It can be quite disheartening when you start looking for guitar strings out there for the first time.
Not only are you supposed to figure out which set of strings will work for you and your guitar, but you also have all these different brands with their strange names and different features.
But the most disheartening thing of all is probably the price of guitar strings, sure you can find a set of cheap strings and call it a day, but if you don’t know where to start it can all seem quite pricey.
So, why are guitar strings so expensive?
The cost of guitar strings is usually determined by the quality of the materials used, the cost of labor, and the type of guitar they were made for. Branding can also impact the price, but not all guitar strings are expensive, and many high-end brands manufacture quality guitar strings at an affordable price.
There are a few reasons why certain guitar strings are so expensive, but are they always worth it, and are cheap strings really that bad?
These are some of the things we’ll be exploring today, so let the cheap vs expensive string battle begin!
- 1 Why Are Guitar Strings So Expensive?
- 2 Cheap VS Expensive Guitar Strings, Is There A Difference?
- 3 How Much Should You Spend On Guitar Strings?
- 4 How To Spend Less Money On High-Quality Guitar Strings?
- 5 Is Buying Individual Strings Cheaper?
- 6 Why Are Bass Guitar Strings so expensive?
- 7 So, Are Expensive Guitar Strings Worth It?
- 8 Closing Thoughts
Why Are Guitar Strings So Expensive?
Most guitar strings are actually quite reasonably priced, but you don’t need to search too far and wide to find strings that are expensive.
Especially if you’re looking to upgrade your strings and experiment with your sound, the high prices may come as a surprise.
So, what’s the deal here?
Reason 1: Quality Of Materials
Different materials are used to make a string, you have metal strings and nylon strings. Each is constructed from different materials that further divide your strings into subcategories
These are steel and nickel strings that are mostly used on electric guitars. Usually, the steel wire is plated in nickel, but you can find pure steel and pure nickel string.
Then you have a variation of steel strings, and these are phosphor, brass and bronze plated strings. Finally, you also have nylon strings in which a metal wrap wire is wound over a nylon core.
The quality of these materials can definitely affect the price. Nickel is usually cheaper than steel, and stainless-steel cores are usually more expensive than regular steel.
Then you have the construction itself and how these materials are turned into strings. Expensive strings are not just made of fine materials, but they are usually wounded in a more precise and consistent way.
The coating can also increase the price of strings. The thin layer of polymer can be applied to different parts of the string, like the wrap wire, core wire, and even the entire string, which can also affect the price.
The thickness and quality of the coating can also play a part, for example, Nanoweb coating is lighter because the goal is for strings to feel uncoated, while Polyweb is heavier and tends to be more expensive.
Plus, strings that are coated and treated have additional protection from corrosion and are more likely to last you for much longer, like 3 to 4 times, that alone can make the price go up.
Reason 2: Cost Of Labor
Just like most products out there, strings can also be manufactured in various countries, some of them have cheaper labor costs compared to others.
Mass-produced strings are more likely to be cheaper in price and in most cases the poor quality will reflect that price.
More expensive strings can also be more or less mass-produced, especially round wound strings that are easier to manufacture, so their cost tends to be lower unless they are handmade.
The amount of processing a set of strings must go through can also add to the cost. That’s why flatwound or nylon tape wound strings can get pricy even if they are not hand wound, which is rare and even more expensive.
Different manufacturers use different machines and they’ve developed their own methods, all of which cost money. It’s quite the process as you can see in the video below!
The construction of guitar strings, the time, effort, innovative technologies, and constant testing that are needed in order to create a high-quality product, and of course the labor behind all that can seriously increase the price of your guitar strings.
Reason 3: Branding
While the materials, the construction and the people who design, test, and make strings are some of the things that determine the price of strings, that’s not all.
Sometimes all those things are actually the cheapest part about guitar strings, and what you’re really paying for is the name.
This can be said about any product that is sold on the market and high prices are often all about brand loyalty.
