The recurring expense of guitar strings is a price all guitarists must pay. There's a wide variety of price points for guitar strings, and like any purchase, a greater price tag may not necessarily mean a better product.
Are expensive guitar strings worth the investment? Expensive guitar strings are often worth it due to their longevity, which often makes them comparable in terms of price per playing hour. Expensive strings often also have improved playability and tone. However, the price is not always indicative of quality, tone or durability.
In this article, we'll discuss whether expensive guitar strings are worth your money and touch on the factors that may or may not increase the price of your strings.
Related article: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Guitar
Are Expensive Guitar Strings Worth The Investment?
The answer to this question is, of course, “it depends”. Manufacturers often highlight a given feature of a string to justify its higher price point. Some features are related to playability, such as the case with silk and steel strings. Others have more to do with durability, such as coated strings or stainless steel strings.
We also need to define what is meant by the term “expensive.” While it's true that in most cases, this word is used unequivocally in reference to the price tag per unit or set, we also need to take into account the long-term approach. If a guitar set is 50% pricier but lasts 3 or 4 times more in comparison to another, we could say that it ends up being actually cheaper over time.
This is the main reason why we need to always think in terms of the price-quality ratio. This means that the higher-priced strings ought to have better quality and endurance in order to justify their extra price.
All things considered, it's not necessarily the case that all expensive guitar strings are worth the price or better at fulfilling your specific needs.
We find examples of guitar strings that don't necessarily provide increased performance but carry a bit of moral weight. We can find guitar string sets with signatures from famous musicians, which are used as a marketing ploy to increase the value of the set. Even though the sponsor's authority acts as a “quality certification” of sorts, you could positively find other sets on the market that deliver the same (or better) returns at a lower price.
So then, it's important to do some research to find what strings will be the best for your guitar/bass and playing style. Furthermore, I'd advise trying a few different sets before settling on your go-to choice. Once you know what you like, there may be an opportunity to buy in bulk, thereby reducing the cost per set.
What To Look For In Guitar Strings
Here are some general tips that can be useful in your search for the most cost-effective strings.
It should be stressed that there is virtually no guitar string set that checks all the boxes. Some sets have added corrosion resistance at the expense of tone or sustain. Others produce better tonality while being more susceptible to degradation, such as is the case with the bronze strings.
In light of the above, the first thing you need to ascertain is the aspect you value more in a guitar string. If you're more concerned with comfort, then you should consider string sets that are praised for their playability. If your pet peeve is the tone or sound, you should find strings built with materials that provide the best results in this regard, and so on.
At times, you'll find strings that offer more visual appeal than anything, like the “neon” string. While they may be great for flashy stage performances, you might find that they often compromise in the sound or playability department while carrying a hefty price tag. Also, there are reports that they potentially cause issues in the guitar's finish as they wear out.
It's always important to choose strings made by known brands, especially those with a longstanding presence in the market.
Household names such as La Bella, Augustine, C.F. Martin, D'Addario, and Ernie Ball are examples of companies that can grant better warranties for their products due to their extensive track record. Others such as Elixir Strings have not been around as long, but they're still comparable in prestige.
This doesn't mean that you won't be able to find local suppliers able to match or surpass the quality and pricing of the items offered by worldwide recognizable competitors. Still, those can be hard to find, and you'll run into far more risks when purchasing from them.
To learn more about my recommended strings brands, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Electric Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Bass Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 10 Best Classical Guitar String Brands On The Market
Other Factors That Affect The Price Of Guitar Strings
Here are a few other factors to consider that are likely to increase the price per set:
Core & Winding Material
The core and winding materials used in a set of guitar strings will have some effect on the overall price. For example, nickel tends to be cheaper than steel (relevant to electric guitar strings), and the addition of phosphor in a string design will increase the price (relevant to acoustic guitar strings). Stainless steel cores tend to cost more than regular steel.
Related article: Are Stainless Steel Guitar Strings Good?
Flatwound strings have their winding compacted and flattened. This is different than roundwound strings, which have a simpler winding with notable ridges.
Flatwound strings typically offer a smoother feel with less friction on the fingers. They tend to make less noise as fingers are run across them. There's also the argument that the ridges of roundwound strings accumulate more dirt and grime than their flatwound counterparts, resulting in faster oxidation and wear.
Flatwound strings generally cost more, not only due to their performance benefits but also because the flattening-out process costs more during manufacturing. This added manufacturing cost makes them more expensive for the consumer.
For more information on string winding methods, check out my article Flatwound Guitar Strings Vs. Roundwound Guitar Strings.
For those who value endurance, coated strings could be a great alternative. Few string makers offer coated strings that are worth buying, such as Elixir or D'Addario.
These basically consist of strings with a layer of polymer wrapping the surface, presumably to act as a protective barrier against corrosive agents. The coating is especially useful for wound strings and, more specifically, roundwound strings since they are prone to build up gunk on the ridges or grooves.
Be mindful that coated strings have a dimmer tone than uncoated strings. In recent years, however, manufacturers have made efforts to upgrade their coating techniques to reduce the gap between coated and uncoated strings as far as sound is concerned (although many audiophiles could disagree that this is the case.)
Furthermore, the coating also provides benefits that go beyond simply lengthening their lifespan. Many experts claim that the smooth surface of coated strings reduces finger squeak (a feature that recording artists very much appreciate) and improves fretting comfort.
Lastly, they tend to be almost double the price of normal, uncoated strings. However, given that they're supposed to last 3 or 4 times more, you will eventually end up paying less money on strings in the long run.
To learn more about guitar string coating, check out my article Differences Between Coated & Uncoated Guitar Strings.
For a more in-depth discussion on the pricing of guitar strings, check out my article How Much Do Guitar Strings Cost? (With Pricing Examples).