The Gibson Les Paul is amongst the most iconic electric guitars to have ever been produced. Using the best Les Paul strings is essential if you want it to perform to its maximum potential.
An indicator of the exceptional tone that Les Paul guitars produce is the longevity they boast. Whether you own a genuine Gibson Les Paul or an Epiphone model, you’ll find the ideal strings to pair your guitar within this guide.
Best Strings for Les Paul (Epiphone & Gibson)
1. D’Addario NYXL1046
If you are looking for some hard rocking strings for your hard rocking Les Paul, then look no further than the D’Addario NYXL1046s. The NYXL series is an across-the-board improvement over the regular EXL range of strings.
The NYXLs are very comfortable to play. They have a great balance between looseness and tension. Their nickel plating also makes them easier on your fingers.
Setup is also about as simple as can be. They settle quite quickly, needing little adjustment before staying in tune. This is something these strings also do really well, I didn’t need to retune too frequently.
These are also some exceptionally tough strings. D’Addario has used a carbon steel core for the NYXLs. This makes them able to take a real beating.
If you are playing a Les Paul, you are probably playing more aggressively. Having strings that can handle the abuse is certainly important. Whether you’re playing crazy bends or really digging into those power chords, these strings don’t budge.
D’Addario also claims this improves elasticity. While the strings are flexible with a good amount of stretch, I didn’t really notice them being any better than other strings.
For me, the real draw of these strings is their tone. They have some nice weight to them with the midrange being especially punchy. Combined with a good amount of sustain, these strings work fantastically with a Les Paul.
The obvious downside here is their price. The NYXLs are among the most expensive strings around. I think they are still well worth it and it will be hard for you to really find fault with them. But, due to the high price, they might not be the best strings for Epiphone Les Pauls and players with a budget constraint.
As I mentioned, if you are familiar with D’Addario’s EXL series of strings, the NYXLs are a clear and fantastic upgrade. They are quite a bit more expensive, but I believe the benefits and improvements are absolutely worth it.
Ernie Ball Regular Slinkies are one of the most popular strings on the market. They are good strings and fairly inexpensive.
Unlike the normal Regular Slinkies, the 2721 Cobalt Slinkies are a bit different in terms of tone and playability. The main reason for this is that they use an iron/cobalt winding instead of nickel.
Cobalt strings are a bit brighter and have some more crispness to them. I wouldn’t call them chimey or sparkly, but rather they have an almost ‘fresh’ tone compared to nickel strings.
Soloing with these strings feels and sounds pretty great. And honestly, if you are playing a Les Paul, you are probably playing one or two solos.
These strings are also noticeably louder than nickel strings. They add a decent amount of boost to the humbuckers on a Les Paul. Sustain is great on these strings as well and they cut through the mix quite nicely.
Strength and playability-wise, the Cobalt Slinkies are on par with the non-Cobalt versions. They have just the right amount of tension while still being flexible enough for easy playing.
Cobalt is a bit harder than nickel, however. You might have to spend some time getting used to the strings if you are switching from nickel strings or your fingers haven’t developed enough callouses yet.
As for the lifespan of these strings, cobalt is more resistant to rust. You can expect these strings to last quite a bit longer than their nickel counterparts.
These cobalt strings also have an interesting benefit for a small number of guitarists. If you happen to be one of the few with a nickel allergy, these are the right strings for you. Or maybe you don’t know you have an allergy, but nickel strings irritate your fingers more than they should, try these out.
3. Dunlop DEN1046
If you are like me, you probably associate the name Dunlop more with guitar picks than strings. But they have been making strings for quite a long time and are actually a fairly popular brand.
The DEN1046s have great tone, stability, and are surprisingly well balanced. Each string plays at the same level of volume and dynamics. Both chords and individual notes ring out great. I never felt like chords were blending into each other on underdeveloped while playing with these strings.
These strings are a bit more bottom-heavy to my ear than other nickel-plated strings of a similar gauge. This makes them perfect if you are looking to add some more weight to your Les Paul’s sound.
I have seen a few people mention that these strings tend to break easier than others. I never felt like they were going to break at any point.
They also don’t seem to corrode any faster than other strings. They seem to last about as long as strings like Ernie Ball, so you should easily get at least a month's worth of playing from them.
I was quite surprised by how quickly and easily these strings are broken in. You can set these up just a few hours before a gig and be confident they will sound as good as possible.
Even Though these are good strings, I do have two small issues with them. Firstly, they feel a bit stiffer than other strings. Bending and even fretting require a bit more effort.
And secondly, they appear to be slightly shorter than other strings. It isn’t a big difference, but it might cause problems if you have a neck with more than 22 frets.
These are just two very small gripes I had with these strings. I think that they are overall great if you are looking for affordable, tough, and great sounding strings that add some nice weight to a Les Paul’s sound.
4. GHS R+RL Nickel Rockers
GHS has been making great strings for a long time now. Their Boomers are perhaps what there are best known for with guitarists like Eric Johnson and Zakk Wylde being among their most well-known endorsers. The Nickel Rockers are no different and are made to the same high standards GHS is known for.
Because they are pure nickel instead of nickel-plated, their sound is warmer. This actually gives them a much more vintage sound.
If you are using your Les Paul to play more classic-sounding rock like Led Zeppelin, these are surely the strings to go for. They really help to bring out the gritty, dirty sound of a Les Paul.
I have played pure nickel strings that lack the clarity of other strings and can sound a bit dull. But the Nickel Rockers don’t have that issue. Every note rings out very clearly and equally. Chords are also clear and the notes don’t bleed into each other.
