The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings: Extra Light - Light - Medium - Heavy

The Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Strings

Disclosure

We recommend all products independently of 3rd parties including advertisers. We earn advertising fees from:
• • • • •
Sweetwater
• • • • •

Amazon

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
• • • • •

When it comes to acoustic guitars, a huge part of your tone is decided by the strings you use. The gauge, the material they’re made from, and their design join together with wood vibrations to give you your tone. So to make the most out of your instrument, equip it with the best sounding acoustic guitar strings - check out the recommendations below, updated for 2020!

According to our findings most musicians prefer light or medium gauge strings; but we did include extra light gauge for those who want to make their guitar easier to play. We've also included a heavy gauge set for those who want their instrument to handle heavier playing.

The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings

Best Extra Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

For this section we considered sets of strings ranging in gauge from .010 to .047/.050.

D'Addario EJ10 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 400+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$5
D'Addario EJ10 80/20 Bronze Extra Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Extra Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with D'Addario's EXP10.

With their long history of manufacturing strings, D'Addario has grown to be a trusted brand when it comes to quality. They are even credited for pioneering the string winding machine that many manufacturers are still using today.

The EJ10 is an excellent example of the quality of their work, meant for those who want easy playability. Its 80/20 bronze formula can help brighten a naturally dark sounding acoustic, and it also helps in the low end spectrum. Finally, each set of strings is wrapped in D'addarios, corrosion resistant packaging.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.010 to .047)
  • Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
Many users describe this string as crisp and bright sounding. It is also often commended for adding projection and punch to their acoustic.

Cons
There are some who caution that extra light strings like the EJ10 may not complement big-bodied acoustics. There are also a few who complain about string buzz, and this maybe due to the thinner gauge of this set, which may dig deeper into their saddle or nut.

Overall
If you're looking for a detailed trebly set of acoustic guitar strings, then get the D'Addario EJ10.

Gibson SAG-MB10 Masterbuilt Premium Phosphor Bronze Extra Light

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$10
Gibson SAG-MB10 Masterbuilt Premium Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

Gibson is a big brand that's respected in both electric and acoustic guitar circles, so it's only logical to expect that they know how to make good guitar strings.

The SAG-MB10 is exactly that, an extra light (they call it ultra light) gauge string set built to the Gibson's specifications. It has undergone Gibson's proprietary Tension Release system, which slowly winds the strings for optimum tone.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.010 to .047)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
Most owners of this string commend it for its clarity and projection, and it obviously is works great when used on Gibson acoustics like the J-45. There are also plenty reports of it sounding good with acoustics from other brands, including the Martin D8, Takamine, Ibanez and more.

Cons
There are a few who complain about the strings not staying in tune, but this maybe misattribution, as it's more likely due to faulty tuners, or simply the strings adjusting to the tension required for the the guitar.

Overall
This is a great string set for Gibson acoustic owners who want an extra light gauge string, but it can also work with other brands.

D’Addario EXP10 Coated 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$12
D'Addario EXP10 Coated 80/20 Bronze Extra Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Extra Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with D'Addario's EJ10.

This set in particular, the EXP10, is a great example of why D’Addario strings have been the strings of choice for musicians all over the country. The set is made from 80/20 bronze, which is known for its bright tone. The set’s gauge also works towards enhancing its brightness. So while these strings are coated, it’s still a very bright sounding set of strings overall.

The EXP10 set also uses D’Addario’s patented NY steel. This steel was created with the intention of producing strings that are more durable and stable than traditional guitar strings, and the company has succeeded with this.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra-Light (.010 to .047)
  • Material: 80/20 Bronze (Brass)
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
D’Addario’s coated strings have been very well received, the EXP10 especially so, with its appeal to those who want fast action strings on their acoustics. Many are also pleased at how fresh the strings are upon opening its packaging.

Cons
There are a few reports of string breakage (extra light gauges can't take the punishment of heavier ones), while some find the sound to be a bit too bright for their tastes.

Overall
If you're looking for easy-to-play strings from a reputable company, then check out the D'Addario EXP10.

