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What are the best guitar strings for metal?

  • Post published:March 7, 2023

What are the best guitar strings for metal?

Metal is a genre of music that demands a lot from its guitarists.

The heavy riffs, lightning-fast solos, and intense rhythms require strings that can handle the pressure and deliver a powerful, precise sound.

However, finding the right set for your playing style and preferences can be challenging with so many different guitar strings available.

In this guide, we’ll review some of the best guitar strings for metal, from the different materials and gauges to the impact on tone and playability, to help you find the best guitar strings to suit your needs no matter if you’re a beginner that wants to play Christian metal or a seasoned heavy metal player playing doom.

Let’s dive in and discover the best guitar strings for metal!

Choosing the Right Gauge for Your Playing Style

The gauge refers to the thickness of the string, which can significantly impact the sound and playability of your guitar.

It is typically measured in thousandths of an inch (e.g., .010, .011, .012, etc.).

the lower the number, the thinner the string.

Gauge is also described as Light, Medium, Heavy, or combinations of them, i.e., mixed or hybrid string gauge.

Since guitar strings come in sets, you’ll often see six numbers on the packages for six-string guitars. (7-string guitars are added with an additional low B string). 

The six numbers represent each of the six strings’ gauges.

For example, An industry standard of 0.010 string (Light) will look like this:

High E: 1stB: 2ndG: 3rdD: 4thA: 5thLow E: 6th

lighter gauge strings (i.e., those with a smaller diameter) require less finger pressure to fret, making them easier to play at high speeds. This is because less force is needed to push the strings down, which can reduce the risk of the player’s fingers becoming tired or strained.
Additionally, lighter gauge strings tend to have less tension, making bending and vibrato techniques easier to execute.

The downside is that the lighter sets, such as 0.009 or even thinner (0.008), tend to get out of tune faster.

So, are thicker strings better for metal?
Thicker strings have more mass and tension, which can produce a fuller, more resonant sound with more sustain. This can especially benefit players who use drop tunings or play with heavy distortion.


Why are thicker guitar strings used for drop tuning?

When a guitar is tuned down to a lower pitch, the strings become looser, and this can cause them to lose their tonal quality and intonation.

Thicker strings have a higher tension than thinner strings, which helps to compensate for the lower pitch and maintain the proper tonal quality and intonation.

Additionally, when playing in drop tuning, the lower strings are often played with a lot of force and aggression, which can cause them to vibrate too much and become too “floppy” or muddy sounding.

Heavier strings are also better suited for aggressive playing styles that involve a lot of bending and vibrato, as they are less likely to break or lose their tuning.

However, using thicker strings may require adjustments to the guitar’s setup, including the truss rod, bridge, and nut, to ensure that the guitar plays as it should and is comfortable to play.

It’s also essential to choose strings that are appropriate for your playing style and the type of guitar you have, as using strings that are too thick can make it difficult to play specific techniques and can cause unnecessary strain on your fingers.

What are the most common tunings and string gauges used in metal music for 6-string?

The most common tunings in metal music for 6-string guitar are Drop D (D-A-D-G-B-E) and Standard (E-A-D-G-B-E).

Drop D tuning is popular in metal music because it allows for easy power chord shapes with one finger on the lower strings, and the lower tuning adds a heavier, darker sound to the guitar. Standard tuning is also commonly used in metal music because it allows for greater flexibility in playing different chords and scales.

However, not all heavy metal guitarists choose to play heavier string gauges.

Some, like John Petrucci, Marty Friedman, and Kirk Hammett, prefer to install the most common gauge for 6-string heavy metal guitars, which is .010-.046 (seen in the above table).

This set is recommended for versatile playing that combines lead, riffing, and aggressive rhythm playing.

Sub-genres of metal may have slightly different preferences when it comes to string gauge. For example, in death metal and black metal, some guitarists may prefer even heavier gauges to achieve a more robust and aggressive sound.


Understanding the Impact of Materials on Metal Tone

Where power and aggression are key elements of the sound in metal music, the suitable string material can make all the difference.

Some of the most commonly used materials for metal guitar strings include Cobalt, nickel-plated steel, pure nickel, and stainless steel.

Cobalt strings are a relatively new addition to the market and have recently gained popularity among metal players.

It’s particularly common for 6-string guitars in heavy metal and sub-genres like thrash and death metal.

They are made by wrapping a steel core with a cobalt layer, producing a powerful, bright, and punchy tone.

Cobalt strings offer excellent sustain and clarity, making them a great choice for heavy metal and sub-genres such as djent and metalcore.

Cobalt strings also have a longer lifespan than other materials like nickel and steel.

Nickel-plated steel strings are made by wrapping a steel core with a nickel-plating layer.

This results in a bright, balanced tone with a smooth feel. They are a popular choice for metal players because they offer a good balance of sustain, clarity, and warmth. Additionally, they are more affordable than other materials, making them an attractive option for players on a budget.

On the other hand, pure nickel strings offer a more vintage tone.

They are made by wrapping a steel core with a layer of pure nickel, which provides a softer, warmer sound.

Pure nickel strings also have a lower tension than nickel-plated steel strings, making them easier to bend and play. They are an excellent option for players who want a more classic metal sound reminiscent of the early days of heavy metal.

Stainless steel strings are made by wrapping a steel core with a layer of stainless steel, which produces a bright and aggressive tone. Stainless steel strings are ideal for players who want a bold, cutting sound.

They have a longer lifespan than other materials, making them a popular choice for touring musicians who need strings that will last.

Conclusion for the best guitar strings for metal

To sum up this roundup, the best guitar strings for metal are: