Blues music is so expressive it can be used to accompany any mood. But it’s also very technical, especially if you want to compose or play lead. Assuming you already have a solid musical theory base, it’s probably time you familiarize yourself with the best guitar strings for blues.
Your string choices will be very important, whether you’re playing on an acoustic or an electric guitar. Here’s some information that will prepare you for future gigs, recordings, and help you make the right decisions regarding your gear.
Best Guitar Strings for Blues – My Favorites
Table of Contents
- Best Guitar Strings for Blues – My Favorites
- Electric Guitar Strings Considerations
- Acoustic Guitar Strings Considerations
- My Take on Coatings
- Will You Use a Slide?
1. DR Strings Pure Blues (Electric)
These strings are very smooth and suitable for softer genres like blues. You can find these in a few different gauges. I recommend the 11-50 gauge if you need it to lend itself to lower tunings.
However, the 10-46 is just as good-sounding, and perhaps more forgiving if you’re a beginner. The strings feature a round core wire design which will favor richer overtones.
Although DR Strings was aiming for a vintage vibe, it’s not quite there yet. There are plenty of modern highlights in the tone. But the strings have great sustain, which is always important for soloing and ringing out licks.
I also like that the strings are highly responsive and favor fast licks.
2. Ernie Ball Earthwood Rock and Blues (Acoustic)
Ernie Ball strings are a staple of durability in any category and any gauge. The Earthwood Acoustic Guitar Strings are no different.
These strings are made of a copper zinc alloy with 80% copper and 20% zinc. The alloy is wrapped over a steel core wire with tin plating and a classic hex shape.
Due to this design, the sound is very balanced but has distinguished highs with a crisp note. Just what you need to make your acoustic playing stand out.
The gauge is beginner-friendly, 10-52, and less punishing on untrained fingers. That said, the tone you can get out of them is worthy of stage playing. Although, some pro blues players may prefer slightly thicker strings for a richer and fuller sound.
3. D'Addario EXL115 (Electric)
These D'Addario strings offer the soloing and bending experience that make these a perfect fit for playing blues music.
While these strings by themselves won’t make you play as good as a master like B. B. King, they will help you get very close to his signature tone.
The rather uncommon gauge is customized to the preference of many blues musicians' preference of using a heavier low E string. Therefore, the gauge is slightly thicker than standard at 11-49.
These strings are all about the note sustain. As such, they’re made with a nickel wound that also grants them superior flexibility.
While these are durable and flexible, you might need to develop some strength to get used to them.
4. Martin Authentic Acoustic MA140T (Acoustic)
If you favor the 80/20 bronze string makeup then you should check out the martin Authentic Acoustic MA140T strings. These come in a light acoustic gauge, 12-54, and can be used for a variety of genres.
Although I like their versatility, I’d be lying if I said I don’t think they’re tailor made for blues, rock, rockabilly, and country licks. The strings won’t have a very vintage vibe to them.
However, not all modern touches are bad. In the case of the MA140T strings, the treatment used by Martin is what makes all the difference in the world.
Not just in terms of tone but also longevity. The strings also have very good tuning stability and improved corrosion resistance. That said, they are slightly pricier than others and offer a unique playing experience. If the thick coating isn’t for everyone.
5. D’Addario XT Phosphor Bronze (Acoustic)
D’Addario XT strings offer amazing longevity without compromising too much in terms of tone. The feel is obviously different. It’s not the same as uncoated strings, as advertised, but it shouldn’t take too long to get used to.
The tuning retention is good, thanks in no small part to the use of D’Addario’s Fusion Twist technology and the high carbon steel wire. The strings also boast impressive break resistance so you can go hard at them with a pick, with tapping, and chicken picking.
Although these strings come in various gauges, I recommend the light top and heavy bottom gauge, which is 12-56. Alternatively, if these are too thick for you, you could go for the custom light 11-52 gauge.
Though the latter does have a richer tone and will be more sustainable in lower tunings.
6. D’Addario EPN115 (Electric)
The D’Addario EPN115 strings are pure nickel strings with an 11-48 gauge. Due to their warm sound and downright vintage tone, I recommend these for both blues and jazz players.
A set will contain plain steel strings, for the first three, and nickel wound strings, for the last three. This combination allows for a traditional sound, similar to that of the early and mid ‘50s, the era where pure nickel strings dominated the market.
However, the inclusion of three plain steel strings brings a tad brighter touch and rounds up the sound. It can make your guitar sound richer without straying too much from a vintage blues tone. The string durability is very good too, despite the strings having a lighter gauge.
Electric Guitar Strings Considerations
Certain materials will handle a vintage blues tone much better. But one of the most important things for any guitarist and any genre is the string gauge. I can’t stress enough how important it is to use the right standard or custom gauge if you want to avoid sounding outside your genre.
Blues music doesn’t need heavy strings. Anything over 10 or 11 light gauges isn’t typically sought-after by blues players. Not even those that play in D or lower tunings.
String durability is another major aspect. Blues music involves lots of bends, vibrato, and fast attack playing to accentuate individual notes. This means that these strings get abused a lot.
A durable string may be more favorable over a more vintage-sounding string at times. Especially when playing live and you want to avoid any string breaks at all costs.
Acoustic Guitar Strings Considerations
Most of the principles involved in picking electric guitar strings carry over to acoustic strings. The gauge obviously matters in terms of durability as thicker strings handle strumming better and are harder to snap.
A coating can make the strings less punishing and even more durable. But that doesn’t always imply that there’ll be less drag. Some coatings may also limit the sustain or lower the resonance. That’s why I find it important to stick to the top manufacturers when testing modern coating technologies.
I’d also advise against going the nylon route if you want to play proper blues. Although those strings can be inviting due to their natural slippery nature and ease of play, you just won’t get a believable tone out of them.
My Take on Coatings
There’s no room for coated strings if you want to get the most vintage blues tone you can. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing on an acoustic or electric guitar. Coatings can affect everything from resonance to sustain, to drag.
But that doesn’t mean that all coatings are the same. Some actually impact the tone and playability in a minor capacity. And, there’s no law dictating that only uncoated strings are fit for a blues-sounding tone.
I actually prefer coated strings sometimes because they offer more reliability. They tend to last longer and also have better break and corrosion resistance. These strings can be game-changers for musicians that play live most of the time.
Will You Use a Slide?
This is a question you need to ask yourself before you start looking at strings. If you favor a specific type of guitar slide, then you should look for strings best-suited to handle it.
Some coatings won’t react well to bronze slides. Some strings will be too abrasive for glass slides, and so on.
Note that sustain is important too. So you shouldn’t just pick your strings based on longevity and their ability to handle a slide. Doing that will just compromise tone and possibly projection and resonance too. This could cost you a lot during a recording or live performance.
Find Your Tone and You’ll Find Your Strings
No matter what some people tell you, your guitar strings will have a major impact on your tone. So a first step in figuring out what type of strings would suit you best is to start listening to more blues guitarists.
After familiarizing yourself with a variety of tones, you’ll likely stumble upon something you’ll want to emulate. Then, by using the tips in this article and these reviews as a base, finding the right fit will come very easy.