Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Guitar Strings

3. Electric Guitar Strings

Probably the most important factor that influences the sound and performance of guitar strings is the material or materials they’re made from. Electric, acoustic and bass strings all make use of a variety of metals and alloys (we’ll look at classical guitar strings separately). The choice of materials has a direct effect on sound, both through acoustic and magnetic properties, and also an indirect effect in terms of performance and longevity.

Nickel & Nickel Steel

The development of magnetic pickups ensured a parallel development in string technology. In the vintage years of the Fifties and Sixties, most wound strings combined a solid steel core with a nickel-alloy winding. Nickel-alloy is relatively weak magnetically, and though this can be a disadvantage in itself, it does mean that pickups can be set very close to the strings, resulting in a playing feel that some find more intimate. Nickel-alloy gradually gave way to nickel-plated steel in this period, with steel’s stronger magnetic properties producing a louder, more brilliant sound. Nickel-steel strings dominate the market today, though many manufacturers also produce ‘vintage’ nickel-alloy strings for players seeking a warmer sound.

Stainless Steel

In the Seventies another material became popular for electric guitar strings - high-grade stainless steel. The strong magnetic properties of this material produce a brilliant, clear and loud sound. Another advantage is improved durability - stainless steel is by design much less prone to rust than nickel-steel. Stainless steel can be a little harder to manage though, as the magnetic force between strings and pickups works both ways. If the attraction is too strong, for example if the pickups are set too close, then they can exert a pull on the string which affects its natural vibration with unpredictable and generally unmusical results.


More recently, German string manufacturer Maxima have pioneered the use of gold plating on high-grade steel. This gives a brilliant and rich sound, it eliminates the effects of corrosion, and also caters for those who suffer from nickel allergy. Maxima strings are now marketed under the Optima brand.

Electric String Gauges

While there is no universal agreement between manufacturers governing the composition and naming of guitar string sets, the table below serves as a useful guide:

Extra-Light .008 .011 .014 .022 .030 .038
Light .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042
Regular .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046
Medium .011 .013 .020w/18p .030 .042 .052
Jazz .012 .015 .026 .034 .044 .054
Baritone .013 .016 .026 .036 .046 .056
In addition, some manufacturers offer ‘hybrid’ sets. Light Top/Heavy Bottom sets are the most popular hybrid combination.
Light Top/Heavy Bottom sets: .010 .013 .017 .030 .042 .052
This works well for rock players who use a lot of vibrato and bends on the upper strings, while still needing a chunky sound for power chords from the lower strings, particularly in drop D tuning. The popularity of ‘flat’ tunings with metal players, where all strings are tuned down by a semitone or more, has led to the creation of ‘heavy’ sets with a heavy plain G string:
.011- .015- .022p .030 .042 .054
or even: .012 .016 .024p .032 .044 .056

As a general rule, heavier strings produce a louder, richer sound, but the associated higher tension is harder on the fingertips, especially for beginners, and makes vibrato and bends harder to execute. Players whose styles incorporate wide bends and florid vibrato tend to use lighter strings. At the other end of the spectrum, serious jazz players often use elevens or twelves, where higher tension is perceived as advantageous not only for its richer tone, but also because vibrato is somewhat frowned on in jazz!

Scale length also plays a part - while the difference between the short 628mm scale of Les Paul-type guitars and the 648mm Stratocaster scale may seem small, it’s enough to make the same set of strings feel very different.

Most players find themselves moving to heavier gauge strings as their fingers grow stronger, along with their appreciation of guitar tone. While moving to heavier strings can take time and hard work, it’s usually a rewarding process. Changing to a lighter gauge generally feels odd and tends to result in clumsy playing.

Your Contacts
Phone: +49-9546-9223-20
FAX: +49-9546-9223-24
Hot Deals Get Your Free Copy of our Hot Deals Catalogue!

