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

The Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar String Sets

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Strings serve as the main point of contact between you and your acoustic guitar, hence their big impact in playability and feel. Together with your fingers and picks, strings are also the main source of your acoustic sound.

As such, you need to carefully consider your options, and this is exactly what this guide is all about - to help you pick the best acoustic string sets that match your playing style and tone preferences.

The strings featured here are grouped into four of the most widely used gauge ranges, the most popular of which are the thinner Extra Light and Light gauge sets. These are preferred by beginner to intermediate players for being easy on the hands. The playing feel and extra projection of Medium and Heavy gauge sets are usually preferred by experienced players.

The safest approach is to get one that is similar to the default strings that your guitar came with, but you can also consider different gauges to see which ones better fit your feel and tone preferences.

The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings

Author & Contributors

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

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

Author's Pick

This is a non-standard set of strings that I'm currently using on my Martin OMCPA4 which you might find interesting if you'd like to try something a little different to the standard gauges in the rest of this guide.

GHS BB20X Extra Light

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$8
GHS BB20X Bright Bronze 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

Cons

  • Lacks bass and can be too trebly for some
  • Needs a bit of tweaking to sound fuller when plugged-in
  • Because of its thin gauge, fretting or hitting the strings too hard can cause fret buzz or intonation issues

Pros

  • Smooth and relaxed playing feel
  • Bright voicing, with clear and focused tone
  • Stays in tune with good intonation even after weeks of use
  • Reasonably good longevity
  • Good packaging

This is an extra-light 11-50 gauge set, which is lighter than the 12-54 gauge sets that I'm used to. It has 80/20 copper-zinc alloy windings that shape its bright voicing, and it has a hex core that come standard with many strings.

I'm quite pleased with its smoother and lighter playing feel. I also find its quality and tone to be on par with what I'm used to, albeit with a different trebly flavor.

As the label implies, this is a bright sounding set, and while it bothered me at first, I have grown to appreciate its distinct voicing. It may not sound as full as gauge 12 sets, but I like how each string rings with clarity and definition. Chords and solo lines sound noticeably clearer, and have more fidelity, making practice, recording and playing solo more enjoyable.

On the flip side, I notice that my plugged-in tone is thinner, and easily drowned out when playing with a band. Thankfully, I am able to shave off some of the highs by tweaking the tone settings on my Martin's preamp system. And I ended up liking the result, because I still get the benefit of clarity and focused tone, with less of the unwanted high frequency zing. And since it doesn't have much bass, it also interferes less with the bassist. Still, it has to be said that the bright tonality of this set is more of an acquired taste, especially for those like me who are used to warmer sounding acoustics.

Compared to the 12's that I'm used to, the GHS BB20X is noticeably easier to play. Techniques like bending, sliding, hammer-on and pull-offs are easier to do, even more so when playing simple chords and single line notes. This relaxed playing feel is the main reason why I will most probably continue using this set on my Martin. The downside to its lighter playing feel is that strumming, plucking and fretting too hard on the strings may cause unwanted buzzing and even intonation issues. To avoid these, I had to be more conscious of my playing intensity and avoid going all out.

In my experience, the GHS BB20X still sounds crisp and fresh after over 3 weeks of use, and this is quite a feat given that this is a non-coated set.

Having been professionally installed by the team of my trusted luthier, I never had intonation and tuning issues with this set from the get-go. But it is normal to encounter tuning issues right after installation, when strings have not yet stretched enough. As they get more corroded, the strings will have intonation problems, especially at the higher frets. This is my cue to swap out the old strings.

