The Best Electric Guitar Strings - 6 String Sets

The Highest Rated Electric Guitar Strings

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The guitar string is the main interface where you interact with your instrument, it is where your ideas and techniques are translated into musical phrases.

Given the impact on your guitar playing experience, it is imperative that you get strings that match your preferences both in playability and tone.

Here we present you with the best rated electric guitar string sets, grouped into popular gauge types, so you can find one that suits your needs and budget. Long time manufacturer D'Addario dominates this guide in almost every section, seconded by Ernie Ball, another big player in this market. Other brands that made it into this guide include Elixir and GHS.

The Best Electric Guitar Strings

Author & Contributors

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

Extra Super Light Gauge

D'Addario EXL130 Nickel Wound

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$6
D'Addario EXL130 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Extra Super Light Gauge)

It's hard to talk about strings and not mention D'Addario, with their worldwide market presence and their legacy as one of the pioneers of winding machines.

Their continued popularity in all-things guitar strings is corroborated by the high ratings that strings like EXL130 receive, which in turn helped the company secure multiple slots in this guide. The EXL 130 is an extra light gauge set, part of their popular nickel wound line.

Given its thin gauge high E string at .008 and low E String at .038, expect this set to be bright sounding and easy on the hands.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Super Light (008, .010, .015, .021, .030, .038)
  • Core Material: High Carbon Steel Alloy
  • Winding Material: Nickel-Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Pros
Playability is the number one reason why guitarists stick with this set. Users are pleased with its low tension, described smooth and easy on the hands. Owners are happy with how easy it is to use techniques like bending and tapping. Durability is also another reason why many rate this set highly, while others are pleased with how long they stay fresh.

Cons
This set can feel too thin for some, even for those who are used to Light gauge sets will notice the difference.

Overall
The D'Addario EXL130 Nickel Wound is an affordable yet good quality set for those who want an easy to play extra light gauge set.

D'Addario NYXL0838 Nickel Wound

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$13
D'Addario NYXL0838 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Extra Super Light Gauge)

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Set of Extra Super Light Gauge Electric Guitar Strings.

The NYXL0838 is a a string set that features D'Addario's "New York Steel" as its main material, which is meant to be more reliable and durable than conventional steel strings.

The windings are meant to have increased magnetic properties, by utilizing reformulated nickel plating. This results in better output and improved midrange response, which are important when it comes to thin gauge sets.

Note that the materials used in this set impact the pricing, which is more than 2x that of regular sets.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Super Light (.008, .010, ..015, .021, .030, .038)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Reliability is one of the most commonly commended trait of NYXL0838 string set. There are plenty of reviews from owners who have used this set on different guitars with satisfactory results, including guitars from Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, PRS and many more. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its sound quality, impressing users with how it emphasizes the mids, given its thin gauge.

Cons
This set is not as accessibly priced as other sets.

Overall
If budget is not an issue, and you want a nothing less than the best rated extra light gauge set, then check out the D'Addario NYXL0838.

Super Light Gauge

At publication time the following were tied 3-ways for Equal Highest Rated Set of Super Light Gauge Electric Guitar Strings: Ernie Ball 2223, Ernie Ball 2253 and D'Addario NYXL0942.

Ernie Ball 2223 Super Slinky Nickel Wound

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 20250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$6
Ernie Ball 2223 Super Slinky Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Super Light Gauge)

Ernie Ball is the string of choice for many big name artists, including Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Slash and many more, all of whom helped expand the brand's reach and reputation.

The Super Slinky 2223 Nickel is one of their more affordable offerings, with the three thickest strings sporting a tin-plated hex-shaped core wire, wrapped in nickel plated steel winding.

Ernie Ball designed this set to provide a more balanced tonal response without having to thicken the gauge, which means that you still get to enjoy comfortable playability with its low string tension.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Super Light (.009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042)
  • Core Material: Tin Plated Hex Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Owners are pleased with how smooth and light this set is to the touch. Others are happy with the resulting sound, which does not sound as thin as they expected from a super light gauge set, especially when the strings are still fresh. There are reports of it working well with humbucker, single-coil and mixed pickup configuration guitars.

