There's really no feeling like restringing your pride and joy and getting to play your favorite songs and licks on a fresh set. Whether you're in possession of a brand new beginner acoustic, a money-is-no-object dream guitar, or a treasured old friend that needs some love, your favorite six-string would be pretty useless without a set of the best acoustic guitar strings.
Finding the best acoustic guitar strings for you might involve a little trial and error. Still, once you find which brand and gauge really works for your playing style, you'll notice that you're feeling just the right amount of tension under your fingers, making it more enjoyable and more comfortable to play. You'll also get a nice consistency in sound every time you restring.
The strings on an acoustic guitar are crucial to the instrument's tone, but over time, the strings wear out and corrode, causing a number of problems. Not only does this leave your guitar dull and lifeless, but old, worn-out strings can cause problems with tuning and intonation too. Replacing them with a set of the best acoustic strings can help keep your guitar sounding bright and fresh, plus it'll feel much better under your fingers.
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Best acoustic guitar strings: Guitar World's choice
When it comes to buying the best acoustic guitar strings for you, it's important to consider how they're going to be used. Strings for strummers – both in thickness and durability – are quite different from strings for pickers. You should be changing your strings regularly anyway – once a month is a good rule of thumb if your budget allows – so if you don't like one set you don't have long to wait until you're onto the next set.
That said, if you're looking for a solid all-round set of strings as a quality starting point, the Ernie Ball Aluminium Bronze sets are hard to beat. With the clarity and projection of an uncoated set, and the longevity of coated strings, these will fit the bill for most applications and most players.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Product guide
Strings take quite a beating over the course of their lifespans. 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. Coated strings, however, don't appeal to everyone.
The Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze acoustic guitar strings bridge this gap by using aluminum oxide wrapping, rather than coating, to offer protection without compromising on projection. They create a wonderfully bright sound, perfect for fingerpickers and strummers alike.
The D'Addario Nickel Bronze set might be right up your street if coated strings just aren't doing it for you.
Uncoated strings offer the ultimate in clarity and crispness, meaning your guitar will sing in the way the manufacturer intended. The tradeoff is that they may not last as long. However, acoustic guitar strings generally come at a modest price, so if uncoated strings feel right for you, they're definitely worth the extra regular investment.
These strings feature nickel-plated phosphor bronze, wrapped around a steel core. Nickel bronze strings are more commonly used for electric guitar strings, but they do a superb job of accentuating the mid-range frequencies of an acoustic guitar. This makes them perfect for full-band situations where the guitar needs to sit nicely in the mix as a whole.
Eric Clapton inevitably springs to mind when you think of the best guitar players of all time. While for most players earning a signature guitar would be an achievement, Eric has reached that special status where he actually has a set of signature strings bearing his name.
The Martin Clapton's Choice acoustic guitar strings are phosphor bronze in their make-up, and are impressive in their consistency. Whereas 'bright' strings can sound dead and dull after a while, these maintain a steady level of clarity for longer than expected. If they're good enough for Clapton, they're probably good enough for you, too.
One of the more recent additions to D’Addario’s already stellar line up of strings, the XS sets feature a super thin coating that provides a superb feel and an extended lifespan. Like the XTs, they’re also made using high-carbon NY steel which helps make them harder to break and easier to keep in tune.
The wound strings have an ultra-thin coating - they claim that it’s 10 times thinner than a human hair, so good luck noticing that! The unwound strings enjoy a unique polymer treatment so that all six strings sound fresher for longer, giving a really nice, balanced sound.
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. Additionally, if the guitar is being used by different players, the strings' lives can be shortened.
By coating the strings in their patented 'Dura-tone' micro-treatment, Fender claims they can last up to five times longer than regular, untreated strings. These coated strings could be a worthwhile investment if you're a sweaty player, or just hate changing your strings.
In this range, Fender offers a cheaper 80/20 Bronze string, and a more expensive Phosphor Bronze string, both with Dura-tone coating.
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. They have a more balanced tone than you might expect, with treble and bass frequencies nicely tuned with one another - perfect for solo performances (or just about anything else you can think of).
The list of professionals who use these strings is indicative of their capability; John Mayer, Paul McCartney and Brad Paisley all swear by Earthwoods, which gives you confidence they'll be great for mere mortals too.
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 the company claims offers the same protection as regular polymer coatings, but without the tonal drawbacks.
In our experience, this is certainly true. These strings last longer than uncoated strings do, yet at no point will make you feel like you're compromising tone in order to achieve this durability. A noticeable reduction in the dreaded 'finger squeak' was also noticed, making these a highly playable, great sounding string.
Just as you wouldn’t hang a Picasso in a chipboard frame, Martin’s Authentic Acoustic string series is worthy of the luthier’s hallowed instruments. There’s a choice of flavors, from the Retro pack with its Monel wrap wire to Tommy Emmanuel’s custom gauges.
