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The Best Guitar Strings For Metal – Get The Best Sound

dave mustaine young

The 6 Second Summary:

The best guitar strings for your metal playing are the ones which have the proper gauge for your tuning, musical ideas, and treble vs. bass desires.

For example, if you plan to use drop tunings, and mostly play rhythm guitar, you may lean towards heavier-gauged strings. Though, if you’ll stay in the standard tuning realm, and spend evenings honing your shredding skills, then you may want a lighter gauge so that you’re not wrestling with your strings each time you play a run.

A Quick Start-Guide to Buying Strings for Metal

You’ll want to ask yourself 3 questions when looking around for the best strings for metal, specific to your needs. Firstly, would you like those obscene, chicken-strangling bends, or more of a deep, thick sound? Secondly, do you plan on playing in any drop tunings? And thirdly, would you like a brighter tone, or a darker tone? Each of those questions will help you determine which set is best for you.

To Over-Bend or Not To Over-Bend?

By choosing a lighter gauge of strings, you’ll be able to much more easily bend multiple steps, capping off a brilliant legato run, as opposed to using a heavier gauge. Know that a light gauge would probably be a set of strings which starts with a 0.09″ string. On the other hand, one of the problems with using strings that are quite light is that you might accidentally bend notes, it almost feels like there’s no resistance to “push back on”, and – at times – it can promote over-playing, in a weird mental way.

With all that being said, the greater facility which lighter gauges present to you, easier bending, less finger strain, and so on, makes lighter gauges favoured by many guitarists. In case you’d like to tap into those pros, then consider trying a lighter gauge string.

Will You Use Drop Tunings?

In case you use drop tunings, you’ll more likely want to explore buying thicker-gauged strings. This is because, with the bass strings loosened to reach those deeper pitches, a heavier gauge will keep the string taut, while lighter gauges might feel too “flaccid” to properly play.

Usually, for Drop D tunings, a set of 0.010s or thicker will be fine, though, for deeper drop tunings, you may want to consider thicker gauges, or there are special (though usually a bit pricier) packs of strings, made specifically for drop tunings, that have normal gauged treble strings, coupled with thicker bass strings.

Do You Seek a Brighter or Darker Sound?

For a brighter sound, you may want to lean more towards steel, titanium, or cobalt strings, all of which are known for their dynamics in the treble ranges. For darker sounds, you can try materials like chrome (which is actually quite popular among jazz players as well, as they’re less shrill), and pure nickel. Though, for more of an “in-between” sound, nickel-plated steel (which is like a hybrid between nickel and steel), and polymer-coated strings can do the job for you.

When it comes to strings, the best you can do to discover which material matches your desired “equalizer” settings is to block out a 3 month period, purchase several different materials of strings, and test out which ones match what you’d like to hear. As a caveat, also remember that lots of the tonal brightness or warmth will come – most importantly, straight from your fingers (for example, how you vary the location where you pick, nearer or farther from the bridge), your pickup settings, and amp settings, so don’t worry – just because you buy steel strings, it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t get a warm sound.

Also, How Often Should You Change Your Strings?

If you ask around among the local professionals in your city, you’ll often hear that they’ll change their strings as frequently as every two to four weeks. To some, this can be a surprising answer; it’s kind of like how Tiger Woods get a new set of wedges for every weekly tournament because he wears out the grooves.

Should you change strings as frequently as the pros? The answer is specific to you. If you sweat a lot, pick your strings aggressively, play very frequently, and play in smoky environments, then you probably want to change strings more often. On the other hand, if you’re going through a period where you’re not playing very much, then you can leave your strings on for quite some time.

Recommendations for Metal Guitar Strings

If you’re looking for string suggestions based on what many amateur and professional metal players use, then feel free to see the guide below. As a disclaimer, know that most (if not all) of your sound comes from your hands, and probably the most important factor to consider when it comes to strings is mainly string gauges. However, it’s still worth taking into account the other factors, and we’ve tried to do that below. Hopefully this helps you get started in beefing up your metal setup!

#1. Rotosound’s Pure Nickel

Rotosound tends to get overlooked.  Unless you already know about the brand, you aren’t likely to run across them when shopping online. They are more expensive than most strings and super easy to overlook.

However, Rotosounds has one of the largest pedigrees of any company.  A British company, they have been used by some of the biggest names in music, including the likes of Michael Paget (Bullet For My Valentine) and Cliff Burton (Metallica).

While they make strings for every genre, I really love their Pure Nickel 10 and 11’s. Heavy enough for any tuning, the pure nickel tone delivers that incredible, rich sound.

Not to mention, it really seems as though their products are better designed than most and you’ll typically find yourself playing them an extra month or two longer than you would have with most of the competition.

As I said, they don’t have a lot of hype and you really have to dig to find any marketing on them. But they have that vintage sound, are a pleasure to play, and offer that unique sound that very few of the other local guys will be playing.

But if you are looking for a brand that is more worried about sound than they are market share, these are the guys to go with. Go with the Silvers with their hex core and nickel windings.

produt image rotosound pure nickel

#2. Elixir Optiweb Nickel Plated Steel

These strings are coated in Elixir’s nanoweb coating. Traditionally, string makers would simply spray their steel strings with Teflon coating (or a similar variant). These coatings protect the strings from your finger oils and prevent rusting, extending the life of your strings.

The downside with coated strings is that they feel very slick. This slippery texture is a little weird to play with.

By going with a nanoparticle coating, Elixir is able to still coat their strings but without that slippery feeling, we hate with normal-coated strings. They feel very normal and play well. Their warm, vibrant tones give you plenty of power for running it through a distortion pedal.

