An acoustic guitar isn't much without its strings, right? And whether you're basking in the glow of a new acoustic, or looking longingly at a treasured older instrument, the joy of restringing your pride and joy with a set of the best acoustic guitar strings you can find is second to none.
Whatever type of guitar you have, it's important you have the right strings to suit your needs and playing style. Too thick and you might struggle to play it. Too thin and they might snap at the crucial moment. Here we've put together a guide outlining some of the best acoustic guitar strings on the market right now.
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What are the best acoustic guitar strings?
When it comes to buying the best acoustic guitar strings, you need to consider how they're going to be used. Strings for strummers differ - both in thickness and durability - to strings for pickers. The good news is that you should be changing your strings regularly anyway – once a month is a good rule of thumb – so if you don't like one set you don't have long to wait until your next.
That said, as an everyman string that will cover a lot of bases, the Ernie Ball Aluminium Bronze sets are hard to beat. Balancing the clarity and projection of an uncoated set, with the longevity of coated, these strings will fit the bill for most applications.
The best acoustic guitar strings: buying advice
If you're at an early stage in your playing career, you might be wondering why there are so many different variables when it comes to acoustic guitar strings. Different thicknesses, materials, coatings and prices make for a bit of a minefield if you don't know what you're looking for. Allow us to explain...
Typically, you'll want to pay attention first to the material. This will come down to one of two things, steel or nylon, and this is a key characteristic of the guitar itself. You can't put nylon strings on a steel-strung guitar, and vice versa. Within the steel niche are more subsets, each with their own properties, benefits and drawbacks. These include wrapping a steel core with aluminium, copper, bronze or nickel.
Then, you'll find strings come in varying thicknesses, known as the string's 'gauge'. Thicker strings, favored by strummers, produce a more pronounced low-end, and tend to last longer but can be a challenge to play. Thinner strings, on the other hand, are favoured by fingerpickers and sound brighter, but are more prone to snapping.
Finally, the coating of the strings is important. You'll see strings coated in various materials which reduce corrosion from sweat and other gunk. There is a slight payoff here in that, while these strings will last longer, there may be a dip in the resonance and sustain of the tone. Ultimately it'll take a bit of trial and error to find the set or variety which is right for you, but once you do you'll be set for life.
The best acoustic guitar strings available today
1. Ernie Ball Aluminium Bronze
These are the best all-rounder acoustic guitar strings
Launch price: $17 | Spec: Steel core, aluminium bronze winding, uncoated
Over the life of a string, it takes a bit of a beating. Whether it’s changes in temperature and humidity, or simply in being constantly tickled by your sweaty fingers, the life of a string is a tough one. Hence why string manufacturers offer 'coated' strings, which reduce the effects of corrosion. Yet coated strings don't appeal to everyone...
The Ernie Ball Aluminium Bronze acoustic guitar strings bridge this gap by using aluminium oxide wrapping, rather than coating, to offer protection without compromising on projection. They create a wonderfully bright sound, perfect for fingerpickers and strummers alike.
2. D'Addario Nickel Bronze
The best acoustic guitar strings for full-band situations
Launch price: $12 | Spec: High carbon steel core, nickel-plated phosphor bronze winding, uncoated.
If coated acoustic guitar strings aren't your thing, you might consider the D'Addario Nickel Bronze set. Uncoated strings offer the ultimate in clarity and crispness, meaning your guitar will sing in the way the manufacturer intended. These strings feature nickel-plated phosphor bronze, wrapped around a steel core.
Nickel bronze strings, more commonly used for electric strings, do a superb job of accentuating mid-range frequencies. This makes them perfect for full-band situations where the guitar needs to sit nicely in an overall mix.
3. Martin 'Clapton's Choice' Acoustic Guitar Strings
First choice acoustic strings of one of the best in the business
Launch price: $15.25 | Spec: Steel core, phosphor bronze winding, uncoated
It's fair to say Eric Clapton knows a thing or two about playing the guitar. And while for most players earning a signature guitar would be an achievement, Eric has reached that special status where he actually has his signature strings bearing his name.
The Martin Clapton's Choice acoustic guitar strings are phosphor bronze in their make-up, and impressed us with their consistency. Whereas 'bright' strings can sound dead and dull after a while, these maintained a steady level of clarity for longer than expected. If they're good enough for Clapton, they're probably good enough for you, too.
