So, you just got your first Stratocaster and you want the best strings to get the most out of your guitar. Maybe you have been playing Strats for years and you are looking to change up your sound a bit.
Whether you have a classic Fender or a modern Squier, these strings will make your Strat sing like never before.
6 Best Strings for Stratocaster
Ernie Ball is perhaps the most recognizable brand of strings, and for good reason. They are affordable, reliable, and sound quite good.
Of all the strings I have played over the years, Ernie Balls are probably the most well-rounded. You can easily go from playing hard rock to blues to jazz without feeling like you are losing out on tone. No wonder so many guitarists, professional and amateur alike, play with Ernie Balls.
This versatility compliments Strat guitars quite well since they are also known for their ability to sound great in a wide variety of genres. If you play in multiple different bands or a cover band that covers a wide range of genres, then Ernie Ball Super Slinkies are a perfect choice.
The bright and clear tone these strings provide helps to highlight the tone of any Strat guitar, Fender or Squier made. The mids also have a nice bit of punchiness to let your guitar cut through the mix.
Even though they are well-rounded, I should note that Ernie Ball Super Slinkies do skew a bit more to a modern sound. If you are looking for a vintage sound then the Super Slinkies might not be what you are looking for.
As for durability and playability, the Super Slinkies are also a standout. They are easy to set up and settle quite quickly. They do have a slight tinniness to their sound at the start, but that fades quickly enough.
Their lifespan is also quite respectable. Depending on how often and aggressively you play, these strings can easily last one or two months on average.
The only real issue I have with Ernie Ball strings is that grime build-up is a bit more and their tone does feel to have a sharper drop-off than other brands. But you will likely replace them before this becomes too much of a problem.
Another well-known brand and my personal favorite, Elixir strings are an excellent choice regardless of style or genre.
Elixir’s Nanoweb strings are another set that I would highly recommend to any guitarist that tends to jump between genres, like myself. They sound just as great with a lot of distortion as they do clean.
The one thing that I will note is that they do tend to lose a noticeable amount of brightness quite quickly. This isn’t really an issue as the strings don’t become dull, but instead become a bit warmer.
Since Strats are naturally a bit brighter than other guitars, warmer strings are great if you want to dial back on your guitar’s brightness. This warmer tone also means that they are a bit better suited for a vintage sound than something like the Ernie Ball Super Slinkies.
Even with this slightly warmer tone, I would still consider Elixirs more of a modern-sounding string.
The fact that they are coated also scores them some extra points from me. This gives them a much smoother and more natural feel compared to other strings.
Natural feeling strings are something that I tend to want more on a Strat as it just makes the overall playing experience more enjoyable. Their coating also of course helps keep them healthy for much longer.
I have had Elixir strings last for nearly three months before replacing them. And it was only because they started sounding too flat and dull. These strings practically don’t rust or attract any grime.
Elixirs might sound a bit too good to be true, and there is a small catch to them. They are among the more expensive brands.
But I think that their quality and the fact that you will replace them less often than other strings more than makes up for the higher price tag.
If there is one company that should know how to make great strings for Strats it’s Fender themselves.
If you have ever bought a brand-new Fender or Squier Strat, you will likely already have played a set of Fender strings. They are the stock strings that their guitars ship with.
Fender strings sound and feel about as good as you would expect from any nickel-plated steel string. They are quite bright and have good note clarity.
Playing lead parts and riffs with these will let every individual note ring out and be equally audible. Arpeggios are especially clean, so, if you play a lot of Malmsteen-style shreddy rock, these strings are pretty great.
Chords are where these strings fall a bit short for me. The overall sound is a bit thin, especially with open chords. Power chords also lack a bit of punch but aren’t as bad as open chords.
As far as feel goes, they are quite nice, but that is to be expected from nickel-plated strings. They are fairly smooth and natural.
They do feel a bit less durable to me and I wouldn’t play too aggressively with these strings. They bend quite easily and feel sturdy, but as soon as I started going further than a full bend, I felt the tension and like they could snap.
The quality of the Super 250’s is reflected in their price, though, as they are the cheapest on this list. They are better than I expected for their price, however.
I think my biggest complaint would be that they feel a bit too “safe”. It feels like Fender designed these strings to work just good enough with their guitars.
They are good, but they don’t add anything to the experience. They aren’t emphasizing or highlighting the tonal qualities of a Strat and aren’t changing your playing experience.
If you don’t want to change the sound of your Strat at all, though, then the Fender Super 250’s are certainly the best strings for you.
Another set of Ernie Ball strings, the Super Slinky Cobalts are quite different from their regular counterparts.
The Cobalt in the name refers to the fact that these strings are made with an iron/cobalt alloy. This has a few different benefits.
For durability and playability, this means that they last longer and stay in tune better. Their lifespan is comparable to Elixirs and their tension lets them stay in tune even after some heavy playing and bending.
That last part is especially great in my opinion since Strats aren’t the best when it comes to staying in tune, especially Squier Strats. I usually have to adjust my tuning after every two or three songs on my Strat with regular strings. But the Cobalts cut that down to every five sometimes even six songs.
As far as tone goes, the Cobalts offer a fuller and richer sound. Squiers will benefit the most from this since they often have a thinner sound than a Fender Strat.
