The Best Electric Guitar Strings for Beginners
Good day everyone, many things come to play when shopping for new guitar strings. All components of the guitar come together to achieve a desired sound. Usually for the beginner, type of strings might not be of importance but it will be at one point and the more knowledge you have from the beginning the better you will adjust your playing accordingly as you progress. The objective of this article is to give the beginner some insight when looking to buy your next set of strings so you can better evaluate which path or road to travel. Maybe you are looking for a change, exploring other tonal possibilities, or you simply do not like the sound or feel of your current strings. There is a large range of thicknesses across different brands to choose from that will surely suit your needs.
Strings most commonly come in Nickel-plated steel, Stainless steel, cobalt or copper. Nickel-plated steel is the most common and where most guitarist generally use. There are various gauge of strings to choose from. It depends on what type of music you play and sound your after. Strings are measured in thousands of an inch. String packs are named by their thinnest string. During your search you will notice that the lingo used at the guitar store when requesting a certain gauge of strings will often be said differently as stated on the pack. A set of 0.009″ which is measured in thousands of an inch is usually stated as a pack of “9s” for simplicity. This translates to for example 0.009″ is a set of 9s or 0.010″ is a set of 10s and so on. You will also notice on the top right corner of the pack numbers that state 9/42 which means that the high “E” string is 0.009″ and the Low “E” string is 0.042″. Strings can go as high as 0.056″ thick which is generally the thickest a 6 string will use. Some companies use “light, Medium or Thick call outs on their string gauge packs.
Typically, most electric guitars come with a set that ranges from 9s to 11s. The thinner the string the higher the treble and the thicker the string the higher the base. This is important especially what musical genre you happen to enjoy. Metal and rock music tend to use thicker strings for their fatter and warm tones and highly technical music such as Jazz and blues guitarists, will gravitate towards thinner strings. Thinner strings are easier to bend and fret which allows fast technical player less effort. This will be easier for the beginner and as time passes you can move up to thicker strings as your fretting and strumming hand strength increases. When you are comparing different brands, you will encounter slight changes as you move through each string depending on which pack thickness selected, the third string may be slightly less than the other. Please see 9s below for an example.
Two different brands-Extra Superlight – Thin:
9s: 0.009″ 0.011″ 0.016″ 0.024″ 0.032″ 0.042″
9s” 0.009″ 0.012″ 0.015″ 0.022″ 0.030″ 0.040″
Heavy – Thick:
12s: 0.012″ 0.016″ 0.020″ 0.032″ 0.042″ 0.052″
There are also hybrid string packs available on the market today that consist of thicker low strings and thinner high strings. These are suited for the versatile guitarist providing the warm chunky tones on the thicker strings and easy string bending on the lighter strings. It does not lend itself to a particular genre.
9s: 0.009″ 0.011″ 0.016″ 0.026″ 0.036″ 0.046″
This ultimately boils down to preference because you will find other famous people such as Stevie Ray Vaughn for instance, that preferred thicker strings because of the warmer tonal sounds it provided. I would suggest starting with a lighter set and experiment from there.
Main reason strings are coated is to prevent string noise and to protect the string from contamination. Dirt and gunk can build up on and in between the string windings and especially if they are roundwound. These types of strings are more susceptible to contamination than flatwound strings. Unless you want to pay significantly more for flatwound strings most stick to roundwound type strings. There is a thin polymer film coating on the strings that reduces string noise and provides a longer lasting string life than the uncoated counterpart.
There are many brands to choose from. Most of us do not have endorsement deals with any particular brand of manufacturer so feel free to try as many as you like. To keep things simple we will briefly discuss the three most common. All three will provide great sounds.
- D’Addario – Company has been around since the 17th century and have expanded into every form of music. I personally use this brand on one of my guitars and sounds great.
- Ernieball – Company endorses many famous players such as one of my personal favorites “Slash” from Guns N Roses. He uses Ernieball Super slinky. He uses light gauge strings which is perfect for his epic solos.
- Elixir – This company is one of my favorites but it is a little more expensive that the two above. They provide three different coatings on their strings; Nanoweb, optiweb, and polyweb.
Cost varies depending on which brand, thickness and coating combinations you’re seeking. The common sets start at $6.95 to as high as $28.99. The higher the cost does not always equal better quality. Most beginners will not notice much change from the lower cost point vs the higher cost point. I would start out with the bottom price point first across different brands until you arrive at one you like most. Once you have decided on a particular brand and the sound it produces, I would recommend buying in bulk on all future orders. This will save you money in the long run depending on how much you play.
D’Addario price range: $5.30 to $28.99
ErnieBall price range: $6.70 to $19.99
Elixir price range: $14.50 to $17.50 each pack
This was a brief explanation of some thicknesses, material coating and combinations to choose that probably some may not be of importance to you. There is no right answer when selecting strings. It all comes down to personal preference which will vary from individual-to-individual. At least now my hope is that you have a better understanding of how some these factors come into play when selecting your next set of strings.