How to Choose the Right Strings for Your Electric Guitar

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The strings on your electric guitar have a major impact on its sound and playability. If you’ve taken a look at the huge Musician’s Friend guitar string assortment, you’ve likely realized that there’s a lot to consider in figuring out which strings are right for you and your instrument. Read on to find the strings that best match your electric guitar, music, and playing style.

Electric Guitar Strings

Every type of string has its own sonic qualities and playing characteristics. Exploring the options is a fun and rewarding part of creating your own signature sound.

Table of Contents

All About String Gauges
String Set Gauge Designations
Factors to Consider When Shopping for Electric Guitar Strings
String Gauge Playing Characteristics
String Durability
Electric Guitar String Construction Materials
Types of String Windings
Signs That it’s Time for a String Change
How Often Should Strings be Changed?
Some Other String Tips

All About String Gauges

Strings are manufactured in a range of thicknesses or gauges. These gauges are designated in thousandths of an inch. The lightest strings are typically an .008 (often referred to by guitarists as an “eight”) and the heaviest a .56 (or fifty-six). String gauge has a big influence on playability and sound.

Lighter gauge strings:

  • are generally easier to play
  • allow easier bending of notes and fretting
  • break more easily
  • produce less volume and sustain
  • are prone to cause fret buzzing, especially on guitars with low action
  • exert less tension on the guitar neck and are a safe choice for vintage guitars

Heavier gauge strings:

  • are generally harder to play
  • require more finger pressure to fret and bend notes
  • produce more volume and sustain
  • are preferred for low tunings such as drop D
  • exert more tension on the guitar neck

Fender 250R Electric Guitar Strings

Fender 250R strings have a bright, clear sound; the gauges are typical of a “light” set.

String Set Gauge Designations

Most string manufacturers identify the string gauges in a set using terms such as “extra light” or “heavy.” While the exact gauges may vary slightly among manufacturers, here are typical gauge ranges for electric guitar string sets:

Electric Guitar String Set Gauges

  • “extra super light": .008 .010 .015 .021 .030 .038
  • "super light": .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042
  • "light": .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046
  • "medium": .011 .015 .018 .026 .036 .050
  • "heavy": .012 .016 .020 .032 .042 .054

String sets are sometimes identified by the gauge of the high E string—the smallest-gauge string. A “medium” set of electric guitar strings for example might be just identified as an “0.11 set”.

Dunlop Heavy Core Electric Guitar Strings

Dunlop’s Heavy Core strings are made especially for drop tunings and are the choice of many metal players.

Factors to Consider When Shopping for Electric Guitar Strings

The most important factors to consider in shopping for electric guitar strings are:

  • Your playing style and music genre
  • How often you play
  • The sound character and tone you want to achieve

The things that impact those factors are:

  • String gauge
  • String construction materials
  • Type of string winding method
  • Uncoated vs coated string treatments

We’ll next look at each of these variables to come up with the strings most likely to work for you and your guitar.

Electric Guitar String Gauge Playing Characteristics

As we discussed above, lighter strings are easier to play. If you aspire to be a shredder burning up the fretboard with lighting-fast leads and intense rhythm chording, you’ll want to use lighter gauges. That said, if you’re a metal player who uses detuned scales such drop-D tuning, heavier gauges are needed.

Cleartone Treated Electric Guitar Strings

Cleartone Treated Strings have a 1-micron coating that greatly extends their life without impacting tone.

Blues and classic rock guitarists who use a lot of string bends often settle on medium gauges that combine reasonably easy bending with more sustain and fatter, richer, darker tone. Mainstream jazz guitarists typically use heavy-gauge flatwound strings since they don’t typically do a lot of note bending and want a broad tone spectrum.

Elixir Nanoweb Electric Guitar Strings

Elixir Nanowebs have a polymer coating on the tops of wound strings and anti-rust plating on plain strings to prolong the life of the entire set.

Most new guitars come strung with super-light or light-gauge strings. For beginning players, that’s probably a good place to start. As you develop fretting and picking skills and your fingers gain calluses and strength, you may want to gradually move up to heavier strings, depending on the music you play and the tone you seek. Many guitar manufacturers make specific recommendations about what strings to use. Some produce their own strings or have them custom-manufactured to their specifications.

DR NEON Electric Guitar Strings

DR NEONs have bright colored coatings that look great in natural light and glow under black lights.

