Acoustic guitar strings are an often undervalued piece of the equation for people who are new to the instrument. Strings can make a huge deal of difference in overall comfort and playability, and most players prefer to swap them out on a semi-regular basis to keep their guitar sounding and feeling fresh. If you’re wondering which strings are right for you, we’ll talk about common features to look for and provide a list of popular options on the market.
What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing Acoustic Guitar Strings?
Much of the decision comes down to personal preference. Thickness, feel, sound, and durability all play a role in deciding which strings are best for you. In my opinion, gauge (thickness) is going to be the most important factor for the majority of players. I think it’s a good idea to first discover a gauge which feels right under your fingers, and then test out a variety of brands to work out which combination of other features is right for you.
- RELATED: How to Change Acoustic Guitar Strings
- RELATED: The 9 Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups for Any Style
We measure guitar strings in thousandths of an inch in diameter. Packs are listed as a range of values from the highest string to the lowest — for example, 12-54 (.012 to .054 inches in diameter from the high E string to the low E string), which is a typical “light” acoustic guitar gauge. As shorthand, we call strings by their first number, so when someone says they play “12s,” we understand right away what they mean. The bigger the first number, the thicker the strings.
Higher gauges can sound bigger and fuller, but they also increase tension. Beginners may struggle to fret thicker strings, and they’re much tougher to bend. This is where play style comes in. If you do a lot of strumming, then thicker, fuller sounding strings are great for that. If you do a lot of delicate fingerstyle playing or soloing with lots of bends, then thinner gauges make it easier to do that.
Tuning also plays a role in deciding which gauge is best. If you play in standard, then a typical set of acoustic 12s is a good place to start. If you down tune, you may want to consider thicker strings to create the same tension you’d get in standard tuning.
Metals & Core
Acoustic guitar strings usually consist of a stainless steel core with the bottom four strings wrapped in bronze, copper, or an alloy (wound). Acoustic strings are significantly different than electric ones, which employ nickel or steel windings to be more electrically conductive with pickups. Classical acoustic guitars use nylon strings.
Coated strings last longer than uncoated ones by preventing sweat, oil, and dead skin from corroding the strings as quickly. They’re more expensive since they last longer, but if you’re one who likes to procrastinate between string changes, then coatings can be very convenient.
The 10 Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for Any Ability Level in 2023
1. Best Overall: Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
Ernie Ball remains one of the top string choices for both acoustic and electric guitarists. These strings come in a variety of gauges and use a blend of copper and aluminum windings over a steel core for full lows and clear highs. These strings aren’t coated, but the aluminum-bronze winding makes them more durable than a pack of phosphor bronze strings.
2. Martin Retro Monel Vintage Tone
These cool throwbacks take cues from the kind of strings people were playing in the 1930s. They use a unique nickel/copper alloy (monel) that has a one-of-a-kind sound and feel. The initial attack is biting, though it rapidly decays to a more mellower tone.
3. D’Addario Nickel Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
After Ernie Ball, D’Addario is probably the most-played name in acoustic and electric guitar strings. These are relatively neutral sounding set meant to bring out the natural tone of your instrument. They’re made from a nickel/bronze alloy over sturdy steel cores which offer increased durability thanks to D’Addario’s proprietary core formula.
4. Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for Beginners: Dunlop 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
Dunlop 80/20 bronze strings are not only a great value, but they’re also a very versatile string that responds well to any style of playing. That makes them perfect for beginners who are unsure of what to try for the first time. Plus, the Dunlops are quite durable as well, so you can get plenty of life out of them before replacement.
5. Elixir Strings 80/20 Nanoweb Coated Strings (Best Coated Strings)
Elixir 80/20 strings consist of 80% copper and 20% zinc. The premium Nanoweb coating retains the feel of an uncoated string to keep the playing experience natural — the only difference is that these strings will sound new for much longer than the average uncoated string set. They’re slightly pricier than most, yet the durability might offset the cost.
6. D’Addario Pro-Arte Laser Selected Classical Strings
D’Addario Pro-Arte strings are essentially a hybrid between standard steel strings and classical nylon strings. These have a nylon core wrapped in 80/20 bronze meant for restringing classical acoustic guitars.
7. Best High End: La Bella Vapor Shield
La Bella strings are a premium imported string. Their proprietary Vapor Shield coating modifies the entire surface of the string during production in a process that does not involve any dipping or spraying the coating onto the string.
8. D’Addario XS Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
The D’Addario XS line consist of a steel core wrapped in phosphor bronze for a balanced and natural acoustic guitar tone. What sets these apart from other D’Addario acoustic guitar strings is the super-fine thin coating that keeps them crispy and pristine for as long as possible.
9. Best Budget Strings: Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze (Best Value)
Earthwood Phosphor Bronze strings are 92% copper wound around a steel core. Their tone is warm yet clear — something any style of acoustic guitarist would love. They are an excellent value and also a great choice for beginners and veterans alike. Simple, no-frills strings that sound good.
10. Fender Dura-Tone Acoustic Guitar Strings
Finally, we have the Fender Dura-Tone 80/20 coated bronze strings. They make a perfect all-around string for multiple playing styles with an enhanced coating that keeps that “out of the pack” feel for up to five times longer than the average uncoated string.