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Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Strings

Acoustic Guitar Strings

Ernie Ball acoustic guitar strings offer musicians the power to handpick the sound of their music. Acoustic guitar strings highly influence the overall sound and tonality because there are no pickups or amplifiers to interfere. Just pure music. But how do you choose the right acoustic string for your desired sound? There are many different kinds of Ernie Ball acoustic guitar strings to choose from. This guide can help you select the right ones.

ACOUSTIC GUITAR STRING GAUGES

First, we’ll address the most important, but sometimes the most confusing, element of choosing the right acoustic guitar strings: the gauge. The gauge of a string refers to the thickness of a string measured in thousandths of an inch. The larger the number, the thicker the string. Here’s a quick cheat sheet for what gauges to select.

Light Gauge

Easier to bend, suitable for fingerpicking or single note playing

Ideal for vintage or smaller-bodied acoustic guitars

More treble, meaning subtle picking and strumming techniques stand out more

 

Heavy Gauge

More bass, meaning deeper and stronger tones

Work well with larger acoustic guitars

More volume and sustain

 

ACOUSTIC GUITAR STRING MATERIALS

Acoustic guitar strings can be composed of one or more types of material, and the different material(s) create different tones and sustainability. Here’s a quick comparison of the different types of Ernie Ball acoustic string compositions.

Slinky Paradigm
Ernie Ball Our new state-of-the-art wire drawing process coupled with our patented RPS (reinforced plain string) technology dramatically increases tensile strength by up to 35% and provides up to 70% more fatigue strength than traditional strings. Our PARADIGM wrap wire uses an exclusive plasma enhanced process to remove defects and greatly improve corrosion resistance. Get strings that last longer and sound fresher – without the tone-killing side effects of a coated string.

 

Earthwood 80/20 Bronze
Made from 80% copper, 20% zinc wire wrapped around hex shaped tin plated steel core wire, this is the most popular type of acoustic guitar string. They provide a crisp, ringing sound with excellent projection.

Earthwood Phosphor Bronze
Phosphor bronze strings are made of 92% copper, 7.7% tin, 0.3% with phosphorus wire wrapped around tin plated hex shaped steel core wire. These guitar strings have a light orange, gold color and provide a rich warm tone, with excellent clarity.

 


Aluminum Bronze
Aluminum bronze strings are made from a blend of copper and aluminum specifically tailored for acoustic guitar strings. They offer more projection and clarity than traditional bronze strings, while also providing improved corrosion resistance. Ernie Ball maraging steel hex cores and aluminum bronze wrap wire provide more pronounced lows coupled with crisp brilliant highs.

 

UNCOATED VS. COATED
Ernie Ball coated acoustic guitar strings use groundbreaking nanotechnology that repels unwanted moisture and oils that negatively impact your tone. Unlike most coated string products on the market, our proprietary treatment is applied to both the inner hex core and outer wrap wire to provide ultimate protection without compromising tone or feel. Ernie Ball offers Everlast Coated 80/20 Bronze and Everlast Coated Phosphor Bronze acoustic strings that are virtually indistinguishable from our uncoated string products allowing for the natural feel and sound players are accustomed to.

Coated strings generally last longer than uncoated strings and cost a bit more. Ultimately, coating is a personal preference; try both and decide which suits you best!

ERNIE BALL ACOUSTIC STRING DEMOS
In summary, there are several main things to keep in mind when selecting the right acoustic guitar string. Your own playing style, the desired tone, and finally, the age and condition of your instrument are all important factors to consider. The combination will determine which material and gauge is best for you and your guitar. Experiment with what feels best to you and what sounds best for the kind of music that you want to produce. Take a listen as Ryan “Fluff” Bruce, Peach Guitars, Paul Riario of Guitar World, and Andy McKee demo popular Ernie Ball acoustic guitar string sets, and explore all of our acoustic guitar strings here.

Electric Guitar Strings

ELECTRIC GUITAR STRING GAUGES

Electric guitar strings, like acoustic guitar or electric bass strings, are manufactured in a range of thicknesses or gauges. The thickness of an electric guitar string has a large influence on the playability and sound in addition to other factors like the string material.