Cons
There are a few who rate them slightly lower because they feel that they lose their fresh sound a bit faster than they anticipated.

Overall
If you're looking for an affordable super light gauge set with balanced tone, then check this one out.

Ernie Ball 2253 Super Slinky Classic Rock N Roll

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 2100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$7
Ernie Ball 2253 Super Slinky Classic Rock N Roll Electric Guitar Strings (Super Light Gauge)

As the name suggests, this guitar string set is designed to reproduce the balanced sound of guitars as heard in classic rock tracks.

To achieve this, Ernie Ball decided to equip the 2253 Super Slinky with pure nickel winding, which results in slightly increased string tension and fuller tone with mid frequency emphasis.

And it does all this while retaining its affordable price tag and thin super light gauge.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Super Light (.009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042)
  • Core Material: Tin Plated Hex Steel
  • Winding Material: Pure Nickel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Owners report that this set is really substantially warmer sounding compared to sets with nickel plated winding. And this warmth is a welcome change for most users, who rate this set very high for being true to its name - providing good old rock friendly tone. The slight increase in tension is another welcome change for those who want a bit more expressive control over the strings without switching to heavier gauge sets. There are plenty of reports of this string working great with different guitar types, from old school Strats and Les Pauls, to modern Super Strat guitars.

Cons
The genre targeted warm tone of this set may not be appealing to some players. There are a few who report that these strings break too easily when played aggressively.

Overall
The Ernie Ball 2253 combines the playability of modern light gauge with vintage style tone, highly recommended if you're into Rock and similar styles.

D'Addario NYXL0942 Nickel Wound

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 7900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$13
D'Addario NYXL0942 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Super Light Gauge)

Inspired by the steel strings used to stabilize and secure bridges, D'Addario decided to improve on the materials that they use in strings. And so they came up with their "New York" line of strings, which the NYXL0942 is part of.

Thanks to its high carbon steel core, this set is designed to be more durable, while still retaining a thin gauge.

It also features reformulated nickel plated windings which improves how the strings respond to the magnets of your pickups, which translates to better output and more midrange frequencies.

The specially designed winding is also designed to improve tuning stability, which in turn improves overall playing experience.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Super Light (.009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Pros
Most users agree that they experienced huge improvement in tuning stability when they switched to the NYXL0942 set. Many are also pleased with its smooth playability and good tone. Some also comment that this set sounds substantially better than what they were previously using. Active guitarists love how long this set stays fresh sounding, which they say translates to better value, even though there are strings that are much cheaper.

Cons
Not everyone is happy with the price tag, some comment that it would've been better if the price was lower.

Overall
If you're not satisfied with stability, feel and sound of entry level guitar strings, then this is a good starting point at trying out more expensive strings.

Light Gauge

NB: There were actually 6 sets of strings that qualified for this section and we chose the 3 most popular, as determined by the number of review sources, to recommend here. You can see the full list that were tied as the Equal Highest Rated Sets of Light Gauge Strings in the Music Gear Database.

D'Addario EXL110 Nickel Wound

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 18750+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$5
D'Addario EXL110

There's just something about the EXL series nickel-plated steel wound design that makes it work regardless of gauge. The EXL110 is doing well in the light gauge market, featuring the same tried and tested nickel-plated design.

This set features hexagon high-carbon steel cores that bring out the company's characteristic bright tone. The windings are also designed to be easy on the hands and on the frets, preventing finger cuts and premature fret wear.

Finally, each set comes in corrosion resistant packaging, to ensure that you get to play them fresh upon opening.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046)
  • Core Material: High Carbon Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel-Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Users describe the EXL110 as a great all-around set, with reports of it working great with a wide variety of guitars. It gets a lot of commendation for how smooth it feels, while others give credit to its clarity and bright tone. Longevity is another positive trait repeated in reviews, both in terms of sounding fresh longer and in terms of premature breakage.

