Heavy metal guitar is an American cultural staple but can be difficult to recreate with your instrument. Whether you have the right guitar setup or not, these specific, best guitar strings for metal, heavy, can improve your guitar’s tone and get that low tone sound.
Metal music truly began around the 1960s, as The Rolling Stones rock era segway into a more extreme genre of music.
Louder, more rebellious musicians were emerging as the 1960s came to a close, specifically with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. This era perfectly complemented the social unrest of the Vietnam War, as these groups represented the anger of their generation.
The very first heavy metal music came from English band Black Sabbath, who reinvented rock n roll with intense, brooding tunes fit for any horror film. Lead singer Ozzy Osburne brought his crazy spunk to the stage, backed by the pounding bass and drums of his bandmates.
Not far behind Black Sabbath, heavy metal band Deep Purple formed in 1972 just outside of London. The five bandmates created a more refined type of metal, showcasing their advanced skill rather than insane stage presence.
Combining the two distinct elements of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, the late 70s brought Judas Priest. Not only did this band produce ominous yet complex music, but they also created the ‘heavy metal look’ we know today.
As an openly gay musician, lead singer Rob Halford single-handedly developed the black leather, shirtless looks that defined heavy metal.
As the 1980s began, heavy metal was taking over England as bands like Iron Maiden and Motorhead were rising in popularity. The heavy metal sound had shifted away from its British punk roots, as 80s bands took inspiration from pop music, which pushed metal’s influence outside of the UK.
As metal made its way through the globe and over to the US, the stage presence, and hair, got crazier by the second. Groups like Metallica, Motley Crue, and Poison took over the San Francisco and Seattle music scene.
Late 80s metal musicians turned the intensity up yet again as a new genre called thrash metal was formed. With many political messages, thrash metal was the most intense subgenre of metal and pushed their own limits. However, this did not last long as mass audiences quickly got tired of explosive music and performances, which led the way for the 90s grunge era.
The Seattle-area exploded with grunge bands like Nirvana who ditched the upbeat energy and replaced it with an angsty guitar. With depressed vibes, the grunge era represented social frustration and sadness during the economic recession.
This decade left traditional metal music in the past and promoted alternative rock, leaving remaining metal bands to remain in the underground music scene.
Although the 2000s brought the reunion tours of many famous metal bands of the past, we still haven’t seen mainstream metal return to its former glory. However, this has not stopped passionate heavy metal musicians from pursuing their tunes.
Do heavy guitar strings sound better?
Although they are harder to handle and require a good amount of finger strength, heavier strings produce a fuller and more powerful sound from your guitar. Most professional guitarists prefer thicker strings as their fingers have already adjusted to the more difficult resistance.
Beginners should definitely stick to thinner strings at the start of their musical career and then work their way up by slowly increasing their finger strength.
These strings are easier to control, bend, and pick, so beginners can get acquainted with the feeling of playing guitar. Not only are thinner strings better for most beginners, but they are also preferred in a variety of specific genres.
When playing country or folk music, thinner strings may be a better choice for the heavy fingerpicking of the genres. Thinner strings can produce a clearer sound and an easier experience for the picking hand, as it will not face resistance.
You may also see thinner strings more common among pop music, as the genre is more focused on higher, treble frequencies than bass. When you think of your favorite pop song, it probably does not have a deeper, full sound, but instead, light and melodious tune.
Another genre that prefers thinner strings is the blues. The blues style guitar often makes use of string blending, as guitarists prefer higher tension strings to get a warmer tone.
Contemporary jazz guitar is similar, as it utilizes many advanced techniques where heavier stringers are not easy to work with.
After putting in a good amount of time with your instrument, you can advance to a set of thicker strings and increase the full, bass sound of your guitar. Guitar strings are measured in numbers, as of the smaller, the number means the thinner the string.
An average thin string would be about .008, while a string on the thicker side would be about .056. Remember to note that when purchasing, guitar strings usually are labeled in reference to their thinnest string.
Moving up to thicker strings can increase your strength and endurance in your fretting hand. Thicker strings are usually used for rock or metal music, as these genres require heavier tones and low tune.
Overall, it’s not that heavy guitar strings sound “better”, but can produce a more full, deeper sound that is specific to certain genres of music. The thickness of your strings is dependent on what kind of music you will be playing, and also a matter of preference.
What kind of metal are guitar strings made of?
Most electric guitar strings are steel, usually with the three thickest strings coated in nickel to increase its thickness and weight.
Other guitars may have pure steel and nickel strings, with no other metal plated around it.
Although there are pros and cons to both nickel and steel strings, steel provides a brighter musical presence while nickel offers a fuller sound quality. T
The rich tone of nickel strings is more suited to blues music and specific rhythm techniques.
