Strings are as essential as the guitar itself. Hence, you must pick the best strings that offer great sound quality, durability, reliability, and playability. There are three popular strings brands in the market, D’Addario, Elixir and Ernie Balls. However, this article will only focus on brands that closely compete with each other — the Ernie Ball vs D’Addario strings.
Ernie Ball Overview
Beginning in 1962 Ernie Ball has been making strings for electric and bass guitars. Artists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney of The Beatles have been using and endorsing them during their times. So, given the fact that Ernie Ball strings were trusted by legendary artists, this string maker surely has done a great job about their products.
Today, it’s a huge company with several varieties of strings produced. Their Slinky electric guitar strings, particularly captivated the hearts of musicians. Aside from electric guitar strings, Ernie Ball offers strings for classical guitar, banjo, mandolin, acoustic and steel guitars.
What stood out to be the characteristics of Ernie Ball strings are bright and crisp sounds. They stay in tune, durable, and they can break in quickly.
The history of D’Addario goes beyond making guitar strings out of metal. You can trace them back to the 17th century, when the guitar strings were still made of gut. But, as the trend changed, so was the company and made nylon strings for harps in the 1930s.
It was not only in 1974 that they have their first strings bearing their brand name, “D’Addario.” And since then, they continue to make strings for cello, viola, guitar, ukulele, bass, and classical guitars. It’s the string brand choice for popular players like Joe Satriani, Robben Ford, and Josh Klinghoffer of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
While the Ernie Ball strings are easily broken in, D’Addario strings are the opposite. But, they are worth the wait since they have more grip and provide more attack for you to get a bright and consistent tone. They are extremely well-made, so they definitely last longer.
Ernie Ball vs D’Addario: Feel and Playability
Just to give you a quick background. The ‘feel’ of the strings matter differently from one variety to the other; not all D’Addario strings, for example, is equally made. Additionally, it depends on a lot of factors — material (usually either nylon or steel), gauge (thickness of the strings) and the winding (which can be in different shapes). The feel can also differ from one guitar to the other.
So, this “feel” comparison of the two string manufacturers is made, assuming that all factors are the same, using the same guitar. Of course, manufacturers have some signature characteristics that are unique to their products.
In general, Ernie Ball strings are easier and quicker to break-in, probably in just four hours. While the D’Addario strings need double or more time to finally lose their new string sounds. Most strings from Ernie Ball have a slicker and smoother feel, while D’Addario’s have more grip, especially the unwound strings.
While Ernie Ball strings break in fast, they also stay in tune better. They hold pitch better compared to D’Addario strings. The strings of the latter take more time to retune since they take more time to settle and lose their new string sounds.
You might want to check this YouTube video to help you understand the feel and playability of the strings from these brands:
Ernie Ball vs D’Addario: Durability
Both manufacturers find it necessary to focus on the durability of the strings. Either brand is known to last longer, even with rigorous playing styles.
However, Ernie Ball shows physical wear out more visibly than D’Addario strings do. This is primarily because Ernie Ball strings are shinier, so you can easily notice the change of their luster. You need to try them out of your guitar so you can see which is better and more durable.
Ernie Ball vs D’Addario: Sound
These two string manufacturers have lengthy credentials. Therefore, they have made great changes to their strings to make them among the best in the market today. Through time, they have made their strings unique, but still have great tonal characteristics sole of the company.
In general, D’Addario strings have better sustain compared to the Ernie Ball. The former offers more volume and attack, while the latter offers brighter, crisper and clearer sound output. You can see their differences when using a D’Addario string with a pair of humbuckers and the Ernie Ball string with single-coil pickups.
So, In General…
They are all strings and if not with colored ball ends of the D’Addario, given the same gauge, winding, and coating, they are all the same. They don’t even differ much with the cost, depending on which particular retailer you get them from. Lastly, these strings are purposefully made to satisfy the needs of the player.
So, whichever your choice, it’s not on which maker is better, but on which strings suit you better. After all, they have not been the industry standard if they aren’t the best. They co-exist because they are needed by guitarists who have varying and changing needs.
Choosing one brand over the other depends on how you feel about the strings and how they appear to you in terms of tonality. They are both great string manufacturers because if not, they haven’t existed today.
However, if you are confused about what strings to buy, put it in this way. If you want to get a brighter tone and strings that are easier to break in, get Ernie Ball strings. Yet, if you want more sustain and more volume, your best choice is the D’Addario strings. There’s no wrong choice of strings, only which appeal to you to best.