Cons
Speaking of breakage, there are a few who report that the strings snapped earlier than they expected. Some also note that this set is too bright sounding for their tastes.

Overall
Being part of D'Addario's best selling offerings, the EXL110 is definitely worth checking out.

Ernie Ball 2221 Regular Slinky Nickel Wound

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 28550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$6
Ernie Ball 2221 Regular Slinky Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Light Gauge)

The Ernie Ball 2221 is part of their highly rated Slinky series. It features nickel-plated wound strings designed to produce balanced tone and improved intonation.

The core is made from tin-plated high carbon steel hex wire, which allows the binding to better attach itself on the to core, resulting in improved durability.

Another important feature of this set is the use of lock twists around the ball end of the plain strings, which further enhances strength and stability.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.010, .013, .017p, .026, .036, .046)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel-plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Owners are happy with the overall quality of this set, describing it as reliable and good sounding. Some have even happily been using this set for decades and on many different guitars. Many also compare this set favorably over others when it comes to staying fresh sounding. Value for money is another big reason why many rate this set highly.

Cons
There are a few reports of tuning stability issues, while some note that they have found other strings that better fit their tone preference.

Overall
The Ernie Ball 2221 is a good affordable light gauge set for those who want a more balanced sounding set.

Elixir Strings 12052 Nanoweb

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 7650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$13
Elixir Strings 12052 Nanoweb Electric Guitar Strings (Light Gauge)

Elixir is well known for their "coated" strings, and the Nanoweb 12052 is their best rated offering in this gauge, a string set with a 5-micron fluoropolymer coating.

This coating helps expand the lifespan of strings by blocking corrosive elements and preventing the accumulation of debris on the string and windings. And it does all this while staying thin enough to not hamper the strings' resonance.

In addition to longevity, this coating also reduces finger friction, which results in a smoother playing feel.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel-Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
"Strings that do not die", is a good summary of how most users feel about Elixir 12052. Owners are happy with how long this set retains its fresh sound, and how it's not as prone to dirt and grime. Its long life span is also the reason why many consider this set to be a good buy, more importantly, it reduces the time you have to spend restringing your guitar. Most reviewers also agree that this set sounds clear and clean, and does so for much longer.

Cons
Speaking of sound, some users report substantial tone change after switching to this set, some describe it as brighter, while others report that this set is warmer sounding. Whether the change is good or bad will depend on your preference.

Overall
If you're tired of dealing with strings sounding dull or breaking early, then this is for you.

Medium Gauge

GHS GBM Guitar Boomers

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$6
GHS GBM Guitar Boomers Electric Guitar Strings (Medium Gauge)

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Set of Medium Gauge Electric Guitar Strings.

Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana, Neal Schon, Tom Morello are just a few of the many notable artists who use GHS Strings. And as expected their popularity with the pros have spilled over to the masses, especially when it comes to medium gauge strings.

The GHS GBM set follows conventional string designs that utilize nickel-plated steel windings and steel core.

But being a medium gauge set instantly sets it apart from what most players use. The extra thickness of the strings allow for increased string tension for gritty tones that you simply cannot get from the usual thin sets.

Finally, each GHS set comes in "Nitro-Packs" which prevents corrosion from affecting the strings prior to opening. This packaging has a nifty transparent side so you can check if all strings are intact without having to unseal.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Medium (.011, .015, .018, .026w, .036w, .050w)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel-Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Pros
Quality seems to be the main reason why guitarists are rating this set highly. Owners are pleased at how well packaged and well built each set is. Since this is a medium gauge set, it is bought by guitarists with specific expectations in terms of feel and tone, and judging from reviews, GHS i s able to meet their requirements.

Cons
Speaking of tension, the thickness of this set maybe a bit too much for guitarists who are used to light gauge sets.

