Wired Up: A Guide to Acoustic and Electric Strings

Shoes wear out, tires wear out, and guitar strings wear out.
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Shoes wear out, tires wear out, and guitar strings wear out. The only difference is that strings usually feel their best around the time when you know you better change them. And while no manufacturer makes strings that feel as broken-in a pair of faded Levis, they all claim that their strings will be louder, clearer, or brighter (often all three), and last much longer than the competition. Manufacturers have put a lot of R&D into their newer string formulations—whether they be cobalt, copper, maraging steel, stainless, aluminum, or the hybrid recipes like nickel bronze, aluminnum bronze, and copper/tin/phosphor—and the truth is that depending on what you want out of your guitar, modern strings can help make it louder, reveal more of what it inherently sounds like, and allow you to go longer between string changes.

Guitar makers such as Taylor and Santa Cruz have even developed strings that are optimized for their instruments, which is a cool idea given the bewildering array of choices one faces in the string market. The bottom line is that strings are the least expensive way to improve the sound of a guitar, and if you’re willing to invest a little time and money experimenting with different sets, you’ll likely find one that will give you that little extra edge next time you step out on stage.

D’ADDARIO
NYXL
$14.99 street

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Made in New York, D’Addario NYXLs feature a newly engineered break-resistant, high-carbon steel core and plain steel alloy delivers a whole new level of freedom, confidence, and power. They reportedly provide more strength and up to 131% greater tuning stability by utilizing a completely reinvented wire drawing process coupled with a revolutionary “Fusion Twist” process for the plain steels. D’Addario says the reformulated nickel-plated string windings have greater magnetic properties resulting in higher output and enhanced midrange frequency response for more presence and crunch. Available in a variety of gauges. daddario.com

D’ADDARIO
NICKEL BRONZE
$11.99 street

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Nickel Bronze strings feature a combination of nickel-plated phosphor bronze wrapped around a high carbon NY steel core, engineered to bring out the unique tonal characteristics of any guitar and allow its natural voice to shine. D’Addario says the nickel-plated wrap wire gives a guitar unprecedented clarity, resonance, and projection, as well as outstanding balance and harmonically rich overtones. Players can also expect improved tuning stability and higher break resistance, thanks to the NY Steel core, which is also featured in D’Addario’s NYXL electric guitar strings. daddario.com

ELIXIR
80/20 BRONZE ACOUSTIC STRINGS WITH POLY WEB COATING
$14.99 street

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Elixir’s original coated string innovation, the POLYWEB coating gives a slick, fast feel to the string while subtly warming the lively 80/20 bronze construction (that’s 80% copper and 20% zinc) for a more “played-in” tone. As a result, these strings sound round and robust, but still retain a remarkably clear midrange presence. elixirstrings.com

ELIXIR
80/20 BRONZE ACOUSTIC STRINGS WITH NANOWEB COATING
$14.99 street

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Featuring the same traditional feel as the phosphor bronze strings, these strings aim to deliver the crisp, bright shine and expressive vibrancy you’d expect from a traditional 80/20 bronze formula, but with all the tone-extending protection Elixir strings are famous for. elixirstrings.com

ERNIE BALL
COBAL T ELECTRIC GUITAR STRINGS
$7.19 street

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Engineered to maximize output and clarity, Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky Guitar Strings provide a stronger magnetic relationship between pickups and strings than any other alloy previously available. Cobalt Slinkys are soft and silky to the touch, making string bending a breeze, and they provide guitarists with extended dynamic range, enhanced harmonics, increased low-end, and crisp, clear highs. Available in a variety of gauges. ernieball.com

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ERNIE BALL
ALUMINUM BRONZE ACOUSTIC GUITAR STRINGS
$7.99 street

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Made from a blend of copper and aluminum wrapped around maraging-steel hex cores, Aluminum Bronze acoustic strings offer more clarity, projection, and low end, as well as better resistance to corrosion than traditional phosphor bronze strings. Available in a variety of gauges. ernieball.com

FENDER
3250 SUPER BULLETS
$8.99 street

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Combining the high output and dynamic sound of steel with the smooth feel of nickel, these strings are designed for rock and other kinds of music requiring cutting guitar tones. The patented bullet end also creates a sonic coupling between the string and the bridge block for enhanced tuning stability and increased sustain. Available in a wide selection of gauges. fender.com

FENDER
3150 ORIGINAL BULLETS
$9.99 street

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These pure nickel bullet-end strings deliver a smooth feel with reduced finger noise. Formulated for rich, warm tones with abundant harmonics, they’re aimed at blues, jazz, and classic rock players. The patented bullet end also creates a sonic coupling between the string and the bridge block for enhanced tuning stability and increased sustain. Available in a wide selection of gauges. fender.com

