There have been times while playing guitar where I wished I could add a little bit of warmth and dial back the twang of my sound.
No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t get my guitar to sound the way I wanted it to. Then one day someone recommended that I try out pure nickel strings.
I was introduced to a whole new world of possibilities on that day, and I would love to do the same for others. So, here are a few of my picks for the best pure nickel guitar strings.
Best Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings
Table of Contents
- Best Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings
- Why Choose Pure Nickel Strings Over Steel or Nickel-plated
- Are Pure Nickel Strings Durable?
- Cheaper in the Long Run (The Fret Effect)
- The Bottom End
1. DR Strings Pure Blues
I have to admit that DR Strings aren’t my first choice when it comes to strings in general. After spending some time with the Pure Blues, however, I think that I will certainly be considering them and at least recommending them from now on.
After putting the Pure Blues on, the first thing I noticed was how soft and smooth these strings feel. Nickel strings are known for being soft. But to me, these feel softer than usual.
I also like that they aren’t very tense strings. There is this nice balance between tense and loose. This balance makes the Pure Blues quite quick and easy to play, but I never had them slip and the bends felt very good.
Feeling good to play is one thing but the strings also need to sound good. Thankfully, the Pure Blues deliver in tone just as much as feel.
They have a very warm and smooth tone. They actually remind me a bit of the blues sound of the 1930s. These strings have a very vintage sound for sure.
Pure nickel strings can sometimes venture into muddy territory, but I didn’t really get that muddiness with the Pure Blues. They have enough crispness to still sound nice and clean. The sound is still fairly mellow and I had to push the volume and gain to get some bite from the strings.
I would suggest putting these strings on your guitar a few days before any gigs or recording sessions. They take a few days to really settle and be at the right stretch and strength.
I am also not a big fan of how DR Strings puts two strings per envelope. I understand this is to cut costs and likely wastage, but it is a bit annoying to have to untangle strings and then figure out which is which.
2. D’Addario XL Pure Nickel
D’Addario strings have a great track record with me and countless other guitarists. That meant that the bar was set pretty high for the XL Pure Nickel strings, and I think they lived up to that standard.
As is expected from pure nickel strings, the D’Addario XLs are soft to the touch. There was nothing out of the ordinary for me about the feel of these strings. What I did find extraordinary was their strength.
I was able to do some fairly crazy bends without feeling like the strings were going to snap. At one point, I was doing full two and a half tone bends before feeling like I had to back off again.
The XL Pure Nickels were able to handle a lot more punishment than I expected. I was really digging into them and they simply brushed it off. This does come at the cost of the strings being a bit more on the tense side. You can play more aggressively, but you do have to work a bit harder for it overall.
The situation on the tone side of things is much the same. The XLs have the warmth and smoothness that I expect from pure nickel strings. What stood out for me though, was the amount of sustain these strings have. I felt like I could hold notes for days before they would start to fade out.
They are also a bit brighter than a lot of other pure nickel strings I have played. I was able to get quite a nice attack and they seem to handle higher levels of gain quite well.
I did notice some small spots of corrosion after about a week of playing them. These were pretty small and not very noticeable and I didn’t notice any dip in tone quality.
My experience with other D’Addario strings makes me think that it might just be a fluke and these strings will likely last a few weeks before they have to be replaced.
3. Ernie Ball Classic Rock N Roll
They feel a lot like other Ernie Ball strings to me. They are of course softer to the touch since they are pure nickel strings. Besides the slight difference in touch, I think they are pretty much the same as something like Regular Slinkys.
The Rock N Rolls are incredibly durable and have a very nice balance between tension and looseness. They do feel a bit less tense than other Ernie Ball strings and I didn’t have to work as much to bend them. Also, they felt a bit faster overall.
These strings also stay in tune incredibly well. I think I only retuned the strings once or twice, and even then I only had to make very small adjustments.
Classic Rock N Roll is a very fitting name and describes the sound of these strings perfectly. Unlike other pure nickel strings that have a more vintage 50s and 60s sound, the Classic Rock N Rolls are firmly 70s and 80s.
I knew when I first saw the name, I just had to play some Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and AC/DC to test these strings. They are excellently balanced strings, with a nice open and bright top end, a full and warm bottom, and a beefy mid.
The thing that always amazes me about Ernie Ball strings and what keeps me coming back to them is just how long they last. I haven’t had the Rock N Rolls for long enough to be sure but after about a week they still feel and sound as fresh as the day I first put them on.
I can’t find any faults with the Classic Rock N Rolls, and I am almost tempted to call them flawless. If I had to pick a flaw though, it would be that they do have a slight tinniness at first. But after being broken in, they sound amazing.
4. GHS R+RL Nickel Rockers
I remember being a child and seeing the GHS Sub Zero posters in my favorite music store. It was next-level technology. They used a cryogenic treatment for the strings. Just like Terminator 2. Oh, my God, what a beautiful time the nineties were!
Why do I bring this up? Well, because these nickel rockers are the exact opposite. They are a trip to the past. Yes, they sounded just right with my Fender ‘51 Nocaster Custom Shop. The guitar has a natural (and lovely) treble-oriented tone that was very hard to tame, and these strings just did it.
Believe me, Rolling Stones licks had that feel and vibe they have on the records. The guitar’s heavy twang became quite mellow but was still enough to cut through the mix of a 5-piece band.
But that’s just the sound part, there’s another part of strings that’s related to feel. These strings are one of those few examples in which these two indicators go hand in hand. They sound and feel just as mellow. This is great news for a guitar like my Telecaster but it wasn’t so great for my ES-335.
I mean, playing blues and jazz with these strings was a delight but they weren’t as rocking or vivid as the brand’s Boomers (that I’ve used all my life).
So, if you’re looking for strings that can do the ‘50s jazz thing without putting on flatwounds, then a pack of pure nickel strings is a great intermediate experiment.
5. Fender 3150L Original Bullets Pure Nickel
Fender is one of those few brands that were around to witness pure nickel strings as the only choice. These strings are what Fender calls Vintage Nickel and they do live up to their name. This means they give your instrument that vintage tone you hear in all your favorite ‘50s records.
But that’s not all, because these strings blend in some modern technology like the hex core construction that gives them a faster transient and just a little pinch of extra brightness. This is not just a detail, on the contrary, attack becomes more important because strings react faster to your picking hand.
Also, if you are tired of using that second tone knob on your Stratocaster to tame those infinite glass-like treble tones from the bridge pickup, these strings can be of great help. I own a ‘57 reissue Strat (with that beautiful soft V neck) and these strings were great for that maple fretboard.
There’s also something about the sound of the fretting hand moving that makes playing certain songs with regular nickel-plated strings annoying. With the pure nickels, hand movements were in stealth mode. I mean, not as silent as flatwounds, but closer to that sound.
Finally, I liked the ‘60s colors on the ball ends a lot as well.
If you are in search of strings that offer modern-day reliability and vintage tone, these are great all-nickel candidates.
6. Rotosound PN10
What do Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Edge, David Bowie, Jeff Beck, Graham Coxon, and Oasis have in common? They are (or were) Rotosound users. Yes, this British manufacturer saw it all during rock and roll’s rise to stardom.
Let me tell you right now that these strings do an amazing job at feeling and sounding like a vintage, pure nickel string should, but are a little too much on the bright side for my taste. I found it very hard to tame the brittleness and the shrillness of my Telecaster with them.
When I moved on to my SG Jr, the P-90 just became a different type of beast. Moreover, My Les Paul’s humbuckers sounded with the perfect amount of brightness and a mellower tone that was perfect for those neck-pickup inspiration moments.
Furthermore, I was able to play some Clapton-approved, Les Paul-friendly blues licks and they sounded much better. Also, stepping on some distortion, the kind of sound you know guitar Gods like Gary Moore have on the neck position became a possibility.
So, in my experience, these strings sound a little too bright to tame the high-end of, say, a Fender Telecaster. On the other hand, paired with guitars that can benefit from a little rounder tone but that don’t have piercing highs can be a great choice.
So, try them on anything with a mahogany body and you will unleash a powerful midrange, rounder lows, and tamed high-end that will, very likely, make your instrument more musical.
Why Choose Pure Nickel Strings Over Steel or Nickel-plated
For me, the main reason to go with pure nickel strings over steel strings is to warm up my tone and make it a bit more mellow.
Pure nickel is naturally warm and smoother than steel and even nickel-plated strings. They have a lot less brightness at the top end that also mellows out the tone more.
There are several reasons why you would want to have a warmer sound. The first being that you get a more vintage sound for playing blues. Pure nickel strings help tame the inherent twang on guitars like Strats and Teles.
This brings me to the second reason. If your guitar or amp is very bright, you can use pure nickel strings to tame the brightness by adding some more warmth.
Don’t Change Those Pickups Yet!
Changing pickups is one of the cheapest and most drastic tone experiments you can make with your guitar. Yes, you can go from piercing single-coil tone to full, round humbucker sounds without even rerouting your guitar.
Yet, do you know what’s an even cheaper experiment? Strings. Believe me, it’s worthwhile to install a fresh set of pure nickels before changing the strings. Especially if you love the edge and midrange guitars like Stratocaster and Teles have.
Imagine if you could have twang, spank, and treble without any shrill notes? Well, perhaps, the answer is strings. If that doesn’t work, then pickups are the next stop.
Only One Way to Nail THAT ‘50s Tone
Have you ever plugged in a vintage instrument? More precisely, have you ever plugged in a real ‘50s Fender or Gibson? Did you also feel that there’s a depth and thickness to their sound in the recordings that’s just not there? An answer to that question could be modern amps.
Yet, I’ve done the fifties-guitar-into-fifties-amp thing, and, in my experience, it’s not that.
I know my hands play a role there, don’t think I’m playing the fool.
But beyond my skills or lack thereof, my ear says that, arguably, strings can play that role. Back in the day, all strings were pure nickel, and thus, the mellowness that tamed those legendary pickups was, arguably, of course, these strings.
So, if you want to nail THAT ‘50s tone, change those strings, chief!
Are Pure Nickel Strings Durable?
Nickel is very soft compared to an alloy like steel. This does mean that it’s more brittle and thus, less durable.
If you don’t play very aggressively, pure nickel strings can last almost as long as steel strings. There are strings with nickel wrapped around a steel core. This does add some brightness to the tone but makes the strings much more durable than a pure nickel wrap and core.
This probably won’t make them last as long as steel strings if you play aggressively, but will still mean that you need to replace your strings less often.
Cheaper in the Long Run (The Fret Effect)
When you put on nickel-plated strings and play them for some shows, you notice that the plating wears out. Therefore, if you don’t change strings very often, you’ll soon be left with strings that have a steel core and are steel wound with a little nickel here and there.
That friction with the steel (nickel is a much softer material) will cause wear in your frets. If the strings are pure nickel, the little dib will be noticeable on the strings instead of the frets.
Changing strings is nowhere near changing frets, right?
Pure nickel strings are an excellent way to add some warmth to your sound if you want a more vintage or classic rock sound. They are perfect for blues and jazz players who want a mellow sound.
There are many pure nickel strings out there and these were just a few of my picks for the best pure nickel strings.