Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for All Gauges & Playing Styles

acoustic guitar strings

Equip your guitar with the best acoustic guitar strings and enjoy a more inspiring tone and comfortable playing experience.


Strings are the main source of sound and the first point of contact with your guitar. Whether it be acoustic or electric guitar strings, they are essential parts of your guitar-playing experience.

Our selection focuses on the best guitar strings for acoustics. It covers four of the most widely used gauge ranges.

This includes the in-demand and easy-to-play Light and Extra Light string gauge sets, which are preferred by those who value comfort and playability.

We also feature the top-rated Medium and Heavy gauge sets. They provide a fuller sound and a beefier playing feel typically appealing to more experienced acoustic guitarists.

The safest approach is to get a similar gauge set of strings that your guitar came with. But you can also consider different gauges to see which ones fit your feel and tone preferences better.

Note: A classical guitar, though categorized as an acoustic, cannot be equipped with regular acoustic guitar strings. Classical guitars require nylon strings that apply lower string tension to the guitar.

The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings – 2024

Author & Contributors

Author's Pick

I chose this particular set for its great balance of tones. A bass that is very audible yet not overpowering, and a treble that is vibrant.

Martin MM12 Retro Acoustic Guitar Strings (Light)

91
GEARANK
91 out of 100. Incorporating 1000+ ratings and reviews.
$9.49
Martin
martin-mm12-retro-acoustic-guitar-strings-light

Cons

  • Results vary with different guitar models.
  • Still susceptible to micro corrosion.

Pros

  • Brings out natural guitar wood tones.
  • Has a well-balanced sound, with good bass response and a full-sounding treble.
  • Ideal for toning down overly bright guitars.
  • Suitable for Martins and Guilds, among others.

The Martin Retro MM12 Acoustic Guitar Strings are made from a solid nickel/copper alloy. This helps to reduce pick attack and allows the natural sound of your guitar's tonewoods to come through more clearly.

It's particularly beneficial if you want your guitar's inherent qualities to shine through while playing unplugged or amplified.

They use Martin’s proprietary Monel wrap wire, known for its corrosion resistance. It means you can expect them to last longer and maintain their quality sound over time.

It's still more susceptible to microcorrosion relative to coated acoustic guitar strings. But it is more durable compared to uncoated, and nickel strings.

The sound profile of the Martin Retro light strings is quite distinctive. These strings provide a warm, natural tone that is rich and clear.

I noticed that it has just the right balance of tones. A bass that can easily be distinguished without being too overpowering. The treble is clear and articulate but not too bright as well.

However, it's worth noting that some guitarists may find its sound to be a bit metallic or "tinny," which might not suit every guitar or playing style.

In terms of durability and playability, these strings generally perform well. String life is above average and I'm happy with its consistent performance. I share the same positive sentiment that this string set gets in the market.

These strings hold their tuning really well and have a decent feel, which is easier on your fingers.

Overall, the Martin MM12 Retro is a reliable choice for owners of traditional acoustic guitars.

Specifications

  • Gauge: Extra Light (012, .015, .025, .031, .041, .054)
  • Core Material: Steel
  • Winding Material: Monel (nickel/copper)
  • Winding Type: Round Wound
  • Coated: No

Rating Source Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Alamo Music Center 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. Acoustic guitar extra light strings are the lightest guitar strings you can equip your instrument with.

Martin M170 Originals 80/20 Bronze Extra Light

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 375+ ratings and reviews.
$5.99
Martin
martin-m170-originals-80/20-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings-extra-light
At publication time, this was the Highest Rated Extra Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar String Set

Cons

  • Less bottom end.
  • Caution with the high E string during assembly, as it might break.

Pros

  • Excellent playability.
  • Excellent for fingerstyle and makes bends easy.
  • Well-defined, clear, and bright tone.
  • Fit for articulate and responsive.
  • Maintains quality even after extended use.

C.F. Martin & Co. has a rich heritage dating back to the 1830s. They are primarily known for producing high-quality acoustic guitars.

These days, they also expanded into manufacturing a variety of acoustic guitar strings, leveraging their extensive experience in guitar building.

The M170 Extra Light set, for instance, combines Martin's classic woody tone with the comfortable feel of an extra-light gauge.

These 80/20 bronze acoustic guitar strings are known for their clean and slightly trebly tone. They offer excellent articulation and response, which is great for emphasizing phrases and melodic lines. But, it lacks in its bass tone.

This set is ideal for controlling the excessive low end of large-bodied acoustics.

Knowing Martin. Co, these strings have undergone stringent quality control. This ensures that they feel and sound fresh when purchased and maintain their quality over time.

As a naturally bright-sounding set, the aging of the strings won't significantly affect their sound.

