When building your perfect guitar tone you will probably think of the brand of guitar, your amplifier, and effects pedals before anything else. The truth is, any good guitarist will have put some thought into their strings, and finding the best guitar strings for metal is one of the most crucial steps towards getting an ideal sound. In fact, the wrong strings will not only sound bad, they are more prone to snapping and not being able to handle the tunings often used in metal, and its many sub-genres.
Whether you’re playing thrash metal, grindcore, industrial metal, death metal or any other type, you’re probably not going to be able to use ‘standard’ strings which come with most electric guitars. Hence the need to search for something with a better tone and the ability to cope with the down-tuning most metal guitarists are familiar with. Most ‘standard’ gauges of guitar string will cause your strings to be loose when playing metal, and lead to issues such as fret buzz, and you’ll find yourself needing to retune between every song (if they last that long). The benefit of specific metal gauge strings is that they will stay at the correct tension for playing, even at a lower tuning.
D’Addario EXL117 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings, Medium Top – Extra-Heavy Bottom
D’Addario manufactures a huge range of different strings, with everything from jazz to rock to metal accounted for. There are a few sets in their range which make great metal strings, but we’ve picked out the EXL117.
These hybrid gauges are great for drop tuning and are specifically designed with “D” tuning in mind. In our opinion they’re the best guitar strings for drop D and full ‘D’ tuning, a whole step down from standard. The strings are Steel .011, .014, .019, and Nickel Wound .032, .044, .056 – three of each is where it gets its ‘hybrid’ name.
The round, nickel higher strings give a clean high-end sound, great for soloing and making these versatile strings for distorted chugs or clean solos and riffs. The only time you may encounter a problem is if you are playing extremely low tunings (even lower than D).
Exceptional build-quality and strings which are manufactured in the USA, from a brand with centuries of history. These are extremely highly regarded as you can see from the majority of the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. The EXL117 are also affordable enough so that you don’t have to break the bank every time you need a new set of strings and can keep a few sets in your gig bag as spares.
Dunlop DHCN1254 Heavy Core Nickel Wound Guitar Strings
Dunlop is another brand who offer a lot of different string sets. These are probably their heaviest and are wonderful for speed metal, thrash metal and even just heavy rock styles of music.
Suited to drop tuning, this six-string set varies in gauges from .012 to .054. Truly they live up to the name heavy core. There are two alternatives on the market from the brand too, which are .010-.048 and .012 to .050 in size. The best strings for your own metal playing depends on how heavy you need strings, and how low a tuning you plan to use.
The manufacturer claims to use only carefully chosen wire, and the way these strings are wrapped should mean they keep their integrity and don’t fall out of tune or snap even if you play aggressively. The thick low end and smooth highs make this great for playing with a distortion pedal, through a metal or rock amp like an Orange amp or just playing clean.
This is another set of metal strings you don’t have to take our word for it due to the huge amount of positive reviews from musicians including professionals and beginners.
Ernie Ball’s Slinky strings are known the world round as being quite a unique design. Available in multiple sizes, their 10-46 set is the thickest gauge and most suitable for metal and drop tunings.
Ernie Ball claims these are the loudest and most expressive of all guitar strings. Their frequency response, strength, and ability to be played at lower tunings make them suitable for our list.
M-Steel stands for Maraging Steel, usually put to use in defense and aerospace, so they are extremely strong and hard wearing. The alloy produces a thick and full tone great for the standard sounds we associate with metal. They are even designed to stay in tune better and for longer than any other.
These are a little more expensive than the other products on the market, but definitely fit the bill and are certainly louder than many of the other strings we’ve tried. They have a little more give and bend than the other products and stay in tune brilliantly. Though the upgrade compared to Dunlops or D’Addarios isn’t huge, many guitarists swear by the Slinky range.
How to Choose Metal Guitar Strings for You
“Metal” is quite a big genre of music, with so many different styles of playing coming within this overall category. String brands have recognized this, and as you can see from this article there are a lot of different choices. Your task is working out which strings are best for you and your unique need and style of playing. If you like to play a lot of high, intricate solos, a hybrid gauge set with deep, thick lower strings and brighter high strings for soloing might be your best bet. A sludgy, thick sound for chords, power chords and rhythm might be best suited to whatever strings offer the deepest and thickest option.
Changing Your Strings
If you’re an experienced guitarist, you may well know how to change guitar strings already. If you’re a relative beginner, or this is your first set of new strings, the video below, made by Fender, should help.
We’ve focused on electric guitar strings in this article as you can see. While there are some bass guitar strings for metal and acoustic guitar strings that may give a bit more low-end response, or give to different tunings, electric guitars are those which give the signature metal sounds. This is why we have focused on heavy-gauge and nickel wound strings for electric guitars. These will go a long way to creating the sound you’re probably looking for.
Strings can’t be ignored. Having a beautiful guitar for metal is one thing, but if you don’t have the right strings it is like having a supercar with no fuel or power. There are too many guitarists out there ignoring the basic things that can propel your playing to the next level.
If you have any further thoughts or experience with the strings mentioned above, feel free to leave a comment below and share your opinions with our community.