How to Choose Electric Guitar Strings
Everything you need to know about Fender's collection of electric guitar strings.
By Mike Duffy
There is no doubt that strings greatly affect the tone and playability of your electric guitar. Let's face it, if you don't want it to be just another percussion instrument in your collection, you need strings.
And when it comes to Fender electric guitar strings, there are a lot of factors to consider as you decide which set to purchase, such as the musical genre you want to play, how often you play and your guitar's scale.
For Fender's slate of electric guitar strings, these things will impact those factors:
- - Gauge
- - Materials
- - Core
- - Winding Method
In this piece, we'll break down everything you need to know to ensure you've got the right strings on your Stratocaster, Telecaster or any other electric guitar.
"String gauge" refers to the size of the string, as in how thick, measured in thousandths of an inch. The gauges for a six-stringed guitar range from the smallest on the high E string and level up to the B, G, D, A and low E strings.
Generally, lighter gauge strings are easier to play, brighter, allow you to bend strings and fret notes easier, and exert less tension on your guitar's neck.
Meanwhile, heavier gauges give you more volume and sustain, allow you to dig in and play harder, and are typically preferred for drop-tunings and alternate tunings. Still, the increased size adds more tension and can be more difficult to bend and fret.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to play fast leads and chords, light gauges may be the way to go (metal players with a preference for drop-D tuning would still need a heavy gauge for the lower strings or wound strings). Lots of blues and rock guitarists land on medium gauges that offer the benefits of both worlds, while jazz guitarists who don't bend a lot of notes tend to use heavy gauges, sometime with a wound G string.
Fender string gauges can be summed up thusly (from the high E to low E strings):
- - "Extra Super Light:" .008/.010/.015/.021/.030/.038
- - "Light:" .009/.011/.016/.024/.032/.042
- - "Light-Regular:" .009/.011/.016/.026/.036/.046
- - "Regular:" .010/.013/.017/.026/.036/.046
- - "Regular Heavy:" .010/.013/.017/.032/.042/.052
- - "Medium:" .011/.014/.018/.028/.038/.049
- - "Heavy:" .012/.016/.024w/.032/.042/.052
Fender electric guitar strings are made of steel, so they properly transmit the string vibrations to the magnetic pickups. The low E, A and D strings are wound with various alloys, while the G, B and high E strings are tin-plated.
Below are the common materials used for wound strings in Fender's lineup:
- - Nickel-Plated Steel: A popular option with balanced tone between warmth and brightness and a fast attack.
- - Vintage Nickel: A little more warmth than nickel-plated steel.
- - Stainless Steel: Very bright tone with excellent sustain. Also resistant to corrosion, so they will last a long time.
String cores are also made of steel in most cases. The core refers to the center of the string, with windings going around it to create larger, wound strings.
Hexagonal-shaped wires have been used in more modern string construction, as they hold the outer windings in place and hold tune well.
String Winding Method
A roundwound string uses a round wire to wrap around the inner core of the string, while flatwound uses a flat wire (think tape).
Roundwound is the most popular way of string winding, as they are available in the widest selection of gauges and materials. They are said to have a brighter tone with great sustain.
Flatwound, which are favored by many jazz players, tend to have a smoother playing feel and darker tone. Because of their flat surface, they can also be easier on the fingers.
Ball end strings work on all electric guitars. On ball end strings, the core wire of the string wraps around a separate piece, a tiny metal "ball." This creates a small V-shaped area of "slack" fit in the two places where the wire loops around the ball. At normal string tension, this "slack" wire loop is taut and unbent, and the ball end is prevented from completely abutting the bridge plate.
Bullet strings attach a tiny cylinder of brass shaped like a bullet to the end of the string in a one-piece construction. There is no loop and hence no slack, and the business end of the bullet makes tighter and more uniformly solid contact with the bridge. Further, the nature of the precision-machined Bullet end design meant that the string returned to the exact same position every time, greatly improving tuning stability even after heavy tremolo use.
The string design was specifically made for Stratocaster guitars because the Bullet ends fit far more precisely into the tremolo block, closely fitting the circumference of the string channel, adding sustain.
What to Look for When Caring for Strings
Because electric guitar strings are made out of steel, they contain iron, which corrodes when exposed to oxygen. It won't be overnight, but humidity and the residue left behind by your hands can speed the process.
Luckily, regularly cleaning your strings will keep them stronger longer. Use some string cleaner with a special wipe, or simply a polish cloth, to keep things properly maintained. Fender also offers the Speed Slick guitar string cleaner applicator that restores and extends string life with a few swipes up and down the string.
Finally, don't forget to wash your hands before playing to rid your fingers of potentially damaging oils.
Here are some things that will tip you off that it's time for a string change:
- - You are having trouble staying in tune.
- - The strings have visible corrosion.
- - Your tone sounds dull.
- - You can see the windings coming apart.
For a proper tutorial on how to change your guitar strings, take a look at the video below.
The good thing about having a variety of strings for your electric guitar is that you have options. The best way to find out which is best for you is to try several types before you pinpoint your favorite.
Then once you have your strings picked out, just make sure to monitor them regularly so you're always sounding great.