For those of you who are in a hurry, our selection of best electric guitar strings is right below. If you want to learn a bit more about why we chose these strings, and also what are string gauges and how they impact the sound and playing, more information is available at the bottom of this page.
Also to note, this is a beginner friendly guide simply listing what we consider to be the best quality guitar strings. If you’re more experienced, use it only as a basis. All the sets mentioned are available in different gauges depending on your personal preferences.
The Best Electric Guitar Strings Overall
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky
The Ernie Ball Regular Slinky can be used for any type of music, and for all purposes, be it soloing or rhythm. For example, these exact same strings are used by both Eric Clapton and James Hetfield – two very different guitarists, both in terms of style and the sound.
The string will last for a very long time, of course depending on how much you care about the “new strings sound” as they call it. Some people change strings as often as each week (mostly professionals) while some others, who don’t necessarily play any less, change them not nearly as often. To prolong the life of the strings you can occasional clean them using a dry cloth, or you can use specialized products such as Dunlop 65 String Conditioner.
Stick to the standard gauge if you’re a beginner (Regular Slinky 10-46). Go for a lighter set (Super Slinky 9-42) if you want them to be easier on your fingers and easier to bend. Heavier sets (Power Slinky 11-49) are for a more beefy tone, and mostly rhythm playing (harder to and press and bend).
D’Addario EXL110s are very popular electric guitar strings. The set shares the exact same string gauges as the Ernie Ball Regular Slinky set, and all of the properties. They have a nickel-plated steel string wound around a carbon steel core.
The difference between the two sets is mostly personal preference, and largely just in the head of the player. Both are very good guitar strings, and very versatile and suitable for any style of music. As an example of their versatility – these strings are used by both Joe Satriani and John Frusciante – once again two very different guitarists.
Elixir Nanoweb electric guitar strings are somewhat different from the previous two sets. While the material choice is identical, Nanowebs use a coat that protects against common corrosion and extends the life of the strings. The coat is barely visible and does not interfere with playing at all. On the contrary, it lessens that annoying squeaking sound when dragging the fingers across the strings.
Given the somewhat higher price tag, this is the most premium set of the three. But considering the fact that the coating will actually make them last longer, the investment usually pays off in the long run.
About String Gauges
For starters, what you need to know about string gauges is this:
- Lighter gauge strings are easier to bend and press against the neck easier on fingers but suffer more tuning issues.
- Heavier gauge strings are not ideal for bending but generally stay in tune better.
Please note that the tuning issues are usually not that severe, and other factors such as the quality of your tuning pegs make a much greater impact.
Regarding the sound difference, lighter strings are more on the treble side and sound “twangy”, while the heavier strings are more bassy and sound more “beefy”. This difference is not that noticeable on the electric guitar though (as opposed to an acoustic). On an electric guitar so much other stuff influences your sound (pickups, amp, wiring), that strings are not really that big of a factor.
If you’re a beginner – stick to the standard gauge. No need to complicate things even further, at least not until you develop your own style and preferences. Standard gauges are the sets starting with a 0.010mm (millimeter) string on the bottom, and usually ending with a 0.46mm string on the top.
Best Guitar String Brands
The most popular guitar strings brands are Ernie Ball, D’Addario, GHS, Dean Markley, and Elixir. There are other brands like Fender and Gibson, but they usually don’t even manufacture their own strings. It is even pretty much confirmed that D’Addario makes strings for Fender since around 2011.
The best guitar strings in the world, or the most premium, are probably made by companies like Pyramid or Thomastik. These usually cost more than twice of what you would pay for the rest of the brands. We will not talk about those two in this article, but if you’re interested, here’s where you can buy them.
- Thomastik-Infeld JS110 (standard gauge set)
- Pyramid Gold GF1210 (also a standard set, but flatwound)
Flatwound vs Roundwound
In layman terms, roundwound string uses a wire circular in profile to wrap the core. The flatwound string uses a flattened wire, which results in a smoother surface.
In general, roundwound strings are much more popular and are used by most of the pro guitarists. If you’re interested in trying out a flatwound set, D’Addario ECG23 is a good start and doesn’t cost much.
Nickel vs Steel vs Cobalt
The tonal difference between different types of strings isn’t huge but it’s usually noticeable. Since this can’t really be put into words, we recommend watching Johan Segeborn’s comparison between different types of strings on YouTube where you can hear the tonal differences yourself.
Nickel plated strings are by far the most common. They use a steel wire with nickel plating wrapped around a core string. There are also pure nickel strings, steel strings, and cobalt strings. For starters stick with the standard nickel wound, but with time allow yourself to experiment with other types.
Where to Buy Strings Online
You can buy guitar strings basically anywhere now. The most common places are Amazon and stores like MusiciansFriend if you’re from the US. If you’re from a smaller country, usually there will be a large musical instrument shop chain with an online store.
How to Make the Guitar Strings Last Longer
You can prolong the life of your strings while doing a couple of things:
- Always wash and completely dry your hands before playing the guitar. Moisture is our main enemy, as it causes corrosion.
- Use a clean dry cloth to occasionally clean the strings.
- If you’re using standard uncoated strings, you can use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Do this only if you have something to protect the surface of the neck first. The alcohol must not come in contact with the fretboard at all, or you’re risking making damage to it.
There are also commercial cleaning products available. You can pick up a bottle of Dunlop Ultraglide String Conditioner for just a few bucks, and it will last you forever.