7 Best Electric Guitar Strings (2021)

There are costly and complicated modifications that yield very little difference to the sound of your guitar, and there are also simple and inexpensive changes you can make that result in a huge difference. Changing your electric guitar strings definitely falls into the latter. For as little as $5 and 20 minutes of your time, you can make a significant change to your guitar’s tone and playability.

In this KillerGuitarRigs guide we reviewed all of the best strings for electric guitars across a broad range of categories. There’s a string set in this list to suit pretty much every player, whether you’re a drop tuner, a bluesman, a jack of all trades, a big spender, or simply on a budget. 

This test was designed to look for:

Tuning stability – Did they stretch quickly and hold tune well?

Playability – How comfortable were the strings over an extended period?

Overall tone – Did the strings have an impact on the Telecaster’s overall tone?

The Strings:


Elixir Nanoweb Nickel Plated Steel – Best All Rounder

The coating is “barely there” but the results suggest otherwise

Elixir is the go to brand when it comes to coated strings for electric guitars. There are a few different coatings available in the lineup, but the Nanoweb polymer simply stands out above the others. These are Elixir’s big sellers, and it’s easy to see why

The polymer coating that Elixir applies to these strings is a proprietary blend, and is just 5 microns thick (that’s 5/1000th of 1mm!). By applying such a thin coating, Elixir has been able to produce a product that benefits from the upsides of coated strings, such as smoother feel, reduced noise, and superior lifespan.

We found that these strings lived up to, and in many ways, exceeded their reputation. They survived an extended review period, where they saw some heavy duty use, and actually started to sound better the longer we had them on the test guitar. There was no rust, or any other signs of corrosion by the conclusion of the test, from which we deduced that these strings can deal with serious punishment. 

Some coated strings scare away guitarists because they worry about loss of tone and sustain due to the additional deadening caused by the polymer layer, but there were no such issues with these Elixir Nanowebs. We noted excellent sustain, and the tone was bright and punchy across the mids.

Once we had them tuned, that’s where they stayed. These Nanowebs took no time at all to settle and held tune beautifully throughout.

Verdict: Simply put, the Elixir Nanowebs are some of the best strings on the market no matter the use case. They play beautifully, they’re comfortable, and of course, they don’t begin to deteriorate at anywhere near the same rate as uncoated equivalents. They are well worth the additional cost for the sound and feel alone, but the fact that they outlast their uncoated counterparts by at least a factor of 2 is the icing on the cake.


D’Addario NYXL Light Top/Heavy Bottom – Best for Metal

Mixed gauge strings that bring the chug while remaining flexible

Some players immediately reach for the ultra-heavies when they string up for playing metal without even a moment’s thought for a hybrid set. Those who do reach for mixed gauge strings like these D’Addario NYXLs are treated to guitar strings that can handle heavy strumming, but also remain comfortable and playable enough to manage lightning fast solos.

We found that the tuning stability with these strings was rock solid. Thanks to the heavy bottom end, they held up well on drop tunings too. Some brands market their strings as being specifically designed with alternative tuning in mind, but this doesn’t mean that strings not designed as such can’t perform well in those conditions!

The feel of these strings is out of this world. There is so little resistance, which makes fast play and fingertapping styles super easy to play. As far as comfort goes, these strings are up there with the best of them. The light top end helped to reduce tension under the fingers which made these strings easier to play for extended periods than a typical heavy gauge metal string.

The tones we got out of these strings were great. Of course, when we played any metal through them, we had a ton of distortion on, but despite this, note separation remained clear, and the mid range punch was huge (check out our full metal string guide for more). 

Verdict: The D’Addario NYXLs are a great set of strings if you like to play metal but don’t have an individual guitar solely dedicated to the genre. With these strings you’ll be able to drop tune at will, or, keep things at standard pitch and play pretty much any style. These strings are comfortable, long lasting, and the flexibility they afford is phenomenal, which made bends and expressive play more enjoyable than we ever expected.


Ernie Ball Super Slinky – Best Budget Option

Incredible performance and even better value

A lot of guitarists have a desire to be individual, to stand out from the crowd. This isn’t always the case when it comes to strings though! Ernie Ball’s Super Slinky strings are some of the most popular electric guitar strings in the world for recording artists and bedroom beginners alike. 

