I recently had a question from someone who had broke an electric guitar string and wanted to know what kind of string to replace it with.

While this is a beginner’s question, i thought it might be a good time to explore the different kinds of strings that are out there…and what they can do for you.
But first:
If you’re just looking to replace the one string, obviously you’ll want to try to match it up with the rest of the strings on your guitar.

Someone at your local music store might be able to tell you what you have on your guitar by looking at it, but they look pretty much the same. And…even if the were to determine what strings you had on (and if they sold single strings in that brand) it would still sound different as new strings sound much brighter than those with even just a few days wear.

If you had the strings on for a considerable amount of time, it’d be best to replace all six. 

So, what are the best kind of strings?

The best type of strings for your electric guitar (we’ll cover acoustic guitars and acoustic guitar strings at a later date) are the ones that sound how you like them to sound. Right now you really have the opportunity to craft your signature sound by replacing all six.

If you like a modern loud sound, then stainless steel strings would be best.

If you like the mellow sound of jazz guitar, especially of the 40’s and 50’s, flatwound strings might be your thing. They almost sound old once you put them on!

The vintage sounds of rock was created on nickel wound strings…not as bright as stainless style, but not as dull (for lack of a better term). There’s also nickel plated stainless steel, which as you might guess gives you a little of both worlds and falls between the two tone-wise.

In addition to standard strings (which are round wound, a cross section of the wrapping wire on the string is round), and flat wounds (the wrapping is flat), there are also ground wounds. Ground wounds are strings wrapped with round wire, and then the outer portion of the wrap is grounded down to be a cross between a round wound and a flat wound. They fall right in between in the tonal spectrum.

So, tone-wise from mellow to bright you’d have:

flat wound, ground wound, nickel, nickel plated stainless steel, stainless steel.

Plus, I’m sure there’s something I missed.

There are also gauges: extra light, light, light med, light top – heavy bottom.

Generally speaking, heavier the string, the better the sound: light the string, the easier to play.

Some styles and techniques require light or extra light strings, and other styles require the opposite. Right now i use light tops – heavy bottoms because with the light tops i can bend the higher three strings, but I still get an authoritative boom with the low notes.

most rockers like extra light strings (starting with a .009″ or .010″ first string)
most jazz cats like heavier strings (starting with a .013″)

Anyway, replacing strings is a relatively cheap way to define your own tone and set your guitar up for your own personal technique.


Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and L2Pnet.com.


Originally posted 2010-08-03 20:27:08.