Light Gauge

Easier to bend and play, so ideal for beginner guitar players with uncalloused hands

Ideal for vintage electric guitars

Even projection with bright sound

Heavy Gauge

Require more finger pressure to fret and bend notes

Hotter output with punchy tone

Are preferred for low tunings such as Drop D, Drop A, etc.

Exert more tension on the guitar neck

ELECTRIC GUITAR STRING MATERIALS

Electric guitar strings are made using various metal alloys which have a significant impact on the strings’ sound. Here are some general tonal characteristics of the most common types of strings:

— Nickel: Balanced brightness and warmth

— Cobalt: Wide dynamic range with increased low end and crisp highs

— M-Steel: Rich and full tone with powerful low end response

— Pure Nickel: Vintage output with a warm tone

— Stainless Steel: Bright, crisp, “edgy” tone with corrosion resistance

ERNIE BALL ELECTRIC GUITAR STRING COMPARISON

Ernie Ball electric guitar strings come in a variety of materials described above including the popular Nickel Wound Slinky’s, M-Steel, and Cobalt electric guitar strings. Below is a quick comparison of the different types of Ernie Ball electric guitar string types.


Slinky Paradigm
Our new state-of-the-art wire drawing process coupled with our patented RPS (reinforced plain string) technology dramatically increases tensile strength by up to 35% and provides up to 70% more fatigue strength than traditional strings. Our Paradigm wrap wire uses an exclusive plasma enhanced process to remove defects and greatly improves corrosion resistance.

Slinky Nickel Wound
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Electric Strings are our top selling set, and are favored by Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Steve Vai and legions of guitar players worldwide. Regular Slinky wound strings are made from nickel plated steel wire wrapped around a hex shaped steel core wire. The plain strings are made of specially tempered tin plated high carbon steel producing a well balanced tone for your guitar.


Slinky Paradigm
Our new state-of-the-art wire drawing process coupled with our patented RPS (reinforced plain string) technology dramatically increases tensile strength by up to 35% and provides up to 70% more fatigue strength than traditional strings. Our Paradigm wrap wire uses an exclusive plasma enhanced process to remove defects and greatly improves corrosion resistance.

Slinky Cobalt
Engineered to maximize output and clarity, Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky Guitar Strings provide an extended dynamic range, incredible harmonic response, increased low end, and crisp, clear highs. Cobalt provides a stronger magnetic relationship between pickups and strings than any other alloy previously available. Cobalt Slinkys are also soft and silky to the touch, making string bending a breeze.

Slinky Classic Rock N’ Roll Pure Nickel Wrap
Made from pure nickel wire wrapped around tin plated hex shaped steel core wire, these guitar strings produce a warm rich tone with that signature Slinky feel.


Slinky M-Steel
Maraging Steel, is a superalloy used in high stress applications for the aerospace and defense industries. These wound strings are comprised of a patented Super Cobalt alloy wrapped around a Maraging steel hex core wire, producing a richer and fuller tone with powerful low end response. A patented winding of steel around the ball end of the plain strings reduces slippage, breakage and stays in tune better than conventional strings.

Slinky RPS Nickel Wound
Ernie Ball’s RPS wound strings consist of specific gauges and core to wrap ratios for balanced rich harmonics and a signature Slinky feel. Plain strings in RPS sets last longer and stay in tune better than conventional plain strings. A patented winding of brass wire is tightly wrapped around the lock twist of the ball end of the plain strings. String slippage and breakage are minimized at the ball end where these most often occur.


Slinky RPS Coated Titanium
Titanium’s inherent strength prevents string breakage, string slippage, and is proven to keep your guitar strings in tune better than conventional plain strings. Ernie Ball coated Slinky guitar strings maintain the feel and sound of uncoated sets, combining the added protection with the vibrant tone Ernie Ball customers have relied on for over 50 years.

Light Electric Wound
Widely referred to as a jazz set, Ernie Ball Light Nickel Wound strings feature a wound G string. Unlike their Slinky sibling, these Nickel Wound sets are not limited to jazz musicians and are tailor-made for alternative, rock, and pop.

Slinky Stainless Steel Wound
Made from stainless steel wire wrapped around tin plated, hex shaped, steel core wire. Plain strings are tin plated, high carbon steel. These strings provide brighter tone and longer string life.