Best Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

For this section we considered sets of strings ranging in gauge from .011/.012 to .052/.054.

John Pearse 600L Phosphor Bronze Light

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 400+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$10
John Pearse 600L Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

John Pearse is a brand that's been around since 1980 in America and over 50 years in the UK, and they have built a reputation for producing good quality guitar strings.

The 600L in particular is a light gauge string set for acoustic guitars that's been generating quite the buzz - by guitarists not frets :). Nothing out of the ordinary with this set, just your standard non-coated Phosphor Bronze set, but it does it job well enough to get quite a lot of high ratings and recommendations from its users.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.012 to .053)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
The John Pearse 600L is consistently praised for the immediately noticeable tone improvement that it brings, which many describe as warm and balanced. Many are also pleased with its longevity, given its price tag and that it's not even coated.

Cons
There are a few who complain that the strings start to sound different after a couple of weeks, but this maybe due to several other factors, not just string quality.

Overall
If you're looking for a no-frills light gauge acoustic guitar string set, then check out the John Pearse 600L.

D'addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Light

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 1300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$12

D'Addario joins the light gauge section with the EXP16, a coated phosphor bronze string set. At the core of this is D'Addario's high carbon steel which is designed for pitch stability and durability.

The EXP16's have a bright and warm tone. And they're placed in corrosion resistant packaging, which together with its EXP coating ensures that the strings feel and play fresh out of the box.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.012 to .053)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
Satisfied users of these strings come from various musical backgrounds and utilize guitars from various brands, including Breedlove, Guild, Fender, Tacoma, Eastman, Gibson and more. Longevity and value for money generate the most positive remarks, while having a balanced tone comes in a close second.

Cons
There are a few reports of strings breaking earlier than expected, but having played acoustics for many years myself, I can tell that most breakages are due to sharp nut and saddle contact points. There are also some who rated the strings for its lack of fullness, but this is to be expected given that it is a light gauge set.

Overall
If you're looking for a good string set that will work with most acoustic guitar brands, then check this out.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 3050+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$14
Elixir Strings Nanoweb 80/20 Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

Elixir's Nanoweb coating is an ultra-thin chemical coat designed to protect the entire length of the string to keep unwanted gunk out of the string winding gaps. This innovative coating reduces the rate of corrosion, essentially extending the string's life.

Interestingly, the coat is also designed to make the strings feel smoother and also reduces finger squeak, which helps greatly especially when recording. Paired with 80/20 bronze gives you have a crisp sounding tone that'll stay crisp for a long time.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.012 to .053)
  • Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
Elixir's claim of making strings last long is not a bluff, and this is reflected in many reviews where users are pleased with how fresh the strings continue to sound even after weeks of use. Many are also pleased with how loud and full sounding this set can be, especially when considering that it's a light gauge set.

Cons
There are a few who feel that these strings sound thin, and this will sometimes be the case for those who are used to medium gauges. The price tag on coated strings is also a hindrance for some, but those who bought them say the extra cost is offset by the strings longevity.

Overall
If you want a long lasting 80/20 bronze light gauge string set, then this is your best bet.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$16
 Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Highest Rated Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings.

Elixir was the company that pioneered coated strings, and even though many have followed suit, they are still the brand to beat when it comes to coated strings. Even Taylor guitars took notice, which is why when you see their guitars at music stores, chances are they are strung with Elixirs.

This particular set is made from phosphor bronze, which gives it a very warm and full tone. Its warmth is enhanced by the coating used by Elixir. The gauge also works towards the sets warmth, because even though the packaging says “light” .012 size strings are still pretty warm sounding.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.012 to .053)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
Reviews for Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light point to its longevity as its best trait, and it sits comfortably higher than the competition in terms of ratings. Users are happy with how it still sounds good even after long use. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its versatility, with reports of it working well in various musical genres.

Cons
Because the set is a bit on the thicker side it might be hard to use this set to play fast lead passages or complex fingerstyle songs. This is a matter of personal preference however, so your experience may vary. Coated strings require a bit more investment, but most users are pleased with the return.

Overall
If you want nothing less than the best rated light gauge acoustic guitar string, then get theElixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light.

