We all have our specific preferences when it comes to strings. Some players look for feel, others prioritize tone, and some look for the longest lasting strings they can find. Long life strings have become major sellers for all of the big string manufacturers as they seek to satisfy the customers of this growing niche.
Whether you’re trying to spend less on strings, or you need absolute reliability on stage or in the studio, a set of long life strings can make a world of difference. In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide we’ve reviewed 3 of the best sets of long life guitar strings on the market. During the review, we looked for string strength, resistance to corrosion, resistance to tone loss, and overall feel.
Because this was a longer than usual test given the nature of the products, each string set was loaded into a different guitar. To ensure that no one set had an advantage when it came to strength, each was tested in .009 gauge. To make the experiment even more interesting, we dropped the typical care routine, and didn’t wipe down the strings or fretboard at all for the duration of the 4 week review to see how they performed under the harshest conditions.
- Epiphone SG Standard – Elixir Nanoweb Nickel Plated Steel
- Fender Jim Root Telecaster – Ernie Ball Super Slinky Stainless Steel
- Epiphone ES-335 – Ernie Ball Super Slinky Paradigm
Our Top Three Picks
- Top Pick – Elixir Nanoweb Nickel Plated Steel
- Best Budget – Ernie Ball Super Slinky Stainless Steel
- Editor’s Choice – Ernie Ball Super Slinky Paradigm
Elixir Nanoweb Nickel Plated Steel – Our Top Pick
The last word in coated long life strings
Elixir is probably the biggest name in coated guitar strings. They offer several options with various alloys, different coatings, and of course a variety of gauges. In my mind, however, the flagship Elixir Nanoweb strings are their most outstanding product.
The coating on these strings is about as thin as it gets, which is great for anybody who is unsure about coated strings, or maybe has had bad experiences in the past. The coating definitely has a “barely there” feel, but still has the playability benefits of coated strings, including a slick feel and noticeably less finger squeak.
As far as reliability goes, these strings were very impressive. After 4 weeks of heavy use there were no breaks, and as they mellowed, they sounded perhaps even better than the day they were installed. The coating did its job, as no signs of corrosion or pitting were found by the end of the test.
Many players are often wary of coated strings because of their usual lack of sustain, but we were definitely impressed with these Elixirs. Not only was the sustain great, which could be down to the super thin coating, but the tone was bright with plenty of mid range focus. Under the coating these strings are round wound with a nickel plated steel wrap wire, which resulted in a nicely balanced sound profile.
Verdict: Coated strings are definitely an acquired taste, but if you’re looking to start using them, Elixir Nanoweb Strings are a great starting point. Yes, they are about double the cost of uncoated equivalents, but for that you get a set that lasts at least twice as long, and sound great right until the day you change them out.
Naturally corrosion resistant strings at an unbeatable price
As we’ve made clear in quite a few reviews, coated string aren’t for everybody! Having said that, you don’t need to go coated to get a good set of long life strings. For example, you could opt for a set of Ernie Ball Super Slinky Stainless Steels.
By its very nature, stainless steel is corrosion resistant, so when it’s used for guitar strings like these, in theory, they should resist the development of oxidation and pitting, both of which contribute to reduced life. This was definitely the case with this string set.
Over the 4 week test they didn’t falter – no breaks, and no loss of intonation or tuning stability, even with heavy play under tough conditions. They still felt strong and there were no issues when pushing hard, and even playing huge bends.
The biggest downside of these strings compared to the coated options on test was just how dirty they got, but truthfully was all surface dirt, and it had no overall impact on string strength and reliability.
Out of the packet these were the brightest strings on trial by a huge margin. The solid stainless wrap really made them shine across the mids and highs, and they cut through the mix beautifully.
Feel-wise, they were pretty typical for an Ernie Ball set – you can tell that they’re well made from quality materials. They were especially comfortable during long sessions, which is high praise seeing as they were reviewed alongside some of the best coated strings on the market.
Verdict: The Ernie Ball Super Slinky Stainless Steel Strings are great if you’re looking to avoid coated string prices, but still want better than average resistance to tone loss and corrosion, as well as the feel and feedback that comes with uncoated strings.
Impossibly strong strings for the most demanding players
are one of the newest products from this fabled brand, and as with pretty much every other Ernie Ball string on the market, they’re made to the highest standard and trusted by some of the biggest names in music.
Even after 4 weeks of incessant hard playing, full step bends on all strings, and even a fair bit of time outdoors in the heat and humidity, these strings held up with no breaks, and no obvious corrosion.
These strings are made from nickel plated steel and are nanotreated with Ernie Ball’s proprietary polymer coating. They were super comfortable, and the super slick surface made them lightning fast.
Tonally, these strings are very mid-focused, they are tight, with a touch of shimmery overtone which really stands out when playing clean. Tone was consistent from day one right through to the end of the test, which is a huge plus – it’s great to have strings that don’t break, but if they don’t sound good after a couple of weeks, is the longevity truly worth it?
Verdict: The Super Slinky Paradigm Strings are simply next level and we found them to be worth every penny. They felt as great as they sounded, and played hard right through the 4 week test. They’re the most expensive strings on test by quite some margin, but they will outlast pretty much everything else out there.
Long Life Guitar String Buyer’s guide
If you’re new to guitars, you might be wondering what exactly makes a string a long life string. The majority or long life strings are coated, while others are made from corrosion resistant alloys. Keep reading to learn more:
Coated strings began emerging in the 1990s, they were developed after years of feedback from guitarists who became tired of having to change their guitar strings frequently, especially those who performed live.
String manufacturers dipped their existing strings in Teflon, a polymer well known for its lubricant properties (you may know this material from its use in non-stick pans!). By doing so, they created a smooth outer surface on the string that significantly reduced the buildup of dirt, oils and skin cells that typically accumulate in the gaps on the wound strings, and also created a barrier that prevented the strings from oxidizing, which in turn slows corrosion.
Early coated strings had a relatively thick layer of polymer, but as manufacturers have improved the technology with proprietary blends, they have managed to get the coating thickness down to nanometers. Having the thinnest possible coating of polymer gives players a best-of-both-worlds’ situation, the long life of a coated string, and the feel and tone of an uncoated string.
Corrosion Resistant Alloys
The alternative to coated strings for players who want maximum tone and feel is an uncoated string made of alloys naturally resistant to corrosion. Stainless steel is a great example. These alloys don’t oxidize the same way as metals like mild steel, and oxidization is the root cause of rust.
When strings rust, they lose tone completely, feel terrible, and will break very easily. To combat this, alloys like stainless steel, and even titanium have become commonplace to make long life strings without a polymer coating. They have exceptionally bright tone, unparalleled tensile strength, and a familiar feel, although due to the fact that they are very hard metals, they can accelerate fret wear – which is in my opinion, the biggest drawback of these strings.
Final Thoughts on Long Life Strings
Long life strings are great for players who hate having to change strings regularly. While the initial purchase cost of long life strings is typically higher, the extended life usually makes them a better value proposition.
So, to recap, Elixir Nanoweb strings are a fantastic all round string. I’m not typically a coated string player, but would absolutely consider a switch over to Elixirs. If you aren’t a fan of coated strings, whether it’s for feel, or you’re looking for something less expensive, but you still want longer life, Ernie Ball Super Slinky Stainless Steels are a great choice. Finally, if money is no object and you’re looking to get something nigh on indestructible, take a look at the Ernie Ball Super Slinky Paradigms.