Half-Gauge Slinky
Primo Slinkys sit neatly between the popular Regular Slinky and Super Slinky strings while providing a balanced, comfortable feel across all six strings. This combination is perfect for players who are looking for added playability with minimal differences in tone and tension. Mega Slinky strings are ideal for players who prefer a thicker sounding set with only a slight difference in tension and feel.

Blended Gauges
We did the math so you don’t have to. The new Burly string set combines our Power and Skinny Top Heavy Bottom gauges, while the Ultra set provides the tone and feel of Regular and Power Slinky’s.

Electric Bass Strings

Ernie Ball sells over 100 different types of bass guitar strings in a diverse selection of materials, string gauges, and styles. Before you start shopping, you’ll need to consider several factors: the number of strings on your bass, your playing style/musical genre and the tonal quality desired. Whether you are a beginner or a professional bass player, you can find the right strings for your level and bass type with this electric bass string buying guide.

ELECTRIC BASS STRING GAUGES
Electric bass strings are manufactured in a range of thicknesses or gauges. The thickness of an electric bass string has a large influence on the playability and sound in addition to other factors like the string material. As with electric guitar or acoustic guitar strings, there’s no set rules for choosing the perfect gauge. To determine the correct gauge, first decide what sound you’re trying to achieve and what feel you prefer.

Light Gauge

Good for fast lead bass or walking bass lines

Good for country or funk/slapping techniques

Heavy Gauge

Good for heavier styles like metal

Preferred if you like to tune your E string down to D

ELECTRIC BASS STRING MATERIALS

 

Electric bass strings are made using various metal alloys which have a significant impact on the strings’ sound. Here are some general tonal characteristics our various bass string materials.

Nickel: Bright, balanced tone

Cobalt: Wide dynamic range with increased low end and crisp highs

Stainless Steel: Bright, crisp, “edgy” tone

 

Ernie Ball electric bass strings all share the same basic construction: a tin-plated, high-carbon steel hex wire is precision-wound with an additional wire. The wrap wire construction can vary, providing a different feel and tone. Here’s a breakdown of the different winding methods used on Ernie Ball electric bass strings.

Roundwound

Most of Ernie Ball electric bass strings, like Slinky Nickel wound, are roundwound electric bass strings. Roundwound strings consist of a round wire that is wrapped around the core wire, producing a series of rounded ridges along the string. They produce bright tones, making them a favorite for rock and funk players.

 

Flatwound

Up until the 1960s, these were the only type of bass string available. Flatwounds are constructed with a a flat (ribbon) wire wound around the core, producing a smoother and more mellow tone vs. roundwound strings. For that reason, they work well with jazz, blues and soul music.

 

 

ERNIE BALL ELECTRIC BASS STRING COMPARISON

 

Slinky Nickel Wound

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Bass strings are the classic Ernie Ball bass strings and are wound for a bright, balanced tone. The list of endorsers for Ernie Ball Slinky bass strings reads like a who’s who of top selling artists

Slinky Cobalt

Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky bass strings are the latest innovation in string technology. Cobalt strings provide an extended dynamic range, incredible harmonic response, increased low end, and crisp, clear highs. Cobalt provides a stronger magnetic relationship between pickups and strings than any other alloy previously available. Cobalt Slinkys are also soft and silky to the touch, making string bending a breeze.

Slinky Coated

These strings maintain the feel and sound of uncoated strings, combining the added protection with the vibrant tone Ernie Ball customers have relied on for over 50 years.

Slinky Flatwound

Ernie Ball Slinky Flatwound Bass Strings combine the smooth feel of traditional flats and the power of Cobalt. Featuring a SuperBright Cobalt ribbon wrap, Cobalt underwraps and optimal hex-core to wrap ratio, the new Flatwound Bass strings are the first flat that actually feels like a flat and sounds like a round.

Flatwound

Flat stainless steel wire wrapped around a hex shaped tin plated steel core. Provides a smooth feel and mellow sound.

Slinky Stainless Steel

Made from stainless steel wire wrapped around tin plated hex shaped steel core wire. These strings provide brighter sound and longer life.

 

Ernieball strings