Best Medium Acoustic Guitar Strings

For this section we considered sets of strings ranging in gauge from .013 to .056.

Martin MA550 Authentic SP Phosphor Bronze Medium

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$7
Martin MA550 Authentic SP Acoustic Guitar Strings Phosphor Bronze (Medium)

C.F. Martin & Co is a iconic as it gets when it comes to acoustic guitars, and equally impressive are the strings that they produce. The MA550 to be more specific aims to provide that classic Martin acoustic tone using the same quality standards that they apply to their instruments.

Since most dreadnought and jumbo Martin guitars ship with medium gauge strings, the MA550 set will fit right in with minimal tone changes and technique adjustments. While this string set is not specified as coated, Martin did apply their own Tin-plate coating, that they say improves tone and longevity.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Medium (.013 to .056)
  • Material: 92/8 Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
As expected, Martin guitar owners are happy with this set, describing it as a string that makes their guitar sound alive. Interestingly, even those who use acoustics from other brands also find this set to be good tone wise, including Gibson, Santa Cruz, Yamaha and more. There are also some who report that this set of strings last quite long, comparable to that of more expensive coated strings.

Cons
There are a few who find this set quite hard on the hands, and this is probably due to them being used to lighter gauge sets.

Overall
This is a no brainer choice for Martin Guitar owners, but it may also be great if you want to add a bit more projection to your acoustic tone, especially for big bodied ones.

Martin MTR13 Tony Rice Bluegrass Medium

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$9

The MTR13 Retro is meant to reproduce the acoustic tone of the 1930's, inspired by bluegrass player Tony rice. It is crafted from Monel, a nickel/copper alloy that once was the main component of guitar strings, until companies found more cheaper alternatives like steel.

With so many guitars that duplicate vintage designs, it only makes sense for manufacturers to match these vintage designs with strings that are equally old-school inspired. The MTR13 is exactly that, but with modern reliability and longevity.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.013 to .056)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
Classic voicing is the obvious reason why many love the MTR13. It is also well received for its reliability. Paired often with equally vintage inspired instruments, but there are some users who have used this string on dreadnoughts from other makers.

Cons
Not the string set for those who are looking for a more modern voicing.

Overall
There's just something special about classic bluegrass tones that make them still relevant today.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$16
Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Highest Rated Medium Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings.

The Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium follows the same specifications as other Nanoweb strings, only this one comes in medium gauge.

You can expect this set to be a bit louder and sound warmer than Elixir's lighter set, while still having the same longevity afforded by the company's string coating technology.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Medium (.013 to .056)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
Users are pleased with how this set of strings stay sounding fresh for longer periods compared to other non-coated medium gauge strings. Longevity is really the main strength of this set, and since you don't have to buy strings as often, it is also commended for its value for money - which is interesting given that this set is not cheap at all.

Cons
When you get to medium gauge acoustic guitar strings, the added mass of the strings result in higher tension, which will require a bit more force on the fretting hand. So don't get this if you're looking to make your acoustic guitar more playable.

Overall
If you want a set of medium gauge acoustic strings that'll last long, then go for one that's made by the pioneers of string coating.

Best Heavy Acoustic Guitar Strings

For this section we considered sets of strings ranging in gauge from 0.14 to .059/.060

D'Addario EJ18 PB Heavy

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$6
D'Addario EJ18 PB Heavy Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Highest Rated Heavy Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings.

Heavy gauge is not as popular because they are harder to play, and they can damage the structure of guitars that are not meant to handle heavy gauge strings.

Having said that, the extra projection and resonance they provide still make them a good choice for experienced players, especially those who are into flat-picking and heavy strumming. Coming from D'addario, the EJ18 is built to the same quality standards as their other popular string sets, and it also ships with a corrosion resistant packaging.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.014 to .059)
  • Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
Big and fat sounding seem to be a good summary of how most users feel about this set. It is raved for its good projection, and for how it handles heavy strumming and pick attacks. There are also plenty who commend its sustain and harmonics, stating that the fuller sound they get is worth the extra fretting hand effort.

