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Have you ever wondered how to choose electric guitar strings? I know I have! I remember looking at the wall of guitar strings at my local music store for the first time and instantly feeling anxiety creep over me. There were so many different packages and brands that it was overwhelming!
There are some things that you can do, though, so don’t worry.
The main things you need to understand about strings are:
- The gauge or size of the string.
- The type of material the strings are made from.
- How the strings are wound.
Once you know and understand these three things, you can narrow down your selection to just a few packs you could try.
This article will show you how to choose the electric guitar strings. Let’s get started!
Check out the 5 best electric guitar strings
How To Choose The best Strings For Your Electric Guitar?
3 Key Factors To Consider Before Getting Electric Guitar Strings
- Lighter gauge strings will feel looser than heavier gauge strings when tuned to the same pitch.
- Round-wound strings are the most common type of electric guitar string.
- If you are switching string gauges, you should make sure to check your intonation when you are finished changing them.
1. Guitar String Materials
Guitar strings look pretty simple on the outside, but they are actually comprised of three main parts:
- Brass ferrule (called a “ball end” or “ball”).
The core is a solid piece of wire at the center of the string. The winding is what gives the guitar string its texture. The brass ferrule holds the string in place at the bridge. On Floyd Rose bridges, these are clipped off.
The string core is usually made from steel. The core will usually be in one of two shapes: round or hexagonal. A round core is perfectly round, whereas a hexagonal (or “hex”) core is made in the shape of a six-sided hexagon. Hexagonal cores are more common because the edges of their shape help hold the winding in place. This means they are a bit stiffer and vibrate more consistently.
Type of String Winding
The winding is a piece of wire wrapped around the core. This winding can be made of pure nickel, a nickel alloy, or steel. Pure nickel has a warmer tone, and nickel alloy has a brighter tone. Steel-wound strings have the brightest tone.
Strings are also wound in three main ways:
Roundwound strings are the most popular. The round winding gives the strings a brighter tone.
Halfwound strings are wound around the inside and flat on the top. This gives them a warmer sound and a very smooth feel.
Flatwound strings have a flat winding. These are often used by jazz musicians due to their warm sound. Some even call it “dull” compared to round wound strings. They also have a very smooth feel to them.
At the end of the strings, the core is wrapped around itself around a brass ferrule or ball end. This wrap is essential because it is where a lot of tension is placed once the string is inserted into the bridge and tuned. If the wrap fails, the string will often break.
The ferrule is usually brass, although companies like D’Addario use plastic. This is what holds the string in the bridge. Some companies, like Fender, make strings using other shapes of ball ends. Fender Bullet strings are made with a ball end in the shape of a bullet instead of a small ferrule.
2. Guitar String Gauges
String gauge is a measurement of the string’s diameter. The lower the number, the thinner the string. Heavier strings will have more string tension and be harder to perform certain things like string bends. Lighter gauge strings will have a looser feel and allow you to easily bend notes.
You’ll see gauges called:
- Extra Light.
These terms refer to the size of the strings. Light and extra light strings are thinner than medium strings, and medium strings are thinner than heavy strings. The measurements are in 1/1000th of an inch.
Here are some common string gauges and their sizes:
|Low E (6th)
The differences in string size may be minimal, but they make a massive impact on how the guitar plays and feels.
How To Choose The Right Electric Guitar String Gauge For You?
String choice often comes down to what style of music you are playing. The winding type is essential! Jazz players will often favor flatwound or halfwound strings. However, the most common type of winding is roundwound, which works well for all music styles and guitar body shapes.
String choice also depends on the overall tone you want as a player. If you want a warm vintage tone, go with pure nickel strings. If you want a bright tone for light country music, go with stainless steel-wrapped strings. If you want a good balance, nickel alloy-wrapped strings are a great choice.
Finally, pick a gauge based on how you will tune your guitar. Anything from extra light to medium gauge strings works well for standard tuning, while heavier strings are better if you tune lower than standard. Using lighter gauge strings for lower tunings can be done, but they are sometimes too loose. This can cause intonation problems.
I will use myself as an example. I play metal music and tune my guitar down to Drop C (CGCFAD). I like more warmth to my sound than stainless steel strings, so I use a nickel-wound string. I prefer the feel of mediums on the treble strings but like a bass string that stays tight even when tuned to C.
I use Stringjoy Signatures Nickel Wound Drop Tuned Medium Gauge with sizes .011 – .058. This gives me the right feel and sound for my needs.
