Electric Guitar String Buying Guide

Trying to decide which strings to buy for your electric guitar? Here we’ll go through the different choices available and how they differ in sound and feel!

 

String Gauge:

The gauge is the thickness of the string in inches.  Electric guitar strings range from the thinnest of .008, (8 thousandths of an inch) to the thickest of about .056 but are more usually termed an ‘eight’  or ‘fifty-six’.

Lighter gauge strings are easier to play and allow bending of the notes but are also quieter and more likely to break.

Heavier gauge strings are harder to play but produce more volume and sustain.  They exert more tension on the neck but are good for tuning your guitar lower so as not to feel too loose.  If you’re thinking about changing the gauge of strings on your guitar we recommend getting it set-up to get the best playability and intonation, as well as avoiding any damage to the neck.

Sets are often referred to by the lowest gauge string in the set, so a pack with a .009inch 1st string will be called a set of 9’s!

Here are your most popular gauge sets and their most common terms:

.008, .010, .015, .021, .030, .038 (8’s / Extra Super Light)

.009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042 (9’s / Super Light)

.010, .010, .015, .021, .030, .038 (10’s / Light)

.011, .015, .018, .026, .036, .048 (11’s / Medium)

.012, .016, .020, .032, .042, .056 (12’s / Heavy)

You can also get hybrid sets that are thicker or thinner on the bottom or top.  These are good for alternative tunings to ensure you get the best tension for playability.

The most popular set is a pack of 10’s!  You can also get 7 and 8-string sets, or make up your own set with Ernie Ball single strings.

 

What are they made from?

Electric Guitar strings are usually made from nickel plated steel as they tend to ‘cut-through’ well.

See more and compare string materials in the table below.

String Material Feel & Tone Good for:
Nickel plated steel Bright with good attack Rhythm guitar, soloing and good versatile choice
Pure Nickel Warm tone All types of music
Steel Smooth feel, soft & mellow tone Folk & gypsy jazz music
Chrome Usually used on flatwound strings, dark tone, less sustain Jazz & Blues music
Coated strings Bright with less sustain Longer string life

 

The thicker gauge strings of a set have a winding wire wrapped around their cores.  The most common winding is roundwound as these strings produce the most sustain and attack; but you can also get flatwound strings that are smoother to play with less finger noise and fretboard wear.

Some further tips:

  • Consider your guitar’s scale length – the shorter the guitar scale length, the higher the tension of strings you want. Therefore go for thicker gauge strings on shorter scale length guitars.
  • When to change your strings – it will depend on how much you’re playing and your playing technique as to how often you should change your strings but we recommend once a month if you’re playing less than an hour a day. It’s also time for a fresh new set of strings when you spot one of the following:
    • Your guitar is not staying in tune
    • The strings have changed colour or rusting
    • Strings are unwinding and you can see the core
    • The tone is sounding flat or dull with less sustain

To speed up the task of changing strings, you could invest in a string winder.

  • Want to change the gauge or type of strings on your guitar? Consider getting it set-up by a professional as some adjustment may be needed to keep an optimum tension, playable action and working tremolo system.
  • Extend the life of your strings by wiping down the strings after playing to remove any dirt or sweat; alternatively, use some Fast Fret. You can also apply some Lemon Oil to the fretboard so as to keep it clean and in good condition.

Come and have a look at our range of electric guitar strings in our Bristol shop, we’re always happy to help if you have any questions about your guitar strings.

Shop the range of Electric Guitar strings

 

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