The huge upside is that these hold up well to daily playing. Most guitar players who use them for daily practice find that they can get about 3 months out of this set of strings. Folks who play less frequently will take these to 6 or 8 months of use. It’s about twice as long as most other strings, and they don’t have that nasty black look when it comes time to change them.

These strings are perfect for Drop A  and Drop D tuning. You can probably get them down to about a C#, if you wanted to be that aggressive. they are often compared to the NYXL strings which is one of my favorites.

It’s the perfect blend of longevity and playability and is a brand trusted by artists like John Paul Jones and Wayne Sermon.

elixir optiweb

#3. Dunlop Heavy Core

A lot of the strings on this list are catered to be the best metal guitar strings.  Especially the first three on my list. They want to deliver excellent tone, a unique sound, and phenomenal playing experience.

The Dunlop goes a little further into developing a better sound.

These steel strings are wrapped in their unique nickel wound wrap ratios, designed to control the amount of nickel material used against the steel core interior. This guarantees that you get a different tone than the other strings on this list. This set is part of their performance + series and delivers a concert-level performance.

The most noticeable difference with these strings is the clarity they deliver. They offer better attack and a clear tone while still retaining plenty of fatness. You’ll need to tweak your EQ and Preamp a little bit as they are a better different tone from the competition.

It’s one of the few strings on this list where you can hear the difference.

#4. D’Addario NYXL

I struggle with the NYXL series being this far down on the list. They are made with carbon steel that is designed to withstand the stress of playing while still keeping them in tune. In fact, one of the chief sales points is that this string stays in tune 131% longer.  (Or is that 31% longer? I get confused about marketing jargon.)

Regardless, you notice in real-life that you are spending less time fiddling with the tuners. If you are jamming hard and frustrated with other strings constantly losing their tone quality as you practice than this would be a good set to consider.

We reviewed this set when looking for the best strings for an electric guitar. Those were the light gauge strings that are ideal for rock and jazz. What we noticed is that they seemed to hold their tension better, while still being bendable.

If you need thicker strings for drop tuning, they offer a 12-54 set that is absolutely perfect, and an extra-heavy 12-60 set if you are looking to go down to Drop C. Because these strings are known for their stiffness, I’d only go for the larger string gauge if you know you are going with the low tunings.

The other attribute that makes this string a favorite is that they tend to last longer. Sure, you pay slightly more, but once you average it out over time, it works out to be very similarly priced.

product image daddario nyxl 1254 strings

#5. Ernie Ball Skinny Top and Beefy Bottom

The nice thing about Ernie Ball strings is how affordable they are, and how much customization they offer.

Want a heavy setup? They have you covered, offering the beefy slinky’s in an 11-54. These are designed to be drop-tuned without adding to much slop to your playing and to keep the feel of the action close to a normal configuration.

Want a light/heavy combination? They got that for you, too, and their skinny top heavy bottom is one of my favorites — especially if you do a lot of soloing for your metal band.

Not only do they make some high-quality strings, but they are some of the most affordable.  So you can pay for like 3 packs of these before paying for one pack of the Rotosound’s.

This makes them ideal for playing around with different weights.  Find something you like in the Ball’s and then upgrade to the Elixir, D’addario or Rotosounds. Dialed in, for a fraction of the cost.

Additionally, they have a huge following as practice strings.

And there are those who swear by them as their daily gigging string. Slash likes them since their stainless steel string construction tends to last longer than most other non-coated brands. I think there are a lot of great brands on this list, and unfortunately, that is pushing some of the classic standards a little lower.

If you are drop tuning, go for the Beefy Slinky’s to get the power chords you are looking for. Otherwise, I think you’ll like the Heavy Bottoms that give you a light top string for soloing with heftier low-end notes for that driving rhythm.

ernie ball skinny top and beefy bottom

#6. D’Addario EXL 148

These guys know how to focus on what matters.  As manufacturers of strings not only for guitars but also for violins, cellos and other instruments, they have a huge reputation to uphold. This is the brand that folks use when they want to improve their sound or have a professional gig.

And uphold it they do.

With D’Addario, you are getting a quality string that will last and will sound great.  The nickel plating is sufficiently high enough for the string to sound great with any pickup, and these strings are known for having some of the lowest “buzz” and ghost noises.

They didn’t use to advertise a “heavy metal” string. However, in the last couple of years they have created a 12-60 set, giving you a string that you can easily tune down to a Drop C. I feel like the 148 is a little heavy for a Drop A tuning as the strings would be a little loose for most folks.

I know a lot of folks overlook these because, once again, they don’t have as much branding among practitioners of the darker arts.  However, they are sort have an underground favorite in many forums.

If you want my advice, try the EXL 148’s for drop tuning. They are too stiff to play in a standard tune .  They seem to offer the best blend for creating that overdrive sound without requiring you to have the forearms of Hulk Hogan to play ’em.

These are excellent, soft-nickel strings that won’t chew up your fretboard even though they are the heaviest gauge strings on the review list. I would wipe them down after practicing to try to extend their life as much as possible.

product image daddario exl 148 extra heavy

Conclusion:

You can make adjustments that will help your overall sound, but without a set of strings you’re comfortable with, and have the proper gauge you need, it poses a small obstacle towards focusing on your music.

Fortunately, string sets are very affordable for your choice of instrument, as opposed to, say, upright bass strings, which cost a couple hundred bucks per set!

Part of your art as an electric guitarist is finding a way to configure your gear. It’s almost like piecing together a puzzle that is custom fitted to your taste and personality. So keep tweaking, making notes of what you like and dislike, and playing.

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