This is our comparison of the Ernie Ball Vs D’Addario guitar strings.
As both brands of strings are very popular with guitarists all over the world, we’ve dug in deep to find out which is the best.
I’m a guitarist of 25 years and still, to this day I use both brands. I thought it would be a good time to choose my favorite string pack as we have a huge amount of variation to choose from.
I’ve included my favorite Acoustic and Electric Guitar strings from both brands.
Read on to see the ultimate guitar strings in today’s market.
Product Range Comparison
The Story Behind Ernie Ball
Ernie Ball was an American entrepreneur and musician who was born in the 1950s to a guitar-playing family.
Ball was a local club musician who played beer bars in South Central Los Angeles as a teen.
In the 1950s he landed a spot playing on KTLA television in LA. This gained him wider recognition and led to teaching jobs and studio work.
During his teaching days, he noted his students were having trouble holding down and bending the Fender medium gauge strings.
He approached Fender several times with his issue and a suggestion of a lighter Slinky option to aid beginners. Fender was not interested.
After being turned away several times, he approached Gibson who also showed little interest. It was now time to take matters into his own hands.
Ernie Ball strings and accessories would lead to grossing 40 million US$ a year.
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Electric Guitar Strings
With names like Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Steve Vai as fans, the Slinky is possibly the most famous guitar string in history.
The Regular Slinky is manufactured from Nickle plated steel wire. It’s wrapped around the hex steel core wire. The plain strings are produced from a distinctive tempered tin-plated high-carbon steel. This is why the Slinky gives you such an all-around balanced tone for your guitar like no other.
The Story Behind D’Addario
D’Addario was started by a small family of string makers from Salle in Italy in the early part of the 20th century.
After an earthquake in 1915, two brothers-in-law decided to go to Queens New York, and try to expand the family business. At this point, guitar music saw a huge boom in popularity. The family back in Salle started producing strings to order for major manufacturers and musicians. With the help of the New York based brothers, D’Addario was born.
D’Addario also produces quality strings for other fretted and orchestral instruments.
It doesn’t stop there, the famous family also distributes other accessories such as cables, capos, earplugs, tuners, straps, humidifiers, picks, slides, and drum accessories.
D’Addario’s European headquarters in Newcastle UK is one of the largest operators in the world today.
D Addario XL Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings
It’s been said D’Addario strings are the strongest strings ever made.
The unique D’Addario technology offers a high carbon steel core that won’t break as easily as its competitors. The refined frequency response guarantees the player an improved presence and crunch.
The strings can be bent further and sing louder than any string has before, what else would you need?
Our Top String Picks
Ernie Ball vs D’Addario: Best Electric Guitar Strings
Ernie Ball Super Slinky
- Key Features: Nice balanced sound. Not too punchy, not too muddy. Great feel. Not too grippy, not too slippery. Dependable & Affordable
- Best For: An all-around balanced tone.
D’Addario Nickle Wound EXL
- Key Features: Best Sellers, Long-lasting, distinctive bright tone, and excellent intonation. Corrosion-resistant packaging.
- Best For: All Guitar styles and musical genre.
From playing both types of strings for many years I found the following to be true:
The D’Addario XLs definitely give you more sustain compared to the Ernie Ball Slinkys. Sustain is a very sought-after addition to any guitar tone (especially acoustic).
Depending on what type of music you’re wanting to play, greater sustain is a benefit you want in abundance.
I found the D’Addario XLs to have greater volume in most situations. I could definitely tell the difference in the ’attack’ of the XL’s in comparison to the Ernie Ball Slinkys.
The best way to describe ‘attack’ would be, how long it takes your strings to reach their peak sound and intensity.
If you’re like me, I love the aggressive Stevie Ray Vaughn style of guitar tone. He reaches the attack stage very quickly.
Obviously, in this day and age, you have pedals to aid the attack. So again, depending on what music you want to be playing, the Ernie Ball Slinky set takes that little bit longer to attack compared to the D’Addario XL.
The Ernie Ball Slinkys stand out as the best choice for a crisper, clearer sound. In fact, there’s something pure and glassy about the Slinkys that no other brand can come close to.
