which later became ‘ I don’t live today’ and was on ‘Are You Experienced.’ Geoff, the shop manager, said to the young guy ‘can I help?’ and he replied, ‘I need some new strings.’ ‘What kind?’ said Geoff. ‘I dunno?’ he replied ‘but I wanna sound like that’… pointing at a retreating Jimi for more displays of genius in the next room. ‘Sorry,’ he replied, ‘can’t do that.’
The point is it doesn’t work like that. It didn’t then, and it sure as hell doesn’t now, with so many effects pedals. There really isn’t a ‘best string’ or one that will make you sound like Page or Beck, Townshend or Vai, or of course, Hendrix. There is really only the best string for you.
Which camp are you in?
The options can initially be divided into two camps – coated or uncoated. Coated strings will last longer, not lose their tone so quickly and will stop a little bit of friction in use. Non-coated have a sharper sound, break quicker, store all the grease and sweat from the live gigs, but many guitarists think that they just sound better.
And remember, if you change your strings often, longevity and loss of tone won’t matter so much.
Once that is decided it is the gauge. Standard 10-46 or are you going lighter may be down to a 9? Some might even go up to an 11 or even a 12; it rather depends on what style of player you are and what kind of music. The lighter gauges will give you more bend, feel lighter, but your technique needs to be pretty good. The middle range of 10 is most people’s comfort zone. The heavier they get, the harder it is to hold them down and bend them around.
Some are more ear-splitting with the high frequencies, but most handle everything very well. Some will work better with certain guitars, but that is not a golden rule and will depend on the player as much as the guitar.
There really are some great strings out there, and we have only looked at seven, but all of them are brilliant, the best of the best. But if you think looking up your hero on the internet and seeing what he or she uses will make you sound like them, forget it. It’s about you and what makes you sound good.