Guitar strings are as important to guitars as drum heads are to drums. No matter how meticulously polished and carved your guitar body may be, no matter how powerful of an amp you have, if your guitar strings are not right, then you will end up disappointing yourself and your audience.
How to choose the perfect guitar strings for playing metal music?
Every good guitar player knows that tuning, amplifying, or straining cannot fix the damp and twisted sound that you get from old, or worn out strings. Metal requires a heavier gauge and puts a ton of strain on the strings as well as your fingers. That’s why you need to get a string with proper coating on the outside to prevent your fingers from going sore, or the strings from getting choked by the dirt and sweat on your fingers.
Most metal players tend to play their guitars on a lower tuning, usually on Drop B, or sometimes even Drop C. This is why gauge plays such an important role in metal, if you’re strings are too thin then the sound will seem extremely dull and flimsy. On top of that the lower tuning means that skinny strings cannot generate enough sound output no matter how hard you pick on them.
Anywhere around Drop B to C, you will need a gauge of 10 at least. Go even lower to D, and you are looking at something like an 11, 12, or even 13 gauge string. Try to get nickel-wound strings for that heavy, deep, sound that you expect from a good metal track. In the end, choose a string that you feel comfortable with, one that suits your playing style. We have put together a list of the top 8 guitar string models for playing metal, and each one has its fair share of pros and cons. Take a look and decide which is best for you.
Dunlop DHCN1150 Heavy Core Nickel Wound Guitar Strings Heavier, 11-50Pro: Designed specifically to play at a lower tuning
Con: Hard on the fingers
These strings are designed to be played at a rather low tuning, and are nickel-wound, meaning that they produce a very powerful and deep sound even at low levels of tension. These strings can be played at Drop B, Drop C, or even Drop D since they are resilient to tension and have a moderately heavy gauge at 11-50. However, the nickel winding makes it hard on your fingers so you might have to get used to the extra stress if you play for longer periods. These strings are designed specifically for the metal player who wants a string that can perform straight out of the box without needing a lot of bending and tweaking.
Ernie Ball Beefy Slinky Nickel Wound Set, 11-54Pro: Amazing detuning characteristics
Con: Might wear out quicker than you expect
Marketed to be the best selling guitar strings in the world, these strings are the creation of Ernie Ball who made the original design more than 50 years. The Ernie Ball Slinky brand has been used by guitar legends and bands such as AC/DC, Led-Zeppelin, and Keith Richards. Not without reason, since they are so easy to detune and bend compared to any other string on the market. Though Slinkys come in all sizes, this one is designed to be played lower and deeper, with a more powerful effect because of its thicker .011-.054 gauge. It does tend to wear out quicker than most strings though so be careful with your replacements. Since they are so cheap, you can easily replace them as frequently as you wish.
DR Strings Electric Guitar Strings, Treated Nickel Plated, 10-52Pro: Treated Nickel Plating
Con: Hard to find
These strings were preferred by the legendary Dimebag himself, and carry electricity better than any other string on the market because of the treated nickel plating. This means that these strings sound smoother, more powerful, and fuller compared to any other electric guitar string on the market. These electric guitar strings add well defined, sharp notes, and a noticeable snappy feel to your music. Powerful, refined, and well-constructed, they are definitely the weapon of choice, if you are looking to get something that you can shred hard while playing classic heavy metal.
Elixir Strings Electric Guitar Strings with NANOWEB coating, 10-46Pro: Very dynamic sound, easy on fingers
Con: Not great for super low tuning
If you are looking for something that will last forever ad feels smooth to the touch, than this is it. These strings have a specialized NANOWEB coating on the winding, which prevents dust and grime from collecting on the strings. The real selling point on these strings though, is the fact that this coating is present not only on the strings, but also on the space between the winding. This ensures that your strings do not feel dead and muddy over time, because of gunk accumulated between the spaces. However, lower gauge and weight means that these are not super great at anything below a Drop B.
Ernie Ball Cobalt Skinny Top Heavy Bottom Set, 10-52Pro: Very soft and easy to tune
Con: Hard to find
This time, Ernie Ball really experimented with something different called a cobalt-steel alloy. No, they did not invent the alloy but they are definitely the first ones to bring it into the guitar string market. The advantage of using this alloy as the core is- higher pickup on magnets, better and more dynamic frequency response, longer lasting strings, and a more satisfying high note while playing on low tuning. Metal players are going to love this string due to its amazing bending and tuning characteristics as well as the boosted response that makes every single note sound sharper.
D’Addario EXL110-3D Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings, 10-46Pro: Winding is highly corrosion resistant
Con: Gauge is insufficient for super low tuning
While these strings may not be the slickest out there, they are definitely the toughest. The winding on these strings is made from a super strong nickel-steel alloy and is extremely resilient to tension and is also moderately malleable to allow for those strong, hard strumming sessions. The sounds are quite snappy and lively to say the least, and it performs for several weeks without showing any signs of staining or any wearing down. Unfortunately, the lower gauge is a little too thin and light for super low step tuning such as a Drop D or anything lower.
Ernie Ball 8-String Skinny Top Heavy Bottom Nickel Wound, 9-80
Pro: Classic Slinky tone, very reliable ad consistent
Con: The 64 gauge needs tapering
These are the perfect strings for hardcore metal and rock players who love to tune their strings below C and even D. The gauge is thin at the top and heavy at the bottom, this makes the strings sound very bright and they give off a nice little “twang” every time you hit them. A specialized carbon-steel core delivers an amazing frequency response, while the nickel-steel alloy on the winding makes it easier for your fingers to keep playing for hours. One mild issue is the 64 gauge string that does not slide in because it is not properly tapered, you might need to taper it yourself. Not a big problem at all, and definitely not a deal breaker.
Ernie Ball M-Steel Skinny Top Heavy Bottom Set, 10-52Pro: Highly dynamic frequency response
Con: Hard to find
Ernie Ball says these strings provide the most powerful and most dynamic response in the entire market. While that may or may not be true, they are definitely super strong when it comes to playing low and hard. With a skinny top and heavy bottom design, these strings let off a lot of twang and can be easily tuned as low as you want due to the thick and heavy gauge. They are not your typical nickel steel wound strings, these M-Steel strings are designed with a cobalt-steel alloy to provide a stronger magnetic footprint and generate powerful sound at all frequency ranges. Designed for the bravest and most hardcore metal/rock players, these guitar strings can take a beating and are virtually corrosion-free.