I have a Telecaster with medium Slinkys fitted, as I love the clearness and slight break up of that guitar. Low chords and funky chopping guitar sounds lush. I couldn’t imagine using another brand of strings on my Tele.
Slinkys have a massive loyal following of guitarists worldwide for this glassy tone alone.
Notable Build Differences
Ernie Ball strings are available in various alloys.
These characteristics are an important factor in the sound of the strings. This is very useful to know if you’re looking for a specific tone on your guitar. Here is a general guide of the types of alloy, and what tonal characteristics you’ll be getting.
- Nickle: Well balanced brightness and warmth
- Cobalt: A wider dynamic range with a fuller deep end and crisp highs
- M-Steel: Richer, fuller tone with a dominant low-end response.
- Pure Nickel: Vintage tones with added warmth
- Stainless Steel: Brighter, crisper. An Edgy sound with superb anti-corrosion
It’s worth knowing Ernie Ball developed the reinforced ball end wrap with the Slinkys. This is why they’re hugely popular the world over. They’ve also developed newer treatment coatings, which help to make your strings last longer.
We all want our stings to last longer, especially if you’re a gigging guitarist.
I have to mention, the D’Addario XT range is a game-changer for stringed instruments.
Since the release of the new D’Addario XT treatment process, I personally think the XT will eventually become as popular as the XL collection.
You know how guitarists are with change! We don’t like anything new. Why change if you are already satisfied with a product? Especially our strings!
That being true it’s worth knowing the impressive manufacturing techniques D’Addario now uses for its XT strings
The new D’Addario XT treatment process gives the string a more durable and thinner coating. It offers the player a feel and sound of an uncoated string but still gives you the major advantages of a coated string. One major benefit being endurance from any corrosive materials. We all want our strings to last longer
The D’Addario packaging now gives clear options on the front. Like Instrument/gauge/alloy type. When choosing acoustic guitar strings, note there are various alloy types.
Even after all this impressive sales language, it’s all down to you the player, and what YOU think of the tone qualities.
Ernie Ball vs D’Addario: Best Acoustic Guitar Strings
Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze Alloy
- Key Features: Natural feel and tone. Used by the Eagles, Elvis Costello, Joe Bonamassa, and Slash
- Best For: A crisp, bright sound with pleasing overtones
D’Addario Phosphor Bronze EJ16-3D
- Key Features: Long-lasting tone and comfortable playability, Corrosion resistant
- Best For: Warm, well-balanced acoustic tone
Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze Alloy strings
The Ernie Ball Earthwood strings are the set I kinda grew up with. I always remember the superb wood-type artistic design on the packs. They were always the first choice on the house mahogany Yamaha guitar I was learning on.
They seem to be a perfect match for a mahogany bodied guitar. They bring out the rich woody tone and ring softly. I would say they’re a better choice for those who play either Flatpicking or strumming. The fingerstyle tone sounded a bit dead to me. So maybe consider this before you buy.
Although I found these much brighter than the D’Addario EJ16s they are still far superior in richness of tone to anything else on the market.
The high end is clear and glassy and you’re also given satisfactory lower bass sounds.
The Earthwoods are a sturdy reliable choice. If i were a performing acoustic guitarist, i wouldn’t think twice about using them. The quality of the higher end would sit nicely in the mix of an acoustic type band. The vocals are around this range also.
My advice would be to start playing around gauge 12 (medium) for the best acoustic sound. If you’re mad, open your open chords and strumming, go 13s.
At a great low price you cannot ignore the Ernie Ball Earthwood series. Get involved.
I don’t know how else to put this but, the D’addario EJ-16s are the best acoustic guitar strings I’ve ever played. That’s it, review over!
The 80/20 Bronze strings are extremely popular for recording artists due to their beautiful heavy warmth, deep end and projecting tone
The traditionalists and vintage players love this kind of sound. You have to try these out for yourself at least once in your life if you haven’t already.
D’Addario uses only the best bronze alloy and wraps the wound strings with the exact amount of tension. As a result, the strings can breathe and bend much more sufficiently than any other acoustic string.
As the EJ16s are phosphorus strings, they are probably the ‘go to’ set for millions who love that warm and full sound. That includes me.
