Whether you’re a beginning guitarist or you’ve been playing for years, you need to buy and change your guitar strings regularly. But which ones to buy? The sheer number of available choices can make it extremely difficult to make a good decision. If you want to choose your guitar strings with confidence, you need to know which brands and strings are best for you – but how do you decide?
Some factors affect your choice of strings, including
- what kind of guitar you play
- what style of music you play
- whether you use standard or alternate tunings and many others.
Moreover, guitarists often find themselves having to choose between tone and durability. Strings that are worn are hard to keep in tune, break more easily, and just flat out don’t sound good. Certain brands of string hold their tone longer, but might be more expensive. The guitarist on a budget may find himself having to choose between good-sounding strings that wear out more easily and longer-lasting strings that don’t sound as good.
The more information you have about guitar strings and brands, the more likely you will be to make a good decision when it comes to meeting your needs. Our goal is to spend the time and money on different brands of guitar strings so we can review them for you and help you make a more informed decision when it comes to your instruments.
Comparison between our top 5 guitar string brands
These are the five brands we feel give you the best value for your money regarding tone, feel, and durability. We consider the tone and feel to be the two most important, but a decent-sounding brand that lasts 3 months of regular play before starting to dull may score higher than a great-sounding brand that is worn out in 2 weeks.
As with all our reviews, these are the results of our testing. These results are generalizations across string brands; the #5 brand could make a particular string model that places higher in another comparison.
D’addarios are often considered a “value” string brand. They are usually well-priced and sound good new. They also had the shortest lifespan of any of our top 5 brands. The best time to buy D’addario strings for most applications is if you have a gig coming up tonight or tomorrow and realize. You either need a spare set of strings “just in case” or are a few bucks short until payday and will need strings that sound decent in the short run, they can change them for something longer-lived when next Friday rolls around.
GHS is well-known for their “Boomer” series of strings. Their tone is decent across the range of strings, from acoustic to electric to bass, but where these strings stand out is their durability. You can’t break these strings unless you’re trying (or you leave them on for over a year, which I’ve seen before), and even then it’s very difficult. They maintain their tone and good tune longer than any other brand tested except one. They also work very well for alternate tunings. If you’re on a budget or just don’t like to change your strings often, GHS may be the string for you.
3. Ernie Ball
Slinky strings, Ernie Ball’s most prominent series, generally sound fantastic right out of the package. They also feel great under your fingers. Our testers unanimously voted Ernie Ball brand strings the best-feeling of all the brands we tried. The tonal qualities of their electric and bass models blew away the other brands for most applications. We rate the Slinky 9-gauge electric guitar set the top of the list for rock and metal lead guitar use. Their acoustic models lag behind our top 2 brands, however, and the string life tends to be short.
2. Dean Markley
Dean Markley is a fantastic string brand and our site editor’s old standby. Their Blue Steel and Vintage lines are both excellent choices for whatever instrument you play. We heard reports of one bass player whose strings outlasted his instrument! Most of our testers said Dean Markley Blue Steel outlasted any other uncoated brand of strings. If you have a full weekend coming up, with gigs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you should consider a fresh set of Dean Markley to get you through the weekend sounding great.
Elixirs are a prime example of getting what you paid for. Yes, you will probably pay twice as much for a set of Elixirs than any other string brand, but they will probably last more than twice as long, and still sound like the day you bought them. In fact, some testers reported their Elixir strings improved with age – the opposite of most brand experiences.
Elixir does coat their strings, and some have argued that coated strings sound flatter or duller than non-coated strings, but we didn’t hear it. I have personally used the same set of Elixirs on my acoustic guitar for 6 months, with public performances no less often than every other week, without any drop in tone quality or feel. The coated string does take a bit of time to get used to, but when you do you may never buy another brand of strings.
This brief review should give you a nice overview of the general characteristics of string brands. In the weeks and months to come, we will post more reviews and comparisons of individual brands to help you narrow down your choices.
How often do you change your strings?
Guitar strings age in several ways – they stretch, tarnish and get contaminated with sweat and dirt. Professional players change strings before each gig. For general light home use, we would recommend you change your lines every 6 months as a minimum. If you play a lot, then every few weeks would be more appropriate.
Changing strings can seem like a chore, but the more you do it, the easier it gets… and you will always be rewarded with a brighter, fresher cleaner sound from your guitar – whether it is electric, acoustic or classical.
TOP TIP!: Buy a guitar string winder (aka Peg winder) to help change your strings. Even the cheapest winder will make the job easier, but you can also get one with a built-in string cutter for a neat job with no fuss. You can even get an electrically powered peg winder to make the job super-easy!
How to make your guitar playing sound better than ever
Wouldn’t it be nice to impress your friends and family with your guitar skills without having to endure extensive uncomfortable, boring practice? Of course, it would. When I started playing guitar 10 years ago, I practiced endlessly to try and learn the best songs to impress my friends and girlfriends. I wish that when I started someone had sat me down and told me how I could easily make my guitar playing sound better than ever. After ten years of searching though, I found the answer, and now I’m going to share it with you.
Without a doubt, nothing trumps practice in improving your guitar skills. There is no shortcut to getting good at guitar, despite hundreds of claims on the internet. Log on to any guitar website, and you’ll see claims of the ‘best training method,’ the fastest new ‘technique’ or ‘trick’ to getting good at guitar. I can assure you 99% of these programs are total frauds. You may have fallen prey to these scams and wasted good money only to find you don’t get any better playing the guitar. Me too, when I was learning the guitar I fell prey to many of these scams and found that they didn’t do anything for my playing. After wasting my time and money, I decided to try and get to the bottom of how to get better at guitar. Ultimately I found out there was really on one LEGITIMATE way to get better at playing guitar almost INSTANTLY. That secret?
Only use the best guitar strings.
I spent years trying out every single possible way to improve my acoustic playing. I lowered the action, heightened the action, learned classical techniques, practiced scales and more. You name it; I’ve tried it. Although I always improved with every new attempt, nothing was as drastic as what happened when I found the best strings for my guitar.
When I started playing guitar I normally just used whatever strings were on special, like most of my friends. These strings sounded terrible, were hard to play and wore out so fast that I’d be buying a new set every two weeks! I was playing on these cheap bronze strings until one day a friend showed me a song on his guitar. Afterwards, I tried playing his guitar, and it sounded AMAZING. The improvement was incredible. Suddenly songs I was struggling to play became easy and sounded great. I couldn’t believe I had wasted all of those years playing on such terrible strings! From that moment I have improved drastically in my playing, and I want to tell you how to do the same. The only guitar strings I will ever play on are Elixir guitar strings. Don’t waste years playing bad guitar strings and holding yourself back!
Not only do these strings sound great when they are new, but they also last for months. I remember leaving a set on my guitar for 4 months, and after all that time they still sounded better than all the other strings when they were new! These new strings are coated with a particular ‘nano-web’ material, which makes them last three times longer than most strings. So not only did my playing get better but I saved money not replacing my strings every two weeks.
So if you want to make your guitar sound great, improve your playing and save your money don’t waste your time on cheap, inferior guitar strings. It has taken me many years to find the best combinations to make my guitar sound great. I hope you choose to try out the strings I recommended. Best of luck with your future guitar endeavors.