Ernie Ball, Elixir and Dunlop strings in top 11 today's best electric guitar strings!

How to buy the best electric guitar strings for you

Choosing a set of strings is, compared to choosing a new guitar, pretty straightforward. You haven't actually got that many options. Electric guitar strings tend to comprise a length of metal, usually steel, wrapped in a very thin wire. From there, you'll see some variables like different materials used for the wrapping wire, or perhaps a layer of coating on the strings to prolong their life. But, ultimately, electric guitar strings are fairly simple creatures.

That said, you will want to look for a few key characteristics as you try to find your go-to brand. First off, and perhaps most importantly, is the string set's gauge. This measures how thick the strings are, and has an impact on tuning stability, tone, durability and playability.

Players of heavier styles of music will gravitate towards thicker gauges, as the increased low-end frequencies work well with detuned music. Likewise, guitarists who play using advanced techniques like sweep picking and legato may favour slightly thinner gauges. The choice is yours.

The amount you'll need to change your strings will also vary. Regular performers will want to change strings for every show to ensure their guitar sounds the best it can. Ditto if you're spending time in the studio. On the other hand, if you're only playing at home you'll probably look to change them once a month or so.

The reason for changing so often is that strings have a short period of time when they're performing at their optimum level. Things that can affect this include temperature and humidity changes, sweat and other corrosive materials, and your own playing technique.


1. Ernie Ball Slinky electric guitar strings

You've seen them before...

✓ Tried and tested

✓ Durable

✓ Great sound

✓ Loads of choice

We've gone for perhaps the most well-known packet of strings in existence to begin with. Controversial or what? But there is a reason why the Ernie Ball Slinky sets are among the best-selling strings globally. These nickel-plated strings marry up performance, durability, sound and price into a package which ticks a lot of boxes.

The range is broad too; 13 different gauges are available in total, ranging from the 8-38 gauge Extra Slinky right up to 12-62 gauge Mammoth Slinky. So whatever your playing style, there's a set that'll suit you just right.


2. Elixir Optiweb electric guitar strings

The best coated electric strings on the market

✓ Extremely hard wearing

✓ Coating doesn't impact sound

✓ Bright and resonant

✕ Pricier than some

In the fight against corrosion, some string brands opt to coat their products in an effort to prolong the strings' lives. Elixir is one such brand, utilising their patented Optiweb treatment onto the strings. Coating strings isn't without controversy; some players feel the treatment takes out some of the strings' natural resonance. 

In our experience, that may be true for some brands but not for Elixir. These strings sound bright and resonant, like uncoated strings, but generally do last noticeably longer. We'd still advocate regular changes, but if you do find yourself with a month-old set of Elixirs, you'll likely not be disappointed. 


6. Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt electric guitar strings

The pull is strong with these guitar strings

✓ Another innovative string set

✓ Improved dynamic range

✓ 8 gauges available

✕ Too niche for some

Another entry from Ernie Ball here. The Ernie Ball Cobalt range utilises different materials within its usual Slinky sets. Cobalt, they found, interacts with the magnets in your pickups much better than any other alloy. This means you get an improved dynamic range and increased low-end. Perfect for heavier styles of music. 

Available in eight different gauges, the Cobalt range digs a little deeper to find new areas of tonality for you to explore. Well worth a look.


8. Dunlop Heavy Core electric guitar strings

Best for downtuned riffs and other such heaviness

✓ Great for heavier styles

✓ Downtune-friendly

✓ Strong

✕ Not for lighter players

Another set designed with heavier styles in mind next. The Dunlop Heavy Core strings are built specifically with downtuning in mind. Anyone who has played below standard E will know you can fall prey to the dreaded muddiness in your tone, or from floppy strings. These sets are wrapped using a slightly different ratio to make them ideal for these playing styles. 

What you get is a defined low end, plenty of clarity in the mids and added durability so you can really dig in when you're palm muting.

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