Overall
The GHS GBM Boomers is your best bet if you're looking for a a good quality yet affordable medium gauge set string.

Heavy Gauge

D'Addario EXL145 Nickel Wound

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$5
D'Addario EXL145 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Heavy Gauge)

D'Addario's EXL string design works well in just about any gauge, as evidenced by the EXL145 rating highly in the heavy gauge sector.

This heavy set follows their time tested formula of precisely winding nickel-plated steel on a hexagon shape high carbon steel core.

The bright tonality of nickel + steel balances the warm tone expected from thick gauge strings.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Heavy (.012, .016, .020, .032, .042, .054)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel-plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Heavy gauge strings are meant for specific players, and their intended buyers have a lot of good things to say about the D'Addario EXL145. Satisfied users include slide guitar players, those who use alternate / low tuning, and those who are into blues / rock styles. Those who are used to acoustic guitars also appreciate the thickness of this set. As expected there are also reports of tone improvement at the cost of exerting a bit more effort in using techniques.

Cons
Speaking of effort, users caution that the increased tension of this set is not for everyone. It is also important to ensure first that your guitar and bridge setup can handle the increased tension, and make the correct adjustments.

Overall
If you're looking for an affordable good quality heavy gauge set then go for the D'Addario EXL145.

D'Addario NYXL1254 Nickel Wound

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$13
D'Addario NYXL1254 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings (Heavy Gauge)

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Set of Heavy Gauge Electric Guitar Strings.

The NYXL1254 is a heavy gauge string set that features D'Addario's "New York Steel", which they engineered to stay in tune better and be more resilient to breakage.

This resilient design makes them ideal for heavy gauge strings which are usually chosen by those who play aggressively.

The enhanced mid-range of the NYXL set also works nicely with the fuller and warmer tone expected from thick strings.

Finally, each set is shipped in corrosion resistant packaging to ensure freshness and long shelf-life.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Heavy (.012, .016, .020, .032, .042, .054)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Nickel Plated Steel
  • Winding Type: Round
  • Coated: No

Pros
Owners are pleased at how big this set sounds. As expected, satisfied users are mostly guitarists with years of experience who prefer the feel and tone of heavy gauge strings. Longevity and tuning stability are also often commended in reviews. Those who play in drop / alternate tunings love how this set still feels tight, allowing them to play aggressively.

Cons
There are a few who aren't too fond of its midrange focused tone. And being a heavy gauge set, techniques like bending can be harder to do.

Overall
If you're looking for the best rated heavy gauge set, then this is for you.

Things to Consider When Buying Electric Guitar Strings

Electric Guitar String Gauges Explained

Strings are grouped together based on their gauge: Heavy for thick gauge sets, Medium for the in-betweens, while the thin ones fall under the many variants of Light gauge. Generally speaking, thinner strings result in brighter tone, while thicker strings with their increased tension results in more mids, low-end, and sustain. Super Light and Light gauge are the current market favorites because they are easier on the hands. Experienced musicians tend to move up their gauge preference, depending on their playing style and the type of music they are playing.

How to choose a string gauge

A sure fire method is to go for the same string gauge that was originally installed on your guitar. This way your guitar will feel the same, with no increase or decrease in tension that might affect your guitar's hardware, setup and tone. Most people, especially beginners, go for Light and Super/Extra Light gauge strings because of how easy they are on the hands. Some experienced guitarists switch to Medium or even Heavy gauge strings for fuller tone with more sustain. Others switch because they play slide or in a style that works better with thicker strings. Note that increased tension may adversely affect the setup of your guitar, so best consult with the manufacturer, or a luthier, before changing to a much thicker gauge.

