A question most players ask me is, “Does the guitar string brand matter? Should you go with a popular string brand instead of a lesser-known company?”
After many years of playing the guitar and trying hundreds of strings, I decided to write this article answering this question.
So, let’s dive in and unwrap this post!
Does the guitar string brand matter? When choosing guitar strings, no particular brand is important. What matters is the type of string such as gauge, material, coating, string core, and winding method. These factors impact the guitar’s playability and tone the most. This decision relies on preference and is subjective to each individual
Now that we know the short answer, let me explain further…
Why Guitar String Brand is Not Important
As mentioned above, the string brand should not be the deciding factor when choosing strings.
This is because regardless of the brand, you have to test for yourself which set of strings feel, play, and sound the best for your guitar and individual playing style.
You should pay more attention to the gauge, material, coating, and other factors having a greater impact on tone, playability, and durability.
When it comes to choosing a set of strings, the popular brands typically tend to pop up and are usually recommended. Some of these are Ernie Ball, Daddario, Elixr, Dunlop and Fender.
However, regardless of the string company, there is actually no best string brand out there.
The best string brand is the one that provides you with the perfect set of strings that sounds best to your ears and suits your playing style.
Whether you like light strings for blues, heavy gauge strings for Jazz or heavy-coated strings for durability; the best strings are the ones that tick all your boxes in terms of ideal sound, playing style and guitar set up.
It doesn’t matter whether the set is produced by a famous string brand or a new, upcoming company.
How to Choose Guitar Strings
Regardless of brand, here are the main attributes you must decide on when choosing strings. Ranking them from most important to least important:
1. Gauge (Most Important)
The gauge simply describes how thick the strings are. Thicker strings generally sound warmer and thicker but are more rigid when it comes to playability.
Light strings provide flexibility for string bends and better playability but will sound brighter and thinner as they have less mass.
- Light strings (0.08, 0.09) make string bends easier
- Light strings require less fretting pressure to play notes
- Light strings are better for beginners with soft and un-calloused fingertips
- Lighter strings have a thinner and brighter tone
- Lighter strings have less tension
- Heavier strings 0.11, 0.12 are less flexible and harder for string bends
- Heavier strings have a fuller tone and provide more volume
- Heavier strings hold their intonation better
- Heavier strings have more sustain
- Heavy strings have more tension
2. String Material
Material plays a huge role in influencing your guitar tone, feel, and stability. Even with two strings with the same gauge, if the material is different, it can drastically change your guitar tone and playability.
Let’s take a look at different string materials:
Nickel-plated Steel (most common): This is the most traditional material used in the composition of electric guitar strings. It is highly versatile, stood the test of time and is the most popular.
Pure Steel Strings (The brightest): This material sounds bright and has a noticeable increase in output. For this reason, pure steel strings are more popular with metal and hard rock players more concerned with high gain to mid-gain distortion and overdrive.
Cobalt Strings: Cobalt strings sound and respond similar to pure steel strings but feel lighter to the touch and are more comfortable on the fingertips.
Flatwound strings (Warmest) – Flatwounds sound the dullest of the materials on this list as they resonate warm and round.
For this reason, they are popular with jazz guitar players. Flatwounds noticeably provide a smooth, warm, and mellow jazz tone but are also popular with fingerstyle players for a soft and gentle tone.
3. Coated vs. Uncoated
Coated strings are a new breed of string simply to increase durability. They resist sweat, grime, and oil better than uncoated strings.
The coating is made from Teflon, a corrosion-resistant material applying a protective layer to each string and increasing durability.
Coated strings also possess a brighter and more metallic tone compared to uncoated strings.
Teflon coating can similarly be applied to any steel-string and acoustic string. The only caveat is that they are pricier compared to uncoated strings but will last longer before string changes.
Experimenting With New String Brands? (What to Assess)
Now that we have discussed the main question, let’s outline the qualities you should be looking for when buying strings for an electric guitar.