If you aren't into trebly tone, and you can't be bothered to tweak your plugged-in sound, then this may not be for you. While I'm not totally sold to its bright voicing, I'm able to get good clear tones with some tweaking. The clarity and fidelity of this set, and more importantly, its easy playability, are good enough reasons for me to give it my thumbs up.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.011, .014, .022, .030, .038, .050)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearank Alexander Briones 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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 5250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

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

Cons

  • Can be too bright for some guitarists
  • Mids can be overpowered by the treble and bass frequencies
  • Fret buzz can be a problem for those already setup for low action with heavier gauge strings

Pros

  • Crisp and snappy tone
  • For an extra light gauge set, this one has good bass
  • Smooth feel and less tension means easier playability
  • Reliable packaging and consistent quality

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 prefer trebly tonality and easy playability.

Speaking of tone, the EJ10 features 80/20 bronze formula that can brighten a naturally dark sounding guitar, it produces crisp and snappy tones that retaining good low-end, both of which result in punchy projection.

Being an Extra Light (10 gauge) set means less tension when compared to heavier Light (12 gauge) sets, and this makes fretting and plucking the strings easier.

And each set of strings is wrapped in the company's corrosion resistant packaging.

If you're looking for a detailed trebly sounding set of extra-light gauge strings, then get the D'Addario EJ10.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.010, .014, .023, .030, .039, .047)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Youtube Skyforce95 90/100
Youtube Josh Vanjani 92/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 3900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$7
Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Extra Light Acoustic Strings

Cons

  • Can sound too thin to some
  • Fret buzz due to the thinner strings digging into the nut/saddle can be an issue

Pros

  • Good crisp sound that stays trebly longer than what's normally expected from non-coated strings
  • Beginner-friendly lower tension strings
  • Ideal for small bodied acoustics
  • Reliable packaging and consistent string quality

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 results in the bass strings having a ringing sound that's crisp/trebly. The two thinnest strings are tempered to shape from high carbon steel and have tin plating, complementing the wound strings with their bright tonality.

Its bright voicing, together with its lighter tension, make this set ideal for use with warm sounding small bodied acoustics, including student-friendly 3/4 size guitars and parlor guitars.

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

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.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.010, .014, .020, .028, .040, .050)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Youtube vincent ryan borres 92/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Elixir Polyweb 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1400+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$15
Elixir Strings Polyweb 80/20 Extra Light Acoustic Guitar Strings
At publication time these were the Highest Rated Extra Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings.

Cons

  • Quite pricey, but great longevity
  • Some guitarists do not like the feel of coated strings
  • Tone can seem subtly muffled when compared to a fresh set of non-coated strings

Pros

  • Stays fresh sounding for longer
  • Easier to clean because the thick coating helps keep gunk and dirt off the windings
  • Vibrant sounding scooped tone
  • Smooth playing feel
  • Good packaging, consistent quality

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 layer of coating include reduction of squeaking sounds when sliding your fingers and reduced impact on your fretting hands. And this works in conjunction with its thin gauge design, resulting in a set that's very easy on the hands. Note that there are some guitarists that still prefer the tactile feel of non-coated strings.

80/20 bronze winding is known for its scooped tone, but its voicing usually flattens out after some time. The coating helps retain this voicing a while longer, which means that your acoustic sounds vibrant for longer. On the flipside, some might find the sound to be a bit muffled, especially when compared to a fresh set of non-coated strings.

While it is priced quite high compared to other sets, it does make up with the way it retains good tone for long periods of time.

I have used this set on several of my acoustics and I am pleased with the strings' longevity.

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

Specifications

  • Gauge: Extra Light (.010, .014, .023, .030, .039, .047)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: Yes

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 2850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$7
Martin MA540 Authentic SP Acoustic Guitar Strings (Light)

Cons

  • Not for you if you prefer v-shape scooped acoustic tone
  • Some may find the sound a bit dull compared to other light gauge fresh string sets

Pros

  • Mid focused tone that sounds more articulate and detailed
  • Stays fresh sounding a bit longer than similar non-coated sets
  • Reliable packaging and consistent quality
  • Works great with different guitar types

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 a snappy, but not overly trebly tone, featuring 92/8 phosphor bronze windings. Those who are used to the scooped sound of 80/20 strings will notice the mids and warmth of this set.