Acoustic guitars are usually made of steel strings, with either a brass or bronze plate. Brass plated strings are referred to as “80/20 bronze” and provide a lively presence. However, bronze plated strings produce a warmer style, mainly for folk and finger-picking techniques.
The most uncommon type of guitar string is nylon, which is mainly on classical guitars. Although they produce less volume, nylon strings can give an acoustic guitar a slower, more relaxed sound.
If you’re looking for a more expensive, long-lasting guitar string, coated strings may be a great option for you. Coated strings refer to any kind of guitar string that has been coated in plastic polymer to increase durability. These strings do have a slippery feel to them, which can be difficult for advanced guitarists to get accustomed to after years of playing without it.
Mainly used by metal guitarists, hybrid metal strings are another option for your guitar. Hybrid strings usually have three lighter strings and three much heavier strings, which creates the perfect environment for a metal soloist. They may not provide the deepest sound, but they are easy to maneuver with rhythm.
What are the best sounding guitar strings?
Specifically for heavy metal rockers, nickel gauge strings are the most common. However, it is not necessarily about the metal type, but the functionality.
When playing intense heavy metal, your strings will often loosen over a jam session, and lead to “fret buzz”. The best metal guitar strings are specific metal gauge strings that will hold tension without loosening. Your strings must be durable as well since most metal guitarists are not delicate with their playing.
Going even further than the strings type and weight, metal guitarists create the best sounds from perfecting their adaptations.
For example, most metal musicians tune their instruments down rather than play at a standard tonnage. Doing this decreases tension in your thinner strings, thus creating the need for thicker ones.
These adaptations then lead to the need for a correct gauge- one of metal’s most important weapons.
Some metal guitarists play with a lighter string gauge- or thickness- of around .010 to .050, which is an easier gauge for beginners to learn the basics.
A thinner gauge can also decrease pressure on the neck of your guitar and help prevent further wear and tear. Although lighter strings are easier for beginners, these strings are less durable and hardly produce any powerful volume.
To please both sides of the gauge spectrum, medium gauge strings are used by many rock legends due to their improved volume and strength. This refers to strings between .009 and .013.
More intense versions of thrash metal utilize thicker strings, as these genres produce low tune drops and a fuller sound. Heavier strings can also be tuned differently to the needs of more advanced musicians.
Beyond thickness, musicians also rely on winded strings to produce high-quality metal sound.
The popular low notes of rock and metal take a very thick string to play, however, it is difficult to create a string this thick without interrupting the playing process for the musician. There are four common types of string windings:
- Round Wound- The most common type of wrapping, which provides sustainability and traction
- Flatwound- Flat metal wrapped around the string, which creates a smooth tone
- Half Round- Durable string wrapping, less round than Round Wound
- Round- Created specifically to highlight harmonics and increase string stress
When purchasing a string pack, do not stick to the general rules of metal, but instead research the specific sub-genre you are most interested in playing.
Every sub-genre is different and requires various weights and additions. You can even google your favorite bands and guitarists to see what kind of strings they prefer to play with.
- D’Addario Nickel– These affordable, nickel strings are perfect for drop tuning and provide a high-quality sound. Made in the USA, this brand makes strings for all types of musical genres, but their heavy metal-specific package is recommended.
- Dunlop Nickel– This $8 string pack comes in a variety of weight and specifically made for drop tuning. These heavy strings can produce low tunes and can be played with a distortion pedal.
- Ernie Ball Nickel– Noted as “Amazon’s Choice”, this well-reviewed string pack is affordable and comes in a variety of thicknesses. This pack features affordable yet high-quality strings from one of the industry’s best brands.
- DR Dimebag Darrell– The beloved, late guitarist Dimebag Darrell used these very strings to create his unique, ominous sound. Best used for hard rock or thrash metal, these expressive strings hold a lot of power.
- Stringjoy– At around $12, these strings are smooth like butter and provide intense retention. Although they do not last as long as other packs, these strings produce unique rock sound.
These five guitar strings packs are all well-priced nickel strings perfect for any heavy metal guitarist.
Although each has its own specific pros, the kits are all cheap enough that it makes sense trying out different kinds can help you find which string package works best for you.
For beginners, I recommend purchasing thinner strings and working your way up to a comfortable thickness while also building up your finger strength. Once your fingers are strong enough to handle heavier strings, try out different brands and metal types to find which you prefer, keeping in mind the type of metal subgenre you often play.
Purchasing guitar strings is definitely not as big of a commitment as buying an actual guitar or amp, but if you don’t want to spend money trying different string types, ask some of your guitarist friends or neighbors for input on their strings, and maybe even ask to play on their guitar to see how their strings feel.
Overall, any of the guitar strings listed above will act as great additions to your current guitar setup and hopefully improve your heavy metal aspirations. When embarking on your metal musical journey, remember to research the specific sub-genre you plan to play, educate yourself on the iconic musicians and albums, and find the right tools for you to create the music you want.