(Review Updated: 8 February 2018)
Although you may love the sound of your own music, you probably have neighbours or roommates who aren't exactly the biggest fans of guitar solos at 3am! Fortunately, guitar headphones have always been the answer to keeping our noise to ourselves, and there are specialised headphones for guitarists like yourself who want good quality sound without busting the budget.
Just like everything and anything on the market, there are different versions of the same product and all at different prices. But when it comes to headphones for a guitar amp, is it really justifiable to spend over $200?
Naturally, the more expensive you go the better quality sound you'll get, just like any other regular set of headphones. However, you don't necessarily have to spend hundreds of dollars either. There's a certain price point where anything over that is just brand name benefits and not really sound quality benefits. Generally, the best range is between $60 - $260, where anything under that will likely be followed by a better set soon afterwards.
Now, it's worth noting that choosing headphones for amps is very different from choosing regular headphones to listen to music with. Music has already been mastered and processed, whereas your own musical creations are not, and will be powering through your guitar headphones loudly and inconsistently, so a sturdy set that can handle the different frequencies and minimise distortion are a must.
That said here are our top four picks for the job:
Considering their critically acclaimed high performance and shining customer reviews (currently 4200+ reviews are written for the ATH-M50X) at its current price point, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X is almost underpriced.
These widely praised guitar headphones offer great comfort and complete noise cancellation due to their closed back design. The ear cups can swivel 90 degrees for one-ear monitoring (great for you sound pros) and the cable is detachable, which is always a bonus.
The bass has just the right amount of punch and every range in between is bright and clear. The ATH-M50x has a frequency range between 15Hz and 28kHz, which is more than what you'd need even if it isn't the widest range available for guitar amp headphones. Impedance is at 38 ohms which covers most audio devices but will definitely sound it's best when plugged into an amp, which is...pretty much the point of getting them in the first place.
At a lower price range stands the Sony MDRV6 headphones. Again with over 2500 reviews at Amazon, the Sony MDRV6 has shining reviews and can be considered a perfect but at its current price point.
With a wide frequency response of 5 Hz - 30 kHz, the MDRV6 offers a full bodied sonic experience where your musical nuances won't be lost. It's actually a wider range than what many higher end headphones support!
The cable is 10ft long and non-detachable, which is perfect for guitarists who don't need to move around too much. The design allows for great noise cancellation to really immerse yourself in your music, and the impedance of 68 ohms means it's compatible with most audio devices but will really come alive when plugged into an amp.
The Sony MDRV6 may not be as pretty as the next headphones you'll see on this list, but they're certainly brilliant for the price.
Time to go a little higher on our price range for fancy!
These Sennheiser HD 598 headphones cost more than the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X and SONY MDRV6 and are indeed an audiophiles' dream.
Featuring velour covered ear cups and a light weight, they're ideal for long practice sessions and a sense of comfort that will make the extra dollars worth it. Their impedance is 50 ohms for a full sound experience when plugged into any audio device, and come equipped with a detachable 3m cable.
These open back headphones (which Sennheiser actually invented in the 60's) offer a more "authentic" experience where it will sound like the music is coming from all around you and not just between your ears (this is called 'open soundstage'). But this also means the noise cancellation isn't complete and will 'leak' sound. So if you prefer total immersion during practice sessions and don't want anyone hearing you play, then these may not be the right set for you.
The HD 598s boast a wide frequency range between 12Hz and 38.5kHz, so you’ll be able to hear all those rich sounds coming from your guitar. Note that the Sennheiser is for those looking for a consistent, balanced, and high quality sonic performance, so the bass isn’t the type to send thumping vibrations throughout your body. If that's what your head-banging self is looking for, then any other closed back headphones on this list would be a better choice.
Okay, now we're at the price peak, but hear us out. The Beyerdynamic DT 770 is arguably the best set of headphones for a guitar amp due to it's amazing frequency response of 5 Hz to 35 kHz for unbeatably clear sound and superb bass reproduction.
With snug velour earpads, impeccable noise cancellation, and up to 250 ohms in impedance for incredible amp performance, it's easy to see why these headphones have consistently made it to the top of every sound-savvy list.