Listen for Tone
The tone your strings produce is arguably the most essential factor when experimenting with different types and brands of strings.
When assessing the quality of a fresh set of strings, ideally, you want to hear a crisp mid-range tone from the electric guitar that sounds clear, bright and defined.
You always want to assess the clarity and definition of different strings and decide whether they are to your taste. Some strings will indeed sound slightly brighter and duller than others, depending on the brand and type.
But the difference is not night and day. Some players may prefer a slightly dark tone while other players prefer a brighter tone. The bottom line here is that you have to find the tone that sounds best to your ears.
Test Feel and Durability
The main points when it comes to comparing feel and durability between different string brands are:
- Do they feel smooth?
- How coated are they?
- Do they have a better grip?
- How easy are string bends?
- Do they repel dirt, grime, and rust better?
- How durable are they?
- Do they feel more maneuverable than other brands?
Check for Consistency
Consistency can fall into two categories here.
The first being tone! When you settle on a brand, type, and gauge you like and stick with it for some time, which most guitar players do, every time you string-up that favorite set on your guitar, you want to know that you are getting the same sound consistently.
This ensures you know what you are getting tonally each time you replace and repeat.
Sometimes brands can change their manufacturing process and vary their materials without specifying. Therefore, it is good to get consistency from your chosen brand.
The second is feel and playability. As mentioned, when a string brand changes its materials or manufacturing process, it can have a small impact on your playing.
When you have played a specific packet for a while, it is noticeable when your favorite brand has increased or decreased the gauge slightly.
Either due to a change in formula or manufacturing process. Therefore, it is always good to buy from a brand that provides consistency with each packet.
How to Test Different Guitar String Brands
- Record yourself playing with different strings with the same gauge and material for an accurate split test
- Test out the feel and playability with varying brands of string
- Record how long the sets last until they fade
- Test the durability
- Split test different brand strings on different guitars
- Get a friend to play them to give a second opinion
Comparing Brands (Ernie Ball vs D’Addario)
To prove that the guitar string brand is not an essential factor when choosing strings, let’s take two popular string companies, Ernie Ball and D’Addario, and compare both their favorite 0.09 gauge strings (Super Slinky and EXL120).
Both strings are the same:
- Gauge – 0.09 (light strings)
- Material – nickel-plated steel (most common electric guitar string)
- Design – roundwound strings
This is a ‘like for like’ comparison here. The only aspect separating both sets of strings is the brand that manufactured them!
Brand Comparison Video
To demonstrate that brand should not be of importance when buying strings, here is a tone comparison video of the Ernie Ball Super Slinky and D’Addario EXL120. Judge the differences yourself.
To my ears, there are no night and day differences between both string companies.
I have played both strings over the years on multiple guitars and found no substantial difference in tone and playability. I must admit there are tiny differences in sound and feel, but nothing definitively better or worse.
This example is mostly universal when you compare brands offering the same gauge and type as in the case above.
The truth is, most brands offer top quality strings. There are only slight differences in the qualities of tone, playability, feel, and durability.
With that said, beginners will often buy strings from the company with an established reputation such as Ernie Ball, Daddario, Elixr, etc. But why is that?
Well, established and popular companies are usually recommended hence they already have high reputations. However, I recommend experimenting with different strings to find the tone that fits with your sound, playing style, and guitar setup.
Will thicker strings reduce fret buzz?
Thicker strings will reduce fret buzz because they will sit higher in the nut. They will also fill out the nut more than lighter strings as they have more mass. Thicker strings also apply more tension to the neck of the guitar, slightly reducing fret buzz.
Why do my new guitar strings sound tinny?
All new guitar strings sound tinny because they have not broken in yet. New strings will sound tinny and metallic until they have been bedded in. After some time, they will lose top-end and treble when they have been stretched and played enough.
Thanks For Reading
Speaking of new strings, do you apply fresh strings on your guitar just before a gig or studio time?
If so, how many days before? One, two, three days, or a week before?