Ernie Ball vs D’Addario Winner
Best Electric Guitar Strings
The Industry standard D’Addario XL Nickle Wound strings are still my favorite because they are strong and suit the way I play. It’s as simple as that. Does it matter how they’re built and what process they have to go through?
The XL Nickle wound is wound with nickel-plated steel and suits a wide range of musical styles. The strings in my opinion are longer lasting and can take more aggression.
The string construction combines strength and durability. The winding and steel core ensures tonal quality and longevity, unlike the competitors. There’s a reason they’re the world’s most reliable guitar strings.
Winner: Best Acoustic Guitar Strings
My favorite acoustic strings are the D’Addario Phosphor Bronze EJ16-3D. They are both reasonably affordable and they have many of the added benefits that you would get from more expensive strings.
In addition, they tend to have a longer lifespan than their other competitors in this price range, and their tone is a nice middle-ground that isn’t too bright or too warm.
I feel the Ernie Ball Earthwood were a little on the bright side, and I really not a fan of sharp-sounding acoustics when playing open chords.
There’s nothing better than listening to a warm, golden sound of acoustic. The EJ16s do it for me.
Possible the best selling guitar strings in the world. That tells you alot!
How To Spot Fake Strings (Important)
While it may seem odd for an item such as guitar strings to be counterfeited, there are many reports of such online.
The good news is that there are a few easy ways to spot fakes, so you can be sure you’re getting the best strings from a trusted manufacturer. First, you want to check the packaging of your strings.
Most manufacturers seal each individual string inside the pack in separate packaging. Check to make sure that the markings on each package match the box, and match the information from the manufacturer’s website.
Companies like Elixir and D’Addario also stamp quality control codes on each package that you can look for.
As you open each string, inspect it closely for signs of corrosion and poor wrapping.
Many people complain that the fake strings they receive are poorly constructed and the windings are loose right out of the package, making them difficult to play.
If the strings are properly sealed with quality control stamps, and they appear in good condition before you install them, you have nothing to worry about.
Getting the best guitar strings is easy when you know what to look for.
What String Gauge Do I Need?
One of the first things you will notice when shopping for guitar strings is that they come in several different weights (gauge).
Medium gauge strings are the standard, but they tend to be stiffer and more difficult to work with for beginners. On the plus side, medium gauge strings produce a more robust sound with better volume.
By contrast, lightweight strings are easier to press and hold, and they are a bit more flexible if you are going for a modern sound.
Many beginners prefer lightweight strings until they can build up the finger strength and calluses to handle medium-weight strings.
Beyond the typical light and medium gauge strings, you may also come across extra light or heavy gauge strings while you’re shopping. These types of strings are used less often, but you can always experiment with them to see how they change the sound of your playing.
Carefully consider your string gauge if you’re a beginner and give yourself the best possible chance to succeed, as you’ll be learning easy guitar chords and various guitar exercises when you first start.
One important note: Before you string up heavy gauge strings on your instrument, double-check that the manufacturer has approved that gauge for use. Acoustic guitars use a complex system of braces inside to withstand the tension of fully-tuned strings.
Using too heavy of a string gauge could cause the braces to crack or warp. This is also a good time to learn how to tune a guitar.
I Still Can’t Decide Which Strings I Want
There is an easy answer to this issue: Buy a packet of both Ernie Ball and D’Addario strings.
The reason Ernie Ball and D’Addario guitar strings are so popular worldwide is the low price.
Buying a packet of both will give you an idea of what YOU like and what you don’t.
There are a lot of variations of strings from both brands but the Slinky and XL are a perfect place to start.
When Do I Replace My Strings?
Let’s start with the obvious, don’t wait until they break!
The frequency you should change strings depends on how often you play, how you play, and in what conditions your instrument is played and stored.
Active performers may need to change their strings on a bi-weekly basis depending on the number of shows and rehearsals per week.
Occasional players may take a month to three months to wear out a set.
Most players change strings when they lose their brilliance, sound too mellow, when intonation falters or when their instrument is difficult to keep in tune. Generally, you can see the build-up of grime on the strings.
I can always tell just by listening. The sound becomes dull and the resonance disappears. It starts to sound…well crap!
Changing one string after it breaks is not recommended as the newer string will be brighter sounding than the rest of the set.
Check out our 10 Best Ways to Care For Your Guitar