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I just bought a Fender Squire (electric guitar) I believe it has nylon strings on it now, which obviously isn't what I want. I went to buy some strings and there were so many choices, My friend has JUST got some Ernie Ball heavy bottom skinny top, he says they're supposed to be close the the best. My neighbor says to get some Ernie Ball cobalt slinky (green package) (regular I believe) (he says they are really good and will work best with the magnets in my pickups and will have no hum. I don't hav much hum right now anyways though.

My goal: Get some strings that will get me the best distortion sound. I am a beginner, So i'd like help finding the best for tone, but also maybe a suggestion that is still really good for tone but a little easier on my fingers, please give me both suggestions.

cobalt $10 heavy/skinny $5

I will pay more money, that's not a concern. NOTE: I am NOT using the stock 10 watt amp. My amp can handle distortion with the pedal I'm using.

EDIT 3/19/14 9PM PST: As I clearly said in my note above, MY STUFF CAN HANDLE DISTORTION. My guitar as it is sounds great with distortion, I'm just looking to optimize it, get the best growly distortion out of it. It needs new strings anyways.

NOTE: I understand that amp and pickup play a HUGE role in the tone. And I understand this guy has extremely expensive gear, but maybe it will give you an idea what I like: youtu.be/kwxbihuTZPY?t=28s The distortion starts at 1:00 But I like the high notes (with his flanger or whatever it is). It is very clear he has expensive gear, and is using effects.

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If there are nylon strings on your electric guitar, something is very, very wrong. –  Meaningful Username Mar 19 at 7:52
Just wondering if your friend also buys Monster HDMI cables and silicon-filled 4-gauge speaker cables :-). –  Carl Witthoft Mar 19 at 12:40
Carl, I can tell that was a sarcastic question because that is extremely expensive, and you wouldn't need that unless you're playing for a large audience, or maybe recording. –  GeekyDewd Mar 19 at 17:37
More like, you don't need such cables ever, at all, unless perhaps to impress the administrator... –  leftaroundabout Mar 19 at 21:05
The benefit of the skinny top heavy bottom string sets is that they will give you a "chunky" bass, which is typically desired for heavy metal, but not be too cumbersome when trying to solo on the high strings, due to the easier action of light gauge strings. Heavy strings have a stronger bass response, lighter strings are easier to play on. It's a tradeoff. –  Tim Seguine Mar 20 at 12:23

8 Answers 8

There is a lot of snake oil involved when it comes to guitar strings. I would say there are no special string technology that make a remarkable difference in sound, no matter what the manufacturers are claiming.

I would recommend to first figure out what gauge you like, using a well known brand like D'Addario or Ernie Ball. Use their "normal" sets (nickel wound), you probably don't want e.g. flatwounds. They will sound good enough. Experiment with different gauges. Then when you found a gauge you like you can try the "magic" variants...

Another note is: what pickup type is your guitar equipped with? Fender usually have single coils, in that case you might not get the distorted sounds you are looking for.

String technology comes late in the chain of importance for the sound. Pickup type and amplifier are orders of magnitude more important. Decreasing the gain goes a long way in many cases.

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So basically, it would be a waste of my money for me (as a beginner) to be buying the more expensive strings? I get good distortion with my amp/pedal, I had my neighbor play it with his guitar before I got the squire. I had a cheap harmony that went out of tune super fast and sounded like crap, and I got the squire today. –  GeekyDewd Mar 19 at 8:07
I would say so. –  Meaningful Username Mar 19 at 8:27
Well, I'd have to say you don't know what you're talking about then. –  GeekyDewd Mar 21 at 22:43
@GeekyDewd: Is the issue that you are not getting the sounds out of your amp with your guitar that rad neighbor dude with the cobalt strings got? If you're not satisfied with the sound you got now, different strings than vanilla Ernie Balls/D'Addarios will not make a huge difference. But good luck in the string jungle... –  Meaningful Username Mar 21 at 22:53
Geeky - the strings are almost irrelevant, and as a beginner entirely irrelevant to you. Some metal players use thick strings, some use thin strings. Meaningful is correct here - and you started with the rudeness. Try being polite and listening to people who are trying to help you. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 21 at 23:04

As Meaningful says, there is no "best"

  • Some have longer resistance to rusting
  • Some are tougher and less likely to snap (but may be more likely to wear your frets down)
  • Some hold their tone longer

Just get a common name set of strings and use them. If you want heavy distortion sounds, you should focus on the distortion pedal you want. Along with a good pre-amp, you can get a really heavy sound.

