Sometimes a guitarist needs to reach lower notes than standards tuning allows for. Selecting the best strings for drop tunings makes it easier for your guitar to descend into the lower registers.
Drop tuning relaxes the tension on your low E string, and therefore, certain types of guitar strings are designed to accommodate that. In this article, I've picked some of the best-suited strings for tuning down on your electric guitar.
6 Best Strings for Drop Tunings
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Strings for Drop Tunings
- Drop Tuning Basics & Other Factors
1. D’Addario EXL117
D’Addario strings are fairly common among metal and rock guitarists. These genres tend to use drop tunings more, making strings that can handle these tunings a must.
It isn’t hard to see why these strings are so popular. They have great intonation and tension. But that isn’t too surprising for D’Addario strings.
D’Addario claims they are optimized for D tuning, but I have no problem tuning them as low as C, drop B. They do get a bit too loose when tuned lower, but raising your action a bit could be an easy solution.
They are nickel-plated, which mellows out the sound a little bit. When drop tuning, especially low like B or A, having strings with a brighter sound and more attack is better.
In drop D, and even drop C, I don’t find the mellower tone to come through that much. The tone is still quite bright and punchy. It does darken a bit going lower and I can certainly see that putting some people off.
I wouldn’t call it muddy, the strings just lose a little bit of their brightness the lower you tune them. Although some might actually want that darker tone to come through on lower tunings.
The EXL117s are also quite tough. I tend to play more aggressively on drop tunings. That means that having tough strings is kind of a must.
I suspect anyone else who plays in a drop tuning will also want tough strings. The last thing you want is a string snapping while you are in the middle of a heavy breakdown riff.
As for lifespan, these strings are about what you can expect from D’Addario. They should easily last about a month or two depending on how often and hard you play them.
Overall, they are great quality for their relatively low price.
2. DR Strings DDT-11
I wasn’t all too sure about how DR Strings would perform on drop tunings. I am much more familiar with their Pure Blues and that is really how I see DR Strings.
I was pleasantly surprised then when the DDT-11’s sounded and played really well drop-tuned. Their intonation and tension are great, although they do feel a little bit looser than other strings.
This isn’t a big problem since I didn’t notice any fret buzz and the slightly looser tension actually makes them quite comfortable to play.
On the tone side, they aren’t as bright as other strings. They have a fairly warm sound. They are also not quite as punchy.
This might sound like a bad thing, but I think this actually makes them great strings for mellower-sounding metal. If you play music in the style of Deftones or Russian Circles, I think these are a great fit.
The slightly lower tension did make me worry that the strings wouldn’t stay in tune. Luckily, they retain their tuning pretty well and I wasn’t retuning every few minutes. Although, having a good locking nut and bridge might help keep them in tune.
The biggest downside with these strings is their lifespan. Compared to other strings, they only last a few weeks, maybe a month if you don’t play that often.
They aren’t that expensive, so replacing them isn’t going to break the bank. But if you are like me and you don’t really enjoy the process of replacing strings, it might be a hassle doing it every couple of weeks.
I have also seen some people online mention that they have gotten packs where some of the strings were a bit rusted. This doesn’t seem to happen all too often, but is something that I think should be kept in mind.
The heaviest strings Ernie Ball makes and certainly on this list, the Mammoth Slinkies are exactly what they claim to be.
These strings are made for low tunings. If you play a lot of drop A, even drop G, then these might be the perfect strings for you.
Their tension and sound are great for these low tunings. They retain a nice amount of stiffness, so you don’t have strings flopping around creating noise.
As you might expect from such a heavy gauge, they have a lot of low-end. Riffs are very thick and boomy with these strings.
I was worried that they might be a bit too heavy and lose their attack. Somehow, Ernie Ball has made these strings retain their brightness at such low tunings that they are still very punchy.
I think the best way I can describe these is if you have a 6-string guitar, but you are looking for that heavy, djenty sound of a 7-string, get a set of Mammoth Slinkies. It isn’t going to sound exactly the same, but certainly, a good alternative to actually buying a 7-string.
As the name suggests, these are mammoth strings. The low E string is a massive .062 gauge, while the high E comes in at .012 gauge.
This will make these strings quite uncomfortable for a lot of guitarists, myself included. The low strings especially feel a bit unwieldy. I would rather sacrifice the huge sound these strings provide if it means playing is more comfortable.
Strength and longevity are what you can expect from Ernie Ball strings. These strings are going to last quite a long time before they lose their tone and tension.
And I don’t think you need to even worry about them breaking. These strings are so thick and well-built, you can really push these strings and they just won’t show any sign of giving in.
4. GHS GBZW Guitar Boomers
The GHS GBZW’s are essentially a thicker version of GHS’s Guitar Boomer strings. They might be more commonly known as the Zakk Wylde signature strings.
If you are familiar with Zakk Wylde’s sound, then you already know what you will be getting with these strings. A thick, heavy, and aggressive sound.
They aren’t as bright as something like D’Addarios, but still bright enough to have a lot of punch.
Their tension is also great. They have a nice stiffness without being too tight. Although I did feel them becoming a bit too loose when going lower than a drop C tuning.
I did notice that they are a bit temperamental when it comes to getting in tune and staying. On a first setup, it does feel like they take a bit more fine-tuning to find their sweet spot. After that, I also noticed that I was retuning more often than other strings.
Just like the Mammoth Slinkies, the GBZW’s might be a bit tough for some guitarists, especially the low strings. They are quite thick and the gauge jumps quite a bit from .017 on the G to .034 on the D.
The nice thing about these strings, though, is the fact that the high strings are such a thinner gauge. This means that your riffs will be thick and heavy, while solos will be fast and sharp.
