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

The Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Strings

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The strings you put on your acoustic guitar play a big part in shaping your sound, and they directly impact your overall playing experience. And for this reason, you should take string selection seriously, so you can get the ones that match your tone and feel preferences.

Extra Light and Light gauge sets are often preferred by beginner to intermediate players for being easy on the hands, while more experienced players may go for Medium and even Heavy gauge sets for their playing feel and extra projection.

Here we feature the best acoustic guitar strings, grouped into four of the most widely used gauge ranges. We only feature the ones that beat out their competition based on the most current reviews and ratings data, including the most recent ones up to February of 2021.

The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings

Author & Contributors

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

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 3150+ 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 the Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood and Elixir Polyweb 80/20.

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.

Their 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 the company's corrosion resistant packaging.

Specifications:

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

Pros
Many guitarists describe these strings as crisp and bright sounding and often commend them 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 may be due to the thinner gauge of this set, which can dig deeper into the saddle or nut.

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

Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 2500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$5
Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Extra Light Acoustic Strings

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Extra Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with the D'Addario EJ10 80/20 and Elixir Polyweb 80/20.

This extra light gauge set features wound strings that have a hex shaped steel core wrapped in 80/20 mix of copper and zinc. This combination produces a ringing sound that's crisp/trebly.

The two thinnest strings are tempered to shape from high carbon steel and have tin plating. They are designed to work in conjunction with the wound strings resulting in a more balanced overall tone.

Finally, each set is packaged in Ernie Ball's "Element Shield Packaging", which helps keep strings fresh until opened.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.010 to .050)
  • Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
Being easy to play is one of its most commended traits, along with having a good crisp sound. Most of the reviewers who are happy used this set on their small bodied acoustics, including student friendly 3/4 scale guitars and parlor guitars. Owners are also pleased with how the packaging keeps the strings fresh, and there are many who are satisfied with how long it retains its fresh sound.

Cons
Being an extra light set, there are some who find the sound too tinny for their tastes.

Overall
If you're looking for a thin gauge set for your small bodied acoustic then do check out the Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood 80/20.

Elixir Polyweb 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 1000+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$14
Elixir Strings Polyweb 80/20 Extra Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Extra Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with the D'Addario EJ10 80/20 and Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood.

Elixir is well known for their Polyweb coating, which extends the string's fresh feel and sound to last much longer than conventional strings. More importantly, it does so with minimal impact on playing feel and tone.

Other benefits of this thin layer of coating include reduction of squeaking sounds when sliding your fingers and reduced impact on your fretting hands.

80/20 bronze winding is known for its warmer and mellow tone, which helps tame some of the excess highs expected from extra light gauge strings.

Specifications:

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

Pros
Tone seems to be the main factor why many love this set, often described as vibrant sounding. Satisfied users include those who use acoustics of different sizes and brands, including expensive models from Martin, myself include. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for staying fresh sounding for a very long time, offsetting its higher price tag.

Cons
Speaking of price, there are a few who wish that it was a bit more affordable, but they are far outnumbered by those who feel that they are getting more than their money's worth with these strings' longevity.

Overall
If you're looking for a long-lasting premium quality extra light gauge set, then the Elixir Polyweb 80/20 is for you.

Best Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

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

Martin MA540 Authentic SP Light

94
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$7

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with the Martin Lifespan MA540T and Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze.

With their legacy, experience and popularity as a guitar manufacturer, it's not surprising for Martin to come up with quality strings that guitarists appreciate.

The Martin MA540 in particular is a light gauge set that's designed to bring out bright and detailed tones.

It features Martin's highest tensile strength core wire, along with wire wrap designed for improved playing feel and corrosion resistance.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.012 to .054)
  • Material: 92/8 Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: No

Pros
Those who switch to this set notice big improvements in articulation and overall tone. As expected, this is a favorite among Martin guitar users, but it also impresses those who use other equally expensive instruments like Gibson, Taylor, Guild and more. This set is described as having a slightly brighter tone, without being too thin sounding.