Pure nickel does have the drawback of not being as strong as nickel-plated. They can’t take quite as much punishment as nickel-plated and steel strings. You are definitely going to want to hold back a bit when picking and bending.
Pure nickel strings are also softer and not as tough on your fingers. This makes them great for beginners or if steel and maybe even nickel-plated strings are a bit too rough for you.
One interesting thing about GHS strings, in general, is their packaging. Where most other brands put their strings in those little paper envelopes, GHS strings come individually sealed in a nitrogen packet.This is supposed to prevent corrosion while the strings are still in their packaging. I have never opened a pack from other brands with strings already corroded, but this is a nice touch. It removes any worries you might have of your strings not being as fresh as possible.
5. DR Strings PHR-10
The DR Strings Pure Blues tell you what they are about right on the package. If you are after a blues sound, these are the strings for you.
Combining these strings with a Les Paul, the sound immediately made me think of BB King. That is really the type of sound you are getting with these strings.
They are pure nickel just like the GHS strings, but unlike them, the DR strings aren’t quite as warm. They have a noticeably brighter tone compared to other pure nickel strings.
This means that they have a vintage sound, but slightly sharper. The best way I can describe them is that they have a blues sound with some added edge.
You do lose some volume with the Pure Blues, however, but that is one of the drawbacks of pure nickel strings. Turning up the volume on your guitar or amp fixes this easily. And if you are playing with a lot of gain and volume already, softer strings can even be beneficial.
As you can expect from pure nickel strings, the Pure Blues are also softer to the touch. Just like the GHS strings, this makes them perfect for beginners or people with sensitive fingers.
One thing I noticed with these strings is that they have a fairly high amount of tension. Not only does that make bending them a bit more of a challenge, but setting them up as well.
I had to stretch them out quite a bit more than usual to get them to settle. This shouldn’t be an issue on a Les Paul, but I would definitely keep an eye on the neck for any bending or warping after setting these strings up.
They do feel a bit stronger than the GHS strings. Bending them further than a whole step doesn’t feel like they are going to snap at any moment. Which is great considering the extra effort it takes to bend them.
6. Elixir Strings 12052 Nanoweb
Elixir strings are one of the best brands around today. Providing excellent tone, fantastic feel, and incredible durability.
Elixir strings are really ideal if you are looking for a modern rock or metal sound. And considering how great Les Paul guitars sound in a metal and rock setting, Elixir Nanoweb strings are a perfect fit.
They have a very well-rounded tone with slightly boosted mids. This helps your guitar to cut through the mix, especially when playing solos.
They also have a great amount of attack to make your riffs as punchy as possible. On top of all of this, their sustain is great. Your notes will keep ringing out, letting you really hold those high notes.
The Nanowebs also have Elixir’s Nanoweb coating. I think this really helps to give these strings an even smoother feel than normal nickel-plated strings. Sliding and legato are a breeze with these strings and they are perfect for shredding.
Elixir strings are also some of the toughest I have ever played. You can really dig into these strings when picking and bends are an absolute dream. They have just the right balance between tension and looseness.
This also means that setting them up is quite easy. Their looseness means that you don’t need to stretch them out as much while stringing your guitar. While their tension means that they settle quite quickly and stay in tune for much longer.
They do take some extra time to break in, and just like Ernie Ball strings, they have a slightly tinny sound for the first hour or two of playing. But once they have settled and been broken in, that crisp, clear, and smooth sound is all you are left with.
They might also have one of the longest lifespans of any string brand. Elixir strings can easily last for two to three months, depending on how much you play. This makes them perfect for longer tours since they will last for more gigs than other strings.
Choosing Strings for a Les Paul - Points to Consider
When searching for the best strings for a Les Paul, there are two main factors you will need to consider. These are:
- Gauge (thickness)
Les Paul’s are renowned for their versatility. A staple of rock music since they were first created, they have been utilized by some of the greatest guitarists in modern history for an array of stylistic employments.
Deciding on which strings to install on your Les Paul will affect both its tone, and its playability. It is, therefore, necessary that you begin by establishing the predominant style that you intend to play on your guitar.
If you are likely to use your Les Paul mainly for playing low-end, heavy riffs that require you to dig into the strings, then choosing a set with a heavier gauge is likely your best option.
Don’t get me wrong, some guitarists like to use light-gauge strings for heavier tones because the contrast produces interesting effects. The issue is, you’re likely to snap lighter gauge strings when playing more aggressively.
If you ask me, 10-46 is the best string gauge for Les Paul, it's also the default string gauge of Les Paul (almost all Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul guitars come pre-installed with a set of 10-46 strings).
Lighter gauges like 9-42s are also popular (used by famous guitar players like Jimmy Page). But the problem with lighter strings is that they sometimes tend to feel too loose on a Les Paul due to the different scale length compared to Fender guitars like the Strat. In my experience, 9-42s also tend to break more often on a Les Paul than usual.
The materials used to construct the strings will generally consist of a mixture of steel wire and nickel. Strings that have nickel plating are smoother under your fingers and are well suited to technical styles of playing on a Les Paul.
Some string manufacturers use unique processes to make their products stand out amongst regular offerings. These include innovative coating methods and windings that are designed to further improve longevity.
To finish this guide, I want to start by congratulating you. If you own a Les Paul, you’ve made a great choice! They are truly beautiful instruments, which deserve only the best strings to ensure that they maximize their abilities.
Secondly, by now you must've got a good idea about the kind of strings that an average Les Paul will handle well, so what's left is choosing a set based on your style of playing.