Cons
There aren't that many heavy gauge acoustic guitar strings, and for good reason - not all guitars will be able to handle them. So before considering the extra projection and resonance that heavy strings provide, it is best to first check with the manufacturer if your particular acoustic is compatible with heavy gauge sets. Some users even recommend tuning your guitar lower than standard when using heavy gauge to avoid any excess stress on the neck.

Overall
If you're looking to make the most of your acoustic guitar in terms of tone, then this should be at the top of your list. Just make sure to first confirm your guitar is compatible.

Things to Consider When Buying Acoustic Guitar Strings

There’s a lot that goes into guitar strings, acoustic guitar strings especially. You have to have an understanding of how gauge and materials interact with your guitar to create your tone, and how to balance that with the playability you’re looking for. If you’re not really sure how all of these factors work, check out the sections below!

  • Single String Sets vs. Buying in Bulk

    In this guide we’ve presented single sets of strings, but in most of cases these strings will be available in larger packs. When you buy larger packs you save a few bucks per set, with your savings increasing the more sets that are in the pack.

    Most manufacturers sell three-set-packs, though some (with Ernie Ball being a notable example) produce packs with 10 sets of strings. You don’t have to worry about your strings going bad while they’re in the package, because strings aren’t aged rapidly through oxidation (they’ll age a bit if they stay in the package, but it’d take years before it was really noticeable). The main thing that will damage your strings are the oils on your fingers, particularly if you don't wipe down your strings after playing.

  • Acoustic Guitar String Gauges Explained

    As you’ve probably noticed, manufacturers include words like “light", "medium", and "heavy” when they talk about their strings. This is referring to the gauge of the strings, or how thick they are. Thicker strings are harder to press down and have a warmer sound, while thinner strings are easier to press down and have a brighter tone. Thicker strings are louder and perform better when strummed, while thinner strings are quieter and have a higher tendency to break when strummed forcefully.

    Below is a rough estimate for different gauges, including: extra-light, custom light, light, medium, and heavy. The sizes are organized from thinnest to thickest. One thing to keep in mind is that companies occasionally label the gauge of their strings relative to each other, so strings that one brand calls light another brand may call extra-light. Because of this, there’s some variance in how some brands classify different gauges.

    Typical String Gauges from High E to Low E
    String E B G D A E
    Extra Light .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047
    Custom Light .011 .014 .023 .032 .042 .052
    Light .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054
    Medium .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056
    Heavy .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059
  • Most Commonly Used String Materials

    Below are the materials most commonly used in acoustic guitar strings. Different materials are used occasionally, but the four listed below encompass the vast majority of what you’re going to encounter.

    • Phosphor Bronze

      Without getting too far into the technicalities, phosphor bronze is a bronze alloy (a combination of metals) commonly used for guitar strings. The strings give a balanced tone with a warm low-end and a strong mid-range presence.

      Phosphor bronze is the most commonly found string, which makes sense because they’re arguably the most versatile. There isn’t really a genre that these strings don’t perform well in, though 80/20 or silk and steel strings may be a better fit depending on your preferences.

    • 80/20 Bronze (Also Called Brass)

      80/20 bronze, which is also commonly called brass, is a lot brighter sounding than phosphor bronze. It has less of a bass presence, so your guitar will cut through a mix (be heard better in a band) better than it would if you were using phosphor bronze strings.

      Our only word of caution is that if you play a guitar which already sounds bright 80/20 strings might not be the best fit for you. 80/20 strings can make some guitars sound thin, smaller guitars especially so. However, dreadnought sized instruments (if you’re not sure what this is, see our list of acoustic guitar sizes) usually don’t suffer from this.

    • Silk and Steel

      Silk and steel strings are steel acoustic guitar strings which are essentially the middle ground between a standard acoustic guitar string and a nylon string. They’re composed of three layers: a silver-plated bronze (or tin) alloy for the outer winding, a layer of nylon in the middle, and a thin wire in the center.

