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There are a few aspects that come together to make the perfect set of strings for playing heavy metal.
If you are tired of fighting with your current setup, hopefully, this run down of review based suggestions for sets currently available in 2017 will get your sound on the right track.
A. Gauge Up!
As you are well aware, more musicians tune their instruments down for playing metal. Sure, you’ve got some like Judas Priest who still play with a standard tuning, but most play Drop B or even as low as Drop C (Two whole steps down for those of you who lost count).
At these lower tunings, the gauge of the string begins to play a bigger role. Go too thin, and they will flap around like a skinny white flag of surrender. Plus, they simply will not offer the tension to create any decent noise.
So the first step is to get your gauge right. Unless you are starting out, you probably won’t want to go any smaller than a 10 (beginners are allowed to start with a 9 and work their way up). This works really well for standard tunings and even Drop D.
Below Drop D, you will probably want to crank it up the gauge pretty significantly. Most will use at least an 11 gauge, with 12 being a pretty popular gauge.
If you are willing to shop around, you can even find a 13.
Most artists will have at least two guitars. One of them will be tuned to a standard or Drop D tuning. Then, they will run a second instrument with a heavier gauge that does their Drop B, C, and A tuning.
Not only does it make it easier to switch between the tunings, but you really need to upgrade to a bigger string for those lower tunings, and the heavier weights simply are too difficult for most to enjoy playing them in a standard tuning.
Heavier mass means more vibration and more gain. As such, going with the biggest gauge you can play comfortably will help with your sound. Also, when two strings are tuned to the same pitch, the heavier one will be under more tension and require more force to get it vibrating.
That greater force translates into a more aggressive resonance that really adds to your playing.
If you have not already done so, you need to stop by my article on electric guitar strings. There, I go into detail on how to get the most life out of your sets and discuss a lot of the more intricate aspects of electric guitar nuances and needs.
B. String It Right
A little-known trick is to choose a string that works really well with your pickup.
Now, this takes a little bit of experimentation but most will say that Nickel strings really seem to make a difference. Granted, there are a few outliers that still love their all-steel sets, but, for the most part, increasing the nickel content in the string really causes a more robust tone that also captures some of the quieter intricacies that tend to get washed out in most metal.
Product Reviews 2017 For The Best Options For Playing Metal
1. Top Pick: Rotosound’s Pure Nickel
Rotosounds tends to get overlooked. Unless you already know about the brand, you aren’t just going to run across them ranking highly on Amazon. 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.
Like I said, they don’t have a lot of hype and you really have to dig to find any marketing on them.
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.
2. D’Addario XL Nickel Wound
These guys know how to focus on what matters. As manufacturers not only for guitars, but also for violins, cellos and other instruments, they have a huge reputation to uphold.
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.
While they don’t advertise a “heavy metal” string, I really like some of the Jazz setups and even their standard setup is heavier than most. You’ll get the mass you need for the sound you want.
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 115’s. 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.
3. Ernie Ball Beefys and Heavy Bottom
The nice thing about Ernie Ball’s is how affordable they are, and how much customization they offer.
Want a heavy setup? They have you covered, offering super beefy’s up to a 13.
Want a light/heavy combination? They got that for you, too, and it 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 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. But I’m convinced most of those people have never tried a really high-quality string. (And the hate begins!)
If you are only doing extreme drop tuning, go for the Beefy Slinky’s. Otherwise, I think you’ll like the Heavy Bottoms that give you a lighter string for soloing and a hefty setup for the rhythm.
Question: Will A Heavier-Gauge String Hurt A Floating Bridge?
In short, no. However, they will knock it out of tune unless you make some changes to your setup.
And there are some limits as to how heavy your guitar and its floating bridge can go without doing some upgrades. There are some models which simply are too small to be able to accept the thicker 6th string.
The first thing to try doing is making some adjustments to your floating bridge. You’ll know if your guitar needs it as the whammy bar base will physically begin lifting up off of the body.
You’ll start by removing the screws on the back of your guitar to remove the back plate. This gives you access to the tension springs and the two adjustable screws.
This Video Shows You How:
Adjust each screw 1/4th of a turn at a time until you’ve supplied sufficient tension to lower the base of the whammy bar.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to unstring your guitar and replace those tension springs with stronger springs to handle the added heft of the larger gauges.
You can make adjustments that will help your overall sound, but without a good set of strings that are fitted for the metal genre, it’s hard to get your kit adjusted to exactly what you want it to be!
Fortunately, string sets are very affordable for your choice of instrument, as opposed to acoustic instruments that can run into the hundreds of dollars for a single performance level note.
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, keep learning, and keep playing!
Researching and choosing the ultimate get-up is going to up your game in a way you didn’t know was possible!