Electric Guitar Strings

For those of you who are new to the guitar here are some general pointers regarding guitar strings and how to choose them. I`m going to use the sets provided by Ernie Ball because I’ve been using them for 20+ years  but also because they offer sets of strings in convenient readily available configurations that make sense.


The thicker your guitar strings are the fatter and richer the tone, sustain and volume BUT the harder they are to bend and manipulate, in short they become harder to play because more tension exists in the string. If you are a beginner then perhaps opt for a lighter guage of strings as this will improve your fretting and playing comfort.

When you buy a packet of strings you will see a series of six numbers on the packet – these numbers tell you the guages of the strings inside – basically how thick or thin each string is. As an example consider the following guide:


A great set of strings to start with is a set of ERNIE BALL regular slinky because these give you a lighter top end string and medium to heavy bottom end strings for the bass tones. You will find that the bass tones will have enough inherent bass but that you `ll still have a good enough tone across the board and the ability to perform bends and vibrato. If you’re determined to  become a blues legend you might find that you need some POWER slinkies of if you`re a METAL player using dropped tuning try some NOT EVEN slinkies.

Just to give you all an insight into what this all means you might find that you enjoy playing a third string (g)  at .17, and prefer a .10 on the top (E) because it allows for bends but without the sacrifice of the thinning tone of a light .9
You may also prefer to play with a .46 on the bottom (E) because its got enough bass. You would be looking at a packet of ERNIE BALL regular.

The best strategy is to start out with something like the regular slinky strings and if you are inclined then try some hybrid slinky for a lighter top end, or try moving the other way to some heavier guage sets such as the Power slinkies. If you happen to own two electric guitars then string up each with a different set  and spens some time comparing the TONE and the PLAYABILITY of each. You can of course develop your own completely individual preferred sequence of guages, but to begin with it’s probably best to try some of these pre-configured sets. Then perhaps after youve spent some time playing different guages and found one you really like then you can consider the tonal charachteristics of string materials.

There are several options for materials to bear in mind:

1. nickel wound – produce a well balanced tone.

2. titanium coated – a vibrant tone with longer life, less corrosion, longer tuning stability.

3. pure nickel – a richer, warmer tone.

4. stainless steel – a crisp bright tone

5.gold plated – more expensive  but bright sustain and long life.

When to change your strings:

The more you play your guitar and the harder you play then the quicker your strings will become tired. Things like sweat, moisture and dirt from your fingers all add up to a strings wear and tear and if you really want your strings to last:

1.wipe them gently with a soft cloth after playing
2.detune them when not playing so that they aren’t all tight and wound up.

Unless you are desperately down on your luck then avoid second hand strings altogether and pay attention to how your strings sound. If they feel rubbery and the sound is lackclustre with no brightness, sheen, clarity, zing or life then its time to put some new ones on. Similarly, if they become hard to tune, if that point where they`re in tune is becoming more and more elusive then throw `em in the bin. You cannot boil them up in hot water to make them last longer – neither should you put them in the freezer with your old pet dog.

One more thing, if you`re finding that you’re going through strings like nobodies business then perhaps you aren`t stretching them enough when you put them on!


I`ll deal with that next time.


Jake Edwards


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