At KGR we love the Super Slinky. You know exactly what you’re getting every time you open a pack, with no unpleasant surprises. We loved the feel of these strings during our test period – they aren’t the smoothest in the world, but they offer plenty of feedback. Super Slinkies are a custom light gauge, measuring in at .009 to .042, which keeps tension low and comfort high.

These strings are made with a steel core and a nickel plated steel wrap. This kept the tones bright and punchy, and this goes a long way to ensuring the universal appeal of the Super Slinky. They played equally as well on slow, arpeggiated numbers as they did with fast power chords. 

Of course, longevity isn’t as strong with the Super Slinkies as it is with a premium string like the Elixir Nanoweb or the D’Addario NYXL, but the low cost and great tone more than makes up for that. They tune well, and hold pitch brilliantly. 

Verdict: If you want strings that will sound good in pretty much any guitar, across any genre of music, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg, you cannot go wrong with Ernie Ball Super Slinkies. They hold their tune, the build quality is great, and the value they offer is really incredible.


D’Addario Pure Nickel EPN115 – Best for Blues

Unmistakable pure nickel tones for discerning blues players

The vast majority of electric guitar strings are made with nickel plated steel, so when you compare them to strings made from other materials, they stand out, and this is absolutely the case with these D’Addario Pure Nickel strings

The entire wrap is 100% nickel, rather than being nickel plated, and the impact on the tone is huge. These were some of the warmest roundwound strings we’ve ever heard. Sustain is one of the strongest points for these strings – they rung out for what seemed like forever! 

After a couple of hours of stretching and settling, these strings held tune really well. Blues requires a lot of expression, including bends and vibrato, and despite the extra workload that we put on these strings, they continued to hold pitch.

We tested these strings in a medium gauge, and they play very much true to size. Some players do prefer a lighter string for blues to make bends easier, but we found that the tonal benefits of these heavier strings far outweighed the small potential for comfort gains in a lighter option.

The feel was typical of D’Addario strings. Build quality is excellent, there were no rough spots, and the ball ends were very well wrapped, which typically translates to a longer lasting string. 

Verdict: The D’Addario Pure Nickel strings are premium strings, and the price does reflect that, but if you’re OK with spending a little more than you would on a set of nickel plated steel strings, you’ll be treated to some of the mellowest on the market. The tone is perfect for BB King style blues, but they can certainly handle other genres, too.


Fender Hendrix Voodoo Child Bullet End – Best for Strat Style Guitars

Incredibly tactile strings with an unusual gauge combo

These Fender Hendrix signatures are a faithful replica of the strings that Jimi used on his famous Stratocaster. They’re a hybrid set with a twist – they have a medium top and a light bottom. So, at the bass end, they measure .038 and then at the treble side they come in at .010.

The feel of these strings was unlike anything else we’ve reviewed – on an individual string level, they felt just like any other Fender nickel plated steel string, but because of the gauge layout they played like butter. They were smooth across the board, and really encouraged expressive play.

Tonally they were well balanced, although the upper mids really took center stage with these strings installed. They had the usual nickel plated steel brightness, and they didn’t lose much of their shine at all during the test period.

Another unusual quirk of these strings was the bullet ends. Instead of the typical ball ends, Fender have made these strings with a conical, bullet shaped anchor. They were designed specifically for guitars with trem blocks, such as the Stratocaster. 

As mentioned, bullet ends have a uniform shape all the way around, so as the strings move in the block during tremolo arm use, they don’t get snagged or twisted, which helps to keep them in tune, and helps to improve the life of the strings. It’s a really neat invention and we found that it worked really well as we have no issues with tuning stability, even after some heavy trem use.

Verdict: The Fender Hendrix Signature strings are comfortable, sound great, and hold their tune well. It’s rare to find a set that features so much functional innovation at this kind of a price point, so, we highly recommend players with Strats and Strat style guitars give them a try!


Ernie Ball Super Slinky Paradigm – Best Long Life

Extreme performance strings for the most demanding players

Ernie Ball have made a lot of strings over the years, but none of them hold a candle to their Paradigm line when it comes to strength and longevity. These strings were only released in 2017, making them one of the newest on the market.

