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The best electric guitar strings 2021: guitar string sets for all styles and budgets

Included in this guide:

The best electric guitar strings 2021: guitar string sets for all styles and budgets
(Image credit: ACM SIGGRAPH/VIMEO)

We’d go as far as to say there’s no better feeling than stringing up your guitar with a fresh set of the best electric guitar strings. The feel, tone and reignited confidence you get from a new set of strings is enough to make any guitarist weak at the knees.

It’s no surprise that electric guitar strings are such a crucial link in your electric guitar sound chain. Not only are they primarily responsible for any sound that comes from your guitar, but the serotonin-heavy introduction of fresh electric guitar strings can improve your playing - and even get you out of a creative rut. On the other hand, it's pretty common for sub-par strings to inhibit your playing too.

Between the rest of the team, we’ve played some of the very best sets of guitar strings to help you find the right ones for you. In this guide there are some great options from Elixir, Ernie Ball, D’Addario and more - that cater for all budgets and playing styles.

If you’d like more expert advice on the best electric guitar strings, click the ‘buying advice’ button above. If you’d like to get straight to the products, keep scrolling.

Looking for a great Black Friday music deal? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for all the latest news and the biggest electric guitar string offers. 

Best electric guitar strings: MusicRadar's choice

Our number one choice for the best electric guitar strings is the Ernie Ball Paradigm series. The Slinky feel, much-loved by players in many different genres, has been given a high-tech update with the Paradigm range, courtesy of Ernie Ball’s patented RPS (Reinforced Plain String) technology increasing the strength of its electric guitar strings by up to 37 per cent.

In fact, Ernie Ball were so confident that they shot a video of John Petrucci trying to break them. Spoiler alert: he couldn’t! That’s not to say they’ll never break, but Ernie Ball will guarantee 90 days without breakage - so be assured they’re tough in the extreme. The incorporated nanocoating feels natural with that Slinky tone present and correct. 

Meanwhile, D’Addario’s NYXL strings prove that the NYC-based string-sheriffs are a viable contender against Ernie Ball for the top spot. Going for a high-carbon steel core with their NYXL range, around which they judiciously wrap some nickel - they promise another super-tough string that won’t go breaking your heart when you go for a hero bend. They won’t go dull for ages either. 

As far as uncoated electric guitar strings go, these are impossible to beat, and the second-brightest model D’Addario makes. D’Addario promise an enhanced response in the 2-5khz range courtesy of these newly-engineered strings’ magnetic response with your pickups.

Best electric guitar strings: Product guide

Best electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball Paradigm

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

1. Ernie Ball Paradigm

The best electric guitar strings for ultra-strong, long-lasting performance

Specifications
Price: From $14.99/£14.99
Material: Coated and treated nickel-wound steel
Reasons to buy
+Tough enough for Floyd Rose whammy abuse and heavy picking+Naturally harmonic tone+90-day no breakage/rust guarantee
Reasons to avoid
-Regular Slinky series still awesome at third of the price

String sage Ernie Ball reckons it’s made some of the world’s strongest strings with the Paradigm set, which promises longer string life while retaining the company’s iconic Slinky tone and feel. As a result, they top this list of the best electric guitar strings.

Ultra-high strength steel can be found in the wound and plain strings, plus there is some reinforcement at the ball end, enabling them to lock in tune fast and hold up to aggressive styles without popping. There’s also plasma-enhanced wrap wire for increased corrosion resistance, too, and Ernie Ball promises that its Everlast nanocoating won’t flake nor mess with the string’s natural response.

Ernie Ball also claims that their patented RPS (reinforced plain string) technology increases tensile strength by up to 37 per cent, with up to 70 per cent more fatigue strength.

Best electric guitar strings: D’Addario NYXL

2. D’Addario NYXL guitar strings

Tough to break and with increased presence

Specifications
Price: From $12.99/£12.50
Material: Nickel-wound, high-carbon steel core
Reasons to buy
+Bright, harmonically responsive tone+Smooth feel, excellent for bending+Super-tough
Reasons to avoid
-Coated strings might last longer

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. D'Addario reckons they will "bend farther, sing louder, and stay in tune better than any string you’ve played before” and that’s just what you need. 

These nickel-wrapped steel strings are the second brightest electric guitar strings D’Addario manufacture and come in a wide variety of gauges.

Best electric guitar strings: Elixir Optiweb coated electric strings

3. Elixir Optiweb coated electric guitar strings

The best coated strings, with a natural feel

Specifications
Price: From $12.99/£14.99
Material: Nickel-plated steel
Reasons to buy
+You’d swear they were uncoated+But then they don’t corrode+Great high-end response
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey

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 these nickel-plated steel strings from corrosion while offering the same tone as uncoated strings. Elixir coat the whole of the string, too. Belt and braces. 

Best electric guitar strings: GHS Boomers

(Image credit: GHS)

4. GHS Boomers

Arguably the best electric guitar strings on the market for value

Specifications
Price: From $5.49/£8.95
Material: Nickel-plated steel
Reasons to buy
+Good value+Nice natural feel+Dave Gilmour is fan
Reasons to avoid
-You are cutting down on single-use plastic

Readily available discounted online, and like many of the more popular string sets as multipacks, the GHS Boomers represent great value. Boomers are uncoated, roundwound nick-plated steel strings with a round core, and offer a smooth ride for all kinds of styles. 