The key to finding the gauges that work best for your playing style is experimentation. Try various gauges, brands, and string compositions to find those that feel best to your fingers and are most pleasing to your ears.

Differences between various string types can be pretty subtle, but focusing on the nuances of touch and tone can help lead to your own signature sound.

Keep in mind that changing string gauges may require adjustments to your string height or “action” at the bridge saddles as well as adjustments to the nut and neck. Depending on your skill and the type of guitar you own, this may be better left to a guitar tech.


Nate Savage of D’Addario Strings demonstrates how to change the strings on your electric guitar.

String Durability

Another factor to consider is the frequency with which you play. If you’re an occasional guitarist who plays just a few times a month and tend to play with a light touch, you may find less expensive strings perfectly suitable. On the other hand, if you’re devout about practice or play often and hard, premium-grade, heavy-duty strings may prove a better buy in the long run. Many manufacturers grade their strings according to their durability.

Gibson Les Paul Signature Electric Guitar Strings

Gibson Les Paul Signature strings have a .009-.046 gauge range for easy bending on the higher strings and fat chording sounds.

Electric Guitar String Construction Materials

All electric guitar strings are made using steel, nickel, or other magnetically conductive metal alloys since they’re essential for transmitting string vibrations to the magnetic pickups. The type of plating or coating applied to the steel alloy has a significant impact on the strings’ sound. Here are some general tonal characteristics of the most common types of strings:

  • Nickel-Plated Steel: Balanced brightness and warmth with more attack
  • Pure Nickel: Less bright than nickel-plated steel with added warmth
  • Stainless Steel: Bright, crisp, “edgy” tone with sustain and corrosion resistance. Less prone to finger squeaks.
  • Chrome: Warmth with less resonance; often chosen by jazz and blues guitarists
  • Titanium: Fairly bright tone with excellent strength
  • Cobalt: Wide dynamic range with notable brightness and pickup response
  • Polymer-coated: Less sustain than equivalent uncoated strings; corrosion-resistant
  • Color-coated: Some coatings have added colorants for visual appeal; tonality varies

D'Addario Chromes Electric Guitar Strings

Many blues and jazz guitarists appreciate the smooth flatwound touch and warm tone of D’Addario Chromes.

Types of String Winding

High E, B, and sometimes G strings are unwound. The other strings have a winding wire wrapped tightly around their cores. The method used to wrap the strings affects both tone and playability as noted below:

  • Roundwound: The most popular winding method by far, they have a noticeable ridged texture and produce more sustain, attack, and “bite.” They tend to produce more finger noise and fretboard wear.
  • Halfround: (also called groundround): Smoother texture with darker tone and less attack than roundwounds.
  • Flatwound: Very smooth touch with flat, dark tone that’s less responsive to picking dynamics. Popular with jazz and blues guitarists.

Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky Electric Guitar Strings

Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinkys deliver enhanced sustain, punch, and clarity while resisting corrosion.

Signs That it’s Time for a String Change

  • Getting in tune and staying there is more challenging than usual.
  • You’re seeing rust or discoloration on the strings.
  • String wraps are unwinding exposing the core.
  • Your tone sounds “flat” or “dead.”
  • You can’t remember the last time you changed strings.

GHS Precision Flatwound Electric Guitar Strings

GHS Precision Flatwounds have a very smooth touch and their stainless steel construction offer highly energized pickups response.

How Often Should Strings be Changed?

There is no stock answer, but here are some factors that shorten the life of your strings:

  • You sweat a lot when playing; your perspiration is acidic.
  • You play aggressively with a lot of bending and/or hard picking.
  • You play frequently.
  • You change tunings frequently.
  • You smoke or play in smoky environments.

Planet Waves Pro-Winder

The Planet Waves Pro-Winder with a built-in cutter makes for fast, easy string changes.

Some Other String Tips

  • Keep a clean cloth handy and wipe down your strings after every playing session to prolong their life.
  • Washing your hands before playing will help prevent string oxidation.
  • Invest in a string winder; they’re inexpensive and speed up string changes.
  • Note the date you changed strings on the package, then put it in your case to keep track of the age and type of strings you’re using.
  • Buying single strings in bulk can be a smart, budget-friendly move, especially where light gauge strings you tend to break more frequently are concerned.
  • Keep an extra set and a few high-register single strings in your case for emergency changes that you or a bandmate may need.

