What electric guitar strings are best for beginners?

Electric guitar strings on instrument, closeup

When most of us get our first electric guitars we just use the strings that are on it. But are they the right strings for a beginner? It’s not very likely. If you bought your first electric guitar used or it’s a hand-me-down, you’ve got the strings that the previous owner likely preferred. If you bought it new, it’s likely it came with a good general set of strings that aren’t necessarily best for the beginner.

Beginner electric guitar players should almost always use light or extra-light gauge strings. Until they have built up calluses on their fingertips, these strings will allow players to develop proper technique with less effort and less discomfort. 

By the time new electric guitar players are ready for their first string change, they’ll have had a chance to develop these much needed calluses, allowing them to play thicker strings with different tonal properties. The tonal properties of an electric guitar’s strings are less important than acoustic guitar strings though, since electric guitars use amplifiers to generate a significant amount of their tone.

We’ll discuss which guitar string gauge would be right for you and which brands we recommend below.

So what electric guitar strings are best for a beginner?

Just as with everything in our universe, every Yin has its Yang. When it comes to electric guitar strings you have to decide what disadvantages are acceptable for the benefit you are trying to achieve. Think about prescription drugs. Is the list of potential side effects worth the advantages the drug offers?

Electric guitar strings are no different. The benefit of thinner strings is that they require less pressure to fret and bend and are easier on your fingertips. However, they are also very bright, break more easily, and don’t last as long. Conversely, thicker strings have a warmer tone (there is a point of diminishing returns, of course) but are harder to play. As you increase string gauge (the thickness of the string) your tone gets more complex but you lose playability. A good way to demonstrate this is to tune both your high E and B strings to a D and listen closely to the differences in their tone.

Since this article is about what electric guitar strings are best for beginners we will focus on extra-light to medium gauge strings. Beginners should be focused on learning proper technique before being overly concerned with tone. As you develop your technique and playing style you will get a better idea of what type of sound you want to achieve and what strings are best for achieving that tone. Electric guitar strings have different materials, winds and coatings that create various ranges of tones and playability.

Electric guitar string brands have a variety of names that they use to describe their light gauge strings. There are names like Super Slinky, Ultra-Light, Super-Light, and even Extra-Super-Light. Whereas Fender calls .009-.042 “light”, D’addario calls it “extra-light” So for the sake of simplicity I will lump light gauge strings into categories of extra-light, light and hybrid.

Extra-light Gauge (.007 – .008) Strings

Dunlop Extra Light electric guitar stringsExtra-light gauge electric guitar strings start at as small as 0.007 inches for the high e string down to as little 0.038 inches and up to .042 inches for the low E string. The smallest strings are about the thickness of a horse’s tail hair and are very easy on the fingertips. These strings are not meant to sound particularly great or last long. They are meant to be easy to play. They take very little finger pressure to play allowing you to play for longer without experiencing pain in your fingertips and they bend like a wet noodle. But, they are very bright and tinny, have all the warmth of an Antarctic flag pole, and will break pretty easily if you bend too far or strum too hard.

One of the benefits of an electric guitar is that you can, for the most part, dial in the tone you want which can compensate for a great deal of the deficiencies in string tones. There are of course limits to this, especially if you are going for a “clean” tone.

There are not many brands that make a 0.007 inch string so your choices here are pretty limited. Dunlop makes a very good Billy Gibbons signature set and it is reasonably priced.

Light Gauge (.009 – .010) Strings

Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Electric guitar stringsLight gauge electric guitar strings are typically the most popular sizes and run from .009 inches at the high e string down to between .042 and .046 inches for the low E string. These are the most popular size strings because they have a balanced tone, still play easily, and are more durable than the extra-light gauges.  You will also gain some bottom end as you move up to the heavier gauge low strings.

Light gauge strings will require a bit more finger strength than extra-light strings and will be a bit harder on your finger tips. If you’ve been playing long enough that it’s time for a new set of strings you should have developed the necessary strength and calluses to move up to this size string without any issues.

