From the Factory | April 1, 2024

Electric Guitar Strings 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Person holding colorful packs of guitar strings

So, you've just picked up your first electric guitar and you're eager to crank up the volume and start playing. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, understanding electric guitar strings is essential for getting the best sound out of your instrument. 

In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about them, including how many strings are on an electric guitar, how to remember electric guitar string notes, how to tune an electric guitar, what electric guitar strings are made of, what string gauge is best for beginners, and why Martin’s Darco® strings are a top choice for players. 

Yes, Martin makes our own electric guitar strings, too! 

black and white photo of a person playing an electric guitar

Understanding Electric Guitar Strings 

First things first. You may be wondering what notes are electric guitar strings? At the core of every standard electric guitar typically lies a set of six strings, each bearing a distinct name from the thickest to the thinnest when in standard tuning: E, A, D, G, B, and high E. To aid in memorization, aspiring guitarists often employ mnemonics like “Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie” to easily recall the string names. 

Understanding the arrangement and names of the strings is fundamental to navigating the fretboard and playing chords and melodies. 

The Most Common Electric Guitar String Metals 

Electric guitar strings are crafted from various metals, each with unique tonal characteristics and durability. 

Nickel-plated steel, the most popular choice, offers a balanced blend of warmth and brightness, making it suitable for a wide range of musical styles. Martin’s Darco® electric guitar strings are made of nickel-plated steel, but we’ll talk more about those later. 

Stainless steel strings provide enhanced durability and a bright, crisp tone, ideal for players seeking clarity and definition, while pure nickel strings deliver a warm, vintage-inspired sound with smooth treble response – perfect for recreating classic tones from the golden era of rock and blues. 

By understanding the properties of different string metals, players can tailor their guitar’s sound to suit their musical preferences and playing style. 

Lighter vs. Heavier String Gauge 

String gauge, meaning the thickness of the strings, plays a pivotal role in shaping the playability and tonal profile of any guitar. 

Lighter gauge strings with thinner diameters (the high E usually being around .010”) make bending and fretting easier, making them an ideal choice for beginners looking to hone their skills and build finger strength. Lighter gauge strings also exert less tension on the guitar neck, resulting in a smoother playing experience and reduced risk of hand fatigue during long practice sessions. These strings may sacrifice some low-end richness and sustain though when compared to their heavier counterparts. 

Heavier gauge strings with thicker diameters (the high E usually being around .012”) offer increased string tension and enhanced sustain, leading to a fuller, more robust tone with pronounced low-end response. While heavier gauge strings may require greater finger strength to fret and bend, they also provide seasoned players with added control and dynamic range, allowing for expressive playing and nuanced tonal shaping. 

If you feel light gauge strings are too light and heavy gauge strings are too heavy, Martin offers plenty of options and gauge combinations in between – like super light, extra light, custom light, and light/heavy (see chart below). 

Changing between different string gauges can affect things like action – how high your strings are from the fingerboard – so you may find yourself asking, “Why do my electric guitar strings buzz?” If that happens, make sure to get your guitar professionally set up by your nearest Martin dealer or service center so it plays its best. 

Ultimately, the choice between lighter and heavier gauge strings boils down to personal preference, playing style, and what kind of sounds you want to get out of your guitar. The only way to find out is to experiment and see what works best for you. 

A chart of guitar string tensions

Roundwound vs. Flatwound vs. Halfwound Winding 

How strings are wound – meaning how they’re wrapped around the string’s core wire – also significantly influences the feel and sound of a guitar. 

Roundwound strings provide a textured surface created through the winding process. They’re the most popular type of electric guitar string, and what Martin uses for its Darco® line. They typically deliver a bright, sustained tone favored by many contemporary guitarists across different genres, including rock, pop, and metal. The rough texture of roundwound strings allows for more friction between the string and the frets, resulting in extra articulation and clarity, particularly during aggressive playing techniques like palm muting and string bending. 

But the textured surface of roundwound strings may also create more fret noise and finger squeaks, requiring players to develop proper fret-hand technique and string muting skills to minimize unwanted noise and maintain a clean, articulate sound. 

