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, you'll be presented with the best-suited strings to tuning down on your electric guitar.
6 Best Strings for Drop Tunings
The XL Nickel Wound guitar strings by D’Addario are their most popular offering. Known for their bright, articulate sound and ability to keep a guitar’s intonation consistent, the XLs are used across various musical styles.
The EXL117s are unique amongst the other strings in the XL Nickel Wound line. First of all, their gauge consists of a medium-sized top and an extra heavy bottom. This combination of thicknesses makes the 117s perfect for drop tuning.
The extra heavy bottom ensures that the strings retain enough tension to remain playable, even if you’re tuning as far down as three or four steps. Drop C sounds great with the EXL117s.
D’Addario is a manufacturer who is held dear by many musicians, along with primary rivals Ernie Ball. This is largely down to their musician-first approach, which is reflected in the construction process of their strings.
The EXL117s are composed of a high-carbon steel core, which is shaped hexagonally. This core is then wrapped in a layer of nickel-plated steel, resulting in top quality and a long-lasting guitar string.
The DDT-11 strings were specially formulated for drop tunings. DR Strings used their decades of experience to come up with a construction process that perhaps creates the perfect string for drop D, C, and below.
This process consists of mixing the tried-and-trusted techniques of years gone by with modern innovations. The DDT-11s were handcrafted meticulously to ensure that they have the appropriate dimensions, feel, and tone.
Drop tunings and metal are intrinsically linked. If you're a metal guitarist who plays with a lot of gain and high-output, you'll find the DDT-11 set to be perfect for this style. They offer plenty of crunch in the low-end and impeccable tuning stability.
The issue with using regular strings for drop tuning is that the lack of tension can cause their tone to be compromised. The string needs to remain resistant enough to handle the impact of a plectrum.
DR Strings has used a combination of nickel-plated steel winding, and the round-wound style. This winding houses a robust steel core. The gauges of the individual strings start at .011 and go up to .054.
Few string manufacturers can claim to have achieved the heights of Ernie Ball. Their Slinky line of strings caters to all stylistic needs and combines for effortless playability with a reliable, high-quality tone.
The Mammoth Slinky strings, with their tin-plated hexagonal steel sore and nickel, played steel wrapping, are a great choice for metal and heavy rock guitarists who like to detune their low E.
The low E string that comes with the Mammoth Slinky set has an increased gauge of .062. This added thickness allows it to retain a good level of tension when tuned down to a low D or C for dark, powerful riffs.
One of the qualities that set Ernie Ball’s strings apart from their competitors, is their stability and resistance to breaking. At the end of each string, there is a ball end, which is secured by a u lock-twist motion.
This means that even the most aggressive of guitarists can dig into the strings without the fear of them prematurely breaking. The Mammoth Slinky strings can even go as low as drop B and drop A, if required.
4. GHS GBZW
With a gauge range of .010-.060, the GHS GBZW Guitar Boomers are a wise choice for drop-tuning enthusiasts. The low E is thicker than usual, but the rest of the strings are fairly standard, so you can still play a variety of styles.
One of the main advantages of having a .010 high E string is that you are still able to play intricate melodies and chord inversions while benefitting from the increased thickness of the low E.
Drop tuning was historically used as a technique by blues guitarists, as it provided them with more freedom over the drone note that accompanied their solos.
Nowadays, it is used across multiple styles for many different effects, with metal being the predominant genre.
Metal and blues are more similar than they appear. Although the tempos and rhythms of the two genres are certainly contrasting, the tones of lead guitarists bear many similarities to one another.
The GHS GBZW strings cater to both blues and metal. They produce a crunching, high-power output with plenty of attitude in the treble frequencies. Meanwhile, the thick low E string sounds clear and rumbling.
Elixir Strings' Nanoweb 12077s are the result of a meticulous and intentional construction process, which ensures that they retain their freshness for longer. On top of that, their design also minimizes unnecessary friction on your fingers.
Nanoweb strings are layered in an ultra-thin coating, which measures less than 5-microns. This coating makes them feel impressively smooth underhand, and it also improves their longevity.
When drop tuning, Elixir’s unique and innovative coating method markedly improves their performance. The .052 low E string gauge is ideal for drop D, and can also go down to drop C with no issues.
These Nanoweb strings are a good middle ground between thick-gauged options which sound especially dark and lighter options that perhaps don't have the required characteristics for tuning down your guitar.
Overall, the Elixir Strings Nanoweb offers a smooth, frictionless feel under your fingers, the gauge size required for drop D and C, and innovative coating material that prevents corrosion and keeps your tone pristine for longer.
With their Slinky and Super Slinky range, Ernie Ball revolutionized guitar and bass strings. Both of these varieties are popular for their fluid playability, distinctive tone, and long-lasting construction.
For drop tunings, the aforementioned string types are not the best choice. Thicker gauges and more robust designs are required to cater to the detuning of the guitar's low-end strings.
With the Not Even Slinky strings, Ernie ball has created a set that retains the smooth playability and vibrant tone of their other offerings, while having the thick gauge size required for drop tuning.
Tonally, the Not Even Slinky strings sound balanced across the fretboard. Whether you’re dropping down by a single tone or beyond, these wonderfully-crafted strings will preserve your guitar’s tone.
Drop Tunings: String Gauges & Construction
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.
If you intend to use more extreme drop tunings, such as drop B or drop A, you need to go for a set of strings that have an especially thick low E string. A gauge of 70 would be well suited to this tuning.
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!