Such is the confidence that EB have in these strings, that if they break or rust within 90 days of the original purchase date, they will replace your strings for free. These kinds of guarantees on consumable products like strings are so rare, and it’s great to see a brand standing behind its product in such a way.

We put these strings through an extreme testing regime, including incredibly heavy strumming, huge bends, and outdoor play in the summer heat and humidity, and there was absolutely no damage, pitting, or even change in tone – quite amazing.

The strings are constructed from nickel plated steel and then nanotreated in Ernie Ball’s Everlast polymer coating. We found that they retained all of what we’ve loved about their Slinky series strings, with no loss of sustain as you often find with coated strings. The mid range was really strong, with nice bassy undertones, and they worked well for a wide range of music.

As far as feel goes, they were a joy to play. They were smooth, fast, and incredibly comfortable. After installing them and tuning they settled quickly, and were rock solid thereafter.

Verdict: If you’ve been searching for a set of long life strings that don’t come with the usual tone and sustain loss that coated strings are known for, you really need to give Ernie Ball Paradigm strings a look. They felt almost impossible to break, but simultaneously they felt comfortable and tactile, a rare combination!


Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky 7 String – Best 7 String

Powerful response and great feel from these innovative strings

Ernie Ball are well regarded for their innovation and drive when it comes to continuous improvement of their products, and their Cobalt Slinky strings for 7 string guitars are a prime example. 

They are made with a special iron and cobalt alloy which is proven to be more effective than any other alloy when it comes to magnetic pickup response, and after spending some time with these strings, we agree. They offered exceptional clarity and some of the best note separation we’ve ever heard, which on a 7 string is particularly important.

The tones we got out of these strings were tremendous. We loved the huge bass response and the tight mid range. They’re everything you could want in a 7 string as far as sound goes. Over the test period there was very little loss of tone, even after playing in some tough conditions. Sustain was strong and the harmonics were sharp.

Tuning these strings was a breeze. We found that they were stable across a range of alternative tunings and held pitch well over time. The cobalt in the alloy also helps with corrosion prevention, which goes a long way to improving the lifespan of these strings. 

Despite the extra tension from the additional string, we found that these Cobalt Slinkies were flexible and comfortable. They felt good under the fingers, and whether we played chords or individual notes, they were tactile and responsive.

Verdict: It’s always nice to see purpose made 7 string packs that feature the same level of R&D as a company’s standard 6 string sets. Fortunately, Ernie Ball has provided a great set of strings that sound amazing played clean or under heavy distortion. We found no muddiness in the tone, they lasted well, and they were an overall pleasure to play.


Electric Guitar Strings Buyer’s Guide

New players may believe that guitar strings are guitar strings, but as with most gear, there are strings that are purpose designed for different genres, different playing styles, different tones, lifespans, etc. Take a look at this guide to learn a little more about what sets strings apart, and what to look for in your next set:

Gauge

The gauge of your strings refers to their width. Gauge is measured in thousandths of an inch, and of course the smaller the gauge, the narrower the strings.

It’s not unusual to see strings being given a title ranging from extra light to extra heavy, as well as having the gauge printed on the package. This is done to make it easier for newer players to identify which string size is right for them. Do bear in mind that not all manufacturers use the same scale when naming their strings. For example, a packet of 8s (where the narrowest string measures .008”) might be considered an extra light by one brand but may be labeled as light by another.

The gauge of the string you choose affects their use cases in a few ways. Heavier strings are often preferred by metal players as they are better able to handle drop tuning. Heavier strings additionally have additional mass, which in turn provides longer vibration and more sustain and a fatter tone.

Lighter gauge strings are typically used by lead guitarists, blues players, and especially by beginners. They are under less tension, which makes them more comfortable under the fingers. They may lack some of the tone and sustain of a heavy gauge string, but they make up for this in playability, as they’re much easier to bend.

Coating/Treatment

Coated strings have been around since the 90s, and have undergone serious development since then. Early coated strings did provide better lifespan than uncoated equivalents, but many lost feel, tone, and sustain in the process. 

