The journey of a true metal guitarist is the same as that of any classical guitarist or folk guitarist. It’s just a matter of using the right gear. This, of course, means having the right guitar, the proper effects and settings, and the guitar strings for metal tunings.
Given how many string gauges there are and how many different types of guitars exist, picking a set suitable for metal can be a daunting task for beginners. Hopefully, this article will teach you a few tricks and help you narrow down your searches for the best guitar strings for metal.
6 Best Guitar Strings for Metal
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Guitar Strings for Metal
- The Most Important Tip for Metal Guitar Strings
- Six-String vs Seven-String Sets
- What You Should Look For
The Dunlop DHCN1048 is a six-string set engineered for heavy music, impactful chugging, and fast string attack. The.010 - .048 gauge is one of my favorites for metal.
That’s because the gauge favors the low end and lends itself well to lower tunings like drop D or drop C. The quick attack is a given with this type of strings. Also, it helps maintain a smooth top end and a satisfying midrange for crisp shredding.
I also like using nickel-plated strings, as I find them to offer the highest output. They also have the right balance of warmth and brightness and can be used in just about any metal genre.
Last but not least, the Dunlop DHCN1048 are durable strings that can withstand quite the abuse, whether you’re rehearsing or playing live. Though not as lasting as more modern Nanoweb-coated strings, they do offer a more authentic metal sound, which will be appealing to both beginners and veterans alike.
This string set is one of the best choices if you want affordable guitar strings for metal. Similar to the higher end Ernie Ball M-Steel string series, this nickel-wound set comes in a variety of gauges. Yet, I recommend the .010 to .052 gauge for anything, including black metal and metalcore.
The nickel-wound strings are steel plated and feature the world’s most popular string alloy for electric guitar strings. The playstyle is smooth, and the strings offer a medium-to-high output. However, they may not provide the most massive tone.
While the note sustain is good for soloing, heavy chugging riffs don’t have the same power or presence found in more expensive guitar strings. Of course, that’s understandable due to the different winding methods and materials used.
Still, I recommend these strings for practice and backup. I also recommend them to players who want to save a buck or two, but don’t want to compromise too much on string quality either.
The D’Addario NYXL strings come in a variety of ranges for all your metal genre requirements. These strings feature a high-carbon steel core with a superior break resistance and a steel alloy wrapping for a smooth play style.
I like how the NYXL series offers freedom and improves finger dexterity. The high tension resistance is also very noticeable when you bend the strings or use the whammy bar. The note sustain is more than impressive, and I think that the intonation is spot on even at higher string gauges.
D’Addario is also renowned for its use of high-end automatic winding technology, which is known to improve the durability and tension resistance of the guitar and bass strings.
What resonates most with me is the NYXL’s tuning’s stability in lower tunings. I also like the combination of plain steel and nickel-wound strings for the higher and lower strings, respectively. I find this to be a superior combination for lead metal guitarists as it gives more brightness during solos.
Some of the most famous guitarists in the world use Ernie Ball strings, which should be sufficient testimony to their reliability. I like the Skinny Top Heavy Bottom series because of its relatively low cost and unique cobalt alloy wrapping.
This alloy gives the strings a stronger magnetic attraction, which translates into a unique expressiveness. The very high output of the strings is very impressive too and should come in highly useful during live performances where volume is everything.
The feel of the strings is different and takes some getting used to. However, it shouldn’t mess with your finger dexterity, but your speed might suffer a bit during the first few days.
In terms of durability, the strings are impressive, given that they feature a hex steel core and the cobalt alloy wrapping. It gives them resistance as well as a fuller tone with a superior low-end response for those aggressively accentuated chugging riffs.
Pantera’s late lead guitarist Dimebag Darrel had an unmistakable tone. While a lot of that tone depended on carefully selected and fine-tuned effects, the strings played a significant part too.
The DR Strings High Voltage Dimebag Darrel Signature set features treated nickel-plated strings with a .010 to .052 gauge. This gauge is ideal for pinch harmonics, ominous metal riffs, and fast shredding.
I recommend these if you’re interested in playing heavy metal, hard rock, power, and even thrash metal. The expressiveness of these strings is off the charts if you ask me, and this is mostly due to the molecular binding applied.
Although they fall into the traditional light-heavy category in many respects, the unique binding and superior string tension give these strings a unique tone.