The best part about this German-made set is that all the parts are replaceable, so you can keep them running for as long as possible without buying a totally new set. Half of the customer reviews are just raving about long they've had their Beyerdynamic's for! So yes, this is definitely a top choice for the best headphones to use with a guitar amp. You won't get a more realistic sound than with these bad boys, so choose wisely.
There are plenty more choices out there, but these are by far the most recommended by countless musicians like yourself, and who better to get genuine recommendations from than the those actually using them.
As for those of you still thinking "maybe I could get away with getting a cheaper set"... Nope. Bad guitar headphones will only result in lousy audio that will either make your guitar playing sound worse than it actually is. An even more dangerous risk is that it could make it sound better than it actually is, and that's not going to be a sweet surprise when you're finally on stage and hear the real deal.
So make the commitment to a good set of guitar headphones (any from this list will do) that will accurately channel your talent, last you a good few years, and most importantly, avoid any ruckus from the neighbors.
Playing the guitar is not a cheap hobby, and chances are if you are a musician who is striving to “make it” then your budget is mostly composed of life expenses… like food and rent. I always have really appreciated getting guitar gear as a gift whether it is Christmas, my birthday or if people are generous and it is just a surprise gift (I mean who doesn’t like surprise gifts?!)
However, if you do not play guitar and you are shopping for a guitarist or musician I could only imagine you may be asking yourself, “what the heck should I get?” I hope to answer that question for you with this article. I also really enjoyed writing this article since it is basically a list of what I would love to get as a gift!
Like I mentioned above, guitar and music in general is not a cheap hobby. However, there are still gifts out there that guitarists use everyday that are under $50. Some of this stuff would be considered quintessential by every guitarist. I’ll get into what those are now:
Most people should know what a guitar pick is.. well at least I think so! But if you don’t not to worry. It is a piece of plastic (usually) that guitarists use to “pick” their guitar strings instead of using their fingers. Most styles of music use picks, however, some acoustic styles only use fingers or finger picks so make sure to know at least that before buying a bunch of picks!
The great thing about guitar picks is they are probably the cheapest option out there for you to get as a gift. You can find out more about guitar picks by going to our article on guitar picks!
A tuner is another quintessential piece of gear. It is a device that guitar players use to ensure their guitars are in “tune”. What it does is measure the pitch of the string so you know whether you are flat or sharp or right in tune!
There are many different types of tuners out there. Some are small compact electronic devices that are hand held, while other tuners are actually guitar pedals. To understand more about tuners, check out our article on the best guitar tuners!
Guitar strings are going to be the most frequently replaced piece of equipment for a guitar player. This is because they often break over short periods of time or the lose resonance and will need to be replaced. Strings would be a great gift as I often spend a decent amount monthly on getting good strings.
There are different “gauges” of strings, so ask your guitar playing buddy what kind of gauge they use as this can really impact if they will be used or not. Strings should typically be anywhere from $5 to $30 a pack. If I got 10 packs of strings for Christmas I would be one happy dude! Check out our guide to the best guitar strings to get a good start.
As a guitar player I am absolutely crazy about keeping my guitar in the best shape possible. I have about three different cases for each guitar... that may be a bit overkill but I know I am not the only one. You see, there are two distinct types of guitar cases: a hard case and a soft case. Then there are cases that are made out of foam as well that are a bit lighter than traditional hard cases but offer more protection than a soft case. Here are a few cases that would be a solid gift idea:
Above I mentioned getting a cheaper strap if you are looking for something that is on the lighter budget side of things. However, straps can be a really nice addition to your kit since it is what keeps your guitar sturdy on your body while playing. Due to this I never cheap out on a strap and always go for good leather or quality fabric straps.
Pedals could be a solid gift idea too. We have a ton of articles on various types of guitar pedals but if you know your gift receiver well you should know if they have a bunch of pedals or not. If they don't you may want to check out the best reverb pedal options. If you are shopping for a beginner then you will want to pick up a cheaper Donner pedal or just something that is not going to break the bank account.
If you are looking to really spoil your musician peeps then you may want to look into getting one of the two big ticket items below. These are going to run you upwards of $150 but there is no price on making a musician happy right?!?!
