DISCLAIMER: All of this is, of course, based on my own opinions as a gigging guitarist for most of the last decade. Among the guitarist community, I would say some of my brand allegiances for strings are atypical. Of course, take my testimonials with a grain of salt. I will try to rank each contender out of 5 stars.
3.5/5 – While these strings maintain their tone for a much longer amount of time than most competitors, the same poly-nylon technology that gives them such a long life span also has deleterious effects on the sound. At times, I’ve felt like these strings play and sound like dental floss on a guitar. Sure, it’ll take a lot longer for them to rust – but the compromise in sound quality and non-fluid bending don’t make them preferable to me. (This is probably my most controversial opinion – most guitarists I know really love Elixirs).
4/5 – For electric guitars, I would go as far as saying D’addario strings have pathologically fantastic tone. Regardless of if your sound is heavy or light on the treble (or gain for that matter), these strings deliver a consistent warmth that sounds ideal every time. My only real criticism is that the strings do go bad relatively quickly; whereas the Elixirs will at least last forever, D’addarios go dead pretty quickly. Once you start accumulating that layer of black grease on your D’addarios, your going to want to change strings ASAP before performing in front of non-deaf humans (even the deaf ones will notice the gunk on your strings though, so you might as well change them no matter what). What I will say about this brand is that many big name music stores will have frequent sales promotions to try to get rid of as many as possible. For guitarists, I could not think of more of a win-win scenario.
3/5 – Oh god, I’m being generous here too. So, believe it or not, I once was a high school guitar no0b who thought, “wouldn’t it be rad to have colorful guitar strings? Then everybody would love me, and my parents may finally let me sleep indoors if that happens.” Okay, while that last part may have been to optimistic to be realistic, it definitely seemed like a good idea at the time.
And I must testify, the strings really did look pretty badass. I bought several packs and mixed up the colors. My guitar strings were alternative light blue and bubblegum pink for a little while. And I mean, for a little while. These strings died faster than a fruitfly in vinegar, and they sounded pretty crappy after playing them for a week. Perhaps the worst part though, was that the wicked-awesome paint job on the strings chipped off completely in a matter of a couple of days. So much for that…
4/5 – Although I am keenly aware that some guitarists would give me flack for giving this brand such a comparatively high rating, I do stick by my decision on the basis of tone alone. Sure, these strings don’t last particularly long (although, in my experience, they tend to last just about as long as anything else). However, the pure warmth of tone in combination with how well they stay in tune (not to mention they sound the best with distortion) renders this brand of strings to be one of my favorites.
4.5/5 – So I recognize that this is already darn-near a perfect rating already, and this is for a plethora of reasons. Martin is a brand name with a HUGE reputation for making very high quality, American-crafted acoustic guitars. The first acoustic guitar I ever played (which I stuck with for years and years) was a Martin D-1 (which has since been discontinued). I have never been disappointed in the slightest by Martin acoustic strings. Not only is the tone consistently warm and vibrant, but these strings sound great well past the point where they should technically be changed. These strings seem to accumulate less rust and gunk than other acoustic strings, but even they do start going old, they will definitely get you through any gig at least sounding decent.
Plus, not to pile on, but these strings are tough. It really takes a lot to snap one.
4/5 – Being yet another great acoustic brand, Dunlops, in my opinion, are vastly underrated. I know a few guitarists who have had negative experiences with the brand’s electric strings. They tend to scoff when I tell them I like Dunlop acoustic strings. However, they are remarkably consistent in tone, and they last a REALLY long time without going dead (arguably longer than Martins). In comparing these to Martins, though, it is important to consider that when they do go bad, they don’t maintain their tone quite like the previous brand. However, if you ever need acoustic strings, and the store carries Dunlops and not Martins (a boat which I’ve been in), I would definitely give this brand a shot!