4. Gibson Masterbuilt Premium
Gibson’s acoustic guitar strings are as good as their guitars
Launch price: $9.99 | Spec: Steel core, phosphor bronze winding, uncoated
When you produce such famed acoustic guitars as the J-45 and Hummingbird, it's only right that Gibson also has a range of strings to accompany them. The Gibson Masterbuilt Premiums do just that.
Continuing the phosphor bronze theme, these strings do run slightly thicker than equivalents from other brands. But the tone you get matches brightness with longevity, to create a potent package for any player.
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5. Fender Dura-tone Acoustic Guitar Strings
These coated strings balance tone with longevity
Launch price: $11.99 | Spec: Steel core, phosphor bronze winding, Dura-tone coated
Despite the tonal benefits of using uncoated strings, there are situations where using coated strings may be prudent. Changes in humidity can have a huge impact on string life, tuning stability and tone. Also, if the guitar is being used by different players then this can shorten their life.
The Fender Dura-tone coated strings offer a solid solution. By coating the strings in a patented micro-treatment, Fender claims they can last up to five times longer than regular, untreated strings.
6. Elixir 80/20 Bronze with Nanoweb
Nano-tech makes for a long-lasting acoustic guitar string
Launch price: $13.99 | Spec: Steel core, 80/20 bronze winding, Nanoweb coated
Continuing with coated strings, we have the Elixir 80/20 Bronze with Nanoweb. Elixir knows a thing or two about coating strings, and has developed a patented coating which they claim offers the same protection as regular polymer coatings, but without the tonal drawbacks.
In our experience, this is certainly true. These strings lasted longer than uncoated, yet at no point did it feel like we were compromising tone in order to get this durability. A noticeable reduction in the dreaded 'finger squeak' was also noticed, making these a highly playable, great sounding string.
7. Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze
The guitar strings favoured by the big names of acoustic guitar
Launch price: $10.25 | Spec: Brass-plated steel core, phosphor bronze winding, uncoated
Another entry from the king of strings now. The Ernie Ball Earthwood series is carving itself a nice niche through offering the warmth and clarity you'd expect from a set of phosphor bronze strings. We were pleased to find a more balanced tone that expected, with treble and bass frequencies nicely tuned with one another.
The list of professionals who use these strings is indicative of their capability; Paul McCartney, John Mayer and Brad Paisley all swear by Earthwoods, which gives you confidence they'll be great for mere mortals too.
8. Dean Markley Blue Steel Acoustic Guitar Strings
Top-notch strings with a frosty twist
Launch price: $13.65 | Spec: Mandolin-wire hex-core, Nickel plated steel outer wrap, uncoated
We're all for a bit of innovation here at Guitar World, hence why we were naturally drawn towards including the Dean Markley Blue Steel strings in this round-up.
The Blue Steel range is unique in that the strings are cryogenically frozen using liquid nitrogen to -320 degrees prior to packaging. This, the manufacturer states, tightens the molecules and minimises the microscopic gaps into which gunk and sweat can hide.
Gimmick or not, these strings sound great and in our tests lasted noticeably longer than regular uncoated strings.
9. D'Addario Pro-Arte Nylon
The best acoustic guitar strings for classical players
Launch price: $8.99 | Spec: Multi-filament nylon core, silver-plated copper winding, uncoated
Acoustic guitars aren't all steel strung, y'know. If classical or flamenco is more your style, then you're going to need nylon strings. The D'Addario Pro-Arte series is a great place to start.
Materially, the Pro-Artes combine proprietary multi-filament nylon cores for the treble strings, while the bass strings utilise silver-plated copper winding to deliver superb projection and finger-feel. The range is also wide, providing various options and materials to complement different play styles.
10. DR Strings Dragon Skin
The best acoustic guitar strings for sweaty palms
Launch price: $11.99 | Spec: Steel core, phosphor bronze winding, K3 coated
Finally on this list is something for the sweatier palmed among us. The DR Strings Dragon Skin sets feature a unique coating which the firm says is both ultra-hard, and doesn't dampen vibration. DR believes softer coatings can damped your tone, or add in unwanted overtones, which is why they've gone hard.
The result is a range of strings which are almost impervious to corrosion, yet retain clarity and articulation.
About the author
Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 10 years of experience writing for some of the music world's biggest brands including Orange Amplification, MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Dawsons Music.