You may have noticed that certain strings are endorsed by famous musicians, and their names are often used to promote strings like the Fender Hendrix Voodoo Child. Brands like C.F. Martin also use their long string-manufacturing history to increase their respectability.
That being said, these same brands also produce high-quality strings that are more affordable and quite cheap. However, they also use their name, history, unique manufacturing techniques, and even better warranties to sell their strings for more money.
Reason 4: Guitar Type
It’s easy to find guitar strings to match your style, especially nowadays, and if you’re looking for something specific and more niche then chances are it’s going to be more expensive.
But it’s not only about style because choosing the right strings will also depend on the type of guitar you have.
Acoustic guitars have different needs, and they require strings specifically designed for acoustic guitars either steel or nylon. Classical guitars need to be strung with nylon strings, 12-string guitars require a 12-string set, and electric guitars as well as bass guitars have their own types of strings.
We can even get more specific, let’s combine style, guitar type, and model. For instance, if you’re after a vintage sound, then your Fender Stratocaster will shine better with the Fender Original set.
The Gibson Les Paul, on the other hand, is going to hold your tone for much longer with the D’Addario EXL110 nickel-wound steel strings compared to some generic factory strings. And a Telecaster will need its own type if you want to go for that twangy country sound that it’s known for.
Both of these strings I mentioned are actually quite affordable, but as I said, the more obscure your style or the more specialized your needs are the more money you’ll need to spend.
Let’s not forget that expensive guitars are going to sound better with high-quality strings and chances are these are also going to be more expensive.
Cheap VS Expensive Guitar Strings, Is There A Difference?
Some expensive guitar strings are expensive for a reason, but I think it’s important to explore whether the price and sometimes the name attached to them are reflective of the string’s quality.
Construction and Materials
Most well-known guitar brands manufacture and handcraft their strings in the USA, which includes big names like Fender, Gibson, D’Addario as well as, Ernie Ball, Elixir, and PRS among others.
These brands have both expensive and affordable strings, but the reason they are not as cheap compared to other lesser-known brands is the cost of skilled labor.
Don’t get me wrong the quality of the materials is super important, but if you don’t have the right people during the construction process then these strings are going to suck.
To create a set of strings that is consistently great and delivers the sound it promises means that a lot of professionals have put in the work in the past and present to create the right formula, and they don’t stop paying attention to detail.
All that is bound to raise the price compared to cheaper strings that are mass-produced and the cheap cost of labor allows these companies to drop the price.
Core and Winding Method
While some brands have nothing else to show for themselves apart from their name, we need to acknowledge that many of these more expensive names have put in years upon years of serious work, and they care about the kind of strings they produce.
Cheap strings that are produced on such high scale every day are going to lack that quality. Even if a small mistake happens when for example the string core is coated with a certain type of winding then trust and believe you’ll hear it, or you might feel it if a string snaps.
If the workers are not paid enough, or they are not as skilled then it’s easy to assume that imperfections will be overseen, so what you end up with is a set of faulty strings.
Whenever I tried to go for a cheaper option just to save me a couple of extra bucks the result was mostly disappointing. The biggest problem for me was the inconsistency.
In the same set of cheap strings a couple of them could be decent enough and others would stretch too much, or they would be difficult to press down or play on, and eventually, one or two and sometimes more than that would snap.
Expensive strings are more likely to last longer not only when they are actively played on, but even when they’re not. Thanks to the high-quality construction and because they are more resistant to corrosion and rust.
As you can imagine cheap strings are also difficult to tune, and that’s because they are usually badly wounded. In some cases, the windings might already have gaps or the strings can develop them every time they are being tuned.
That’s the inconsistency I was talking about. Expensive guitars on the other hand are far more stable. They are easier to break in and their tuning stability lasts for much longer.
Tone and Sound
Most expensive guitar strings are constructed with more care using high-quality materials and as a result, they are better at retaining the tone for longer.
High-end string brands make sure that all of their strings are capable of producing the same tone and sound. And balanced would be a great way to describe them.