Those holding a note and bending it won’t be disappointed. They come shipped in an air-tight fresh pack with each string individually wrapped in GHS’s NitroPack.

Best electric guitar strings: Dunlop Heavy Core

5. Dunlop Heavy Core electric guitar strings

Strings designed for drop-tuning and baritone guitars

Specifications
Price: From $4.99/£6.99
Material: Nickel-plated steel
Reasons to buy
+Excellent frequency response+You play downtuned metal+Decent price
Reasons to avoid
-Ernie Ball’s Skinny Top Heavy Bottom set is more your speed

A number of brands now have sets catering for drop tunings and extended range guitars, but Dunlop says these Heavy Core nickel-wrapped steel strings have the core-to-wrap ratio to rule them all, one that maintains a comfortable and consistent tension in lower tunings. 

That means you can really attack those strings without any of the flab that you might get from tuning down on a regular set. There’s even a seven-string option.

Best electric guitar strings: Fender Original Bullet electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Fender)

6. Fender Original Bullet electric guitar strings

The best electric guitar strings for your Strat

Specifications
Price: From $9.99/£7.99
Material: Nickel
Reasons to buy
+Fender patented bullet-shaped string ends+Vintage tone and feel+Low finger squeak
Reasons to avoid
-You play high-gain styles

Available in .009, .010 and .011 gauges, these pure nickel strings will partner nicely with your Strat or Tele. They take their name from the bullet-shaped string ends that sit snugly between the bridge block and creates what Fender calls a “sonic coupling”. It enhances stability and sustain, but it could well be a time machine, for the pure nickel experience here – with nickel wrapped around a nickel core – makes for a truly rich, warm tone, perfect for blues, country, and jazz. 

Guitar strings are going two ways right now: one is looking forward to using cobalt, coating strings, new tech, the other is looking at offering players an authentic vintage experience. This is the latter.

Best electric guitar strings: SIT Power Wound

(Image credit: SIT)

7. SIT Power Wound electric guitar strings

The string of choice for Rammstein and Lamb Of God

Specifications
Launch price: From $4.99/£4
Spec: 8% nickel-plated steel cover wrap over a hexagonal-shaped core
Reasons to buy
+American made strings+The choice of major players+Durable+Range of gauges available

SIT is an all-American string company that prides itself on the fact that its strings Stay In Tune. That's all 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: Gibson Les Paul Brite Wires

(Image credit: Gibson)

8. Gibson Les Paul Brite Wires

And now for some pure nickel tone made for your Gibson!

Specifications
Price: From $9.99/£7.99
Material: Nickel
Reasons to buy
+You’ve got a Gibson that needs strings+Another great vintage option+Tuning stability, low noise
Reasons to avoid
-You want a brighter tone

Gibson’s “bench-tested and builder-approved” nickel strings should on the shortlist for any player looking for that warm nickel tone and smooth feel. 

There’s not that much daylight between these and the Fender Bullets, though these have a more conventional wrap and ball-end construction, and as per Les Paul’s preference these have silk-wrapped ends to cut down on ambient noise, making these ideal for recording situations. And, of course, when it comes to restringing your Les Paul.

Best electric guitar strings: Optima Gold Brian May Signature

9. Optima Gold Brian May Signature strings

A little 24 carat bling for rock’s most regal riffer

Specifications
Price: From $22.99/£16.99
Material: : 24 carat gold roundwound
Reasons to buy
+You're precious about metal tone+Corrosion resistant+Easy to bend, ready to rock
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive to replace

These long-life strings from German company Optima are the only 24 carat gold strings in the world (don’t fear, they’re priced in the upper-medium end of the spectrum). This roundwound set is used by May exclusively, with a custom light gauge running from .009, .011, .016, .024, 032, 042.

Expect to get a lot of joy from bends, and a great feel. Tone-wise you are looking at a bright, harmonically dynamic voice. Is it too much to string your electric with gold strings? Hell no! And you don’t have to be rock royalty.

Best electric guitar strings: Rotosound Rotos

10. Rotosound Rotos electric guitar strings

Classic British strings with an extra high E

Specifications
Price: From $4.99/£5.95
Material: Nickel-on-steel
Reasons to buy
+Good value+Comfortable feel and bright tone+Extra high E string to cover inevitable breakages
Reasons to avoid
-Not much

The British string stalwart 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, especially to players who are prone to snapping that high E – which, when you think about it, is most of us.

Best electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball Slinky

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

11. Ernie Ball Slinky electric guitar strings

The best electric guitar strings if you're looking for options

Specifications
Price: From $5.49/£5.99
Material: Nickel-wound steel
Reasons to buy
+Always good value+That Slinky feel and tone
Reasons to avoid
-You want coated strings-…coated is five bucks extra!

There is a good reason for Ernie Ball’s Slinky series of electric guitar strings’ ubiquitous presence in gig bags and cases the world over. Firstly, they sound great. They really pop with a bright clarity, and nice solid midrange. Secondly, they feel great – great to bend, not overly noisy. 

