To this day, Fender Stratocasters are among the best-selling guitars in the world. It’s no secret nor is it a surprise. Many virtuosos and guitar legends have handled a strat at least for part of if not their entire career.
If you’re also a strat enthusiast then you’ve probably struggled to figure out what strings sound best.
Should you be a purist or should you experiment? – I tend to lean toward the latter, which is why in this article I’ll be going over what I think are the best strings for Stratocaster guitars.
You would be surprised at how many successful combinations you can try. It doesn’t matter you’re trying to stick to the classic strat tone or if you’re trying to come up with something new and exciting.
5 Best Strings for Fender / Squier Strat Guitars
Nothing says Fender Strat like a set of Super Slinky strings by Ernie Ball. These nickel wound strings do a great job of giving you that authentic feel when you’re jamming on the fretboard of a Fender Stratocaster.
The strings are cheap and come in the recommended strat gauge of .009 - .042 (also known as light strings). Now, some would argue that Regular Slinky strings are the way to go. I personally believe that the Super Slinky strings are a lot more comfortable to play with at any level.
These are excellent for bends and slides. I've found that the sound also blends in nicely into all kinds of music. The tone is well-balanced and reminiscent of the classic blues and rock ’n’ roll tones of the earlier decades.
They also seem a bit more durable than similarly priced light gauge strings, which is what you want if you tend to abuse bends when you’re jamming or if you go on the road a lot. From my personal experience, they tend to last a long time unless you shred like crazy on a regular basis.
If you have a cheaper strat styled guitar (especially the cheapest Squier models), you can feel the difference instantly after upgrading to these strings. I also found no noticeable difference in tuning retention compared to thicker gauge (Regular Slinky) strings from Ernie Ball.
The only area where these don't shine as much is bottom end. It lacks the depth of thicker strings that's needed for heavier genres of music.
All Fender guitarists have probably played with a set of Fender strings at least once. Though mixing and matching is part of the fun, the Fender 250L strings remain to this day among the best strings for the Stratocaster. It's also the default string set of newer Fender guitars like the American Pro II Strats and Teles.
I recommend going with the light version (9-42), if you play blues, soft rock, jazz, folk, and anything along those lines. This gauge is easy to play with whether you’re a beginner or a master.
The 250L nickel-plated steel strings adds a unique warmth to your sound, making the overall sound very robust and dynamic.
One concern with these strings would be durability. Within a couple of months of use, the high E and B strings started fading in color. Also, many users complained of string breakage at the time of installation, which fortunately didn't happen in my case.
While you wouldn't normally expect the highest longevity from such a cheap set of strings, string snapping while restringing might be a real concern for many (especially if you don't have a lot of experience with frequently changing guitar strings).
As the name suggests, this time we’re moving up in gauge. Don’t underestimate the potential of the Fender Stratocaster in more modern genres.
The D’Addario NYXL regular light strings are 10-46 in gauge. These strings are not for absolute beginners because they require more finger strength and well-developed calluses compared to playing light gauge (9-42) strings.
With that said, if you're used to playing 10-46 strings, these would play like butter. The playability is definitely a step above many cheaper sets of the same gauge of strings.
However, you can squeeze a bit more volume out of them, achieve better sustain, and get a punchier midrange. All of which lower gauge strings simply wouldn't be able to pull off. I like the overall balance of the tone when using these strings. It's never too harsh, while always sounding very hearty thanks to the mid-range presence.
When it comes to cutting through the mix, or cutting through the flatness of the sound of a band, there are very few strings that do as good a job as these NYXL's. I've found that they're also louder than your average budget string set. It's also extremely well suited for playing cleans alongside classic clean amps like the Vox AC15.
The tone is a bit on the brighter side. So, if you're looking for warmer, more mellow sounding strings, these might not be suitable for you. Sound wise, these sit right between classic D'Addario strings and Ernie Ball Slinkys (borrows some of the brightness and high-end from those).
Another benefit of using these strings is the impressive tuning retention. You won’t have to check your clip-on tuner as often as you would with lower gauge strings. Since I've started using the NYXL's, they seem to last forever based on my experience. I'd say their durability is second to only Elixir's coated strings.