After reading this guide, if you’re still unsure which strings are right for you, we invite you to call our friendly, knowledgeable Gear Heads at (800) 449-9128.

Learn more with these Musician’s Friend expert Buying Guides:

Tags: Electric Guitars Strings Guitar Accessories & Parts Guitar Repair & Maintenance


# Davey Love 2015-11-07 18:26
What were the most popular guages and brands for rock and psychedelic bands that were playing around 1964 - 1969?
# Boogie 2015-10-21 13:26
Please find another video about changing strings...this guy did not "lock" the string...everyo ne look up how to lock a string when changing it
# Harry Cole 2015-10-14 18:26
1. Two gutars ,Alvarez and Rec.King both marked model RD-10. Look similar, but seem to like different str. thicknesses. The RK came with .048 and Alvarez came with .052 sets (don't know brands). Music store lowered action on both.
2. RK seemed to sound initially okay with .048. I've used daily for 6 mos. and it now sounds flat and buzzes - guitar teacher says "time for new strings.". I think Alvarez need restring also for reason noted next..
3. A month ago I had music store to restring Alvarez with .048 (not D'Addario which my instructor recommends). .Immediately it sounded "tinny". Back to .052, right?
4. Should I consider .052 for RK also? After about 7 mos. of daily playing RK with .048, I have adequate pads on finger tips - will playing pressure increase enough to notice? And, more importantly, should RK sound ok with.052 as does the Alvarez.
5. I'm going to restring both myself with D'Addario strings - gotta learn how!!
# Frank 2015-09-22 17:58
I am not satisfied with the sound I am getting from my guitar so I have decided to invest in a new set of strings. I bought an Electric guitar about 1 year ago and have not changed the strings as yet. Since it was not new when I bought it so I do not know how long they have been on it. I am not sure what the gauge of the strings are. I am trying to play lead. Should I go for a .,08 or .09 or a bit higher? I want to do bends as well.
# Tom Thrush 2015-09-01 04:09
I play mostly thrash metal with lot of riffing and simultaneously I play a lot of expressive solos. What gauge should I use? Just for the information, higher gauge makes my riffs sound much fuller, but doing one and a half tone bend becomes really painful.
# Martin 2015-11-18 02:38
I play in a similar style to you, and the strings I use and have found give the best results are Ernie Ball - Skinny Top Heavy Bottom strings.
# sally cinnamon 2015-08-28 13:23
(continuation of previous comment)
once you have got to this point theres not
much left apart from stretching the strings (making sure each string is stretched evenly
otherwise the string not stay in tune no matter how much you play around with the action
or intonation or anything) Then finally having done all of these steps all thats left to do
is take it straight to your bin, get rid of it, go to your local guitar store, grab yourself
a Dean ML79 with a floyd rose, approach the counter and ask for a digitech whammy and a solid
state amp, pay for said items, then go home and play becoming by Pantera so many times that
when you go to bed at night all you hear is the whammy pedal hittin those super cranked double
octave bends mixed with the killer double kiccks vinne paul jams right at the know the ones...
hope this helped you out
# RobotSnake 2015-08-18 19:33
What strings should I use for my ARIA MAC-30? I play rock and metal, but I don't play too frequently, and I don't need to bend the strings.
# l 2015-08-04 13:58
i want to use my electric guitar lika a steel guitar
# l 2015-08-04 13:55
can i use a slide on my eletric guitar
# Brian 2015-09-18 05:38
Playing Electric Slide is great. I use the neck pick up mostly or the bridge pick up with the tone turned down as not to blow out peoples ear drums, but you can adjust to the tone you prefer. Most people adjust the strings a little further from the neck. I prefer not so I can bend and play normal too. Great slide players. Jimmy Page, Joe Bonnamassa, Joe Perry hope this was helpful
# Nora 2015-07-30 11:11
I have a shecter omen extreme 7 and found that the factor strings they put on were nice for my small fingers. I had to replace because the factor set in general needed some tweaking and they changed all the strings. Now i don't really like the strings they put on. Too small. All they had listed for the strings were 24X jumbo strings. What string set should i buy since i play Ambient, soft, but also djent metal.
# sally cinnamon 2015-08-28 11:47
having problems wth my banjo string, everytime i go to hard keeps snapping, im looking for ALOT more sustain but is also easily fingered when i really need to bend it out. thanks
# david 2015-06-30 17:01
what should i use to play for Rock N Roll such as slash songs, and other was metal