This set has a slightly trebly tone, without being too thin sounding.

This means that you get some of the brightness, but with mids brought to the front. And you get all this without having to switch to a heavier gauge.

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

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 a no-brainer for Martin Guitar owners, but they sound good on non-Martin guitars as well.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Light (.012, .016, .025, .032, .042, .054)
  • Core Material: Tin-plated Steel
  • Winding Material: 92/8 Phosphor Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Acoustic Guitar Greg Olwell 96/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb 80/20 Light

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 14050+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$16
Elixir Strings Nanoweb 80/20 Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

Cons

  • Priced higher than non-coated sets
  • Subtly different feel compared to fresh non-coated sets.
  • Some may notice that the strings sound subtly dampened when compared to fresh non-coated strings.

Pros

  • Stays fresh sounding longer
  • Smooth and comfortable playing feel
  • Clear but not too trebly sounding
  • Reliable and consistent quality
  • Good packaging
  •  

Elixir is the go to brand for those who want guitar strings that feel and sound fresh longer. And this is accomplished through their Nanoweb coating technology, a thin chemical coat applied on the strings to prevent the build up of dirt, grime and gunk, which in turn slows down corrosion and improves longevity.

And this longevity is the reason why Elixir is the go-to brand for many acoustic guitarists, especially those who play many different guitars that stay longer in cases. While the coating application raises the price of the strings, the extra cost is offset by the strings longevity.

In addition to keeping the strings fresh, the coating also improves the feel of the strings making them smoother and easier to play with.

This improved smoothness also reduces unwanted string noise like finger squeaking when moving up and down the neck.

Note that Nanoweb sets have thinner coating compared to Elixir polyweb sets, which means less dampening, resulting in increased high-frequency response.

There's a reason why Elixir is the go-to brand when it comes to coated sets, definitely worth checking out.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Light (.012, .016, .024, .032, .042, .053)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: 80/20 Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: Yes

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Youtube JayLeonardJ 96/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 8850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$18
 Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light Acoustic Guitar Strings
At publication time these were the Highest Rated Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings.

Cons

  • Not as trebly as other light gauge sets

Pros

  • Long lasting strings
  • Warm tone that's not typical of light gauge sets
  • Stays fresh sounding and feeling for longer
  • Easier to clean and maintain because of its resistance to grime and dirt
  • Reliable Consistent quality
  • Good packaging

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 warm and full tone. And its innate warmth is enhanced by the coating used by Elixir.

The gauge also compliments its warmth, because even though the packaging says “light”, this set sounds pretty warm. And its fuller sounding warm tone makes it compatible with different musical genres.

But warmth is not the main reason why this set is successful, rather it's all about the coating's ability to keep the strings fresh sounding for much longer. It also helps that the coating gives it a smoother playing feel, while also reducing unwanted squeaks and fret noise.

Longevity is this set's best trait, and it sits comfortably higher than the competition in terms of ratings. These strings are versatile allowing them to work well in multiple musical genres.

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

Specifications

  • Gauge: Light (.012, .016, .024, .032, .042, .053)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: Yes

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Youtube Guitar Player Magazine 95/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

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

Cons

  • Those who are used to light gauges will find this set harder to play
  • Can damage acoustics that are not designed for medium to heavy gauge sets

Pros

  • Warmer tone great for big-bodied acoustics
  • Great projection and sustain
  • Good longevity thanks to its tin-coating
  • Reliable and consistent quality
  • Good packaging

This set aims to provide that classic Martin acoustic tone using the same quality standards that they apply to their instruments. And since many dreadnought and jumbo Martin guitars ship with medium gauge strings, the MA550 set will fit right in as replacement strings.

Its 92/8 phosphor bronze winding, together with is thicker gauge, give it a warm flavor that works nicely with big bodied acoustics. This also helps give it more projection and sustain, resulting in a sound that's more "alive".