Stringjoy offers a wide range of guitar string gauges from super the light 9-42 to the extra-heavy 13-68 gauge and anything else in between. I like these strings because they play smoothly at all sizes. It’s a unique feel that favors metal riffs at higher gauges.
Provided that you have a good guitar, of course, the strings show impressive intonation retention and powerful resonance with a medium-to-high output.
The durability of nickel strings may not be the longest, but the smooth playstyle compensates for this. Furthermore, the strings’ resistance to tension is excellent as long as you use the appropriate gauge for your tuning.
While not as versatile as some other string sets, the Stringjoy strings are capable of delivering a unique metal tone that can make a massive impact on your style.
What I mean is that it might take you a bit longer to break these strings in. However, once you do, they will offer excellent smoothness and tuning stability.
The Most Important Tip for Metal Guitar Strings
It’s all about the gauge. Although the .010 to .052 string gauge is perhaps the most popular among metal guitarists, this doesn’t mean that it’s the most versatile. It is considered a lighter string gauge for metal, mostly used for standard E and E flat tunings.
It’s also one of the easiest gauges to master. The strings are rarely rough on the fingertips at this gauge, and they’re easy enough to bend, especially when played in E flat, D, or a slightly lower tuning.
On the other hand, you should go with heavier strings if you want to play in standard C, drop C, and lower. Those tunings are typical for thrash metal, grind, death metal, metalcore, and other extreme genres.
Six-String vs Seven-String Sets
It’s not a good idea to use a seven-string set on a six-string guitar. Even though the gauges may be similar on paper, the strings designed for seven-string guitars are usually slightly harder and put more tension on the neck of the guitar.
You can do it the other way around, but you would still need the seventh string. So, it doesn’t make a lot of sense financially to interchange string sets for different guitar models.
What You Should Look For
Most people would argue that metal tones call for a very pronounced low-end response. While that may be true, keep in mind that metal consists of tens or even hundreds of sub-genres, with some of them sounding very specific.
It means that you won’t always want the most massive bass response. Sometimes you might want a more pronounced top-end, especially if you’re a lead guitarist.
The best metal guitar strings will allow you to sound more like your favorite band or create a unique tone that still resonates with the audience.
As you can see, metal guitar strings are not that expensive. However, some pricier sets do tend to have superior durability and longevity. Pick a gauge appropriate to your tuning or experiment with different gauges until you find something that suits your compositions.
Picking the Right Gauge
The most important thing when picking strings, is going with the right gauge.
Not only do you want a gauge that is comfortable to play, but you want a gauge that sounds good.
The standard .010 to .052 gauge is perhaps the most common, but it might not be suited for some tunings.
For E up to probably D standard tunings, this gauge is perfectly fine. The strings will still sound and play great in these tunings. Going lower, however, will require going with a heavier gauge as well.
Because lighter gauge strings have a brighter tone, they will likely be too bright for lower tunings and might even end up sounding very tinny.
Heavier gauge strings also have more tension. Meaning that they won’t be ‘loose’ like lighter gauges at lower tunings.
Metal is also usually played aggressively to get that aggressive sound. You’ll want heavier strings that are able to withstand a lot of punishment and won’t snap in the middle of a heavy breakdown or intense solo.
Mixing String Gauges
A good option is to mix up the gauge you use. This is a fairly common practice done by many guitarists.
The idea is basically to use some of the strings from one set, and the other strings from another set.
For example, using the three high strings from a .010 gauge set, and the low strings from a .012 gauge set.
This is usually done to combine the tones of the different gauges. It’s also done when you want heavy strings, but the high strings are too painful to play comfortably.
The Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottom strings mentioned in this article is basically two different sets mixed together.
These ‘pre-combined’ sets might still not give you the right combination you want, and that’s where mixing gauges comes in.
Metal relies quite a lot on having more low-end than other genres of music. This means that you want strings that provide more low-end.
While heavier strings already have more low-end, the material the strings are made of also provide extra bass.
For metal, the best choices would either be nickel or nickel-plated strings. Nickel strings provide a rich and warm sound and are fairly soft on your fingers.
Nickel-plated are the best as they’re a mix of nickel and steel. They provide the low-end of nickel, with the same cutting treble of steel.
For the best metal tone, thicker will almost always mean heavier. Just keep in mind that metal is perhaps the most diverse genre of music, and not all sub-genres rely on a very low and heavy sound.
Whatever gauge you choose, make sure it suites your tuning, and most importantly is comfortable to play.