Table of gauges

Standard String Gauges from High E to Low E
String E B G D A E
Extra Super Light .008 .010 .015 .021 .030 .038
Super Light .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042
Light .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046
Medium .011 .015 .018 .026 .036 .050
Heavy .012 .016 .020 .032 .042 .054

Core Material

Steel is an alloy that combines iron and carbon, and it is the main core material used in electric guitar strings. The reason for this is that they work well with magnetic pickups which are used on electric guitars, and this is also why nylon strings will not work with electric guitars. Some manufacturers develop their own steel formula, like high-carbon steel, the aim of which is to improve string durability, tuning and sound.

Winding Material

The three thickest strings of electric guitars (4th, 5th and 6th) often come with Nickel-plated steel winding, and these string sets are expected to sound bright and clear. This bright and snappy sound has become the standard tone expected of freshly installed strings. Speaking of fresh, the downside to nickel-plated steel windings is that over time, the strings lose their trebly tone.

Some manufacturers offer strings with "Pure" Nickel winding, which is a throwback to how strings were made back in the '50s. This set has a slightly smoother warm sound that stays consistent even after long use. Another popular type of winding uses Cobalt + Iron plating, this is known for a more rounded mid-range focused tone, and a slicker playing feel.

String Coating

To improve the longevity of strings, some manufacturers apply specialized thin layer of polymer "coating" on the strings. The coating has to be thick enough to prevent dirt, grime and other causes of corrosion from attaching themselves on the strings, but it also has to be thin enough to not hamper string response. Coated strings are expected to stay fresh sounding longer than conventional strings, and they also last longer. The downside is that the coated strings are noticeably not as snappy and lively sounding as freshly opened regular sets. Still, even the non-coated strings will lose their trebly tone in time, so it evens out in the long term. Coated strings are ideal for those who don't play often but want good sounding strings everytime they decide to open their guitar case.

When to Change Guitar Strings

The timing of changing your strings differ from person to person, and will mostly depend on how much you play your instrument. Those who pickup their instrument regularly and want snappy sounding strings every time they play will be changing their strings more often than those who seldomly pick up their guitar. Rust and grime on the strings are obvious signs that your strings have reached the end of their lifespan. Less obvious signs to watch out for include intonation issues, and dulling of tone. Interestingly, there are some musicians who prefer the warmer dull tone of old strings... so there really is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the timing of string changes. Finally, many guitarists simply wait for string breakage to change their set, even then, some would just change the one string that broke. This is not advisable because of the tone and feel difference between the new and old strings.

How to Change Guitar Strings

The process of changing strings on electric guitars differ wildly based on the tuners and bridge setup of your guitar. The process will be straightforward for those with vintage style tuners and hard-tail bridge. Those with locking nuts, tremolo / Bigsby bridges, and floating tremolos will require a bit more effort. It is best to consult the instructions specific to the hardware that's installed on your guitar.

Best Electric Guitar String Selection Methodology

The is the first edition which was published on September 28, 2021.

To keep this guide focused, we decided on a simple criteria of only including standard gauge 6-string electric guitar sets that come with one ball end, and to make this guide useful and relevant, we only feature those that are available from major online American retailers. With so many string sets available, we narrowed down our scope to the ones with the highest ratings. With these criteria in place, we were able to come up with a short list of 42 highly rated sets, which entailed the gathering and analysis of over 125,100 reviews and ratings sources. All these data were then fed to the Gearank algorithm to produce a rating score out of 100 for each set on our short-list (see them in the Music Gear Database). Finally, we chose the highest rated options to recommend in each of the featured gauges in this guide: Extra Super Light, Super Light, Light, Medium and Heavy. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

Drawing from his experience in performing and recording, he teaches guitar and bass and mentors young artists to be better musicians. And when he is not busy playing or tinkering with musical gear, he puts on his entrepreneurial hat, which helps fund his passion for collecting guitars, mecha figures and Gunpla kits.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Product research.
Jason Horton: Editing and illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: by Gearank.com using pictures of the Elixir Strings 12052, D'Addario NYXL0838, Ernie Ball 2221, GHS GBM, D'Addario EXL145 and Ibanez RG470DX.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

Comments

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