All in all, Martin is a brand you can rely on for quality. This makes the M170 Originals 80/20 Bronze Extra Light worth considering. It's an easy-to-play, light-to-touch set with Martin's signature voicing and trusted brand reputation.

Specifications

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

Rating Source Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube vincent ryan borres 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Best Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

For this section, we considered sets of strings ranging in gauge from .011/.012 to .052/.054. This is the typical string gauge for acoustic guitars, widely preferred for its lesser tension and feel.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light

95
GEARANK
95 out of 100. Incorporating 12400+ ratings and reviews.
$19.99
Elixir
elixir-strings-nanoweb-phosphor-bronze-light-acoustic-guitar-strings-light
At publication time, this was the Highest Rated Light Gauge Acoustic Guitar String Set

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Can be hard to tune due to thicker strings.
  • Not known for easy playability because of its higher tension.

Pros

  • Lasts considerably longer than regular non-coated strings.
  • Excellent tone, clarity, and warmth.
  • Improved resonance and sustain courtesy of its thicker gauge.
  • Smooth playability. Easy on the fingers.
  • Good packaging.

The Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium is a set of medium gauge coated strings. It shares the same specifications as other Nanoweb strings, including the type of coating used.

The Nanoweb coat is thinner than Elixir's Polyweb coat though, which results in minor differences in feel and tone.

The thinner Nanoweb coat dampens the sound less, resulting in a brighter tone compared to Polyweb sets.

Due to its slightly thicker gauge, this set is a bit louder and has a warmer sound compared to lighter guitar strings. It also maintains the longevity provided by Elixir's string-coating technology.

Elixir assures users that this set offers the same protection from dirt and grime, prolonging the life of the strings.

This longevity is why Elixir strings are considered great value sets. It also offsets their higher price compared to non-coated sets.

If you are looking for a set of medium gauge acoustic strings that lasts long, consider choosing one made by the pioneers of string coating-Elixir Nanoweb Strings.

Specifications

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

Rating Source 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.

Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium

95
GEARANK
95 out of 100. Incorporating 3750+ ratings and reviews.
$19.99
Elixir
elixir-strings-nanoweb-phosphor-bronze-medium-acoustic-guitar-strings-medium
At publication time, this was the Highest Rated Medium Gauge Acoustic Guitar String Set

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
  • Less finger squeak and smoother feel
  • Reliable and consistent quality
  • Good packaging

The Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Medium is a set of medium gauge coated strings. It shares the same specifications as other Nanoweb strings, including the type of coating used.

The Nanoweb coat is thinner than Elixir's Polyweb coat though, which results in minor differences in feel and tone.

The thinner Nanoweb coat dampens the sound less, resulting in a brighter tone compared to Polyweb sets.

Due to its slightly thicker gauge, this phosphor bronze string set is a bit louder and has a warmer sound compared to lighter guitar strings. It also maintains the longevity provided by Elixir's string-coating technology.

Elixir assures users that this set offers the same protection from dirt and grime, prolonging the life of the strings.

This longevity is why Elixir strings are considered great value sets. It also offsets their higher price compared to non-coated sets.

If you are looking for a set of medium gauge acoustic strings that lasts long, consider choosing one made by the pioneers of string coating-Elixir Nanoweb Strings.

Specifications

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

Rating Source 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 950+ ratings and reviews.
$7.99
D'addario
d’addario-ej18-pb-heavy-acoustic-guitar-strings-heavy
At publication time these were the Highest Rated Heavy Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings

Cons

  • Sounds a bit metallic and unpleasant.
  • Stiff strings require extra fretting and playing effort.
  • Might damage smaller / lighter acoustics because of increased string tension.

Pros

  • Big and fat tone that can't be had with thinner strings.
  • Increased harmonic content, projection, and resonance.
  • Good for the drop, half-step down tuning, and other alternate tunings.
  • Hard to break, with consistent quality from D'Addario.
  • Good packaging.
  • Can be used for baritone guitars.

Heavy gauge strings are not as popular because they are harder to play and can possibly damage guitars not designed for high string tension.

As I mentioned in the intro, acoustic guitars are made with the string gauge in mind. Not all guitars can handle thicker strings. So, it's best to check with the manufacturer to see if your acoustic guitar is compatible with heavy gauge sets.

Despite the drawbacks, some players still use heavy sets for extra projection and resonance. This set provides a big, fat sound that lighter strings can't match.

Experienced players, especially those into flat-picking and heavy strumming, know when and how to use this set to achieve the warmth, sustain, and harmonics it offers.

However, you could always down-tune your guitar to reduce the tension. For a more familiar feel, use a capo. This will enable you to play first-position chord shapes in standard tuning.