This would probably one of the best gifts I could ever think of getting as I need a new amp currently. I would be looking to get a tube amp but you can also get solid state amps that are really solid. A great idea would be to get a practice amp for them. A practice amp is a smaller amp that takes less wattage and can be carried to and from band practice or wherever they go!
However, if you are looking at getting an even bigger amp then I would suggest reading our article on the best guitar amps.
Last but certainly not least would be to go full out and get them a new guitar! This would literally make me jump up and down in an embarrassing fit of pure guitar joy. Guitars are fairly expensive if you are getting a good one. I would suggest taking a look at a Fender Stratocastor, a Gibson Les Paul or really anything one of the great guitar players has used. I will have an article outlining how to pick a guitar soon! Stay tuned!!
Let us guess – you either have a broken string in your hands or have worn out strings that need replacing, right? Choosing a string for your beloved acoustic guitar isn’t an easy task since not all strings are created equal. With the swarm of guitar string manufacturers flooding the market, choosing the best strings for your needs can be a confusing trip to your local music store or online if you are looking for better deals. You can’t just wing it and hope you’re using the best acoustic guitar string for your instrument.
To help you be more informed & make the right decision, we’ve scoured the World Wide Web & our own experience for the best acoustic guitar strings on the market. This is like our article on the best guitar strings, but only for acoustic strings, so we hope you find it useful!
We’ve listed the top 3 guitar strings along with their unique features and benefits that will serve as your ultimate guide in deciding which one will work best according to your playing style, level of experience, and acoustic guitar skills. Let’s do this, kids!
Third on the list is Martin SP’s acoustic guitar string, medium gauge, phosphor bronze. These Martin Studio Performance level acoustic strings are perfect when used during studio sessions and live performances.
A lot of effort has been put into the improvement of these acoustic strings to ensure that the result is something that guitar players from all ranks and skill set will love.
The Martin acoustic strings provide acoustic guitar players with maximum string life. They come with superior, high quality steel cores that cam effortlessly resist breakage much better than average strings in the market.
Martin’s medium gauge strings are not intended for beginners as their heavier weight will be ultimately difficult to fret and will injure a beginner’s un-callused fingers. If you’ve been playing guitars for awhile and already possess awesome callused fingers (well… kind of awesome?) then these strings will definitely fit your preference.
The bronze strings are smooth & with the bronze acoustic finish they allow players to experience the most out of its string life. It also adds to the brightness of the sound produced along with the tonal quality. If you’re into superior sound and tone, these strings are the perfect choice for you.
If you’re all for durability, performance, and sound then the Elixir Acoustic Guitar strings 80/20 Bronze with Nanoweb is the perfect string to dawn on your acoustic guitar. Most professional acoustic guitar players prefer playing with these as the Nanoweb coating provides a brilliant, lively tone coupled with long sting life, which is definitely appealing.
Elixir has been around for a long time and has developed strings that appeal to all guitar players no matter what type of music they’re into. The entire string is protected with a super thin coating that ensures gunk are kept out of the gaps that can be found between the windings.
These strings are less likely to produce finger squeaking sounds that can be noticed in some strings from other manufacturers.
These Elixir strings are guaranteed to last longer so you won’t have to frequently change your acoustic guitar strings. Acoustic guitar players that use Elixir strings swear by the strings’ durability and attest that the tone of these strings are by far the best in the market, whether coated or uncoated.
Elixir strings are plated steel strings that are tested and proven to be rust proof and can resist corrosion so the tone quality of the string is maintained.
Sitting in the most coveted number 1 spot is the D’Addario’s EJ16-10P. It provides guitar players with the perfect balance of projection and volume making it the most popular choice for guitar enthusiasts.
Made of Phosphor Bronze, the strings are resistant to corrosion and the bronze is applied onto a hexagon shaped carbon steel core. This feature allows musicians to play brighter tones with superior intonation.
The EJ16-10P strings are wonderfully comfortable to play and are the most preferred strings by acoustic guitarists because of their bright and well balanced acoustic tone. The best thing about D’Addario’s strings is versatility, which makes it a perfect fit in playing music of all genres.
The entire line of D’Addario’s strings are manufactured in the US, utilizing technologically advanced machinery to ensure high quality strings are made every single time.
