Best acoustic guitar strings 2024: Find your favourite acoustic strings

Man presses acoustic bridge pin into an acoustic guitar
(Image credit: Future)

Searching for the best acoustic guitar strings for your instrument doesn’t result in quite as many choices as say, choosing a new overdrive pedal. Guitarists tend to be pretty cemented in the strings they like and once you find a brand you work well with, you’ll generally stick to that for life. There are also not that many companies manufacturing acoustic strings either, so the pool is relatively limited.

Where strings do come into their own, however, is the gauge. String gauge massively determines your instrument's sound and playability so your job isn’t quite finished once you’ve found your favourite brand. You’ll need to select the right gauge for the job too. On top of this, a relatively new form of string has become increasingly popular in the last decade or so, with coated strings offering acoustic players longer-lasting performance, albeit with a slight change in feel and tone.

While we’ve searched out the very best brands available, you’ll need to decide your own gauge and whether or not you want a coated or uncoated string when you checkout. If you’re unsure we’d recommend checking out our buying advice section, which features all the common questions answered by expert guitarists here at MusicRadar. If you already know your stuff, just keep scrolling…

Jonathan Horsley
Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

Best acoustic guitar strings: Product guide

Best acoustic guitar strings: Buying advice

Two acoustic guitars on dark background

(Image credit: Future)

What is the best string gauge for acoustic guitars?

The gauge of a string refers to its thickness or diameter - the bigger the gauge, the thicker the string. This has an impact on the playability and tone of your guitar, as well as how you play it.

Guitar strings are measured in 1/000th of an inch, and packaged in sets that are typically referred to by their thinnest string, the high E. So a “set of 12s” will have a high E string that has a 12 gauge, measuring 0.012 inches across its diameter.

Thicker strings will generally sound fuller. They tend to be louder than thinner strings and will have a rounded, bassy low end. They’re more durable than thinner strings, which is a major pro - but there are drawbacks. 

If you’re still building up strength in your fretting hand, then thick gauges can make for a pretty challenging playing experience - especially if you like to bend strings and play fast runs. If you’re a heavy-handed strummer or like to tune down though, thicker string gauges are your friend.

Lighter gauge strings are a bit easier to fret and bend, and they sound a lot brighter. The trade-off is that you lose some of that deep bottom end. For some players, it’s worth it. But not all.

Take a look at your guitar. If you’ve got a smaller-bodied acoustic guitar, then lighter gauge strings might complement the sound better. Likewise, if you’re the proud owner of a dreadnought or jumbo-sized acoustic, then thick strings might do the job. There’s no hard and fast rule though. Some people use heavier strings on smaller-bodied guitars to add more depth and vice versa. Experiment with it! 

Man plays chord on acoustic guitar

(Image credit: Future)

Which acoustic strings are best for beginners?

If you’re a beginner acoustic guitar player, it’s important to make sure that you’re using the most appropriate strings for you. You’ll want to find strings that toe the line between playability and tone, so it’s important to understand string gauges and the difference they make to your sound and playing experience.

These are some of the most common generic acoustic guitar string gauges. There will likely be some variation between brands, and some brands produce hybrid sets, but follow this as a general guide and you’ll never be far off the money.

Extra light: .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047

Custom light: .011 .015 .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

If you’re playing in standard tuning, we’d recommend you use Extra Light or Custom Light strings. These may be referred to as ‘a set of 10s’ or ‘a set of 11s’ - and will offer a bright, punchy tone with a fairly low amount of string tension - meaning they’re easier to play. As you become more comfortable on your acoustic guitar, we’d suggest you try out some heavier strings - but there’s no need to go super heavy unless your style of playing calls for it.

It’s worth noting that if you play an electric guitar too, the names of each gauge will be pretty different. We’d avoid comparing acoustic and electric guitar gauges, as acoustic guitars generally need heavier strings to sound their best. 

Close up of an acoustic guitar fingerboard

(Image credit: Future)

When should I change my acoustic guitar strings?

Knowing when to restring your acoustic guitar largely depends on how much you play your acoustic guitar, but as a rule, we recommend you restring your acoustic guitar every couple of months at the very least. This will keep your instrument feeling and sounding it's very best. If you use coated strings, you might get some extra life out of them - but once your strings start to sound and look dull, it’s time for a change. 

What are acoustic guitar strings made of?

Acoustic guitar strings are commonly made of bronze, phosphor bronze, brass, nickel, silk, and steel.

Each material has its own timbre. Bronze sounds bright, with bell-like clarity and a wide treble-forward frequency response. As the name suggests, phosphor bronze sees phosphor added to the alloy to slow oxidation and extend string life. Phosphor bronze strings tend to sound a little darker and warmer than bronze.

Brass strings have plenty of top-end jangle, and nickel strings have a warmer tone making them an excellent vintage choice, as does monel – a nickel-based alloy that many guitarists swear by for getting the best out of their tonewood.

Close up of a nylon string acoustic guitar

(Image credit: Future)

Are nylon guitar strings easier to play?

Long story short, yes they are. Nylon guitar strings are referred to as having high or low tension, with high-tension strings offering a heavier feel and low tension an easier-to-play feel. Even ‘high’ tension strings have less tension than a steel or bronze set - and it’s one of the main reasons why so many people start on a nylon string classical guitar.

In a set of classical strings, the top three strings are made from clear or rectified nylon, with the bottom three typically using bronze or silver-plated copper wire wrapped around a multi-filament core. You’ll only need nylon (sometimes known as ‘classical’) strings if you’ve got a classical guitar - and it’s important that you don’t get mixed up between nylon and steel strings. The difference in string tension means that if you put steel strings on a classical guitar, you run the risk of seriously damaging your instrument.

How we choose the best acoustic guitar strings

When testing acoustic guitar strings, it's important that we put them through their paces over a fair amount of time to make sure they are right for your beloved acoustic guitar.

We start by stringing up our guitar with a fresh set of strings and seeing how long they take to wear or 'bed' in. The purpose of this test is to see how long it takes for a set of strings to become fully stretched and stable in their tuning. The best sets of guitar strings will do this in minutes.

We want to also test how the strings feel under our fingers. We're looking for smooth strings that don't have any imperfections that will impede our playing. In the case of coated strings, we'd rather not feel the coating - but being able to notice the anti-corrosion qualities is important. Corrosion is the main reason anyone should need to change their strings, so to test the usable life of the strings we'll keep the strings on our guitar for as long as possible and take note of when they start to discolor, tarnish and lose their spark.

We finally test how the strings sound. It's an obviously important task, so we make sure to play many different styles. This will show us how the strings handle the different musical genres.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

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