This will make these strings a great choice for anyone that plays progressive, djenty music. Something in the style of Periphery.
As for how long they will last, I would place them somewhere between DR Strings and Ernie Ball. They won’t last quite as long as Ernie Balls, but longer than DR Strings.
I would say you can expect to get a solid month of playing out of these strings. And considering their price, that is certainly not a bad deal.
5. Elixir Strings Nanoweb
The Elixir Nanoweb 10-52s are among the best drop tuning strings out there and are usually my strings of choice for playing in drop D.
These strings have a lot going for them, from their playability, strength, and tone. Very few strings compare, at least in my opinion.
They are a bit bright at first, but that brightness mellows out a bit and turns into a well-rounded sound with a punchy attack. They sound especially great in the mid-range.
The tension of Elixir strings is also fantastic. I would describe it almost as flexible. They are stiff enough that they won’t wobble around and won’t lose their tuning. But they are also loose enough to make playing and bending smooth and easy.
I also play in drop C quite a lot. Their lighter .052 gauge might not seem like it, but drop C is a breeze for these strings.
Their lighter gauge also means that they are much more comfortable to play than heavier strings. This is all without losing much in terms of low-end. Of course, they aren’t as heavy sounding as something like the Mammoth Slinkies, but still fairly heavy.
If you are planning to go lower than drop C, then their lighter gauge might be an issue. I have tuned down to drop B with these strings. While they still sound and play great, I can certainly see some people finding them to be too loose and lacking in tone.
Of course, there is a catch to having such great strings. And the catch comes in the form of the rather steep price of these strings.
This will certainly put a lot of people off from buying these strings. But I do think it is more than worth it for what you are getting. Also, keep in mind that Elixir strings last a really long time and you can easily keep playing them for at least two months.
Another set of Ernie Ball strings, but quite different from the Mammoth Slinkies. I would say the Not Even Slinkies are closer to the Elixir Nanowebs.
Their tones, tension, and playability are very similar. The obvious difference is that the Not Even Slinkies are a heavier gauge, meaning their tension is also higher.
I do think they are still quite flexible. They are still smooth and easy to play, but bending does require a little bit more elbow grease.
A heavier gauge also means that they have a much fuller bottom-end. This of course means a boomier sound that works very well with lower tunings.
On the other side, having strings that aren’t as heavy gauge as the Mammoth Slinkies means that they are much more comfortable to play. .056 gauge is that sweet spot for me where the strings are thick enough to be heavy without being uncomfortable.
If the Elixirs are too light for you and the Mammoths too heavy, then I think these strings will be a great middle-ground. They provide the best of both worlds. A heavy, punchy string that is still easy and comfortable to play.
As for how long they last, they are about the same as the Mammoth Slinkies. They should easily last at least a month before needing to be replaced.
The only thing I will say about these strings, and this goes for all Ernie Ball strings, is that they do take a while to settle. When first setting up Ernie Ball strings, they usually have quite a bit of tinniness.
They also take some time to stay in tune. It usually takes about a day or two before I feel Ernie Ball strings have settled fully. Other strings are normally quicker to settle.
Apart from that small nitpick, these strings are an excellent value for money.
Drop Tuning Basics & Other Factors
Discovering drop tuning opens up a whole new world of possibilities for a guitarist. I found that when I seemed to be hitting a brick wall in terms of my progress in playing in standard tuning, learning how to play in drop D and drop C brought back the original excitement I had when first starting on the guitar.
The most important thing to look out for when choosing strings for drop tunings is the gauge of the low E. As a general rule, the lower you intend to tune the E string, the thicker its gauge needs to be.
Ideal String Gauge for Drop Tuning
- For drop D, the ideal string gauge is 10-52 for most guitars.
- The ideal string gauge for drop C is 11-54 or 11-56. However, some people go with 12-56, or even 12-60 for a much heavier lower end.
- The ideal drop B string gauge is 11-60 or 12-60 (depends on the scale of the guitar).
If you intend to use more extreme drop tunings, such as drop A, you need to go for a set of strings that have an especially thick low E string. A gauge of 13-65 would be well suited to drop A tuning.
This might be the most important thing when it comes to strings used for drop tunings. Because you are effectively loosening the strings when detuning, they will of course be looser.
This means that the strings will vibrate much more wildly. This increased vibration can cause fret noise.
The best way to avoid this noise is to use strings with a higher tension. This will dampen some of the vibrations and allow the strings to reset much quicker.
The other benefit of a higher tension is that your strings will stay in tune for much longer. Since the strings are looser, they also travel further when vibrating. This stretches the strings more which affects the tuning.
Material and Construction
When playing in drop tunings, you will likely be playing with a lot of distortion. So, having strings with great low-end, punchy highs, and great sustain will sound much better.
Nickel-plated strings are great since they also add a bit of warmth, but if you want more attack, I would recommend using steel strings.
Round wound with a solid steel core is also ideal. Since you are probably also going to be playing more aggressively, strong strings that won’t snap easily are a must.
Raising String Action
One thing I have noticed when tuning lower is that you can sometimes still get a little bit of fret noise, even with high tension strings.
The easiest solution is to simply raise the action of your strings a bit until the noise goes away. A small amount should be enough to get rid of the noise without impacting your playing.
Drop tuning is a wonderful method of adding more low-end thickness to your guitar’s output. Whether you want to play a bass-heavy drone to jam over, or you need extra power and depth for metal guitar playing, you need to choose the right strings.
It’s important to first, establish what varieties of drop tuning you are likely to play. Then you can identify the right gauge sizes for that tuning. Lastly, all that’s left to do is enjoy exploring the tonal differences that these strings provide!