Last Updated Jan-02-2017. While it may have taken you some time to find your perfect acoustic guitar – reading reviews, watching videos, trying out your favorite models – it may take you even longer to find the perfect string!
‘But a string’s a string, isn’t it – aren’t they all the same?’
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There’s a huge variety of acoustic guitar strings out there, with brands like Martin, Elixir, D’Addario, and Ernie Ball all excelling – and that barely scrapes the surface of what’s out there.
So how do you find the perfect string for you? The most important thing is to try, try and try again – keep testing different strings and eventually you’ll find something that feels and sounds great, and suits your playing style.
Check out our quick chart below, where we highlight just a few of the best strings on the market today, then keep reading for our guide on choosing the right strings for you, as well as a look at some of the most popular acoustic guitar string brands.
If you’re looking for nylon strings for a classical guitar, make sure to check out our dedicated classical guitar strings section for more information.
8 Best Acoustic Guitar Strings:
|Best-selling D’Addario acoustic string – medium gauge (.013-.056) made with phosphor bronze.|
D'Addario EXP16 Strings
|Super strong light gauge (.012-.053) phosphor bronze strings with a protective coating.|
Elixir Strings 80/20 Bronze NANOWEB
|Top-selling 80/20 bronze light gauge (.012-.053) strings with Elixir’s NANOWEB coating.|
|POLYWEB-coated 80/20 bronze strings from Elixir, with an extra light (.010-.047) gauge.|
|Martin’s popular and affordable light gauge (.012-.054) phosphor bronze acoustic strings.|
|Excellent vintage tones from Martin’s light (.012-.054) nickel and copper acoustic strings.|
Ernie Ball 2146 Earthwood
|An expressive medium-light gauge (.012-.054) phosphor bronze set from Ernie Ball.|
|Ernie Ball’s best-selling regular slinky strings, with a .010-.046 gauge.|
The eight in our chart are just a handful of some of the best-selling strings on sale today – the overall choice is staggering, with a plethora of styles, materials, gauges, and coatings available.
After our handy guide to finding the right acoustic strings for you, you’ll find a breakdown of some of the best string brands in this area.
Guide to Buying The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings
While there’s no real reason you can’t just grab the first pack of acoustic strings you see, it’s similar to grabbing the first guitar you see – not a smart move. Yeah, strings are cheaper than a guitar and don’t last as long, but a good set of strings that suits your style will give you so much more fun than buying something generic.
There are several factors to consider when purchasing strings. One of the first things you should look at is the gauge of the set, which can drastically affect how the guitar performs.
Generally, lighter gauged strings are easier to fret and bend, and are therefore excellent for beginners and fingerstyle players. They are also well-suited to smaller body shapes, such as parlor guitars and travel acoustics, and are essential for vintage guitars as lighter strings exert less tension on the neck – because nobody wants a cracked neck or broken bridge.
In comparison, heavier strings – while slightly harder to play – can give huge volume, as well as greater sustain. An acoustic with a dreadnought body shape – which is designed to offer lots of resonance – is best strung with medium or heavier gauge strings to achieve a louder sound. This is the same for large Grand Auditorium-bodied guitars. When it comes to playing styles, strummers are usually wise to choose a medium to heavy set.
While there’s no specific standard, a pack of light strings would usually have a gauge of around .012-.054; a medium set would be around .013-.056; and a heavy set of strings would come in at around .014-.059. You can also find extra light gauges, as well as hybrid sets that offer lighter treble strings alongside medium bass strings, which are perfect for bluegrass playing.
It’s worth noting that a light set of acoustic guitar strings (.012-.053) would typically be heavier than a light set of electric guitar strings (.009-.042), so if you’re making the move from electric to acoustic, bear that in mind.
The material the string is made of is hugely important when it comes to tone. The two most popular materials used for acoustic strings these days are bronze and phosphor bronze.
You will usually see bronze referred to as 80/20 bronze, as it is made up of 80 percent bronze and 20 percent zinc. These 80/20 strings offer a bright and crisp sound, although typically lose their sheen and tone quicker than other metals. Phosphor bronze strings tend to last much longer, as the metal is protected from oxidization. These are a little warmer in tone compared to 80/20.
You will also find aluminum bronze (crisper and clearer than phosphor bronze), nickel bronze (offering a natural, balanced tone), and brass strings, which are bright and metallic in sound. A final string to consider is a compound (also known as ‘silk and steel’), which is useful for softer playing styles with a mellow tone.
Coatings also play a big part in the feel and sound of acoustic strings. Some brands – in particular Elixir or D’Addario’s EXP range – offer very thin coatings that protect the strings from oil, moisture, dirt, and rust, which goes a long way to enhancing the lifespan. These coated strings tend to be more expensive to buy, however – with some lasting up to five times longer – they can work out more cost-effective and save you time as you don’t have to change them so often.
The Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands
Officially founded in 1974 – although they’ve actually been making strings since the 1930’s – D’Addario are one of the oldest and best known guitar string manufacturers in the world, and make superb acoustic strings in addition to both electric guitar and bass sets. They have a rock-solid reputation, manufacturing strings of high quality, and are played by hundreds of professional acoustic bands and artists including Dave Rawlings, Fats Kaplin, and Jackie Green. Their most popular string range is their Phosphor Bronze EJ series which are bright, but well-balanced and come in a big range of gauges – from extra light (.009-.045) to heavy (014-.059) and everything in between. Their innovative EXP series is another worth considering, using their extra-strong high-carbon NY Steel wire, with a very thin coating to protect the strings from dirt and corrosion – extending their life without destroying their tone. D’Addario also produce other ranges, including their 80/20 Bronze, Nickel Bronze Wound, and Gypsy Jazz strings for a wonderful warm tone. With such a range and reputation, it’s no wonder D’Addario are so popular with acoustic guitarists around the world.
Elixir is an American string brand that always push the bar when it comes to innovation, and produce great strings for electric, bass, and – our featured instrument – acoustic guitars. Established in 1995, they are best known for their coated strings, which use unique POLYWEB and NANOWEB coatings to protect the metal from dirt, rust and corrosion, giving the strings an extended lifespan – three to five times longer according to Elixir. In the 90’s their coating technology was revolutionary and it remains hard to beat today, although there are subtle differences between the two coatings. The original POLYWEB coating gives a warmer, played-in tone, while the ultra-thin NANOWEB coating has a crisper, brighter sound. While their range of strings is limited in comparison to others on this list, Elixir offer both POLYWEB and NANOWEB versions of their 80/20 Bronze string in several gauges, with a Phosphor Bronze set featuring the NANOWEB coating. Many renown acoustic guitarists use Elixir strings, including Massimo Varini, Sarah Jarosz, and the late fingerstyle maestro Pete Huttlinger.
Born way back in 1833, Martin are perhaps the best known quality acoustic guitar brand in the world – so it’s no surprise that they make a great acoustic string too. The American manufacturers produce a myriad of string sets, catering for all kinds of style and sound, including their best-selling Phosphor Bronze M540 strings, which offer a brilliant and well-balanced tone at a super affordable price. However, if it’s pure vintage you’re looking for, Martin’s Retro acoustic strings, made from a corrosion-resistant blend of nickel and copper, give a crisp but mellow sound that brings out the best in your guitar’s tonewoods. It’s only natural that top-selling professional acoustic artists would use Martin strings, just like they use Martin guitars. These include American folk-pop duo Porter & Sayles, Adam Levy, Anthony D’Amato, and the legendary Eric Clapton. In fact, Clapton loved his Martin strings so much he now has his own signature set – Clapton’s Choice 928 made of phosphor bronze and coming in two different gauges – light and medium.
The popular Californian company are famous for their slinky electric guitar strings, but their range of acoustic strings are used by beginner, experienced, and professional acoustic guitarists across the globe – from Paul McCartney to John Mayer – and are well worth your attention. Their Earthwood series gets a lot of praise, as they offer both a rich and warm phosphor bronze string set, as well as an 80/20 bronze pack with a crisp, balanced tone – all with guaranteed freshness thanks to their excellent Element Shield packaging. Elsewhere, their Everlast string series – in either 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze – is another to consider, as it offers a thin coating that repels moisture, oil and dirt, prolonging the strings’ lifespan. If you’re not sure of the best string for you, Ernie Ball’s Acoustic Tone Pack – sold in light or medium-light gauges – offers three different packs (Earthwood 80/20 Bronze, Earthwood Phosphor Bronze, and their exclusive Aluminum Bronze strings) in one affordable bundle, allowing you to experiment, enjoy, and settle on one you love.
While D’Addario, Elixir, Martin, and Ernie Ball represent the biggest and most popular section on the acoustic guitar string market, there are several others worth considering. Make sure to check out what’s on offer from Fender, Gibson, DR, Dean Markley, Cleartone, and GHS in particular.
Whether you’re buying new acoustic strings for the first time or the hundredth time, you can always benefit from shopping around to see what’s on the market – whether it’s a new gauge, new material, or different coating, your perfect string may be the next pack away. It’s important to keep trying and testing. Eventually you’ll find something that suits you.
When you have your new strings you’ll need to change them – a process that can be a little complicated when doing it for the first time. Make sure to check out the handy video from Fender below, guiding you through the string-changing process in five minutes.
Good luck and happy string shopping!