I have been gigging for 26 years or thereabouts and basically use Ernie Balls, D'Addarios and Elixirs. I have tried various others (most notably some fluorescent orange strings - but they were terrible) and none offer anything noticeably different. I do use a fair amount of technology around the distortion and amplification of my sound though (links in my profile if you want to hear)

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+1 for "fluorescent orange strings - but they were terrible." Hahaha. –  steve verrill Mar 19 at 21:39
Nobody is going to suggest something that is better for metal, rather than clean... I mean come on!!! I think my question was pretty clear! –  GeekyDewd Mar 21 at 22:44

From an engineering point of view, if you are going for heavy distortion, I'd lean towards a lighter gauge. They will have less disharmonicity (overtones that are somewhat off-pitch) and since distortion adds a number of frequency differences to the results, disharmonicity in combination with distortion washes out the pitches.

It's not plausible that an electric guitar is equipped with nylon strings.

As a beginner, you should make it a habit to practice without distortion most of the time. Distortion masks a lot of mistakes and uncleanliness, but that does not mean that the audience, not distracted by having to play themselves, will not notice.

Of course you need to recheck your results with distortion as well, particularly when improvising: since distortion adds a lot of non-fundamental harmonics, one usually needs to work with significantly simpler chords and harmonies in order not to end up with total mud.

Personally I think that the guitar builders are making a mistake by not offering ganged pickups and pedals (just think of the equipment they could sell!): if you'd pick up every string separately and route it through a separate distortion channel (possibly with a separate control for determining some amount of bleedover between channels), then you could use distortion on more complex chords/harmonies, basically similar to what you get if you play "distorted guitar" samples through a keyboard rather than putting a single distortion pedal on "undistorted guitar" keyboard play.

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You can get guitars with every string on a separate channel, but you pay through the nose for it, which is why it doesn't happen more :-) –  Dr Mayhem Mar 20 at 11:03
Sure, but it's pointless if you don't get matching pedals that do the same operation on six channels in parallel. If I have six separate volumes and distortion depths to handle, this is useless, particularly so in a live setting. I think the manufacturers are selling the separate channels mainly for the idea of doing different things with the separate channels. But the real benefit with distortion would be doing the same thing to the separate channels without getting "intermodulation" distortion drowning out everything else. –  User8773 Mar 20 at 12:51
If you were going to do it, you would buy either six pedals or run a rack module application to do this. It is straightforward, but as I mentioned, it is expensive. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 20 at 13:12
Good point with not always playing with distortion turned on. Took me a few years to realize how crappy I was playing... Whenever I have trouble with a riff I turn off the distortion, slow down, and see how well I can actually play the riff. –  Jasper Mar 22 at 0:47
Good thinking about the inharmonicity part – but actually the argument doesn't quite work out, because thinner bass strings would need to be driven to higher amplitudes where the oscillation becomes nonlinear, giving you effectively more inharmonicity (and even the fundamental doesn't stay consistent). With fat strings you can keep the amplitude low and still have plenty of output, also you can (palm mute etc.) better concentrate the energy into a few lower harmonics, where inharmonicity doesn't come very much into effect yet. Most harmonics you hear in the end are from distortion itself. –  leftaroundabout Aug 25 at 11:32

I have played .012+ on my electric. My #1 guitar now has .008s. I'm happy with this, but that's me.

My suggestion to all new guitarists is medium. On acoustic, that's about .012s and on electric, .010. (Guitar strings are usually judged by the gauge of the lightest string.)

There are people who rep for heavier gauge strings, saying they sound better and stay in tune better. That's fine, but the higher tension can tend to hurt your fingers, especially if you haven't worked out how hard to fret the notes.

There are people who rep for lighter gauge strings, saying they bend easier and don't hurt your fingertips. That's fine, but the lower tension can tend to cause you to bend when you don't intend to, making you sound out of tune, especially if you haven't worked out how hard to fret the notes.

You might end up loving bridge cables. You might like angel-hair strings. I don't know what you'll grow to love, but I say buy mediums until you can explain why you want to go higher or lower.

I'd also suggest that, as a beginner guitarist, you likely have no idea what "tone" means in terms of guitar strings. It's such a heavily-overloaded term that I don't think any two guitarists use it to mean the same thing. Could be bass/treble, brightness, sustain, signal or something else. Use mediums from a reputable brand, and stay with that type of string (not necessarily that set, they do wear out) until you can explain what you're looking for and not hearing.