please reply me back to use the right one :)
# A1dzan257 2015-06-09 20:54
I want strings that play nice and smooth with blues and metal riffs along with heavier songs like Metallica and avenged sevenfold. What would you recommend?
# paulhodges 2015-03-31 12:24
What string could I use for a DIDDLEY BOW? What lengths do these strings come in?
# Chrisarnt 2015-05-16 17:23
Use a D or A string that is to say .27 or .36.
They all come whatever length they come in.
It's a Diddlybo. So don't sweat it. Just get ur nail and couple pieces of pipe and a string.
# Neil 2015-03-16 19:10
I wonder what's the best string gauge and brand for my Epiphone G-400. Can you please give me an idea? Thanks.
# Chrisarnt 2015-05-16 17:25
Use .10 set or if u want a jazzy sound get some flat wounds.
# Levi 2015-02-24 08:29
this makes a lot of sense i am new and i was wondering about why my guitar sounded a little different and this answered my questions thanks now all i need to do is get new strings because my high e string broke and i decided to get a all new set because they are old and i feel like i want to try something new, wish me luck :)
# juststarted15 2015-02-09 11:33
So If I am reading this info, correctly. For a player who is just starting like me. You are saying to get that (AC /DC ) Rock n Roll sound, I should use a Roundwound / Nickel plated steel / light or superlight set of strings.
# Capped-N-Crunchy 2014-11-26 00:45
Am curious to know what gauge strings are on a
new Gibson Explorer coming from mnfg.
I have never bought a new guitar in my life until
earlier this year.
The strings on it seem perfect for me. They may be
a lighter string, but they work good for a thrash-punk
crunch-metal application through my practice amp as well as the big dog. They work well for bluesey rock n
roll too. Time for a string change and I want to stock up.
Thanks in advance for any feedback.
# Damaged262 2014-03-10 12:17
This comment is directed towards the video of the gentleman changing guitar strings. I have an LP Junior, so I don't thread my strings through the guitar body. But I'm curious why he is turning the guitar completely over, flipping the guitar towards himself each time when he could in fact just lean the guitar away from himself, leaving the back of the guitar facing him? I know that seems a bit nit picky, but it would be tremendously more efficient just leaving the guitar on its side with less risk of the string damaging the guitar surface. Any thoughts or am I just missing something?
# sally cinnamon 2015-08-28 13:20
i think you missed the fact that it is a very basic instructional video,
wouldn't be much help if he just did it quickly. May i also just add that the most "efficient"
method for re-stringing a thru body guitar is to put all the strings thru at the same time,
then turn the guitar around once, lay it down on its back (having it on it's side means
it could very easily fall over and get damaged and holding it with one hand or balancing
it would actually make it harder and slower) with the headstock slightly propped up
by a stand, then all you need to do is put the strings through the machine heads
making sure that they are sitting in the correct slot on the nut which of course you have
put a very small amount of graphite into, which aids the movement of the string in the nut
making it easier to tune and stay in tune. (continued in next comment)
# sally cinnamon 2015-08-28 13:25
(continuation of previous comment)
once you have got to this point theres not
much left apart from stretching the strings (making sure each string is stretched evenly
otherwise the string not stay in tune no matter how much you play around with the action
or intonation or anything) Then finally having done all of these steps all thats left to do
is take it straight to your bin, get rid of it, go to your local guitar store, grab yourself
a Dean ML79 with a floyd rose, approach the counter and ask for a digitech whammy and a solid
state amp, pay for said items, then go home and play becoming by Pantera so many times that
when you go to bed at night all you hear is the whammy pedal hittin those super cranked double
octave bends mixed with the killer double kiccks vinne paul jams right at the know the ones...
hope this helped you out
# Sinnerman313 2015-07-07 19:17
I think it's just a matter of how you prefer to restring your axe. Personally I use a peg winder and just thread all six through the body of the guitar (BC Rich Warbeast for practice, Ibanez for live play) at one time and then go through and wind them all up and tune accordingly. I think though that the main reason I do this is because restringing my Ibanez is not for the faint of heart, so it's way easier for me (I have one of those, I don't remember the model, that you have to lift the bridge up off the body and thread the strings underneath) doing it that way rather than going one at a time.

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