It may seem like a no-brainer but yes, you should use Electric Guitar Strings on your Fender Stratocaster as opposed to acoustic guitar strings. That said, there are quite a few variables when choosing the right strings for your Fender Stratocaster. The most critical variables are string guage, string material and winding type.
Let’s get winding type out of the way right off the top. The two most common types of wound strings are roundwound and flatwound. Both types of strings feature an external wire wrapped around a wire core. The roundwound wire is simply a round wire wrapped around the core. The flatwound wire looks more like a flat piece of tape that is wrapped around the inner core wire.
The two different types of strings sound very different and they feel very different. A roundwound string has more harmonic content and you can hear the string overtones better. This creates a “livelier” sound. A flatwound string emphasizes the basic note and has a “darker” sound compared to a flatwound string.
As for feel the roundwound string bites into your fingers a little more and you tend to have more string squeaks as you slide your fingers on a roundwound string. The flatwound string is a little easier on your fingers and they don’t squeak when you slide on them.
For almost all electric guitar styles players use roundwound strings and they are so common that the packaging doesn’t even tout them as “roundwound strings”. Flatwound on the other hand are favored by Jazz guitarists and MIDI guitarists who want emphasis on the basic tone of the note.
The most important decision you will make when choosing strings for your Stratocaster is what string gauge to use. When you’re shopping for strings you’ll see sets of strings labeled as Regular, Light, Custom Light, Heavy and many other designations. What these refer to are the gauge of the strings.
So what is string gauge? It is the thickness or diameter of a string and it is measured in thousandths of an inch (1/1000″). So a regular high E-string measures .010 inches. Lots of guitarists refer to their string sets based on the measurement of the high E-string so a guitarist would tell you he plays 10’s if he’s using a set of strings that start with a high E-string with a .010 inch gauge. A regular set of strings measures E-.010″, B-.013″, G-.017″, D-.026″, A-.036″, E-.046″. A light set of strings measures E-.009″, B-.011″, G-.016″, D-.024″, A-.032″, E-.042″. There are sets that have heavy bottom/light top strings with higher gauges on the lower strings and light gauges on the top. There are really a wide variety of string gauges available.
So what gauge should you use on your Stratocaster? Well, the American Stratocasters mostly ship with 9’s or Light Strings. They are easier on your fingers and the guitar is setup from the factory for light strings. I personally prefer 10’s or Regular strings because they have a fuller sound to me and seem to last longer. If you use 10’s you’ll have to adjust your guitar following the Stratocaster Setup Guide since all your measurements will change when you change string gauges. Jeff Beck also uses 10’s or Regular strings and I like his sound so I copied his choice of strings and have been happy with them.
What about string material?
There are many different alloys used for electric guitar strings. You have nickel strings, stainless steel strings, nickel plated steel strings and coated guitar strings that have an external coating on the strings in an attempt to make them last longer.
Every one of these alloys and coatings causes the string to have a different sound. There are no right or wrong choices when it comes to string material. It’s a personal choice based on what you hear when you put a string alloy type on your guitar.
I prefer stainless steel strings because they are very bright and seem to last longer. I use the heavier gauge of string so the extra brightness helps brighten up the tone of the heavier strings. Again, this is simply personal choice.
The choice is up to you!
Ask ten guitarists what strings they use and you’ll probably get ten different answers. My advice is to try a few different types and gauges of string until you find what you like. Just remember to set your Stratocaster up properly whenever you change string gauges.
As for my personal recommendation, well, I love Dean Markley Blue Steel Strings Regular gauge. They are getting hard to find but they are such good strings for me. I have been playing them for about 20 years now and they haven’t let me down. They are very consistent, sound good to me and don’t break very easily. They’re also wound in stainless steel so they don’t tarnish or rust which makes them last even longer. Good luck in your string search!