GHS STRINGS
S425 AMERICANA SERIES ACOUSTIC GUITAR STRINGS
$6.99 street

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GHS’s roots go back decades as one of the premier string manufacturers, and the Americana Series strings feature innovative materials and construction, and offer preferred gauging based on many years of input from the GHS Artist Family. Cryogenically treated copper/tin/phosphor alloy on a hex core provides extended life and enhanced tone. Guaranteed fresh from the factory thanks to the air-tight Fresh Pack and NitroPack singles packaging. Sets available in .012-.054 and .013-.056. ghsstrings.com

GHS STRINGS
BOOMERS
$3.95 street

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These medium-gauge nickel-wound electric guitar strings are designed for rock, country, metal, blues, pop, and just about anything else you care to throw at them. Guaranteed fresh from the factory with GHS’s anti-corrosion guarantee, each string is individually packaged and sealed in a nitrogen atmosphere to be free from oxidization or corrosion. ghsstrings.com

LABELLA
VAPOR SHIELD ACOUSTIC GUITAR
$11.95 street

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The technology behind La Bella Vapor Shield is unique: The entire surface and full-length of all strings are treated with a nucleated polymer vapor material that requires hours of complex prep and processing—no spraying or dipping. LaBella says Vapor Shield strings are brighter than typical coated strings and non-treated strings, last five times longer than non-treated strings, and exhibit no flaking after extended play. labella.com

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LABELLA
HRS ELECTRIC STRINGS
$4.49 street

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These nickel-plated-steel round-wound strings are super-flexible for bending and sustaining notes, and their proprietary formula uses a percentage of plating that increases brightness and durability. All the wire used for the HRS series is hard temper, a detail that reportedly allows these strings to last twice as long as typical electric guitar strings. HRS strings are built at LaBella’s factory in New York, with wire made in the USA. labella.com

SANTA CRUZ
PARABOLIC TENSION STRINGS
$18 street

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These strings are engineered to put the exact tension on each individual string to create the appropriate download pressure. These calculated tensions determine the optimal relative volume between strings, or EQ, for your instrument. Santa Cruz strings require precise core-to-wrap ratios and precision fit and finish for unprecedented tolerances of one half of one thousandths of an inch. State of the art metallurgy and micro coating assures long life by preventing corrosive moisture from contacting the core of these nickel and lead free strings. Available in Low-and Mid-Tension versions. santacruzguitar.com

SIT
ROYAL BRONZE ACOUSTIC STRINGS
$5.99 street

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The Royal Bronze acoustic string is made with a phosphor (92/8) bronze cover wrap over a steel hex core. Exclusive “Fusion Wound” technology utilizes electricity to adhere the bronze cover wrap more tightly to the core. This process eliminates loose spots in the winding, increases string life, and reportedly produces a string with great warmth and tone. sitstrings.com

SIT
UNIVERSALS BALANCED TENSION ELECTRIC GUITAR STRINGS
$6 street

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Designed to deliver consistent tension across the whole set while maintaining the tuning stability that you have come to expect from SIT Strings. Co-developed by Paul “TFO” Allen, the electric guitar set SU101 (.0105-.048) is designed around the four most common tunings (E standard, Eb standard, drop D, and half-down drop Db), and the four most common scale lengths (25.5", 25", 24.75", and 24.6"). The result is a string set designed to land in between a standard set of .010s and .011s for smooth tension that never feels too stiff or too floppy. sitstrings.com

STRINGJOY
6-STRING ELECTRIC AND ACOUSTIC STRINGS
$10.90 street

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Customization may be the next big thing in guitar strings, and Stringjoy is offering players over 100 individual gauges from which they can construct their own custom sets. The company offers 52 gauges of electric guitar strings (ranging all the way from .007 to .090), 26 bass string gauges (from .020 to .145), and 41 acoustic string gauges (from .007 to .056). Not only did they go lighter and heavier with the new options, they also offer a unique array of half gauges, enabling players to further dial in their string sets to find the perfect balance of tension. When a customer places an order on their website, Stringjoy hand-coils and inspects each individual string in the set to ensure the highest quality final product. stringjoy.com

VON YORK
CRYOGENIC SERIES KELVINITE GUITAR STRINGS
$11 street

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Von York Electric Guitar Strings are manufactured in the USA to the highest standards, and then cryogenically treated to increase the life of the string by reducing the amount of stretching during normal use. Inspired by one of Von York’s endorsed artists, Bobby Gustafson, “The Godfather of Thrash,” the Kelvinite H6Ms (.101-.058) are the most popular tour-tested and road-warrior-approved strings Von York sells. vonyorkusa.com/shop

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