The EJ18 from D'addario is made with the same stainless steel core and quality standards as their other popular string sets.

It also comes in corrosion-resistant packaging, which is great as it can be stored for an extended period and not deteriorate in quality.

If you're aiming to achieve a higher volume on your acoustic guitar and are into mostly strumming, then the EJ18 should be your top choice. But, be sure to confirm its compatibility with your guitar first.

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 the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings

There's a lot that goes into guitar strings, especially acoustic guitar strings. You need to understand how gauge and materials interact with your guitar to create your tone. To figure out which strings are best for your acoustic guitar. You then have to balance your tone preferences with the playability you're looking for. In this section, we'll discuss how these factors work, clarify important questions, and get some practical string choice tips.

Single Sets vs. Buying in Bulk

In this guide, we've presented single sets of strings, but in most 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. So if you want to get good value out of acoustic guitar string deals, you ought to go for bulk packages.

Most manufacturers sell three-set packs. But some (Ernie Ball being a notable example) produce packs with 10 sets of strings. You have to pay more for bulk packages, but you get a better return on your money in the long run.

Since strings aren't aged rapidly through oxidation, you won't have to worry about them going bad while they're in the package. They'll age a bit, but it'll take years before it's really noticeable. The main thing that will damage your strings is 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 refers to the guitar string gauges, or string thickness.

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. Thinner strings are quieter and have a higher tendency to break when strummed forcefully.

Light gauge strings provide a good balance of tone and playability. This is the reason why they are considered the best strings for an acoustic guitar and the go-to gauge for most guitarists. Extra-light gauge strings have lower string tension, which makes them much easier to play, but they tend to have a trebly sound. Their trebly sound may not be ideal for some, but their easy playability makes them the best strings for acoustic guitar solos.

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 the light, another brand may call extra light. Because of this, there's some variance in how some brands classify different gauges.

Typical String Gauge for Acoustic Guitar 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. This is a combination of metals commonly used for acoustic guitar strings. These strings have 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 it's arguably the most all rounder. 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 that already sounds trebly, 80/20 strings might not be the ideal fit for you. 80/20 strings can make some guitars sound thin, and 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. Another alternative is Nickel Bronze acoustic strings, they have less zing and sound warmer and fuller.

  • 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.

  • Aside from these popular ones, manufacturers have utilized many different alloys. But they aren't as widely available. Thankfully, there are online platforms that offer them. Those who want something out of the ordinary will appreciate aluminum and bronze acoustic guitar strings.

    String material affects tone and playability dramatically. So many put a lot of weight on their preferred material when choosing which strings are best for acoustic guitar use.

Coated vs. Non-Coated

Here is simple coated acoustic guitar string buying advice. 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, they last twice as long, so you may not really be saving anything by going with coated strings. The main benefit, though, is that you won't have to Change Your Strings quite as often. Note that this is my personal experience; yours may be different.

The coatings used on strings also alters the tone. They generally cause a roll-off in the high-end response, resulting in a darker sound when compared to uncoated strings. 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 a great 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 Playing Style

Because you can't tweak your tone on an acoustic guitar to the extent that you can on an electric guitar, your choice of 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. This means that the strings on an acoustic guitar play a bigger role in the overall tone and feel of the instrument.

So the first question is: What do you play? If you're a strummer, you may find that heavier strings work in your favor. You'll get more volume and a warmer tone, which is great for accompanying vocals. If your style of playing involves melodic lead lines, 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. For a beginner, the softer feel of light gauge strings makes them the best strings for acoustic guitar.

So, what about materials? Well, generally, the livelier the genre you're playing, the brighter the strings you're going to want. So if you're a Bluegrass guitarist, 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 Guitar Strings for Acoustic Selection Methodology

The first Edition was published in 2017. The current edition was published on June 25, 2024

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 fact makes this one of the most challenging music gear categories to provide professional guidance. In order to tame the massive numbers involved, we used a tight statistical sampling approach. 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 shortlist representative of the most popular brands. Some highly regarded but lesser-known brands were therefore not included. You can browse most of the strings we've rated in the Music Gear Database.

This edition's shortlist included 40 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 120,500 sources. It includes ratings, reviews, and forum discussions. We processed it with the Gearank Algorithm to produce a rating score out of 100 for each short-listed set. We chose only the highest-rated options to recommend in each of the following gauges: Extra Light, Light, Medium and Heavy.

Also featured in this guide is the Author's Pick section, which features the my current string choice.

You can read bout the other acoustic guitar string that I use in my my full review of the GHS BB20X.

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

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 - that the best acoustic strings provide a good balance of playability and tone.

Contributors

Jerome Arcon: Supplemental Writing and Product Research.
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.

11 thoughts on “Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for All Gauges & Playing Styles”

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

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