Superior performance, flexibility and durability make these strings the perfect choice for acoustic guitar noobs and professionals alike, no matter what type of music genre you’re into. However, these strings can suddenly break, so it comes in a set of 10 strings to ensure that you have a replacement standing by whenever this happens.
A guitar pick is a necessity for most guitar players. It’s small, affordable, yet it hugely affects the tone and technique of the guitarist. Which is why it’s important to pick out the best guitar picks you can get for your style of playing.
While a guitar pick will not dramatically effect your tone like say, plugging in a fuzz pedal, a reverb pedal and a chorus pedal. But it will effect the tone enough for you to be concerned about the type of pick you are using!
Not all picks are created equal and each one has its own musical purpose that will make your music come off different each time. If you’re looking for the type of pick to use during your next jam, we’re here to help you decide the best fit. In this article we’ll discuss the types of guitar picks in the market including the materials they are made of, as well as the shape and thickness of picks and how they influence the sound that is created.
It is no question that guitar picks span far back in guitar history. Some of the earliest picks were made out of some cool materials to say the least. If you are able to find some of these kinds old school picks, consider yourself lucky!
1. Tortoise Shell
These picks are considered old school and not all guitarists have had the pleasure to get the feel of it. The reproduction of these picks were subjected to a ban in the 1970’s so their very hard to find.
According to those who have had the privilege to experience their natural feel, these produce warm tones and could last for years and years due durability. They can also be reshaped easily through filing or sanding.
These picks have small yet strong following due to their unique resonant qualities. They provide easy grip and produce mid to upper range harmonics with little to no effort. Stone picks help players achieve potentially richer sounds as they don't absorb as many harmonics during the initial string attack but these babies can be quite pricey. They are also pretty rare, so you won’t be finding them at your local guitar shop unless it’s a really unique shop.
These picks feel similar to original tortoise shell and also produce a slightly similar tone. These picks are characterized by good attack, well-rounded tone, and generally a nice feel. The material fades with time making it harder to grip or hold on to. Dunlop develops these picks and they are very easy to find.
These picks produce balanced tones with crisp, bright attacks. Their exceedingly typical in today's market despite the fact that celluloid is being produced less and less as the material is highly flammable and decomposes easily.
Ultex picks are the ultimate combination of flexibility and monstrous attack. These picks are lightweight and quite durable. They grant guitar players with the widest dynamic range out of all the picks in the market. Manufactured by Dunlop, they are also easy to find at most guitar shops.
Think, Gene Simmons and Jimmy Page. These picks are a crowd favorite played by legends. Nylon picks come in textured grip formats and produce very bright sounds. These also boast unparalleled flexibility that literally adds some springs when you play.
Metal picks have extremely crisp attacks. These include Bronze, Brass, Copper, and Stainless Steel picks. Brass are fairly soft with good grip and warm tones, Stainless Steel being the most durable, Copper is the softest while bronze picks are thicker and can sound more on the jazzy side.
Jimmy Hendrix was a big fan of metal picks. Dunlop actually makes a pick that is based off what he played with. I’ve had the chance to play with a metal pick and can honestly say I like it. It takes a bit of getting used to but overall is solid!
Made from natural material, these picks produce very warm tones and have a natural feel. Some people make their own wood picks out of African Blackwood, Rosewood, Cocobolo, Cherry, Maple, Mahogany, Zebrawood, Walnut, and more. If you’re not into DIY picks, you can purchase wood picks at most music stores for a fair price.
This is the most uncommon type of pick and material used by guitarists due to their weak attack. In some cases, these picks tend to add a unique feel that can bring focus to lower-range sounds. Bass and ukulele players are the most common people who use these picks.
Most picks come in different triangular shapes – the wider portion allows a firmer grip while the narrow point is used for picking and strumming.
These are the most common shape. The point tends to slide off the string when used for picking, giving a mellow tone.
These picks are easy to hold as there is no right or wrong rim to grip. These picks tend to last longer as you can use each edge interchangeably so it doesn’t wear out quickly.
These tend to be firmer than Standard picks of the same thickness. Players love them for their fast response and bright tone, especially for picking. When strumming, or looking for more mellow tone, simply slide your fingers back slightly and relax your grip.