Now, thanks to nanotechnology, string makers are able to put microscopic coatings on their strings that have a minimal impact on how they feel, while still providing full tone and long sustain as well as increased lifespan. 

Coated strings are always going to be more expensive than uncoated, but for that you will get strings that play just as well, but last at least 2 to 3 times longer. So, spending twice as much doesn’t mean you’re getting half the value if you’d go through 2 to 3 packets of uncoated strings in the same period.

Some brands also use cryogenic treatments to improve string performance. By exposing the strings to extremely cold temperatures, the molecules of the metal contract, leaving fewer gaps and improving the consistency of the tone, and also reducing the potential for rust to attack the strings and reduce the lifespan.

Alloy

The material that your strings are made from, known as the alloy, is the blend of metals used in the production of the strings. The most basic electric guitar strings are typically made from mild steel with a nickel plating applied by electrolysis. The nickel playing provides protection against corrosion while also adding some shimmer to the tone.

Of course, there are numerous metals used in string making, and each has an impact on tone, feel, and lifespan. Tone is affected due to the way in which the metal of the string interacts with the magnetic field generated by the pickups. Different metals have different textures, which will affect the way they feel and react under the fingers, and of course some metals are inherently corrosion resistant, while others are susceptible to rust.

The actual lifespan of a string will really depend on the conditions in which it’s being used. Frequency/duration of play, humidity, temperature, and even factors like the chemical composition of your sweat. It is, however, possible to say that some strings will have a short, medium or long lifespan based upon the relative conditions you use them under.

  • Nickel Plated Steel
    • The most common material and very inexpensive. Well rounded tone, with moderate lifespan. 
  • Stainless Steel
    • Moderately priced strings with an extremely bright tone. They are inherently resistant to rust and offer a long lifespan.
  • Pure Nickel
    • Moderately priced strings with a warm, mellow tone. These strings offer a moderate to long lifespan.
  • Cobalt
    • Cobalt strings are at the more expensive end of the scale. They are bright and articulate with great note separation. The cobalt/iron alloy offers better corrosion resistance than mild steel and gives these a medium to long lifespan.
  • Titanium
    • Titanium strings are amongst the most expensive of all. They are incredibly strong strings with an extreme lifespan even in narrow gauges. Tonally, they’re very bright with incredible tuning stability and intonation.  

Anchoring

Unless you’re using a Floyd Rose Bridge, your strings will be held in place at the top by the tuning posts, and down by the bridge by way of an anchor. The most common anchors are known as ball ends, which are in essence a small eyelet that the string is wrapped around. They are functional and work well in most applications.

Some manufacturers also make bullet end strings. These strings have a uniform conical shape that no matter which way the string is turned, the contact with the guitar is identical. This has benefits for tuning stability, especially on guitars with trem block systems as there is no opportunity for this type of anchor to get caught in the wrong position when using the tremolo arm, and also tonally, as they offer the most possible contact with the body of the guitar, allowing more of the string vibration to pass through into the wood.

Winding

String winding has a huge effect on the tone of your guitar. The vast majority of electric guitar strings are round wound. This means they use a cylindrical wire to wrap the largest strings. Using a round wire like this makes the strings more flexible which is very helpful for expressive playing styles, but it does introduce more areas for dirt and debris to accumulate, which can quickly deaden the tone. 

The other winding style is flatwound. With flatwound strings a wrap wire that has been flattened down is used, resulting in a completely smooth feeling string. They don’t suffer from string squeak, and they tend to have a longer lifespan than roundwound strings using the same materials. Their tone is much warmer and softer than roundwound strings, and they’re usually preferred by jazz players. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Electric Guitar Strings

There is a lot to take in when it comes to electric guitar strings. Before making a choice, it’s good to know what style you want to play before committing to a purchase. The choice gets much easier if you have multiple guitars that you can dedicate to different styles, but if you’re limited to one instrument, you’re best off looking for a string that balances a little bit of everything that you’d like to play. 

Martin Holland

Growing up in rural Australia, there wasn't much to do but play guitar and stare at the red dirt. When things broke, the only person to fix them was fifty miles away, and eventually fixing gave way to building, giving me my career as a luthier. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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