They also handle distortion and gain exceptionally well. I play quite a bit of Iron Maiden on my Strat and these strings really add a great amount of punch when delving into a more metal sound.
One thing that I noticed quite quickly is that these strings feel a bit rougher than other strings. This adds a nice bit of grip to the strings, making them a great option if your fingers tend to slip off of other strings.
This does make sliding a bit trickier, though. It took me maybe about 15 or 20 minutes to get used to the extra grip and sliding comfortably.
All these benefits do come at a cost. Cobalt Slinkies are almost twice the price of Regular Slinkies, but for what you are getting it is well worth it.
5. GHS GBXL
If you want to accentuate the more vintage characteristics of your Strat, strings like the GHS GBXL’s are an excellent choice.
These strings are quite well-balanced and durable. I don’t find any notes or strings sticking out more than others in terms of tone or volume.
They also feel very sturdy and I can push them quite hard without feeling like they might snap. And even though they aren’t coated, they still feel smooth and natural.
They also last a rather long time for uncoated strings. They won’t last as long as something like Elixirs or Ernie Ball Cobalts, but I would compare their lifespan to something like the Ernie Ball Regular Slinkies.
As for their tone, they cover quite a wide spectrum of sounds and genres. Working great for both a clean and distorted sound, however, blues is where they truly shine.
In fact, I can’t think of a better example of their sound and endorsement than David Gilmore. He plays GHS strings and you just need to go listen to one of his songs to get a good idea of the warm sound you will be getting with these strings on your Strat.
I am really impressed with just how great these strings sound and play. Especially considering they sit at the cheaper end of the price scale. You are getting far more than you are paying for with a set of GHS strings.
The only downsides I can see with these are in their tension and tuning. They are a bit stiff and you have to work a bit harder to bend them, especially with higher gauges.
This tension doesn’t translate into how well they stay in tune either. I was re-tuning after every three songs or so, which is about standard for a Strat.
These are minor complaints though and the GBXL’s are still more than worth it for any Strat player.
The DR Pure Blues tell you what they are all about right on the package. These are the perfect strings for guitarists who use their Strats as blues machines.
For that truly vintage sound, look no further than their Pure Nickel Pure Blues. If a 50’s and older sound is what you are going for, then there is no alternative.
The warm and tender tone of the Pure Blues is really unmatched in my opinion. If you have a vintage Strat, I would especially recommend using a set of Pure Blues.
They will bring out the vintage sound more than modern strings. They also have the added bonus of having less tension and being less harmful to a vintage Strat’s neck.
Because of their relatively low cost, the Pure Blues are also a great choice for beginners. Nickel is much softer on your fingers and won’t dig into them as much, something that can easily put beginners off from learning to play.
Apart from their warm and mellow tones, Pure Blues are also well-balanced and vibrant. Notes ring out evenly whether they are being played individually or in a chord.
Chords especially are very full and even a bit boomy. They don’t sound muddled and each note can still be heard clearly.
One thing that also always impresses me when I play Pure Blues is the amount of sustain they have. Mellower strings usually fade quite quickly, but these can keep ringing for a surprisingly long.
These strings are definitely much more focused than the others on this list. They do blues really well, but blues is pretty much the only thing they do. Don’t expect to be playing modern hits with these strings.
But honestly, I would still rather choose strings that do one thing great than everything okay, and these strings are really great at what they do.
Choosing The Right Strings for Your Strat
Strings are a very subjective thing and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Even so, it is still something that you should take into consideration.
Emphasizing Parts of Your Sound
I think this might be the most important thing to consider when choosing your strings. Because the Stratocaster has such a unique and recognizable sound, you have to think about how your strings will affect it.
This will be determined by your own preferences, but also by the type of music you play. If you play with a lot of distortion, you’ll want strings that add some more low-end and mids.
If you want to cut back on some of the natural brightness of a Strat, you will also want to go with strings with a bit more low-end and warmth. Adding more brightness will of course mean going with brighter sounding strings.
It all comes down to what part of the Strats sound you want to highlight and accentuate.
Coated vs Uncoated
A lot of people will argue that uncoated strings sound better than coated and you should only use those on a Strat. I personally don’t think the difference is significant enough.
For me, it is more a case of feel and lifespan. Coated strings are smoother than uncoated and just feel a bit nicer to play in my opinion.
More importantly, is how long they last. Coated strings have a much longer lifespan. Yes, they cost more, sometimes even double, but if that means only replacing your strings every few months rather than weeks I would say is worth the extra cost.
This is also more of a preference thing, but it does tie into the sound a bit.
Lighter gauges will be easier to play and also add some more brightness while thinning the sound a bit. Thicker gauges will of course do the opposite.
The best is to experiment with gauges until you find what is the most comfortable for you. I would however suggest looking at hybrid gauges.
If you want thick and punchy riffs and power chords but brighter leads, try a hybrid of lighter tops and heavier bottoms. Or try heavy tops and lighter bottoms if you want a thicker overall sound but heavier gauge bottom strings are a bit hard to play.
Ultimately, the strings you use are up to you and what you want from them. The most important thing is that they sound great and are great to play for you.