These picks can be used two ways – as a standard pick, or rotated to use the multi-point edge to create multiple contacts during each strum. Some like the multi-contact tone produced by the multi-point edge. Dunlop manufactures these mainly and I would say they are a bit of a novelty but can be cool.
These guitar picks are quite useful for picking individual strings. Some guitarists use artificial fingernails in place of picks. These are available in various shapes, sizes, materials, and thickness.
A pick’s thickness is also important when choosing one for yourself and you can take a look at the best fit for your playing style and needs here.
Extra Light (under 0.40 mm)
This tends to be floppy and produces audible clicks with each strum that tends to be undesirable for most guitarists. But it can help most acoustic guitarists subtly achieve “even” sounds when strumming. All in all, it is not the most popular thickness, well for me at least.
Light (0.40 mm - 0.63 mm)
This thickness is perfect for acoustic guitars and strummed parts. A lot of pro guitarists love them as they tend to be non-restrictive and produce fluttery sounds.
Medium (0.63 mm - 0.85 mm)
This thickness is the perfect place that beginners can start exploring. It’s great for acoustic guitar picking and strumming, as it’s a mix of control, warmth, and durability.
Heavy (0.85 mm - 1.22 mm)
Heavy picks provide extracontrol and volume to the sound produced by your guitar. They help improve your dynamic range due to the higher picking force to string vibration ratio (the flex of lighter-gauge picks spread out some of the force of your picking, resulting in less volume).
Not all guitarists find them ideal to use as they can feel blocky as well as these can produce dull sounding music compared to medium picks. But others like them because they provide unparalleled control.
Extra Heavy (1.22 mm and above)
This picks go as thick as 2.0 mm. These are great for bass and jazzy music. Their designed to give the ultimate transfer of picking force to volume and provide great precision and control over each note.
These picks might take some guitarist some time to get used to. Once comfort kicks in, these picks can greatly improve the kind of music that comes off those strings.
So there you have it, a crash course in guitar picks. As mentioned they are not the most interesting part of your gear bag but they are sure an important part of it. All and all they are a necessity for most guitarists and provide some interesting tones depending on the type of pick you use!
Guitar cables are by no means just an accessory. Cables are an integral part of your guitar’s signal path and can affect the quality of the signal. While the guitar cable isn’t among the most dissected, discussed and often criticized components of guitar rigs, it is an essential part. In this review, we look at some options for the best guitar cable in 2016.
We’ve tested an extensive list of models to come up with the cables below. We’ve also taken expert reviews and reviews from other “every day” users into consideration to get a well rounded picture of the best patch cables around today. Below, we present the results of our research and we’re hopeful that these reviews will guide you towards the perfect guitar cable for you.
Sometimes, you’ll get lucky with a product that isn’t expensive but ends up being extremely useful and reliable. The GLS Audio TS-TS cable is a cable that falls into this category. It delivers a classy look and provides a high-quality sound at an undeniably affordable price. As far as sound quality is concerned, this cable is pretty solid for a cheaper cable, but not as good as some of the other ones below.
However, it should be mentioned that it is quite silent when compared to similar models at the same price point. The tone comes through the cable without any degradation. It’s a good option for clean guitar tones, jazz, and rock and roll.
GLS Audio employs three strategies to strengthen the build and add stress relief. These include rubber tuning, metal clamping, and heat shrinking. The conductive PVC and insulator shield protect the signal from any external electrical interference.
The only downside this model has is that you get only one length option: 20 feet. But, this length is more than enough to help cover the stage in almost all live situations. The jacks are straight tipped and GLS Audio makes up for it by availing several different colors. This cable simply offers extraordinary value at an incredibly affordable price.
Weight (Pounds): 0.75
Dimensions (Inches): 9 x 8 x 2.2
Brand: GLS Audio
Although KIRLIN isn’t a major name brand, the California-based company has been attracting lots of attention. We’d attribute that to the top-quality cables they’re currently manufacturing. The IWS-201BSG-10 is one of the cables that have made this brand widely popular.
Their emphasis here is on the cable’s technical side. While KIRLIN is somewhat secretive when it comes to the proprietary technologies, these guys surely know what they’re doing. This cable sounds pretty fantastic. A combination of state-of-the-art design and production results in a beautiful and crisp sounding cable. There isn’t any imbalance in the attenuated frequencies. You can thus rely on this cable to provide a flat response all across the frequency spectrum.
You can make use of this cable for all music genres, as it doesn’t color the sound. Jazz and acoustic players will certainly enjoy the sound clarity offered by this cable. This premium cable comes in a rugged, tweed jacket with heavy-duty connectors. It utilizes a 20-AWG-gauge wire that lends to the cable’s durability.
KIRLIN offers this cable in different length options which are 10, 20, and 30 feet. Despite the high-performance level, this cable is reasonably priced and extremely affordable. Such features place this KIRLIN cable at the top of the heap. A limited lifetime warranty guarantees you of long-term service and top notch performance.
Weight (Pounds): 11.2
Dimensions (Inches): 9 x 1.3 x 7.8
Brand: KIRLIN, KIRLIN CABLE
You’re assured of less noise when unplugging from an amp, thanks to this oval cable’s silent connectors. You’ll be able to switch instruments without turning down the volume and running to the amp. The silent plug is a special 2-pole plug version that boasts an integrated switch. This switch will automatically mute the guitar cable. You’ll easily avoid annoying squeals and pops when swapping guitars. The cable itself, connectors, packaging, and design are all done in the USA so you know the build quality will be there.
The spring-loaded ground sleeve is part of a unique design, which makes a more reliable switching plug. This cable has been verified to be ROHS-compliant. It sounds as superb as it feels. This oval cable comprises 20 gauge conductors. A conductor sheath is included to eliminate microphonics. We consider this cable as among the best flex-and-feel instrument cables available on the market today.
Weight (Pounds): 1.8
Gauge Conductors: 20
Brand: Analysis Plus
Monster designs this cable to deliver the warmth and harmonics. It’ll help sustain an acoustic with clarity and precision. Magnetic fields found in ordinary cables tend to cause phase and frequency distortions. But, the Monster Acoustic Instrument Cable features 3-way Time Correct windings. These windings will reject interference, thus protecting your transient attack, critical overtones, and full output.
The multiple gauges (low- and high-frequency wire networks) are included to allow for accurate and natural sound reproduction. The 95% coverage copper-braided shield will reject EMI and RFI for increased resolution and a lower noise floor. The Microfiber dielectric will provide for greater clarity and even faster transients. Monster incorporates the IsoTec vibration technology that further reduces any handling noise.
Another fantastic feature is the extra-flexible Duraflex outer jacket that allows for superior cut resistance and reliability. The striking natural wood-grain connector design helps compliment the natural look of acoustic guitars. Simply put, the Monster Acoustic Cable is exceptional.
Weight (Pounds): 5
Dimensions (Inches): 1 x 1 x1
All guitar cables by Orange Amplifiers are made using extremely excellent components, including high-grade copper. This 1/4 Inch Cable is constructed out of oxygen-free copper. That ensures for optimal clarity and articulation. The dense braided shield acts to reduce noise and electromagnetic interference.
Orange Amplifiers keep this cables’ onstage tangling to the minimum. They achieve that by using a specially designed nylon woven sleeve, that’s also armor-plated. The Neutrik connectors ensure high quality, reliability, and durability. You’ll love the fact that this cable comes backed by a lifetime warranty. That alone assures you that this cable is durable and reliable.
Weight (Pounds): 2.2
Dimensions: .4 x .4 x .4
Brand: Orange Amplifiers
Since there are so many options are at your disposal you can quickly get overwhelmed when looking for a 0.25-inch instrument cable. Whether you like them uncolored and flat, or with large accumulated capacitance, keep your ears open. You’re bound to find one that fits your playing style, sound, and budget.
We don’t think you will go wrong with the cables we’ve featured in this guide. They’ll open up more tonal range from your amp and give you more depth to work with. They’ll help you sustain your notes better. A nice cable will make a difference.
Also, you may be interested in checking out the following guitar pedal reviews:
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.
Type Of String
Nickel Wound Steel
Nickel Wound Steel
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.)
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!
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:
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 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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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 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 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.
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.
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!