Choosing new electric guitar strings
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
As I sit here trying to decide which electric strings to buy for myself to put on my Telecaster, I’m reminded of one of the most frequent questions I get asked. I thought I’d take some time to gather my thoughts on electric guitar strings.
Generally when I’m presented with this question, I’m already familiar with the guitarist who’s asking for my advice. I like to know what kind of music you like to play, what kind of guitar you have, what kind of amplifier you have, and what type of sound you’re looking for. Remember that a great majority of the sound comes from you, not the strings. But when we have strings that are suited perfectly for our instrument, our styles, and personal preferences, we tend to play better.
I don’t have a favorite kind of electric guitar string that I buy time and time again. For the last 10+ years, I’ve been trying as many different ones as I can. I’ve honestly never been disappointed with any of my purchases over the years. I think my best advice is to try some for yourself, see what you like, and go from there. Start your own journey towards that perfect electric tone. Keep a journal. Post a picture on Instagram when you get a new set and leave some comments for yourself and your followers.
These are a more recent find for me. I tried them about two years ago and have gone through a couple sets of them on my Telecaster since. They are STRONG. I don't remember breaking any. They have a full, deep tone without getting muddy. They are equally clear and precise played clean or with heavy distortion. For my money, these are the most versatile electric guitar string that I've played in recent memory. According to Ernie Ball, "Cobalt provides a stronger magnetic relationship between pickups and strings than any other alloy previously available." I'm curious to know what this does to contribute to the sound. Either way, I highly recommend the cobalts.
I exclusively played Elixir strings on my Washburn acoustic in my days of live playing. The quality is the same on the electric side of things too. The tuning stability, tone production, and long life means that you'll definitely be changing strings less frequently. To some, that's all it takes to get a set of these.
I used these like crazy when I was younger. These were ideal for my Fender Heavy Metal Strat back when I was playing a lot of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Van Halen stuff. The only downside is that they start to decay quicker than other strings. I found myself having to change them more often because of tuning instability after a short amount of time. They are inexpensive though, so you don't have a lot to lose if you want to try them out.
Always in search of a dark, mellow tone without losing definition, I spent a long time playing half rounds. These are the strings that are on every electric guitar track on my album Songs For The Moon. Sometimes regular flatwound strings can be a little sticky so I gave these a shot and loved them! I'll definitely keep these around. They're not for everybody though. I would not expect to play too many country sessions with these.
A note about gauges:
Don’t jump more than one or two gauges in either direction. Move slowly towards your desired gauge. But also ask yourself why you’re changing gauges? I used to only play 9s on my Strat for ages. But the more I played steel string acoustic on a regular basis, the more I noticed that my bends were out of control on electric. It started to get very difficult to bend in tune, so I bumped up to 10s and I do believe I play much better. I don’t think that my tone has been affected that much by the change in gauge, but it’s overall much more comfortable and home-like for me. If you want to try to aim for a heavier gauge for whatever reason, try to get there slower than you’d actually like. You might have your sights set on 13s, you monster, but you might end up finding that 10s or 11s are where its at for you. Or you might ask for your 9s back. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those choices as long as they’re suited to your needs.
So which string did I end up ordering tonight? I thought I’d try something I’ve never tried before. D’Addarrio’s website describes them the best:
EPN110 is a light gauge string set for electric guitar that delivers a warm, vintage tone. XL Pure Nickel strings produce the vintage guitar sound of the 1950's, an era when pure nickel wire was used to wind guitar strings. These strings produce the rich, warm tones heard in traditional blues, rock & roll, and country.
Warm? Vintage? Traditional blues? I can't say no. And if Dweezil Zappa plays them, I must try them too. I'll let you know when I get them on the Tele and what I think. Click here to order them using my Amazon Associates link.
In the meantime, leave me a comment on which strings I should try next. And if you'd like a specific recommendation from me, let me know what type of music you play, what guitar/amp setup you have, and what you're trying to achieve with your sound and I'll research some options for you.
Now stop worrying so much about the right guitar strings and go practice! :)