If you’re looking for a crisp sound then expensive strings are more likely to maintain their brightness for longer, but even if you prefer warmer tones then once again expensive strings will sound fuller and smoother compared to cheap alternatives.
Cheap strings can often sound dull and lifeless, or they get there much quicker than high-quality strings. They also produce an unwanted buzzing and ringing and they sound like reused old strings.
The other thing I must mention is that most of the time cheap strings actually feel cheap. It’s like your fingertips can actually sense the harshness or small inconsistencies in the windings.
If you play on cheap strings for long enough that uncomfortable feeling can increase because of how easily they corrode. You might even end up with black fingertips!
How Much Should You Spend On Guitar Strings?
There’s no right or wrong answer here because it will heavily depend on your budget, the type of guitar you have, and the style of music you play.
I will say this though if you can, try to avoid buying really cheap strings made by obscure brands.
On average it costs anywhere from $5 to $30 to buy strings and plenty of well-known brands like Fender, Ernie Ball, and other brands I’ve mentioned here sell decent strings anywhere between $10 and $15 a pack.
Plenty of strings at that price are good quality and they are great for beginners and experienced players alike. However, if you are just starting off you could go a little lower like $5 to $8.
For those of you who want to go anywhere between $15 and $30, you can actually get fantastic guitar strings for yourself at those prices.
Obviously, you can always find more expensive strings, and if you want to try something different, or experiment with new sounds then I would say go for it, but you definitely don’t have to spend more than you have to get decent strings.
How To Spend Less Money On High-Quality Guitar Strings?
Of course, what is cheap for one person might be expensive for somebody else, and even if you have money to spare you can always be smarter about the money you spend on your guitar strings.
If I have enough time on my hands I first do a quick research. I check out different sites, including local stores in my area just to see if they have any discounts or special offers.
I also try to buy the guitar strings that I use all the time in bulk. Often times you’ll see that a box of 3, 5, or 10 sets of strings is a much cheaper option.
I also find that supporting a small local music store in your town can get you better discounts or the people there will let you know about special promotions beforehand.
Is Buying Individual Strings Cheaper?
It often so happens that only one guitar string breaks and you are left with the dilemma of either replacing it with the same string from your next pack or restringing the whole set.
If your strings are at the end of their life then restring all of them is probably the best call, but it would be a waste if they were all fairly new.
In this case, buying an individual string can actually be the most economic option, since one individual string can cost less than $2, depending of course what brand you’re looking for. If you want to buy individual strings to restring your whole guitar then it’s definitely not cost-effective.
Why Are Bass Guitar Strings so expensive?
When it comes to construction and materials, bass strings are thicker and longer than guitar strings and so they require more raw material which adds to the cost.
If you are a jazz, blues, and vintage player then you are more likely to gravitate towards flatwound strings. These are also more expensive compared to roundwound strings that are preferred by most bass players including acoustic bass guitarists.
When talking about well-known brand names that manufacture bass strings it’s natural to expect that they are going to be more expensive compared to generic string brands.
That being said you can still find good quality bass strings that are just as affordable as regular guitar strings.
So, Are Expensive Guitar Strings Worth It?
When shopping for guitar strings try thinking in terms of price and quality ratio, because you can spend a ton of money on a set of strings and realize that they are nothing special.
Don’t get me wrong expensive strings can sound great, they can feel great and they will most likely last you much longer but you might also realize that they’re not the vibe you’re looking for.
Keep in mind that a cheap guitar might also have a difficult time fulfilling the potential of these super expensive strings.
I think expensive guitar strings are worth it if you have the money and you have the experience to actually acknowledge the difference in quality.
Buying new strings as a student wasn’t always easy. Sometimes you had to make sacrifices, but I learned the hard way that going for a cheaper set of guitar strings was never a good idea.
Cheap strings are simply not worth it, but that doesn’t mean you have to sell your soul for a pack of expensive strings either.
The truth is that you can get good strings, in fact really good strings for a fair price, they will most likely cost more than your takeaway coffee, but trust me when I say that they will have a far better payoff!