Time to finally dig into the question on everyone’s mind, here is our in-depth comparison of Ernie Ball vs D’addario guitar strings.
After playing guitar for many years, I’ve gone through my fair share of strings. Since I play on a consistent schedule, I value longevity and comfort when it comes to what I want on my guitar.
It is hard to recommend just one brand of strings to everyone. Just like the products themselves, every musician has different specialties. In this review, I go into detail about which type of strings will work better for what you value as a player.
The competitive benefits of choosing Ernie Ball or D’addario strings have been long-debated. Ernie Ball is well-known for tuning retention and slick feel. D’addario has a reputation for providing a sharper attack and considerable lifespan. I find D’addario to be the better brand.
While both are storied companies with great products, D’addario strings have the rich, textured feel and explosive sound I value. Keep in mind that the two are great for unique scenarios, but for prolonged use, I recommend D’addario.
Using the strings themselves is the best way to find out what works, but lucky for you, I’m here to be the test subject.
Different Strings for Different Players
Many of the qualities attributed to either string brand are much closer than you might think. There are minute differences between using Ernie Ball vs D’addario for your guitars, basses, or other stringed instruments. The similarities between the two brands can make deciding a tricky task.
For example, Ernie Ball strings have a sound that works much better with bass guitars thanks to their smoothness, which beats out D’addario’s “chunkier” quality. If you are buying strings for a mandolin or other unique acoustic instrument, D’addario’s specialties in that field give it an edge.
As I mentioned earlier, each musician will value their strings for different reasons, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty of each brand’s interesting features!
Here is a list of features I find relevant in deciding what brand to buy. This is by no means exhaustive but does cover a wide variety of factors. These are some crucial parts of my considerations, as well as some bonuses to consider.
While prices tend to fluctuate, especially from product to product, the trends between these two brands have remained the same.
Generally speaking, you’ll find that the most comparable item in Ernie Ball’s catalog to a D’addario product of the same caliber is more expensive. This is not normally by much, but you will notice the difference after going through enough strings. From the standard Slinkys to the high-end Paradigms, Ernie Ball strings range in price from $5.99-$14.99, with some room for discounts based on retailers pricing policies.
D’addario strings, from the basic XL’s to the premium NYXL’s, range in price from $5.49-$12.99. While there is some overlap between the two brands’ related retailers, such as Sweetwater and Guitar Center, most savings opportunities come from buying in bulk.
The price is quite close for D’addario’s most common string varieties. With higher-quality strings from either brand showing a slightly larger gap, the overall cost is remarkably similar.
With the default bulk-order options D’addario offers, I would declare its strings a winner in this category.
An often overlooked part of picking a brand of strings is the potential perks a company can include. While many companies have straightforward programs, keeping track of them when they affect your career can make a massive difference in the long run for your wallet.
Unfortunately, the program Ernie Ball launched in 2014 is nowhere to be found. The company was planning on making this loyalty program work with its social media platforms. However, even Ernie Ball’s official Twitter post regarding the program leads to a defunct link.
The option for D’addario customers is called the Player’s Circle. It is a simplistic program that acts the same way as most free rewards initiatives. Buying items earns you points, which can then be redeemed for products instead of paying with real money. The returns are pretty low if you do not buy often enough, however.
There is no question that a functional and often-used rewards program is better than none at all. The Player’s Circle rewards program is free and saves the people who use D’addario the most on strings and other products more than those who shop around.
The unique tonal quality and aural textures of each company’s strings are complicated to assess. This can differ greatly based on the instrument you are working with, but as a general rule, the tone of the guitar strings of each brand accurately represents their catalogs.
The overall tone of the Ernie Ball strings is brighter, granting a clear and powerful sound. The sound you get from these strings will also stick around. Ernie Ball has a reputation for retaining tuning for a good reason.
The strength of the D’addario strings comes from their impressive attack and amplitude. While they reportedly take longer to get used to, the warm tonality of these strings is nothing to underestimate. The loud, signature noise of D’addario strings is something for which the company strives.
Between the two, D’addario sounds bigger and better in my ears, but I have to give a huge plus to the Ernie Ball strings for their ease of use and consistent ability to retain tune. You have to work a bit harder to get a reliable sound from D’addario strings, though it might be worthwhile to you for the unique feel.
Having a celebrity musician swear by a product is never the final word in quality, but can certainly be enough to sway us in either direction. Many of us have idols in the industry that we look up to, and the tools they swear by are ones we respect all the more. Both brands are used by giant names in music.
Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Slash from Guns N’ Roses swear by Ernie Ball strings. The company itself has been around since 1962, producing U.S.-made products.
Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, orchestra virtuoso Gary Clark, and Lenny Kravitz are some examples of artists who routinely use D’addario strings. The name D’addario is well-associated with high-quality products and has the backing of many varied creators.
The category of professional endorsement is harder to judge. What it does reveal is that D’addario gets more common praise from orchestral musicians than Ernie Ball. The vast majority of Ernie Ball’s claim to fame on this level comes from rock musicians and experts in electric guitars and the like.
Ernie Ball or D’addario?
Overall, I recommend D’addario strings for most players. A bigger, louder sound is the main reason, but also in terms of the value one gets for the cost, as well as the affiliated awards program making things even more affordable.
However, the great tuning retention in Ernie Ball strings is definitely something to consider, and is a good reason for choosing Ernie Ball over D’addario. Also a great choice if a brighter sound is what you prefer.
Ernie Ball Strings
- Suited to electric instruments
- Better for bass guitar
- Tuning retention
- Wide variety of strings
- Easy to break-in
- Generally less affordable
- Non-existent rewards program
- Appear to wear out faster
- Generally more affordable
- Suited to acoustic instruments
- Great rewards program
- Known for consistency
- Less wasteful packaging
- Highly encourages brand exclusivity
- Takes longer to warm up
- Loses tune faster
I encourage you to work toward what you are most comfortable with if you find my guide lacking after trying some strings out.
Where Can I Find Them?
Ernie Ball and D’addario have comprehensive websites for you to browse their wide selections of strings. The features of their sites alone show how professional and competent both companies are as powerhouses in this industry of instrument strings.
The Ernie Ball website effectively separates the company’s string selection from its accessories and other merchandise. The main tabs include electric, acoustic, bass, classical, and specialty strings. My favorite part of the Ernie Ball website is the “compare strings” option that makes finding the right tone super easy through an interactive process.
The D’addario website focuses a bit more on the company’s strings, having two tabs that further categorize strings into guitars and similar instruments (such as ukuleles and banjos) or orchestral instruments. The string overview pages include rankings for selecting options from along the spectrum of bright to mellow tones.
Good luck with whatever string selection you make! You honestly cannot go wrong with whichever of the two you pick.
At the end of the day, what is most important is which strings work with how you play your instrument. If you want to know more about strings, check out our guide on how to choose guitar strings.