Best electric guitar strings 2023: Sets for all styles and budgets

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A man restrings a Stratocaster with new electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Future)

1. Product guide
2. Buying advice
3. How we test products

There's nothing quite like slapping on a new set of strings and letting rip on your guitar. But to get your electric to sound the best, you'll want to make sure it's strung with some of the best electric guitar strings available. A fresh set will make your guitar feel refreshed and rejuvenated, inviting you to play your instrument and sound better while doing it.

Electric guitar strings are relatively inexpensive as far as guitar accessories go but they're also one of the most vital components of great tone. As strings age they go dull and lose their vibrance, as well as making your guitar sound like the intonation is out as you move up and down the fretboard. Thus it's key to ensure you've always got a great sounding set on whether you're writing, practicing, recording, or performing. 

There's another reason for trying out new strings too, different gauges can totally change the playability of your instrument and open up new playing techniques. A lighter set will make it easier to do huge bends, whereas a heavier set adds sustain and is better for down-tuning. Your strings are not only key to great sound, but can literally inspire you to play differently.

If you're new to electric guitar strings and particularly string gauges, we'd recommend checking out our buying advice section for loads of info on what you should choose. If you already know what you want, just keep scrolling...

Looking for epic music gear bargains? We're tracking all of this year's biggest savings over on our Black Friday music deals page. And if you're in the market for new strings, we've got all the best offers in our Black Friday guitar deals hub.

Jonathan Horsley
Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture 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.

Best electric guitar strings: Product guide

Best electric guitar strings: Buying advice

Close up of electric guitar strings

(Image credit: Future)

What gauge strings are best for electric guitar?

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 is 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 them.

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 the 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.

What type of strings are best for electric guitar?

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 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.

A bunch of electric guitar strings with red ends

(Image credit: Future)

When should I restring my electric 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 to sound 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 the 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.

What are the best electric guitar strings for heavy sound?

The most important thing to note when answering this question is that there are a lot more components that go towards creating a ‘heavy’ sound than just your strings. Of course, thicker strings let you down-tune your instrument, which makes it sound heavier but there’s no reason you can’t get a heavier sound with thinner strings too.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands all typically used standard gauge strings and played in standard tuning or half a step down - no one’s gonna argue that Tonny Iommi didn’t sound heavy on a set of 8s! 

So whilst thicker strings are great if you’re playing in lower tunings, there’s a lot more to it than just string gauge. It’s more about your playing technique, how locked in you are with the rest of the band, as well as your pedals and amplifier settings that determine whether you sound ‘heavy’ or not. 

How we test the best electric guitar strings

When testing electric guitar strings, we want every set to meet a certain set of criteria before we recommend them to you. They need to be up to the task, first of all, they need to make playing easy, and they need to make your guitar sound good.

In order to check whether a set of strings is up to the task, we'll first string up our electric guitar with a set and see how long they take to settle in. This process is about your strings reaching a stable tuning, after which you won't need to mess with them too much. A good set of strings will reach this point in minutes. 

Making playing easy is all about how the strings feel. Now, 'ease' of playing often comes down to the gauge of string - something which is entirely subjective - but we want to make sure that the strings feel smooth, and are without imperfections. If the strings are coated, we don't necessarily want to feel the coating - but if we can see and feel the result of the anti-corrosion technology? That's ideal. Speaking of corrosion, we'll test to see how long it takes for the strings to go dull, too. 

To test how they sound, we'll play music of all different styles. We'll note what type of difference they've made to the sound of our guitar, too. 

Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture 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.

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