Given its medium gauge, this set will have higher string tension which requires a bit more force to play properly. It's not advisable for those who prioritize easy playability.

While this string set does not have any special coating, Martin did apply their own Tin-plate coating, which helps improve resistance against rust, adding to the longevity of the set.

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.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Medium (.013, .017, .026, .035, .045, .056)
  • Core Material: Tin-Plated Steel
  • Winding Material: 92/8 Phosphor Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Youtube Acoustic Letter 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 2800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$18
Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium Acoustic Guitar Strings
At publication time these were the Highest Rated Medium Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings.

Cons

  • Thicker gauge means higher tension, not for those who want easy playability

Pros

  • Lasts considerably longer than regular non-coated strings
  • Clear, warm and fuller tone
  • Improved resonance and sustain courtesy of its thicker gauge
  • Quieter and smoother feel
  • Reliable and consistent quality
  • Good packaging

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

Because of its thicker gauge, this set is a bit louder and sounds warmer than its lighter counterpart, while still having the same longevity afforded by the company's string coating technology.

Speaking of coating, the Nanoweb coat is thinner than Elixir's Polyweb coat, resulting in minor feel and tone differences. Nanoweb being thinner dampens the sound less, so they sound brighter than Polyweb sets. Elixir makes it clear that both sets provide the same protection from dirt and grime, which results in longer life for the strings.

This longevity is the main reason why Elixir strings are considered great value sets, even when they are priced significantly higher than their regular non-coated counterparts.

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

Specifications

  • Gauge: Medium (.013, .017, .026, .035, .045, .056)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: Yes

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Six String Acoustic Nate 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$7
D'Addario EJ18 PB Heavy Acoustic Guitar Strings

Cons

  • Because of increased string tension, this set might damage smaller / light acoustics
  • Stiff strings require extra fretting and playing effort

Pros

  • Big and fat tone that can't be had with thinner strings
  • Increased harmonic content, projection and resonance
  • Well suited to down tuning
  • Hard to break
  • Reliable and consistent quality
  • Good packaging

Heavy gauge is not as popular because they are harder to play, and they can damage the structure of guitars that are not designed for high string tension. Simply put, not all guitars will be able to handle them, so it is best to first check with the manufacturer if your particular acoustic is compatible with heavy gauge sets.

Even with the negatives, there are still brave souls that go for heavy sets because of the extra projection and resonance they provide. You simply can't get the big and fat sound that this set provides from lighter gauge sets.

Experienced players know when and how to use this set, especially those who are into flat-picking and heavy strumming. The warmth, sustain and harmonics that you get from this set is worth the extra effort needed to play them.

You can alleviate some of the tension that this thick string set applies on your guitar by down tuning. Then utilize a capo to do first position chord shapes in standard tuning.

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.

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.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Heavy (.014, .018, .027, .039, .049, .059)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Phosphor Bronze
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

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 trebly, 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 popular 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 current Edition was published on June 14, 2022.

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.
  • Had to be 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.

New in this June 2022 edition is the Author's Pick section, which features excerpts from my full review of the GHS BB20X, which is the set that I am currently using.

This edition's short-list included 38 sets of strings from the following brands: Cleartone, D'Addario, DR, Elixir, Ernie Ball, Fender, GHS, Godin, Ibanez, John Pearse and Martin. This entailed the collection and analysis of over 87,700 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

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

I've owned many different types of acoustics, from parlors, to OMs, to dreadnoughts and even jumbos. And in stringing them, I've ended up trying a plethora of strings, including the various gauges, materials and brands. Interestingly, my experience with acoustic strings led me to a conclusion that's similar to market sentiment - we just want a good balance of playability and tone.

Contributors

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

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Martin MA540, Ernie Ball 2006 Earthwood, Elixir Polyweb 80/20 Bronze Extra Light, D'Addario EJ10 and Martin Lifespan MA540T string sets.

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

Guide Style Version: 

2022 Enhanced + Hands On

Comments

This article is about best

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