A Quick Start-Guide to Buying Strings for Metal
You’ll want to ask yourself 3 questions when looking around for the best strings for metal, specific to your needs. Firstly, would you like those obscene, chicken-strangling bends, or more of a deep, thick sound? Secondly, do you plan on playing in any drop tunings? And thirdly, would you like a brighter tone, or a darker tone? Each of those questions will help you determine which set is best for you.
To Over-Bend or Not To Over-Bend?
By choosing a lighter gauge of strings, you’ll be able to much more easily bend multiple steps, capping off a brilliant legato run, as opposed to using a heavier gauge. Know that a light gauge would probably be a set of strings which starts with a 0.09″ string. On the other hand, one of the problems with using strings that are quite light is that you might accidentally bend notes, it almost feels like there’s no resistance to “push back on”, and – at times – it can promote over-playing, in a weird mental way.
With all that being said, the greater facility which lighter gauges present to you, easier bending, less finger strain, and so on, makes lighter gauges favoured by many guitarists. In case you’d like to tap into those pros, then consider trying a lighter gauge string.
Will You Use Drop Tunings?
In case you use drop tunings, you’ll more likely want to explore buying thicker-gauged strings. This is because, with the bass strings loosened to reach those deeper pitches, a heavier gauge will keep the string taut, while lighter gauges might feel too “flaccid” to properly play.
Usually, for Drop D tunings, a set of 0.010s or thicker will be fine, though, for deeper drop tunings, you may want to consider thicker gauges, or there are special (though usually a bit pricier) packs of strings, made specifically for drop tunings, that have normal gauged treble strings, coupled with thicker bass strings.
Do You Seek a Brighter or Darker Sound?
For a brighter sound, you may want to lean more towards steel, titanium, or cobalt strings, all of which are known for their dynamics in the treble ranges. For darker sounds, you can try materials like chrome (which is actually quite popular among jazz players as well, as they’re less shrill), and pure nickel. Though, for more of an “in-between” sound, nickel-plated steel (which is like a hybrid between nickel and steel), and polymer-coated strings can do the job for you.
When it comes to strings, the best you can do to discover which material matches your desired “equalizer” settings is to block out a 3 month period, purchase several different materials of strings, and test out which ones match what you’d like to hear. As a caveat, also remember that lots of the tonal brightness or warmth will come – most importantly, straight from your fingers (for example, how you vary the location where you pick, nearer or farther from the bridge), your pickup settings, and amp settings, so don’t worry – just because you buy steel strings, it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t get a warm sound.
Also, How Often Should You Change Your Strings?
If you ask around among the local professionals in your city, you’ll often hear that they’ll change their strings as frequently as every two to four weeks. To some, this can be a surprising answer; it’s kind of like how Tiger Woods get a new set of wedges for every weekly tournament because he wears out the grooves.
Should you change strings as frequently as the pros? The answer is specific to you. If you sweat a lot, pick your strings aggressively, play very frequently, and play in smoky environments, then you probably want to change strings more often. On the other hand, if you’re going through a period where you’re not playing very much, then you can leave your strings on for quite some time.
Recommendations for Metal Guitar Strings
If you’re looking for string suggestions based on what many amateur and professional metal players use, then feel free to see the guide below. As a disclaimer, know that most (if not all) of your sound comes from your hands, and probably the most important factor to consider when it comes to strings is mainly string gauges. However, it’s still worth taking into account the other factors, and we’ve tried to do that below. Hopefully this helps you get started in beefing up your metal setup!