Playing guitar is a skill. Some are born with talent, others have to practice and refine their chops. But aside from playing the thing, guitarists need to acquire knowledge about other aspects of their instrument, such as maintaining, cleaning, and tuning it.
Something that confuses a lot of new guitarists is strings. There are so many types, and they all offer different things when it comes to tone, sound quality, style, and durability.
All guitar strings essentially do the same thing: they vibrate and allow the musician to create music! The subtle differences in thickness and shape will change the particular tone of the guitar sound and allow for different playing styles.
With so many different options available, it can be hard to know what to choose, so read on to learn more, and you can make an informed decision when picking up your next set of strings.
In short, the many variants of the Ernie Ball Slinky strings differ primarily in the gauge (thickness) of the strings. In between the popular Super Slinky, Regular Slinky, and Power Slinky sets, there are a few sets that are a hybrid between the thinnest and thickest variants, offering heavy tops with light bottom strings, combining the best of both worlds.
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Guitar String Gauges Explained
If you’re in a music shop and you pick up a pack of strings, apart from the name of the company and the type of strings in the pack, you will also see a series of numbers. Ever wondered what those numbers mean?
The numbers refer to the gauge of the string — basically, how thick it is.
Gauges are measured in 1/1000th of an inch! So a 10 gauge string is 0.010 inches thick.
With this in mind, it’s easier to understand what a pack of strings contains if you see the numbers like 9-42 and 10-46 on the front of the packet! The smaller number denotes the thickness of the high E string, while the larger one denotes the thickness of the low E string.
Ernie Ball Strings – The Many Different Types of ‘Slinky’
Ernie Ball is a well-known manufacturer of guitar accessories, notably strings. They are famous for their ‘slinky’ collections of strings, which have numerous different names and gauges.
Determining which slinkys are right for you can be overwhelming at first. I know from personal experience which strings suit my playing style, but if you’re new to the guitar, you might not even know your own style yet.
Don’t worry! The best way to figure it out is to try different string gauges for yourself.
But if you want to know the main differences between the slinkys, I’ll explain the different types of Ernie Ball Slinky strings in a bit more detail below.
Extra Slinkys are the thinnest gauge strings available in the Ernie Ball Slinky range. The gauges are 8, 11, 14, 22, 30, and 38.
These are very thin strings and do not come as standard on almost any new guitars!
They’re very, very light on your fingers and perfect for epic bends, as their thin size and low tension allow a lot of travel over the fretboard.
Ernie Ball’s famous Super Slinkys are probably the most popular strings in the world! The gauges are 9, 11, 16, 24, 32, and 42.
Many Fender scale-length guitars (such as Strats and Teles) tend to come with Super Slinkys fitted!
They are perfect for standard tuning, as they still grant the musician plenty of bendability but will hold their tuning better than a thinner set of strings.
The next gauge up from super slinkys is the Regular Slinky. With gauges of 10, 13, 17, 26, 36, and 46; they are seen as the ‘standard’ set of strings.
Most Gibson scale-length guitars (such as the ever popular Les Paul) will come with this configuration of strings on them, as they are slightly shorter guitars.
This means that due to the differing lengths of guitar bodies, regular slinkys will have roughly the same amount of tension on a Gibson-style guitar as super slinkys would have on a Fender style.
Much like the super slinkys, regulars are great in standard tuning for bending and also for chords, although they’re slightly harder on your fingers owing to the thicker gauges.
The Hybrid Slinky strings are the first rather unusual set you’d have come across. As the name suggests, hybrids are a mix of gauges that don’t typically come together in a pack.
Gauges of 9, 11, 16, 26, 36, and 46 show that the higher strings (the smaller numbered gauges) are the same as the super slinkys, while the low strings (the higher numbers) are lifted from the regular slinkys.
This allows more bendability for the highs but still offers that high-tension sturdiness on the low-end for chords.
In a pack of Power Slinkys, all the strings will be thicker. The gauges are 11, 14, 18, 28, 38, and 48. As you can see, these strings are heavier, which will lend them better to a different style of playing.
Strings like this have higher tension when in standard tuning. This means that when an alternative tuning is used, the strings hold up and retain a lot of their tension, resulting in better playability and tone.
Much like the power slinkys, Beefy Slinkys are heavy gauge strings: 11, 15, 22, 30, 42, and 54. While the high strings are similar gauges to those of the power slinkys, you can see the low end is much thicker by comparison.
Heavier gauge strings like power slinkys and beefy slinkys are often used by jazz and heavy metal bands, as they’re perfect for lower tunings (also known as drop tunings) and can take quite a beating.
So, Which Ernie Ball Slinky is Best For Me?
Well…that depends. What kind of music do you play or want to play? What is your playing style? What kind of tunings do you use?
Personally, although I don’t use alternative tunings or play particularly heavy music, I prefer something like a hybrid slinky, as a nice all-rounder string that allows me to solo with ease but also gives me a sturdy low end for chords and power chords.
Another thing to bear in mind is the thickness of the string and the durability of your fingertips. This is especially relevant for new guitarists, as your fingers will still be tender. For this reason, I tend to recommend the 9-42 Super Slinkys for most beginner players.
When I first started learning to play guitar, I was using a hand-me-down from a friend of a friend who played in a heavy metal band. His strings were an extremely heavy gauge, and let me tell you, I couldn’t practice for more than twenty minutes before I had to give my fingers a rest!
Then, as I got more experienced and started playing with different bands, I realized the benefits of heavier gauge strings when it came to different styles, particularly jazz-fusion, where lots of different tunings were involved.
These are all important things to take into consideration when buying strings. If you’re experienced, you probably already know your preferences. If you’re a beginner, my advice would be to buy a pack of each and try them all out.
You never know where your musical journey will take you, and you might find yourself playing in a style that you never dreamed of, so be prepared with a range of Ernie Ball Slinky strings at your disposal.
2 thoughts on “Ernie Ball Strings Compared (Super Slinky vs Regular & Others)”
I’m a 55 plus year player and I’m not going into all the guitars I’ve owned and all of that. But I have used about every brand and many different gauges of guitar strings. Be advised that this is just my humble opinion after all these years of playing. I don’t really think that the gauge of the strings used on an electric guitar makes a lot of difference tone wise. On an acoustic it most definitely does! But with an electric you just have to find the strings that feel best to you. And as was mentioned it can be different on each brand of guitar. I have settled on 10-48 on my short scale Fender Jaguar’s and most Gibsons. I don’t play Statocasters or Telecasters because I have kinda small hands and their 25.5 inch scale is uncomfortable for me. But If I did, I would use 9-46 on them. Ernie Ball, GHS, DR, and my personal favorite Stringjoy all make excellent strings! I’ve used them all many, many times with excellent results. My point is if you are really comfortable with a certain gauge string set, by all means use them. Don’t worry about using a heavier gauge for better sound! In the overall scheme of things it just won’t make that much difference! Above all use whatever YOU like that lets you get the most enjoyment from your fantastic instrument. Thanks for the great article!
Thank you! New to guitar, retired so hand/finger strength isn’t what it used to be. Was confused about string gauges. I will try the 9’s on the electric and work up to playing the acoustic after some time. Might start with the coated Elixir strings just until my fingertips toughen up. Thanks again for the article and the comment to help me decide.