I put 0.009 inch strings on all the electric guitars I work on unless otherwise specified by the owner. I recommend Ernie Ball Extra Slinky because they are a good mix of price, tone and durability. Basically, they are an all around good set of strings.

Hybrid Strings

Ernie Ball hybrid slinky guitar stringsIf you are considering a hybrid set of strings it is likely that you have moved beyond the “beginner” moniker. Hybrid electric guitar string sets have a combination of gauges from extra-light and light gauge sets. A typical hybrid set of electric guitar strings will contain the larger gauge low strings of a light gauge set combined with the lighter gauge high strings of an extra-light gauge set.

A hybrid set of strings gives a player some flexibility between a beefier low end and the ability to easily fret and bend strings while soloing on the higher strings.

A hybrid set of strings gives a player some flexibility between a beefier low end and the ability to easily fret and bend strings while soloing on the higher strings. Because hybrid sets can have a very wide variety of gauges I don’t have a particular set that I can recommend. If a customer wants a hybrid set they always know exactly what brand and type they prefer and will let me know. With that being said, Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinky has great reviews on Amazon if you want to look into those.

What electric guitar strings last the longest?

Typically, the greater the string gauge the more durable the string. However, your playing style and lifestyle also are key to the durability of the strings.

When it comes to playing style if you do a lot of bending, play with a heavy pick, or play a style that requires a heavy hand, your strings are not going to last as long as if you are a finger picker. It may be harder to bend a heavier gauge string but it is also going to stand up to that bending better.

Your lifestyle will also affect your stings. Do you live in a humid environment? Have pets? Smoke or vape? How often do you wash your hands? These factors all shorten the lifespan of a set of strings. The debris from our bodies, pets and other habits gets ground into the string windings and as it builds up it slowly affects their tone. You can improve this by washing your hands before playing and by wiping down your strings before and after playing.

What kind of electric guitar strings did Dimebag Darrell play?

Dimebag with guitarIt depended on the song. He used different gauges for different tunings but ultimately he was endorsed by DR. Dimebag has a signature set of strings that are manufactured by DR and are essentially a hybrid set that run from a .009 inches for the high e to .050 for the low E. These are pretty unusual gauges for a hybrid set and would be best for alternate tunings like drop D.

However, you can find these “Hi-Voltage” electric guitar strings on Amazon, or your local Walmart.

What kind of electric guitar strings did Prince play?

Prince playing guitarThe artist known as Prince, then formerly known as Prince, then known again as Prince, was an extremely gifted musician and one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century. He knew exactly what tone he was trying to achieve on any given portion of a song. Therefore there is not a simple answer to this question. He had several guitars and he put different strings on them depending on the tone that he was trying to achieve.

In my personal opinion, that is the type of musician that one should want to emulate. One who is not constrained to tones based on a set of strings but instead one who can evolve and experiment with a drive to break new ground.

In Conclusion

Ultimately you should be buying the electric guitar strings that best meet your needs as a beginning guitar player. Extra-light or light gauge strings are going to give you the best opportunity to learn and develop. If after a few months you have grown enough as a player to determine that those strings are no longer meeting your needs then that is great news! Congratulations! It’s time to change your strings anyway and now you can start to experiment with different brands and materials.

A new set of electric guitar strings can be as cheap as $3 so don’t be afraid to experiment. Further, you can always go to your local music store (they’d love to see you) and sample some floor guitars with different strings to help you decide what best fits your needs.

If you have other questions about taking care of your guitar, make sure to check out our other guitar articles.

Andy Query

After years of doing repairs for friends and family as a side hustle I started Ibex Custom Guitars and repair out of my shop in Garden City, Idaho. Along with repairs I build custom electric and acoustic guitars, ukuleles, and cajóns. I apprenticed for five years under Master Luthier John Bolin of Bolin guitars where we built custom guitars for some of the biggest names in rock & roll, including ZZ Top, Steve Miller, and Joe Perry to name a few.

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