Flatwound strings feature a smooth, polished surface achieved through the flattening of the winding wire during the manufacturing process. This smooth surface reduces friction between the string and the frets, leading to a softer, mellower tone with subdued treble response and reduced finger noise. Flatwound strings are commonly associated with jazz, blues, and vintage rock styles, where players prioritize warmth, smoothness, and vintage authenticity in their tone. The smooth feel of flatwound strings also contributes to a comfortable playing experience, making them well-suited for extended jam sessions and intricate fingerstyle techniques. 

Flatwound strings also have greater durability and longevity compared to roundwound strings, thanks to their reduced susceptibility to fret wear and corrosion, but they may not provide that bite and clarity that roundwound strings provide. 

For players who want a compromise between the brightness of roundwound strings and the smoothness of flatwound strings, halfwound strings offer a versatile middle ground. Halfwound strings feature a partially flattened surface achieved through a combination of roundwound and flatwound winding techniques, resulting in a balanced tone with moderate brightness and smoothness. 

The hybrid design of halfwound strings provides players with the best of both worlds, combining the articulate attack of roundwound strings with the silky feel of flatwound strings, making them suitable for a wide range of playing styles and musical genres. 

Coated vs. Uncoated Electric Guitar Strings 

The decision between coated and uncoated electric guitar strings has a lot to do with longevity and tone. 

Coated strings, which are coated with a thin polymer layer, boast superior resistance to corrosion, moisture, and dirt buildup, resulting in extended string life and sustained playability. The coating acts as a barrier against contamination, preventing them from penetrating the string windings and compromising their structural integrity. As a result, coated strings retain their bright, lively tone and smooth feel for a much longer period compared to uncoated strings, making them attractive for players seeking hassle-free maintenance and consistent performance. 

The reduced friction between the coated strings and the frets also contributes to smoother string bending and fretting, making playing a bit more comfortable. But some players may see coated strings as having a slightly subdued tone or less dynamic range compared to uncoated strings, due to the additional layer of material dampening the string vibrations.  

Uncoated strings offer a more traditional playing experience with a raw, natural tone and responsive feel that appeals to purists and tone aficionados. Without a polymer coating, uncoated strings produce a vibrant, dynamic sound with enhanced treble sparkle and harmonic richness, allowing players to fully unleash the sonic potential of their instrument. While uncoated strings may require more frequent changing to combat corrosion and oxidation, they reward players with unparalleled tonal purity. 

Again, the choice between coated and uncoated strings comes down to personal preference and what you’re looking to get out of your guitar. Luckily, Martin invested early in research and development to create its own unique, patented string treatment process that you can read more about here that gives players the best of both worlds. 

Black and white photo of a person playing an electric guitar

What Are Darco® Electric Guitar Strings 

So, what are the best electric guitar strings? Enter our Darco® electric guitar and bass strings – premium nickel guitar strings built to be tough and affordable so you can keep your electric guitar screaming, whether you want twang, snarl, or bite. Renowned for their exceptional tone, durability, and consistency, every step of the Darco® manufacturing process is done with meticulous attention to detail and uncompromising quality standards. 

The result is a set of electric guitar strings that delivers unparalleled performance, reliability, longevity, and affordability, empowering musicians to unleash their inner artist with confidence. Whether you're a professional touring artist, a weekend warrior gigging at local venues, or an aspiring musician honing your skills in the practice room, Martin’s Darco® strings are the way to go. Play more. Pay Less. 

Guitar Strings: Why We Make Our Own 

Strings are far too important to the tone of your guitar to leave to someone else. Since 1833, Martin’s goal has been to make the best guitars possible – guitars people fall in love with over and over again. We believe that the strings, the last critical ingredient in the guitar making process, are the vocal cords of any guitar. That's why we make our own. We’ve been making our own strings for over 50 years, because tone matters. 

You'll find a wide range of Martin strings that fit your instrument, playing style, and budget. You'll enjoy incredible tone no matter what you play. Because that's what it's all about. 

So, if you’re in the market for a new set of strings or need a few extra packs to keep in your case, make sure to explore our Darco® line of electric guitar and bass strings, along with our wide range of acoustic, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, and classical options, too. 

Happy playing!