Your strings have nothing to do with hum. Your pickups, your guitar's shielding, the quality of your cables, pedals and amp all have something to do with hum.

Ernie Ball Slinkys are perfectly good. There are brands some like better, and that's fine, but many of the best guitarists out there play Slinkys, and even if they're getting them free, if they didn't sound good, those guitarists would go to other brands. If you find your body chemistry makes your strings go dull quickly, try coated strings. There's only one string maker whose products I would suggest you avoid, and to be honest, they were violin strings, which are played differently than guitar strings.

To repeat and summarize: stick with .010s from a reputable brand until you know why you want to change.

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I very much like your answer, and will likely pick yous. But I hope to get a more specific answer (if possible) by being more clear. Firstly, I understand that the majority of tone depends on the guitar and amp (and any pedals in between). But I am also trying to get an optimal heavy distortion sound. Here is what I want (again I understand this guy has extremely high end pickups, etc) youtu.be/kwxbihuTZPY?t=28s The distortion starts at 1:00 But I like the high notes (with his flanger or whatever it is). It is very clear he has expensive gear, and is using effects. –  GeekyDewd Mar 20 at 3:27
MORE: I get good distortion, but the strings are old and need to be replaced anyways. I really like the chugging (palm muting) in that song. –  GeekyDewd Mar 20 at 3:29
Heavier strings can be tuned down a step without getting too floppy. Sometimes the lower pitch helps that "heavy" distortion sound. –  markrages Mar 20 at 20:54
Yeah, that is a reason. –  VarLogRant Mar 20 at 20:55
@markrages I recently found strings specifically for tuning low. I like to play mostly in drop-b but also drop-a and they're really great for not having that bending-all-over-the-place sloppiness you get when you take your light gauge strings down to drop-a. The only strings like this I've found have all been heavy gauge. –  Jasper Mar 22 at 0:53

If your strings are indeed nylon, you'll get very little sound through the amp., let alone distortion. There is no noticeable hum with single coil pups on Fender/Squier Strats. To get the sort of sound you are after,this probably isn't the guitar you need.One with humbuckers will give a fatter sound. Yes, use a distortion pedal, but the sound will be better with , say, a Les Paul type guitar.

The strings will make only a little difference to your sound, it's far more important to find strings that suit you - and your guitar.Some like really heavy and some hate them. Me included ! If you're riffing a lot, heavy bottoms may help a little, but come to soloing, and you may well need lighter gauge , especially on the top 3 or 4.

If you're trying to play full chords with lots of distortion, you will realise that actually it sounds not that good. Overdrive accentuates the harmonics of each string played, and on full chords, they clash with each other to make an awful sound.

Get used to the guitar, try different gauge strings for a month at a time, and when you find some you like, then start to look at the sound with a more experienced eye.By then, you may be considering that the present guitar isn't what you needed anyway. Buy a different one, and start all over again. When you have a good valve amp that can be overdriven, or even a half decent tranny amp, you'll get good sounds without using the pedal, although using it as well will give you lots of differing distortion.

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To actually answer your question, which is "Best strings for heavy metal (I love distortion)?", most metal bands use higher gauge strings across all the brands, i.e. .10 gauge and above, its not so much about the brand.

Hybrid gauges are also popular. This is where the "lower strings" (tone wise, E, A, D), are thicker than they would usually be for a matching set.

See how Alexi uses a set with .10 on the high e, but .56 on the low e compared to Synyster Gates: http://www.uberproaudio.com/who-plays-what/210-children-of-bodom-alexi-laihos-guitar-gear-rig-and-equipment - Alexi now has his own Signature DR electric strings with his picture on the box, 10-56 gauge.

http://www.uberproaudio.com/who-plays-what/188-avenged-sevenfold-synyster-gates-guitar-gear-rig-and-equipment - Ernie Ball strings, gauged .010-.052. ('skinny top, heavy bottom' strings)

Alexi is using a hybrid gauge, meant to give more weight to the heavy riffing on the E,A,D strings.

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DR strings are hands down the best strings for metal. Several different types of DR's, but they are all great. Strings actually do make a fairly big difference in sound, and playability.

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Just go with a standard set. You will not be able to hear the difference with too much distortion I believe. Just pick a standard set of .009 to .042 since that is easy to handle... It's all about personal preferences. Don't pick strings because they should sound better. Pick them because you personally think they sound better and most importantly, they feel right! The feeling is the number 1 concern in my humble opinion. If you can't bend a .010 string, but you want fat sound and therefore you pick a standard .011 set, that's completely wrong...

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