3. Coated vs. Uncoated Guitar Strings
Some strings are coated with a very thin protective coating designed to enhance the string’s life. This coating protects the string from acids found on your skin (as well as other elements) and keeps them from corroding. Uncoated strings are simply strings that have not been treated with any coatings. Coated strings are usually more expensive because they last much longer than uncoated strings.
4. Price and Durability
Pricing often reflects the quality of materials used in the strings. Just like with guitars, you don’t have to get the most expensive strings on the market to have a good tone, but you don’t want to skimp on them. They are, after all, a huge part of what makes a guitar a guitar!
Durability also reflects price. High-quality strings use better materials and manufacturing methods than cheaper strings. If you play hard or use a lot of tremolo work in your music, go with a set of strings with a reinforced ball end. This is the most common place for string breakage since the bridge has much tension.
Electric Guitar String Choices By Genre
The genre of music that you play can determine what type of strings you use. Metal players who tune below standard E may prefer to use a heavier string since they will stay tighter at a lower tuning.
Country players might like to use a set of extra light or light gauge stainless steel strings to give them extra treble bite and brightness.
Jazz players may use a set of medium or heavy-gauge flatwound strings to give them a smooth, muddy, and warm tone.
A set of nickel-wound lights will be great for vintage clean tones or high-gain shredding. Many shredders use light or extra light gauge strings because they are easier to press down and bend notes with than medium or heavy gauge strings.
Maintenance and String Care Tips
Taking care of your guitar strings ensures that you get your money’s worth out of them and keeps you from constantly changing strings.
The first step you can take is to wipe your strings off with a dry microfiber cloth before and after you finish playing. Do this before you start practicing and after you finish. This will help remove any acids that accumulate on the strings’ surfaces. It will also help remove other things, such as dead skin or dirt.
Be sure to wipe down the entire string from the bridge to the top of the fretboard!
The next thing you can do is to use a string cleaner. These cleaners are formulated with cleansers to remove oil and crud from the strings. They also include protective oils that prevent acids from corroding the strings.
There will eventually come a time when the strings become too corroded and begin to sound dull. This should tell you that it is time for a string change. If they do not corrode after some time, look at the bottom of the wound strings to ensure that the frets have not worn flat spots in them. This can make them sound dead as well.
Doing these simple tasks will help you extend the life of your strings.
There are more strings on the market now than ever before, so we totally get that choosing a set of electric guitar strings can be a daunting task! One thing that helped me out was to look at what my friends were playing – especially those who had been playing much longer than me.
This further helped narrow my selection to where I could make an informed decision. Sure, I bought a few packs of strings I didn’t care for, but you won’t know what you like and don’t like if you don’t experiment a little.
Use this article as a general guide, and go pick out a few packs at your local music store! You’ll be well on your way to discovering your tone and feel, and you’ll feel confident the next time you walk in there and ask for a pack of strings!
Happy shredding from all of us here at guitaristnextdoor.com!
What Gauge Strings Should I Use for Electric Guitar?
This depends on the style of music that you play as well as the tuning that you will be using. Most electric guitarists start out with a set of .010 – .048 light gauge strings. Consider a heavier gauge if you use lower tunings or a lighter gauge if you like to shred.
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Do Heavier Strings Sound Better?
They will often sound better for heavier music that uses lower tunings. They will not improve your sound if you tune to standard E, and they may even be harder to play because of the increased tension they place on the neck.
Are Lighter Gauge Guitar Strings Better for Beginners?
Yes, they are better for beginners. This is because lighter strings require much less force to press down on the fretboard.
Do Coated Guitar Strings Affect Tone Quality?
The coating on the strings is said to improve sound quality because it keeps your strings sounding newer for longer.
Are Acoustic Guitar Strings The Same As Electric Guitar Strings?
No. Acoustic and electric guitar strings are composed of different materials. Additionally, acoustic guitar strings feel different because they are generally heavier. For example, a set of lights for an acoustic guitar is .012 – .54. These would be considered heavy strings on an electric!
How Often Should I Change My Electric Guitar Strings?
This is highly debated among guitarists as it involves several different factors. Some guitarists prefer the sound of “broken-in” strings, while others like them best when they are new.
My answer to this question is always, “change your strings when you think you need to.” Strings will corrode differently for different people. After all, each person’s body chemistry is different. Strings are corroded when they become discolored and start sounding dull.
Generally, this can be as often as a couple of weeks or months if you play regularly.