That they come in all kinds of custom gauge options and are cheap as chips just seals the deal. You’ve got Skinny Top Heavy Bottoms, Hybrid Slinky, 7 and 8-string options. Something for everyone!

Best electric guitar strings: D’Addario Balanced Tension XL strings

12. D’Addario Balanced Tension XL strings

A mathematically precise set with comparable feel from string to string

Specifications
Price: From $4.89/£6.99
Material: Round wound with nickelplated steel
Reasons to buy
+Environmentally-friendly packaging+US-made+Range of gauges available
Reasons to avoid
-Not much

Traditional sets can sometimes feature vastly different tensions between strings, causing players to compensate with altered techniques. New York string icon D’Addario set out to even the playing field with its Balanced Tension XL sets, which boast mathematically equalised resistance for a similar feel from string to string. 

That means even effort when bending, strumming, plucking and slapping, and even improved dynamic control.

Best electric guitar strings: Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky

13. Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky electric guitar strings

The best electric guitar strings for higher-output playing

Specifications
Price: £13.95
Material: Tin plated high carbon steel core
Reasons to buy
+Enhanced output+Boosted clarity+Packaging prolongs string life
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly pricey

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.

Best electric guitar strings: DR Neon Multi-Color

14. DR Neon Multi-Color electric guitar strings

The standout multi-coloured electric strings

Specifications
Price: £11.10/$9.99
: **Material:** K3 luminescent neon multi-color nickel-plated steel, hexagonal core wire with ball end
Reasons to buy
+Available in multiple colours+They glow under UV light!+Bright tone to match the colour
Reasons to avoid
-Focused on novelty ahead of sound

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.

Best electric guitar strings: Buying advice

Best electric guitar strings: Man playing Fender Telecaster on grey background

(Image credit: Future)

Electric guitar string gauges explained

One of the most important things to consider when buying the best electric guitar strings for you is the gauge - the thickness - of the strings. Their thickness is measured in 1/000th of an inch, and are usually referred to as 9’s, 10’s, 11’s - meaning that the thinnest string (your top E) is 0.009”, 0.010” or 0.011 etc.

Thinner strings are easier to play, as the tension is low - making them easy to bend and softer on the fingers.The downside is that they are more prone to snapping, as there is less resistance against the force you put against it.

Thicker strings are harder to break and they tend to yield a little more low-end tone, but you’ll 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, as the tension becomes more comparable to that of a lighter set in standard tuning.

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.

How to choose electric guitar strings 

Luckily guitar strings are not expensive. This will be one of the cheapest parts of your rig – so experimenting with as many different sets as you can is a good idea. Your ears and fingers do the rest - listen to them, and they'll tell you which strings are right for your particular style and feel.

There are other considerations, however, like tuning stability and durability. No string is fully break-proof, but you should be looking for those with a high tensile strength.

Coated or uncoated electric guitar strings? A word on guitar string materials…

Coated strings such as Elixir’s promise to extend the life of your string, repelling the gunk and sweat that builds up when playing. While some players prefer the natural feel of an uncoated string, not to mention the lower price, string coatings have evolved to feel evermore natural. They will still feel a little bit different, but they will also stay brighter longer.

That said, the resurgence in popularity of pure nickel strings suggests that players still value that vintage experience, and in terms of warm tone and smooth playability, they are hard to beat. 

The most common spec for the electric guitar string is nickel-wound steel, which offers a little of the warmth of nickel but with a brighter top end. If this doesn’t sound quite your thing, there is, naturally, a 24-carat gold option from Optima.

Best electric guitar strings: silver sparkle Danelectro on a grey/blue background

(Image credit: Future)

When should I restring my guitar?

There are no hard and fast rules over when you should change your electric guitar strings, to be honest. Most casual guitarists do it once every two or three months, but if you’re a more serious player who’s putting in a few hours of practice every day and gigging regularly, you’ll probably need to change them more often.

It also depends on how you want your strings to sound. If you want them sounding at their absolute best for a recording session or tour, then you might want to replace them every few days. Electric guitar strings have a small window where they sound their very best, so it’s a good idea to make the most of that.

Can I put electric guitar strings on my acoustic guitar? 

Technically yes, but surely you could buy a set of the best acoustic guitar strings instead?

Theoretically, electric strings will work on an acoustic guitar. They are, however, made of different materials specifically so they can work the best on their designated instrument. Acoustic strings are usually bronze or brass, and electric strings are nickel or steel. These are quite different types of construction - so using electric strings on an acoustic won’t be optimal.

Which electric guitar strings are best for beginners?

If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to start off with a lighter gauge of electric guitar strings. The lighter the gauge of string, the less tension it produces - and that makes it much easier to play. We’d recommend a set of .009 to .042 gauge strings - as we feel that this is a great middle-ground to start on. You can go lighter, but tone will be compromised - or you can go heavier, but playability will suffer. 

It’s all about experimenting with strings at the end of the day though - luckily they’re affordable and easy to change, so you can try a few different types to see what you like the most.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.