But a solid first stop is the Superior Performance set, available in 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze, and featuring highest tensile-strength core wire, tin-plated on all six strings to beat corrosion.
When the company produces acoustic guitars as legendary as the J-45 and Hummingbird, it's only right that Gibson also has a range of strings that live up to that same reputation. The Gibson Acoustic Strings 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 clarity and purity of tone with longevity, to create a potent package for any player.
These strings are also available in an 80/20 bronze version if you want to pull a little more high-end brightness from your acoustic guitar, plus you can also get them as coated strings for even longer lasting freshness.
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 minimizes the microscopic gaps into which gunk and sweat can hide.
The jury's still out on whether the science yields noticeable results on this one, however these strings sound great and in our tests lasted noticeably longer than regular uncoated strings.
D'Addario is a company known for its dedication to innovation in guitar strings, and the XT line-up boasts its most advanced yet.
These meticulously designed strings combine all of D'Addario's bright ideas - including high-carbon NY Steel, fusion twist technology and, of course, those irresistible colored ball ends - and adds a new string coating that not only triples the lifespan of the string but feels identical to uncoated strings.
They're available in steel- and nylon-string offerings, both of which offer up to 42% stronger construction and 131% better tuning stability than regular strings.
We couldn't miss out an option 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 dampen your tone, or add in unwanted overtones, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to happen.
The result is a range of strings which are almost impervious to corrosion, yet retain clarity and articulation.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Buying advice
Choosing the best acoustic guitar strings for you
Choosing the best acoustic guitar strings for you can be quite personal and will vary from player to player. How you play, what you find comfortable, and the sort of sound you’re after will all play a part in finding the right strings.
What are the best acoustic guitar strings you can buy today?
We have to mention the Ernie Ball Aluminium Bronze strings - they’re really good ‘all-rounder’ strings that work well for both fingerpicking and strumming. They project nicely, and they sound clear and balanced - definitely one of the best acoustic guitar strings on the market.
Elixir also make some incredible coated strings that help preserve that bright, freshly-restrung sound for up to 3-5 times longer than uncoated strings - they’re also what Taylor use on all of their steel-strung acoustics. Acoustic experts Martin also make a range of strings to suit quite literally any style of player.
What are acoustic guitar strings made of?
Acoustic guitar strings are essentially a metal core - usually stainless steel, with the thickest four strings wrapped in thinner metal windings. The exact materials can vary, but usually they’re made from bronze or copper. This differs from electric guitar strings which are usually wound with steel, or nickel so that they work better with the magnetic field created by the pickups.
It’s worth noting here that you don’t want to fit steel acoustic strings to a classical guitar either - doing so could end up causing damage to it.
What types of acoustic guitar string are there?
Acoustic guitar strings differ greatly when compared to electric guitar strings, and are manufactured differently. The main two types of acoustic string you’ll see are 80/20 bronze, and phosphor bronze. 80/20 bronze, or brass, is an alloy made from 80% copper and 20% zinc. Phosphor bronze is simply bronze, with phosphor added to the alloy. Whilst this all might sound a little boring, the two types of string do actually make quite a difference to the sound of your acoustic guitar.
Generally, 80/20 bronze strings tend to be brighter, with a more pronounced top end. Phosphor bronze on the other hand are often mellower, and slightly warmer sounding. Considering what sort of tone you’d like can be a good starting point when looking for the best acoustic guitar strings.
Acoustic guitar string gauges explained
The gauge, or thickness of the string is another thing to consider. Different gauges can cater for different playing styles, as well as personal preferences so there aren’t any rules, per se. A lot of fingerpickers opt for lighter gauge strings because there is physically less string to have to pick, or pluck with your finger. Players with a lighter touch may find that they also get a better dynamic response from a lighter gauge.
Players who use a guitar pick might be more comfortable using thicker strings, especially if they’re heavy handed. If you’re really going at it with your strumming hand, then a thicker gauge will less likely result in snapped strings. If you’re likely to be using your fingers and a plectrum, simply go for a medium gauge - there really is something for everyone, but try a few out and see what works for you.
What are the benefits of coated acoustic guitar strings?
When you play your guitar, very small parts of dead skin from your fingers can get caught in between the windings of the strings, and your sweat will corrode the metal. To combat this, some companies coat their strings so that there’s a very, very thin barrier between your fingers and the string, making it harder for all those nasty bits to lodge themselves in your strings.
As a result, coated guitar strings sound fresher for longer, and don’t wear out as quickly - though you’ll usually pay a premium for this. They do also feel slightly different underneath your fingers - if you’ve never tried coated strings before, they’re worth checking out.
How often should I restring my acoustic guitar?
How regularly you need to change the strings on your acoustic guitar will also vary. If you’re playing it a lot, then once every 6-8 weeks or so will keep your instrument in good shape (you can wait a little longer if you’re using coated strings). If you’re playing it more, or playing it live, then maybe more regularly, and vice versa.
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