Cons
There are a few who complain about lack of low-end, but this is more of a physical limitation given it's lighter gauge. Also don't expect these to last as long as coated strings.

Overall
This set is a no brainer for Martin Guitar owners, and based on reviews, it will benefit non-Martin guitars as well.

Martin Lifespan MA540T Light

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1050+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$13
Martin Lifespan MA540T

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with the Martin MA540 and Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze.

This set is the coated version of the highly rated MA540, using the same materials and specs, with improved longevity thanks to Martin's own proprietary coating.

This is obviously their attempt at taking a piece of the coated string pie, and based on reviews it does seem like they are doing well.

Being a coated light gauge set, you can expect this one to have a bit more of the high frequencies than it's non-coated counterpart.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.012 to .054)
  • Material: 92/8 Phosphor Bronze
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
Many users prefer the tone of this set favorably over other coated sets with similar gauge. They describe it as having a fuller sound that's not too bright, unlike other coated string sets. The extra lifespan that the coating adds is well appreciated. As expected, most of the satisfied users are Martin guitar owners, but it also receives plenty of thumbs up from owners of other guitar brands.

Cons
For those with small bodied acoustics, the MA540T may be too bright sounding for you. This is also not for you if you are not a fan of coated strings.

Overall
The extra lifespan added by the coating is well worth the price, especially when you consider Martin's legacy and reputation for quality.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 5500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$16
 Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings along with the Martin MA540 and Martin Lifespan MA540T.

Elixir was the company that pioneered coated strings, and even though many have followed suit, they are still the brand to beat. 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 set 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 multiple 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 the Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light.

Best Medium Acoustic Guitar Strings

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

D'Addario EJ12 80/20 Bronze Medium

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$5
D'Addario EJ12 80/20 Bronze Medium Acoustic Guitar Strings

The D'Addario's EJ12 is a medium gauge string that features the original 80/20 bronze alloy introduced by John D'Addario Sr. and John D'Angelico back in the 1930s.

It emphasizes the upper frequencies, while having good enough bottom end, in a gauge that can handle heavy playing styles, be it strumming or finger/flat picking.

You can also expect improved projection with the EJ12's thicker gauge.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: Light (.013 to .056)
  • Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Coated: Yes

Pros
Guitarists who continue to string up their guitars with the EJ12 do so because it gives them brighter voicing without having to resort to thinner string sets that may lack projection. Many also appreciate the extra bottom end that this set provides, which adds to the overall acoustic volume, especially when played hard. Value for money is also another important reason why many rate this highly.

Cons
Speaking of bright tone, there are a few who feel that this set sounds too metallic and bright for their tastes. There are also some reports of early string breakage, but this maybe due to user error than the actual string.

Overall
When it comes to affordable yet good quality strings, it's hard to go wrong with the D'addario EJ series.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 1700+ 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 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 easily 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.

Martin MA550 Authentic SP Phosphor Bronze Medium

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ 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 set that makes their guitar sound alive. 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 lasts quite long, comparable to that of more expensive coated strings.

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

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 guitars.

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

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$7
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 about 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 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, while 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. These 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

    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

The first edition was published in 2017 and the latest edition was published on February 18, 2021.

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 comes 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 2021 update, our short-list included 34 sets of strings from the following brands: D'Addario, DR, Elixir, Ernie Ball, Fender, GHS, John Pearse, Cleartone and Martin. This entailed the collection and analysis of over 49,900 feedback sources including 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.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

Drawing from his experience in performing and recording, he teaches guitar and bass and mentors young artists to be better musicians. And when he is not busy playing or tinkering with musical gear, he puts on his entrepreneurial hat, which helps fund his passion for collecting guitars, mecha figures and Gunpla kits.

Contributors

Mason Hoberg: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Martin MA140, John Pearse 600L, Elixir Strings Nanoweb 80/20 Custom Light, D'addario EXP16 and Gibson SAG-MB10 string sets.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

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