Best Electric Guitar Strings 2024: Freshen Up Your Sound

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Deciding which are the best electric guitar strings for your playing is something not all guitarists take a lot of time to consider. For the most part, guitar players tend to stick to what they know or what the staff in the guitar shop tell them and seldom take a chance on a different brand or gauge of strings. 

But your guitar strings are one of the most important components of how your guitar plays and can have a huge effect on how it sounds. They are the conduit by which your creativity passes from your hands into your pickups and finally out of your amplifier into the world.

We understand that you may not want to waste money on trying a new brand of string, but that’s where this list comes into play. With decades worth of experience, we have accumulated all of our knowledge to bring you a comprehensive list of the best electric guitar strings. From enduring favorites like Ernie Ball Slinky to slightly more esoteric selections from Curt Mangan, there will be something here to whet your appetite, suit your style and encourage you to try something different. 

Best electric guitar strings: Product guide

Best electric guitar strings: Buying advice

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Choosing The Best Electric Guitar Strings

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When choosing the best electric guitar strings, there are a handful of considerations you will need to make. All of these facets can have a huge impact on the way your guitar plays, sustains, and its overall tonal quality. 

What’s the best string material; nickel, cobalt, or steel? 

With electric guitar strings, there are various materials used to construct the strings, but when people talk about nickel, cobalt, or steel, they are generally referring to the strings’ winding. So which one is the best? Well, it’s not really a case of being the best, it’s a case of what feels and sounds good to you. 

Nickel
Nickel wound strings are the most common on the market. Ernie Ball’s Slinky range and D’Addario’s XL series both utilize nickel windings. Nickel wound strings usually have a fairly high output, have a crisp attack and are quite prominent in the mid to high-end. 

Cobalt
Next up are cobalt strings. Cobalt has a stronger magnetic appeal than nickel, meaning it has a stronger output when plugged in. The low end on a cobalt string is a lot tighter and there is a slightly rougher feel to them. Cobalt also feels a bit more pliable, so they may be a good choice if you appreciate a string bend or two. 

Steel
Lastly, we have steel strings. Steel strings are incredibly bright, as you’d imagine, and have a lot more presence than cobalt and nickel. They have twang by the bucket load which makes them a popular choice for country and bluegrass guitarists. Steel strings also have more volume, making them an interesting choice for acoustic guitar too. 

What string gauge should I choose? 

One thing you will have to take into account is the string gauge. Strings' gauges are defined by their lightest string, which is why you’ll hear guitar players refer to a set as ‘9s’ or ‘11s’. For the most part, these will tend to follow a linear curve of increasing thickness, which is usually similar across different brands. A set of 9 gauge Ernie Ball Slinkys should feel pretty comparable to the same gauge of D’Addario XLs, for example.

There is something of a misconception amongst players that lighter gauge strings are for beginners and heavy gauge strings are for ‘proper’ players, which is nonsense, of course. Both Chuck Berry and Frank Zappa were proponents of sets of 8 gauge guitar strings, one of the lightest gauges you can get. Stevie Ray Vaughan, on the other hand, used 13s – and all these players got a great variety of tones out of their guitars. Experimentation is key when selecting a string gauge, so try a different set to your usual and you may find you much prefer them.

Another factor that may influence your string gauge is your preferred music taste. Heavier music, which is often played in detunings, will require a heavier gauge of string. Most likely you will be detuning to a lower octave, meaning you will be slackening the strings, and a heavier gauge will compensate for that. 

Are coated or uncoated electric guitar strings better?

Whether your strings are coated or uncoated is another important factor in making your string selection. Both have their pros and cons. 

Coated strings will sound fresher for longer and they won’t corrode nearly as quickly. This is because a coated string has a protective barrier around the windings, blocking out sweat and oxygen which speeds up corrosion. This is a big bonus, especially if you think changing guitar strings is a chore – however, it does come with a potential detractor. Coated strings feel different from a standard string, and some players are put off by the slightly slippier texture. They also tend to cost more than an uncoated string. 

On the other hand, an uncoated string won’t last quite as long and they will corrode a lot quicker due to the lack of a protective barrier. However, an uncoated string has that traditional feel you’ll be instantly familiar with. They also cost a little less, so if you’re in a pinch, an uncoated pack may be more appealing. 

How we choose products

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At Guitar Player, our team of writers aren't just music enthusiasts; we're real-life musicians. Our hands-on experience with acoustic guitar amps ensures that our reviews and recommendations are backed by practical knowledge and real-world testing.

When it comes to selecting the best electric guitar strings, we leave no stone unturned. Meticulously evaluating factors like tonal versatility, sonic character, build quality, and value for money, it's only after rigorous testing in a variety of playing scenarios do we choose products for our guides. We stand by our selections, ensuring that every set of strings we recommend is one we'd use ourselves.

Matt McCracken
Junior Deals Writer

Matt is a Junior Deals Writer here at Guitar Player. He regularly tests and reviews music gear with a focus on guitars, amps, pedals, modelers, and pretty much anything else guitar-related. Responsible for over 60 buying guides, a large part of his role is helping guitarists find the best deals on gear. Matt worked in music retail for 5 years at Dawsons Music and Northwest Guitars and has written for many music sites including MusicRadar, Guitar World, Guitar.com, Ultimate Guitar, and Thomann’s t.blog. A regularly gigging guitarist with over 20 years of experience playing live and writing and recording in bands, he's performed everything from jazz to djent, gigging all over the country in more dingy venues than you can shake a drop-tuned guitar at. When he's not holed up in his practice space jamming new songs or ogling yet another guitar, you’ll find him making a racket with Northern noise hounds JACKALS

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