What are the best electric guitar strings?
Every note you play starts life as a string vibrating at a desired frequency. Looked at that way, strings cease to be a workaday accessory but the very vocal cords of your guitar.
As guitar components go, they are cheap and can be fitted by any guitarist in minutes, so it’s amazing most of us don’t experiment much with the various types of strings that are out there - each of which opens up new tonal possibilities.
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But how do you know which will be the best strings for you? After all, Stevie Ray Vaughan played very heavy 0.013-gauge strings and sounded great. On the other hand, Billy Gibbons reputedly plays very light 0.008-gauge sets and sounds… great.
Behind the apparent contradiction is a fundamental tonal truth. Strings are an important link in your signal chain, just like an overdrive pedal or an amp - so what works for your heroes won’t necessarily bring out the best in your own sound, because every player’s touch and feel is unique.
Strings are a part of a subtle web of tonal influences, so picking the right ones is really a matter of trying things out and discovering what works.
To help you get there quicker, we’ve put together this guide to the top electric strings on the market today, spanning traditional and innovative approaches. Hopefully next time you change a set of strings it’ll open some doors to new sounds.
Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky
The company’s latest step in the Super Slinky catalogue is the first cobalt string – a material said to provide a stronger magnetic relationship with pickups for higher output, clarity and harmonic response.
Claimed to be among the strongest electric guitar strings ever made, D’Addario’s technology offers a high-carbon steel core to resist breakage and refined frequency response to enhance presence and crunch.
Elixir Optiweb coated electric strings
As a company at the forefront of the longer-life coated strings market when it was developed in the '90s, Elixir has continued to refine the technology. Optiweb is the company’s latest coating, helping to protect the string from corrosion while offering the same tone as uncoated strings.
The Brit company has been making strings since 1959 and now colour-codes according to gauge as Roto Reds, Pinks, Yellows and Purples. The extra first string is a useful addition to these nickel-on-steel sets.
BUY: Rotosound Rotos currently available from:
Dunlop Heavy Core
A number of brands now have sets catered for drop tunings like drop C, and these are designed with heavier cores to enable comfortable tension at lower tunings. There’s a seven-string option, too.
D’Addario Nickel Wound Nashville High Strung Strings
Reinvent an old six-string electric for adding layers to your recording with the 12-string-esque tonality of Nashville tuning. These strings (0.010-0.026) essentially give you the octave strings from a 12-string set. You might be very surprised at how inspiring they can be.
BUY: D’Addario Nickel Wound Nashville High Strung Strings currently available from:
Optima Gold Brian May Signature
These long-life strings from German company Optima are the only 24-karat gold strings in the world (don’t fear, they’re priced in the upper medium end of the spectrum). These 0.009 to 0.042 sets are used by May exclusively.
BUY: Optima Gold Brian May Signature currently available from:
Fender 150 Original Pure Nickel Wound
The vintage, warmer character of pure nickel has had a bit of a renaissance over the last decade and Fender has recognised the demand with its 150 range. These strings are available in a wide selection of gauges.
Jim Dunlop Rev Willy’s Electric Strings
Extra light indeed! But these come with great providence; they’re design in collaboration with Rev Billy F Gibbons himself. Few players will have experimented with a gauge this light, and intonation alternation may be required, but you’ll be surprised at the doors they’ll open in the world of bending and subtle vibrato.
DR Neon Multi-Color
If you really want your guitar strings to stand out as well as your playing does, then these colourful options from DR are a novel eye-catcher. For even more fun, stick them under a UV light and they’ll glow, too! They might also serve a practical purpose for beginners, too, as new guitarists can quickly identify specific strings based on their colour.
BUY: DR Neon Multi-Color currently available from: