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Guitar String Guide – Picking The Best Guitar Strings

Picking Strings For Your Style Of Playing

It could be argued that guitar strings are the most important components of a guitar, because, without them, you can’t play the guitar…. Apart from my terrible attempt at humor, I stand by the statement that strings are very important to guitar tone, playability, and overall sound.

When I first started to pick strings out it was overwhelming to say the least, I found it really hard to know what string would be the best for my sound, and felt like the guy at the guitar shop was just trying to sell me his favorites.

Guitar String

Price Point

Type Of String

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Nickel Wound (3 Pack)

$

Nickel Wound Steel

Elixer Strings Electric Guitar Nano Web

$$

Polymer Coated

D’Addario EXL Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings

$$$

Nickel Wound Steel

Ernie Ball Cobalt Regular Slinky

$$

Cobalt Strings

So I wanted to write a guide for picking the best guitar strings for your style of playing, whatever that may be. By giving the basic facts about what strings are and what they are made out of I am hoping you will be able to decide for yourself what is best for you.

Through my travels to the guitar store I have found different kinds to be better for me and I have stuck to playing with those. But I feel I have an overall picture of what types of strings are out there and have done some research to gain a better understanding technically.

(Truth be told, I barely ever go to the guitar store anymore as I have found better deals online, so keep that in mind if you find something you like.)

When picking strings I think it is first important to understand:

Your style of playing

What level of guitar player you are

How strong your fingers are

The tone you want the strings to bring out

What kind of feel you want the strings to have.

The below guide will help you decide what kind of strings will be best for you. Let me know what you think in the comments section!

The Components To Picking The Best Guitar Strings

In my opinion, guitar string characteristics can be broken down into three basic categories. These categories combine to change the sound and feel of the string and by understanding them we can use them for guidelines on how the string will sound, and what it could be used for. The categories are:

Gauge Of The String:

The gauge of a guitar string defines how much metal is used to make the string. Technically it can be defined as the diameter of the string, which makes it easy to understand because as the numbers get bigger the string diameter gets bigger. Bigger number thicker string.

There are many variations of string gauge set-ups but there are four that are pretty commonly put together in string packs. We will go over the usual combination in each of the four common string sets, however, some manufacturers are different so just be mindful.

Extra light (.009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042)

Extra light strings would be the smallest strings out of the four main categories of gauges. There are lighter strings out there for sure but this is a rough guideline.

They would be the most flexible on the neck and when you are playing. They would bring out the brightest tone and probably would break the easiest, nothing against them just the truth.

These strings are great for beginners because they provide an easier action while playing so your hands don’t get as tired. This way anyone learning can practice for longer and be able to shred that much quicker!

Light (.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046)

As you can imagine light strings are similar to extra light strings, but a bit larger in diameter overall. They are still prime for beginner players and may even be better since they are easy to play, but bring out more of the tone spectrum.

They are great for if you want to really shred the neck and play really fast. However, some metal guitarists use heavier gauges due to the fact they use lower tuning structures.

Medium (.011, .014, .018, .028, .038, .049)

Medium strings can be seen used for rock and blues quite often. In these genres, guitarists may look for strings that offer the flexibility to bend the string combined with the rigidity of a heavier gauge to get a solid rhythm and bring out more of the tone spectrum.

Heavy (.012, .016, .020, .032, .042, .054)

These strings are the heaviest and largest in diameter. They provide a thick sound and bring out the full tone spectrum in the string. They can be used really well for strong rhythmic picking, in playing where you don’t need to bend the string to get the right sound, and where smoothness is your goal. These strings can be found used by many jazz guitarists who often get flat wound heavy gauge strings.

They are also the hardest strings to play and require the guitar player to have strong hands in order to play for a while. As a beginner, tread carefully with heavy strings or you could be faced with some sore hands.

Custom String Gauge Variations

A cool thing about strings is as you get to know different kinds you will find gauges that suit what you like for each string. If you like certain gauges on the top end of your strings and a different gauge on the other, you may be able to find a pack of strings with that gauge combination.

There are many combinations that can be found straight out of the pack. Another option is to find deals on different gauge packs and combine what you want from them. If all else all of those string packs could provide for some handy “just in case” strings.

Slinky Top Heavy Bottom
Ernie ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottom Nickel Wound

The Material The String Is Made Out Of:

String material will make a big impact on the sound of your plucking and how it feels to play the guitar. It is important to understand the different string materials that are out there so you can avoid bringing home undesirable strings.

Each string type is unique in its own way and some are very different from others, but I have found sticking with the popular strings for the respective guitar and genre is a good way to go. The list below isn’t fully comprehensive either as it sums up what you would find at most guitar shops.

Nylon – Nylon strings are predominantly used for classical guitars and acoustic guitars. They are made out of nylon (duh) so they are basically plastic strings. But don’t be fooled and associate plastic with cheap.

When playing classical guitar nylon strings become absolutely essential and getting the best nylon strings can be a make or break to getting the perfect tone. These strings can also be used for folk, bluegrass, and other mellow and round sounding uses.

D’Addario EJ43 Pro Arte Nylon Classic
D’Addario EJ43 Pro Arte Nylon Classic

Nickel Plated Steel

Nickel-plated steel strings are most common for electric guitars and basses. The steel provides a solid and bright sounding tone and the nickel rounds it off and also provides protection.

D’Addario EXL 115-3D Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings, Medium/Blues-Jazz Rock
D’Addario EXL 115-3D Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings, Medium/Blues-Jazz Rock

Steel

Plain steel strings will give the most twang out of the bunch. If you get a pure steel string I would caution you as they can become damaged and can age really quickly.

D’Addario PL010-5 Plain Steel Guitar Strings
D’Addario PL010-5 Plain Steel Guitar Strings

Nickel

Plain nickel strings are a bit rounder sounding and can be muffled compared to the twang of pure steel or a string with steel in it. Pure strings can also be pricey so watch out if cost is an issue!

Fender Pure Nickel

Cobalt

Cobalt is a very precise string material. It is perfect for ripping a solo or if you want a string that will pick up all the subtle nuances in your playing. Cobalt strings could be a bit too precise if you are aiming for something a bit dirtier.

Ernie Ball Cobalt Regular Slinky
Ernie Ball Cobalt Regular Slinky

Chrome

Chrome is similar to stainless steel wound strings. They are brighter and provide a bit more twang. This is because these are harder metals so they are less forgiving.

D’Addario ECG23 or 24 Chromes Flat Wound Strings
D’Addario ECG23 or 24 Chromes Flat Wound Strings

Polymer Coated

Polymer coated strings are found primarily on Elixer strings but also other manufacturers offer them. They offer enhanced protection to the string so the string stays true longer.

Color Coated

These strings are pretty much just fun. They can be coated with different colors to add more flare to the look of your guitar. I knew someone with the below strings for their bass and it looked pretty awesome.

DR Strings NMCE-10 DR Neon
DR Strings NMCE-10 DR Neon

How The String Is Wound

Winding can produce a great deal of variation in the feel of the guitar string as well as the tone. It is a feature that is often overlooked but if you are serious about getting the perfect feel on the fretboard then definitely understand the three main types below.

Round Wound

Round wound strings have the largest ridges where the string has been wound with another material. These strings are the brightest and most balanced toned string. They are also found on most guitars and are the most common way a string is wound with a secondary material.

Half Round

Half round strings are a mix between flat-wound and round wound strings. So as you could piece together the sound and tone you get from them is a mix between those two as well. They are a bit brighter than flat wound, but a bit smoother than the round wound strings. Sometimes sitting on the fence isn’t a bad idea.

Flat Wound

These strings are rarer than round wound strings but are used fairly often within the jazz community. They are a very smooth string and are the best string to use if you want to properly use a violin bow like Jimmy Page. They produce a somewhat rounder and warmer sound but can be viewed as dull. These strings are especially great  on a bass guitar. If you own a fretless guitar as well then flat wound strings would be a must, and probably came stock on the guitar!

Some Of The Top Guitar Strings

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Nickel Wound .010 - .046

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Nickel Wound .010 - .046

The regular slinky nickel wound strings from Ernie Ball are a top favorite among many guitar players. They are a bright sounding string made of steel and wound of nickel. The .010 - .046 custom gauge combinations makes for a solid playing experience. They also are reasonably priced so you can afford to pick up some “just in case” stings.

Check out the super slinky and hybrid slinky as well for a bit of a different take on a classic nickel wound string.

Elixer Strings Electric Guitar Strings w Nano Web Coating, light

Elixer Strings Electric Guitar Strings w Nano Web Coating, light

Elixer strings come stock with their famous nanoweb coating. They are often found on acoustic guitars with a bronze wind but the nickel wound strings for electric are pretty solid as well. Bronze has a softer tone than nickel so is great for acoustic.

D’Addario Strings: AKA The XL Strings

D’Addario make some really vintage sounding strings. They have a bright sound but avoid any unwanted overtones and shrill. Some could also say these strings have a bit more sustain than others, but I think that comes down to personal taste and rig setup.

How Often Should Guitar Strings Be Changed?

I am a big believer in testing a string on a guitar to know if it should be changed. There is a certain sound and feel an old string gives that makes me know it is time to get rid of them. However, that advice is pretty brutal so in order to know if your guitar strings should be replaced the following are telltale signs to a replaceable string:

Sound: you will start to hear the string become dull over time. It will lack the same crisp sound new strings have out of the pack. Your bends won’t be as solid and strumming won’t be as impactful.

Look: it is fairly easy to physically see if strings need to be replaced as well. If they start to look frayed in any areas, rusted or discolored, or if there is any gunk built up around the frets.

Time: old strings get old, that is just the way it is. Sometimes it is just time to replace your strings, especially if you have a gig coming up and haven’t replaced your strings in a while. Old strings are prone to breaking and the last thing I want is to have to fix a broken string in the middle of a set.

How Often Should Guitar Strings Be Changed?

If you are a new player, putting on strings can seem like an uphill battle. If you are a seasoned vet putting on strings can be a serious nuisance. Ultimately it is a task that needs to be done and if you do it smart it can be easy as eating an apple pie on Sunday.

To get the strings off and then on again quickly, look for a tool like the one below that will assist in turning the tuning keys. This can be a really annoying part of replacing strings and the quicker you can get it the better.

Once you have the string in place and ready to tune, try to stretch the string out a bit before tightening it to the right pitch. Do this by carefully, very carefully, taking your thumb on one end of the string, and nest the rest of the string in your palm to create tension. Apply enough tension to stretch the string a bit but not enough to break it. Move up and down the neck and then tighten the tuning key to tune once it is stretched just enough.

When changing strings you may notice a variation in the action on the fret board. This is because some variations of gauges, brands, and string materials alter the height on the fret board and against the neck or bridge.

You may notice some buzzing and clicking if you really hate the sound you can take it to a guitar tech to get it fixed. I’d find a set of strings you really like and then get your guitar set for those. Avoiding a few unwanted back and forth trips from the shop without a guitar!

Hope this guide helped in terms of narrowing down your choices for choosing the best guitar strings. Check out some of our other articles on guitar pedals if you are keen to increase your sound!

Top 4 Volume Pedals In 2016 – Review By The Lead Guitar

​Guys! Today is the day! Voluuummmeee Pedals! 

While these pedals may not get as much fame and fortune as the fuzz, delay, reverb, & more "popular" kinds of pedals. For the pro's, this pedal is a crucial piece of the pedal board, especially when playing in a band. See, as a beginner, you may not be concerning yourself with the volume of your guitar.

Most likely, you will be thinking louder is better... which it can sometimes be... but with experience you will start to realize that when you are playing in a band​ and either need to rise above your buddies or fall in-between their notes, you will want a volume pedal. 

I put together this review of two high-end volume pedals and two cheap pedal options so you can find the one that works best for you. One of the biggest things I found was that I could really tell the difference between the cheap pedals and the high end pedals, so if you have the budget it might be worth the extra bit of cash.

As a bonus, it should be noted, with some of these pedals you can use them to control other pedals if they have ability to connect an “expression” pedal. Some types that utilize this are tremolo pedals or chorus pedals; we put together a list of the best of those if you click the links.

There is also one pedal on this list that breaks the rules. It is a volume pedal but ultimately has way more utility than just volume. It is also a fairly small pedal so the amount of value you can get out of such a small package is delightfully surprising! 

Finding The Best Volume Pedal:

As a guitar player, I am constantly trying to adjust my volume for each part I play. For a solo I need to push it like crazy and be as loud and out there as possible. However, when I need a soft rhythm track right after the solo I need to either pick quieter or adjust my guitar volume on the guitar body and potentially compromise my tone. Well, that was the case until I got a volume pedal.

At first I didn’t really know if I would like it, or even use it for that matter, but after playing with it for well over a few months now I don’t think I would ever go back to not having one. The only thing is, since most of these pedals resemble wah pedals, they can take up some space on the board. When I was picking out my pedal it was tough to sort through the noise and find the one that was best for me. 

​The Top Pedals To Control The Noise!

Ernie Ball VP Potentiometer 

This pedal is a pretty decent pedal that doesn’t impact tone very much, but also isn’t as expensive as the Boss pedal below which makes it pretty appealing. It should be noted this pedal is ONLY for passive instruments and not active instruments, they made a different model for active instruments like a keyboard, or if you have active pickups in your guitar or bass guitar.

Since it is for passive instruments, it doesn’t actually need a power source, it basically just impedes the signal from your guitar or other passive instrument. In my opinion, that is pretty worthwhile as I have quite a few pedals and only so much room/plug-ins using my daisy chain.

Ernie Ball Volume Pedal

The VP Potentiometer is pretty easy to use and it is a fairly straightforward pedal. The pedal face controls the swell and volume using their respective knobs. The footpad allows you to control the volume/expression of the pedal. When the pedal is in the heal down position it allows you to utilize silent tuning so you wont blow out the speakers with the clicks of the tuner.... okay, a bit exaggerated but you get what I mean.

A feature of this pedal that should be highlighted is the fact that it has a switch behind the jack under the footplate[1]  to toggle between two different swell rates. This can be nice so you can fine-tune your sound/how you want the pedal to react; making it personalized to your use.

All and all this pedal is great for what you pay for. It doesn’t break the bank account and is a pretty solid volume pedal that keeps true to the tone of your guitar and amp. I would recommend this pedal to anyone who is on a budget but needs a great pedal to use.

Boss FV-500H Volume Pedal - High Impedance 

The Boss FV-500H volume and expression pedal is going to be the contender for the top choice out there in terms of quality. Boss designs and constructs all of their pedals to the highest standard in terms of durability and construction. The FV-500H is no exception to this, it is also a pedal that sounds great and has solid usability.

The best thing about this pedal, besides the construction and durability, is the fact that it can be used as a volume pedal and simultaneously an expression pedal as well. This can be really useful if you have a tremolo or another type of pedal that allows for expression pedals.

Boss Volume Pedal

The pedal also has a very smooth travel so the resulting effect is not going to be clunky and heavy. It has a true tone to it and you can’t really notice the effect too much. It can also be used in silent tuning like the VP Potentiometer, which if it didn’t I would be surprised at this price point.

If you were looking for a high quality design that will last the test of time then this pedal would be the one to get. It is definitely stronger than the VP Potentiometer and has ability for use as an expression pedal, but if you are just looking for a straight up volume pedal then the Ernie Ball may be a better option.

Hotone SP-10 Soul Press WAH/Volume/Expression 

The Hotone SP-10 Soul Press is a bit of a different duck on this list. Reason being is that it is a wah, volume and expression pedal which basically breaks it out into the multi-effect category. I traditionally have a distaste for multi-effects units because I have found they are cumbersome to use and don’t produce the same quality as a stand-alone effect.

However, the SP-10 is definitely a different story. I mean, it has its issues but when it comes to finding a volume effect pedal, you may as well look at maximizing other effects within one expression pedal if you don’t have them already.

These types of pedals take up a lot of room on an effects board and can be kind of cumbersome to tour with. As long as the pedal is built well, and you are satisfied with the tone then I would say go for something like this.

The SP-10 is a well-built pedal that will last a decently long time, maybe not as long as a boss pedal but it definitely holds its own. As far as a volume pedal goes, it definitely can be compared to the Ernie Ball and has a decent tone quality like the Boss does, maybe not as good as the Ernie Ball.

Soul Press Volume Wah Exp.

It is also a fairly small pedal, which is fairly handy if you have a set area on your pedal board for these kinds of pedals. It is a bit bigger than a boss pedal so will fit in most pedal boards with no issue.

As a Wah pedal, the SP-10 has a pretty good tone, kind of similar to that of a crybaby wah pedal. Since it is a bit smaller it can take a bit of getting used to in order to really get to know the action of the pedal.

Since it is also an expression pedal it can be used for other types of pedals to action the rate, level, and other controls by using your foot. If you had a tremolo or even some reverb pedals you can hone the sound and add expression into your playing.

All and all this pedal is a fairly solid unit that would come recommended as a strong buy. I like how it is small, has a great tone, can be used in many different ways and is still built to last. It is easily switched between expression, wah and volume so you can get the sound you want when you want it.

BEHRINGER FCV100 

Like I said at the beginning of this article, when it comes to volume pedals I think you really get what you pay for, especially compared to some other pedals out there. If you have the extra cash that you can afford a minor splurge on a decent volume pedal, I would suggest splurging.

However, if you are on a budget, or you don’t really know if you will use a volume pedal and want one you can use and burn after, then this would be a great option for you. Also, probably not best to burn pedals….

The Behringer FCV100 is a cheap but effective volume pedal. It does the job it is supposed to do, is built fairly well and is probably the best cheap volume pedal out there. The variance on tone is audible but not too bad considering the fact that a case of beer is worth more than this pedal. That makes it really appealing to me!

Behringer Volume Pedal

The controls are pretty standard and similar to the other volume pedals on this list, and surprisingly it can be used as an expression pedal as well. If I were to have bought this pedal as a trial for a volume pedal, which I was close to doing, then I would have probably used it for a bit, purchased a better volume pedal and made this one a permanent expression pedal.

That is a longwinded way of saying this is a decent pedal for what you are paying for. Not quite as durable as a boss, not quite the tone as an Ernie, but all and all decent for the price point.

There You Have It, A Comprehensive List of the Best Volume Pedal Options​

So, there you have it folks. A list of the top volume pedals you can find. Some are better than others and some are WAY better than others. You will need to go to your guitar store & try them yourself. A little word of advice once you find one though: purchase it online! You can find way better deals online than in the store, at least from my experience. ​

Top 5 Mini Guitar Pedals (For Packed Pedal Boards)

Mini guitar pedals are a newer development when it comes to guitar effect pedals. Most mini pedals take their sound from a larger sibling and compact it down into a small package for ease of use and transport. In this list we take a look at the top mini guitar pedals that are out there.

I personally really like mini pedals because they are… well… mini. I play in a band and lugging all of my gear around can be a real pain sometimes. I am always looking for ways to lighten up what I have to bring with me.

