If you are a new guitar owner, you may think that finding the right instrument is the only thing to worry about. The instrument—and maybe an amp—are all you need, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. The strings you purchase for your instrument are almost as important as the guitar itself. Today we will look at the similarities and differences between Ernie Ball vs. D’Addario strings to help you make this very important purchase.
Guitar String Buyer’s Guide
Before discussing the specifics of Ernie Ball and D’Addario strings let’s take a quick look at a buyer’s guide to guitar string purchases. There are four specific features that you need to keep in mind as you research which string will work best for you and your instrument.
There are two main materials that strings are made from: steel and nylon. In general, nylon strings are reserved for the high strings on classical or acoustic guitars. Nylon provides a brighter tone than steel strings.
Steel strings are made from many different metals. For electric and bass guitars you have nickel, nickel-plated steel, stainless-steel, chrome, titanium, cobalt, and copper-plated steel to choose from. On acoustic guitars, bronze, phosphor bronze, or pure steel are the most popular metal types.
As you might guess, each of these metals provides a slightly different sound. Nickel and nickel-plated strings tend have a warmer timbre (“tone”) while stainless-steel and bronze offer a bright timbre.
One other material element to keep in mind is the use of coatings. Some companies coat their metal strings in a thin polymer (plastic). This coating will give your strings a longer life and make them smoother to the touch. They often provide the opportunity to customize your string’s color as well. However, as a negative, they may mute your string’s tone color.
The only way to discover which material will work best for your playing style and instrument is to use as many different types of strings as possible.
There are seemingly infinite variety of gauges for strings on the market. Gauge measures the thickness of the string and is measured either in the 10-46 or .010-.046 format. These numbers indicate the width of the string in 1/1000ths of an inch. The smaller the number, the lighter (or thinner) the string.
You can purchase super-light, light, medium, or heavy string gauges. Gauge is not a standardized measurement between the different string manufacturers. But, in general super light strings are around a .009 gauge, light a .010 gauge, medium a .011 gauge, and heavy anything over .012. See The Hub’s buyer’s guide for electric guitar strings for a full breakdown on the different gauges.
What gauge of string you purchase depends on many factors, the most important being your experience level. In general, lighter strings are recommended for beginners. These strings are easy to bend, which make them ideal for people without practiced strength in their fingers or calluses.
Heavy strings provide a powerful sound and allow to low tunings but can be harder for the beginner to manipulate. If you want a combination of ease of playing and sound, then medium gauge strings may be for you.
As with everything related to guitar string buying, the gauge you choose depends on your own unique playing style and instrument.
In order to create a guitar string, the manufacturer winds a string around a core of the same material. The most common core shapes are round or hexagonal. Round cores were the original shape and are still popular with players of traditional genres like jazz and they tend to produce a gentler sound. On the other hand, hexagonal cores have been introduced recently in order to make string manufacturing easier. These cores tend to produce a bright and consistent timbre.
There are three types of ways a string is wound around its core: roundwound, halfround, and flatwound. As you might expect, each of these techniques comes with advantages and drawbacks.
Roundwound describes the method by which the winding creates significant ridges. Picture wrapping a rope around a stick. The hills and valley created in that scenario are the same when winding strings. Roundwound strings will give you a lot of attack to your sound, but they also wear quickly.
Flatwound strings are smooth to the touch as the material wound around the core is flat sided instead of rounded. This will produce a tone that is much darker and opaque and a string that wear much more slowly.
Finally, halfround strings are a combination of the two other options. This wind produces some ridges, but they are much smoother than roundwound strings. You will get a responsive string that still contains the dark sound of the flatwound.
Type of Guitar
The type of guitar you play will determine the variety of strings you purchase, as will your preferred genre. Electric guitars will require different types of strings to sound good than say an acoustic or bass guitar. Bring in a steel guitar or mandolin into the mix, and you can see why there are so many different types of strings on the market.
Additionally, your preferred genre will influence the strings you buy. For example, heavy gauge strings are popular with Rock and Metal musicians because they will hold their tension when tuned down, a common occurrence in rock playing. Jazz players, on the other hand, tend to prefer flatwound strings because they want a mellow tone to their playing.
Ernie Ball vs. D’Addario
When discussing guitar strings, two names consistently get mentioned: Ernie Ball and D’Addario. As will be discussed more fully below, both companies began around the same time and have high-profile celebrity supporters. But, how do we compare these two companies’ strings? Read on to find out.
Ernie Ball began making electric guitar and bass strings in 1962. Since that time famous guitarists like Paul McCartney (The Beatles), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Eric Clapton, Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), and Buddy Guy have used and endorsed their strings.
Today the company is known for their large variety of strings, especially their Slinky electric guitar strings. In fact, their Slinky Nickel Wound Strings are considered an industry standard. In addition to the ten varieties of Slinky strings Ernie Ball produces, the company also makes acoustic, bass, classical guitar, banjo, mandolin, and steel guitar strings. These products come in a variety of gauges, materials, and winding types. Whatever type of string you want, you can find at Ernie Ball.
So, what do Ernie Ball strings sound like? Because the company offers so many different types of strings, it is a little hard to generalize. But, reviewers note that Ernie Ball strings tend to have a bright and crisp but balanced sound. They break in quickly, stay in tune, and last a long time for most players.
D’Addario has a completely different history than Ernie Ball. In fact, the D’Addario family began making strings in the 17th century. At this time, of course, strings were made from gut, not metal. But, as the times changed, so did the company.
D’Addario began making nylon strings for the harp in the 1930s, moving away from gut for the first time. The first strings with the D’Addario name appeared in 1974. Since that time, they have continued to create guitar and bass strings as well as strings for other classical instruments like the violin, viola, and cello.
The D’Addario family still owns and operates the company, which is a guitar industry staple. Famous players like Joe Satriani, Lenny Kravitz, Robben Ford, and Josh Klinghoffer (Red Hot Chili Peppers) swear by the company’s strings.
D’Addario’s guitar string span the gamut of materials and gauges. The company makes electric acoustic, bass, and classical guitar strings in addition to offerings for the ukulele, banjo, and mandolin. Like Ernie Ball, whatever type of string you are looking for, you can find at D’Addario.
D’Addario strings are notorious for taking a while to break in. However, they are worth the wait. They provide a lot of grip and attack while providing a bright and consistent timbre. These strings also wear extremely well, and will last you a long time.
What string should you choose? As may be obvious from our discussion above that the decision is really up to you. Each person’s style and instrument are completely unique. So, we can not tell you what string to buy.
However, there are some notable differences in Ernie Ball vs. D’Addario strings. If you want a string that breaks in easily and provides a bright tone color, then any Ernie Ball guitar string is for you. If you, however, don’t mind a string that is a little more difficult to get ready for “prime time,” that opens up beautifully with a little care, then you will want to check out D’Addario’s strings. Both of these manufacturers are industry standards for a reason. So, ultimately, whatever string you prefer will not be the wrong choice.