One thing I really dislike about these is the packaging. For a set of higher-end strings, you definitely expect each string to be wrapped separately and marked properly, so that string changes are easier. Instead, D'Addario packs all of the strings in a single bag and you have to go through their color code for ball endings to be sure regarding what goes where.
Here’s another Ernie Ball string set for your strat that can open up new avenues for you. The Cobalt strings are made from a cobalt-iron alloy which enhances durability, flexibility, and note sustain. These are also very easy on your fretting fingers, and offer a silky smooth playability.
Compared to regular nickel wound strings, the tone is brighter and clearer. Of course, I still recommend the 9-42 gauge for the strat. However, even with a light gauge, these strings have the build quality and potential to handle alternative, grunge, and even hard rock.
One area these strings do well is low end. You wouldn't normally expect a defined low-end from a 9-42 set, but these handle the low-end extremely well. Apart from the beefy low-end, the overall output is fairly impressive, and so is the mid-range. The attack offered by these strings is quite aggressive.
These strings are quite versatile and can really make your Fender Stratocaster sound unique. You might find them to sound a bit louder than your average strings, too. Durability wise, they last much longer compared to your regular nickel wound strings. My set retained their brightness many weeks after I originally put them on.
The only real concern is the price. These cost considerably more than Super Slinkys or D'Addario EXL's.
These strings feature the iconic Elixir Optiweb coating which extends the longevity and smoothness of the strings. This won’t remove the need to clean the strings periodically, but it makes maintenance a lot easier.
The tone of the strings is a bit crisp. It’s not exactly a replica of the classic Stratocaster sound. However, if you’re looking to branch out and experiment, these strings make a nice pairing with the renowned Fender guitar.
The high-end is more pronounced and crisper than what you'd typically expect from a set of coated strings. These achieve that without giving up any of the warmth, unlike many other bright strings.
These strings are not liked by everyone, though. Many feel that they lack the richness and fullness of uncoated strings. I didn't feel that way, so it's very subjective and probably also a bit dependent on which guitar you're using them on. On an American Professional II Strat, I didn't have any complaints regarding tone with these.
The recommended string gauge is 9-42, as light strings will always work well with a strat. The durability of these coated strings is beyond impressive, unlike anything else I've tried. They retain tuning for a long time, as well. If you absolutely hate changing guitar strings, go for these!
How to Look at Gauges
Guitar string gauges are very important to understand when picking strings. They influence everything from feel and sound to the musical genres that you can tackle with them.
Since the Fender Stratocaster is an iconic guitar featured heavily in blues and soft rock, the guitar’s design doesn’t accommodate heavy strings to well.
Most guitarists play their strat in E (or maybe D in some cases). Therefore, anything beyond the 9-42 or 10-46 is not recommended. You may be able to slip in 11-52 strings but not without making some adjustments to the bridge and neck.
That being said, pick the strings that work best with your playing style and genre. Lighter strings will always be super easy to play fast or to bend and shred. Heavier strings will give you a bit more output and will stay in tune longer if you go lower than D. But as mentioned, they’ll also require more finger strength.
Should You Go with Fender or Not?
Every guitar manufacturer also makes guitar strings. But there’s no law that dictates you should only use Fender strings with Fender guitars like the Tele and Strat. This is especially true when it comes to the Strat, which is a lot more versatile than most people realize.
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with other brands. You’ll notice that many Fender guitarists actually prefer Ernie Ball or D’Addario strings and they don’t shy away from letting people know that.
How Much Should You Worry About the Material?
The most popular guitar strings are nickel-plated. They’re cheap and consistent, and most manufacturers have the fabrication process down to an art.
That being said, string materials are a matter of personal preference. The feel can be very different as can the sound.
Depending on what you’re looking for, you may want to stray outside the box and start playing on cobalt strings or even pure nickel strings (not as durable but have an amazing vintage sound).
Be as Classical or as Modern as You Want
I can’t stress enough how underused the Fender Stratocaster is as an electric guitar. Although it may be slightly limited in string gauge compatibility, the natural clean tone of the strat can transcend.
Any of the strings featured in this article will help you get high-end tones out of your strat. It just depends on how willing you are at taking chances.