More than 8.900.000 musicians are avid readers of Thomann's Hot Deals catalogue. Get your free copy now! More than 400 current offers!

Question! Give the right answer and win 1x Swissonic ASM5 worth €169.
What is a chord?
Conditions of participation
Terms and Conditions for participation
in online competitions

Note: Participation in an online competition runs independently from any purchase at Thomann GmbH. The following Competition Rules apply when participating in any online competition run by Musikhaus Thomann:

  1. Competition

    1. The competitions are organised by Thomann GmbH, CEO: Hans Thomann, Hans-Thomann-Straße 1, 96138 Burgebrach, Germany.
  2. Participation

    1. Competitions are only open to persons of full age.
    2. To take part in the competition you must answer all questions correctly, fill in the registration form and submit your entry to Thomann GmbH by pressing the "send" button.
      By pressing the "send" button the participant accepts the aforementioned terms and conditions.
    3. The participant is responsible for entering their email and/or postal address correctly. Entries to the competition will be logged electronically.
  3. Qualifying Entrants

    1. Staff of Thomann GmbH and any cooperation partners and their dependants are excluded from participation.
    2. Should these conditions of participation be violated, especially by using illegitimate means, Thomann GmbH reserves the right to exclude persons from the competition. In case of such violations prizes can be withdrawn and claimed back subsequently.
  4. Announcing the winner

    1. The winners will be notified by Thomann GmbH by email or in writing and their names may be published on the homepage The winner accepts this form of publication explicitly.
      Should for whatever reason the winner not claim their prize, then a new winner will be drawn.
    2. The prize presented to the winner may not be identical to the item description. There can be deviances regarding the model, colour etc.
    3. The merchandise prizes will be sent by Thomann GmbH or by one of its contracting delivery companies, per freight forwarder, courier or postal service to the postal address indicated by the winner.

      The delivery is free of charge. Only extra transport costs and customs/duties must be covered by the winner. In the case that the delivery has to be made through a freight forwarding company the freight forwarding company will contact the winner to arrange delivery timings.
    4. An exchange, cash alternative or replacement prize is not possible.
    5. The claim to the prize or replacement of the prize cannot be assigned to a third party.
  5. Data protection

    1. The participant accepts explicitly that Thomann GmbH saves all necessary data for the duration of the competition and forwards them exclusively for purposes related to the winning process to the respective cooperation partner, who is also permitted to save the personal data only for the duration of the competition. The participant is free to withdraw his entry at any time. Please direct the withdrawal to:

      Thomann GmbH
      to the data protection officer
      Hans-Thomann-Straße 1
      96138 Burgebrach, Germany
    2. Thomann GmbH is obliged to consider the regulations for data protection according to the Federal Data Protection Law (BDSG) valid at the conclusion of the competition. In this context the general data protection regulations under notes regarding data protection should be noted.
  6. Liability

    1. Thomann GmbH will be released from any obligations by handing out the prize.
    2. Thomann GmbH is not liable for the insolvency of a cooperation partner and the resulting consequences for the implementation and processing of the competition.
  7. Other

    1. Legal proceedings are barred.
    2. The law of the Federal Republic of Germany applies exclusively.
One of our Fans
Thank you. Brilliant product, Excellent service and all that!
K. F., 22.02.2018

Guitar Strings overview

Line6 Helix HX Effects Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1958 "Amos" Bose T8S Mixer Zoom F1-LP Warm Audio WA73-EQ Decksaver NI Kontrol S49 MK2 Presonus Faderport 16 2box DrumIt Three Harley Benton PowerPlant ISO-1 Pro Fender Squier Standard Tele IL VB DAP-Audio Compact 8.1 Zoom F1-SP
Line6 Helix HX Effects

Multi effect pedal More than 100 HX effects, Of which up to 9 effects can be used simultaneously, Import of own Impulse Responses (IRS), Parallel stereo signal paths, Inputs can be switched between line / instrument level, Two assignable...