While guitar effect pedals are not huge individually, when you put a ton of them together their weight and size can add up quick creating a bit of a nuisance. This is when you are going to want to take a look at mini pedals and what is out there on the market to either replace what you have, or to have an extra pedal for jamming/traveling.

Lets take a look at the top 5 mini guitar pedals we found and see what is what! This list is in no particular order. Here are the pedals we are looking at:

Holy Grail Nano Reverb Pedal

Holy Grail Nano Reverb Pedal

A mini reverb is great little pedal to pick up. For me, the reverb pedal is one of those pedals that is in use a lot but doesn’t change that much from song to song. This is why I think I am drawn to mini reverb pedals instead of getting a huge pedal that takes up space on my pedal board.

If you have read our article on the best reverb pedal then you probably took note of the Holy Grail. It is a rad reverb with a great sound and has three kinds of reverb built in. The Holy Grail Nano is basically the exact same as the larger Holy Grail as well, so it also has three different kinds reverb and the same control knob as the big dude.

Some say the sound a bit worse on the Nano due to its size, so be forewarned. But if you need a small addition to your pedal board in the reverb department, definitely take a look at this guy.

TC Electronics Ditto Looper Pedal:

Ditto loop pedal

Usually when you think of a looper pedal you think of a boheamath like the Boss RC-300. It has multiple loops you can store and basically you can create a band in a box using it.

The Ditto Looper Pedal is not that. But it is a cool little unit if you want to loop basic parts in a song. It has 5 minutes of storage[1] and will store your track you looped even after you turn it off. But there are no presets and it is not loaded with controls, so if you are looking for a wild loop pedal then click here.

It is a perfect pedal for a casual looper that needs a small unit to create easy loops in a song. It has a volume control knob and a click button to start and stop the loop, turn it off and create unlimited overdubs.

Electro-Harmonix Nano Clone Chorus Pedal

Nano Clone Chorus Pedal

I think one of the most well known users of the Small Clone chorus pedal had to be Kurt Kobain. He used it in “Come As You Are”, among other songs, and it sounded really warm and a bit grungey.

The Nano Clone has the same great sound quality, although some argue a bit less, as the Small Clone, but in half the size. Just like a mini reverb pedal, a mini chorus pedal is a great option if you are looking to conserve space. It is a pedal that is used here and there and won’t change too much from song to song, so you don’t need a ton of options within the pedal.

Fuzz Face Mini

fuzz-face-mini

I love the fuzz face. I think it has one of the best fuzz sounds out there and can provide some really cool harmonic tones. The one issue I have with the fuzz face is how big and awkward it is on my pedal board. This is why I think the Fuzz Face Mini is an awesome pedal to think about.

I do hear a bit of a difference in fuzz tone between the mini and the regular fuzz face but to be honest, I really don’t mind the difference in tone. It can kind of add a bit of a unique factor to what I play.

I do really love the size of this pedal and the fact that it doesn’t take up too much space on my pedal board. It kind of blends in with the boss pedals on my board, and lets be honest, boss makes a nice pedal to stick on a board.

Dunlop Mini Cry-Baby Wah

dunlop-mini-wah-pedal

There isn’t too much to say about this pedal except that it is pretty cool and definitely works! I don’t really know if I am as big of a fan of this as the regular cry-baby but it needs to be in this list.

The reason why I had to put this pedal on the list is that Wah-Pedals are notorious for taking up to much space on a pedal board, or at least I think so. Also, it is a bit of a feat of engineering as it is half the size but at the same time packed with more than the regular Cry Baby. It has three different mode settings for getting a high, low and mid tone out of the wah sweep.

So there you have it, a list of mini pedals that are pretty sweet in our view! For today’s pedal packed boards, us guitar players all need to conserve enough space in order to not piss off the drummer and their rig…. Especially if you play in small little venues!