      Silk and steel strings have a much more mellow tone than either phosphor bronze or 80/20. Because of their construction, they’re also significantly easier to fret because it takes less pressure to push down the strings. This is part of the reason why they’re popular with fingerstyle and folk guitarists. Unfortunately, they are not quite as loud as phosphor bronze or 80/20 strings.

  • Coated vs. Non-Coated Strings

    When you hear people talk about “coated strings”, they’re talking about strings that are coated with a plastic-based polymer. This coating helps to increase the longevity of the strings. However, coated strings are also more expensive; generally twice the price of non-coated strings. As a rough estimate (this is my personal experience, your experience may vary) they last twice as long, so you may not really be saving anything by going with coated strings. However, you also won’t have to change your strings quite as often.

    The coatings used on strings also alters the tone. They generally cause a roll-off in the high-end response, so your strings sound darker than they otherwise would. In some cases this actually works out pretty well, as coated strings can tame the high-end in guitars that are too bright. Likewise, coated strings may not be the best choice for guitars that are darkly voiced. Though of course, this is all a matter of personal preference.

  • How To Match Your Strings to Your Style of Playing

    Because you can’t tweak your tone on an acoustic guitar to the extent that you can on an electric guitar, your choice in string is going to be a key element in your tone and the response of your instrument. It’s also a balancing act, because you have to weigh the tone you want against the tone of your guitar and how you play.

    So the first question is: What do you play? If you’re a strummer, you may find that heavier strings work to your favor. You’ll get more volume and a warmer tone, which is great for accompanying vocals. If you play lead, you may find that medium gauge strings are the best combination of playability and volume. Finally, finger stylists generally prefer lighter gauge strings. The techniques used in the genre require more complex fretting, which can make higher gauges unmanageable.

    So, what about materials? Well, generally the livelier the genre you’re playing the brighter strings you’re going to want. So if you’re playing bluegrass for example, you may want to look at 80/20 bronze strings. On the other hand, if you play more mellow music you’ll get good results with phosphor bronze.

    While your choice of string is going to vary based on how you play, your taste (which will change over time), and your guitar, here’s a quick reference table if you’re still not sure which type of string is going to work best for you.

    Genre Gauge String Material
    Folk Medium to Heavy Phosphor Bronze or Silk and Steel
    Bluegrass / Country Light to Medium 80/20 Bronze/Brass
    Finger Style Extra-Light to Light Phosphor Bronze or Silk and Steel
    Jazz Medium to Heavy Phosphor Bronze
    Singer Songwriter / Misc Medium to Heavy Phosphor Bronze

Best Acoustic Guitar String Selection Methodology

This guide was first published on September 28, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg and the latest major update was published on February 12, 2020 written by Alexander Briones with contributions from Mason Hoberg.

There are well over 1,000 different bundles of acoustic string sets available to buy online just in the USA, let alone the rest of the world. This simple fact makes this one of the most challenging music gear categories when it come to providing professional guidance. In order to tame the massive numbers involved, we used a tight statistical sampling approach where we only short-listed string sets with very high ratings at a select group of leading online American retailers and only those with a comparatively large number of rating sources.

Our selection criteria included:

  • Single sets for 6-string acoustic guitars - individual strings and sets for 12-string guitars were not included.
  • Had to be designed for guitars with a standard register - EG: Baritone strings were excluded.
  • Custom or mixed gauge sets were excluded.
  • Available from a major online retailer based in the USA.

This resulted in a manageable short-list representative of the most popular brands - some highly regarded but lesser known brands were therefore not included. You can browse most of strings we've rated in the Music Gear Database.

For this 2020 update, our short-list included 32 sets of strings from the following brands: D'addario, DR, Elixir, Ernie Ball, Fender, GHS, Gibson, John Pearse and Martin. We collected over 14,300 feedback sources including guitarist ratings, reviews and forum discussions which we processed with the Gearank Algorithm to produce a rating score out of 100 for each short-listed set. We chose the highest rated options to recommend in each of the following gauges: Extra Light, Light, Medium and Heavy.

For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

Comments

This article is about best

This article is about best known strings or the best acoustic guitar strings? Thomastik Infeld strings anyone?

Post a Comment or Question

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <b> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.