to the product
Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1958 "Amos"

Electric Guitar Joe Bonamassa model, Body and neck: Korina, Fretboard: Certified blackwood, Neck profile: 1958 Rounded C, 22 Medium jumbo frets, Pickups: Epiphone Probucker 2 (neck) and Epiphone Probucker 3 (bridge), Lock Tone ABR-1 Tuneomatic bridge, Including case, certificate,...

to the product
Bose T8S Mixer

Tonematch Digital Stereo Mixer with 3-Band EQ Compact interface with 8 channels, Powerful DSP engine and intuitive control, Integrated Bose ToneMatch signal processing, Easy-to-read LED display and storable scenes, Inputs: 8 XLR / 6.35mm combo XLR, 2 AUX, USB...

to the product
Zoom F1-LP

Field Recorder and Lavalier Microphone Set Two-channel audio recorder, Compatible with zoom microphone capsules, Supports WAV formats up to 24bit / 96kHz or MP3 formats on microSD / microSDHC card (up to 32GB), USB audio interface for PC and...

to the product
Warm Audio WA73-EQ

Warm Audio WA73-EQ; 1-channel Mic-Preamp; British 1073-style; fully discrete Class A; Carnhill Transformers; 80dB of Gain (stepped gain switch); Tone Button (changes input transformer impedance); Polarity switch; +48v phantom power; Inductor based 3 band EQ: Low Band Boost/Cut (35, 60,...

to the product
Decksaver NI Kontrol S49 MK2

Decksaver NI Kontrol S49 MK2, protects against dust, dirt, liquids and strikes, usable without deconecting cables, dimensions: (BxHxT): 84,5 x 30,0 x 4,0 cm, weight: 0,95 Kg

to the product
Presonus Faderport 16

16-Channel DAW Production Controller 16 Professional, touch-sensitive 100 mm motor faders (Dual-Servo Drive Belt), High fader resolution: 10 Bits/1,024 steps, 85 Background and status illuminated buttons, 104 Controllable functions, 16 High-resolution LC displays as digital labeling fields, Timecode and...

to the product
2box DrumIt Three

2box DrumIt Three e-drum module, 4GB disk space for samples, multilayer-sample-technology, metronome, songplayer, support a big amount of pads from different manufactures as well as triple-zone snare drum pads and up to three triple-zone cymbal pads, 15x stereo 1/4" jack...

to the product
Harley Benton PowerPlant ISO-1 Pro

Multi-power adapter for effect pedals 8 isolated, filtered & short-circuit protected outputs eliminate noise and hum, High amperage for modern digital effects, LED monitoring at each output, Power supply with a 12V @ 2A DC power adapter (included), Output...

to the product
Fender Squier Standard Tele IL VB

Electric guitar Body: Agathis, Neck: Maple, Fretboard: Indian Laurel (Laurel), Neck profile: C, Scale: 648 mm, Nut width: 42 mm, 22 Medium jumbo frets, Pickups: 2 Single coils, 6-Saddle strings-thru-body footbridge, Chrome hardware, Standard die cast mechanism, Colour: Vintage...

to the product
DAP-Audio Compact 8.1

8-Channel Installation Mixer 8 Combined mic / line inputs (XLR / RCA), Master EQ with Mid Sweep, Phantom power, Selectable high pass filter, XLR master output (balanced), Headphone connector: 6.3 mm jack, Format: 19"/ 1U, Dimensions: 481 x 175...

to the product
Zoom F1-SP

Field Recorder and Shotgun Microphone Two-channel audio recorder, Compatible with zoom microphone capsules, Supports WAV formats up to 24bit / 96kHz or MP3 formats on microSD / microSDHC card (up to 32GB), USB audio interface for PC and Mac...

to the product
Feedback Found an error or want to give us feedback about this page?

We're looking forward to hearing from you and aim to solve any problems as soon as we can.

Please leave a comment. Please enter your e-mail address.