Getting yourself a set of the best acoustic guitar strings is absolutely crucial when making your acoustic guitar sound its best - playing as vital a role as your playing style or your guitar’s tonewood or bracing pattern. With so many types on the market, navigating the minefield of acoustic guitar strings can be tough. Thankfully, our experts have been test-driving set after set of acoustic strings to help you in finding your perfect acoustic guitar tone.
We've also taken a look at acoustic strings at a variety of price points, covering off budget and more luxurious strings for your instrument, whether you're rocking a cheap acoustic guitar or one of the best high-end acoustic guitars.
There are some key things to think about when it comes to selecting the best acoustic guitar strings for you - material, gauge, and price being some of the most important.
Many of the string sets featured in this acoustic guitar strings buyer’s guide are coated, as we think the combination of value and durability makes them a wise choice - but we've included some alternatives, uncoated and more traditional string options too.
If you want to read more in-depth information on the best acoustic guitar strings around, click the ‘buying advice’ button above. If you’d rather get into the product guide, keep scrolling.
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Best acoustic guitar strings: MusicRadar's choice
Martin makes some of the most iconic acoustic guitars in the world, so you can expect their strings to match. The Martin SP Lifespan acoustic strings are a case in point. Boasting an excellent frequency response and feel, there aren’t many string sets we’d rather have. They’re treated to extend lifespan, and they also present excellent value - hence why they take the top spot in this best acoustic guitar strings guide.
Elixir’s Nanoweb HD - developed with US acoustic guitar giants Taylor - also provide a solid, pronounced low-end and bright highs, with less of the nails-down-the-blackboard finger squeak when playing. Plus, with them being quite heavily coated, they won’t go dead on you after three days of consistent playing.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Product guide
Martin offers a wide range of acoustic guitar strings, and these Lifespan 2.0's are its treated option of the SP 'Superior Performance' line. With ultra-pure steel SP core wire, the Lifespans are available in 80/20 and phosphor bronze sets, with 12-string and acoustic baritone players are also catered for.
If you want the extended life of coated strings without the coated feeling, then the Lifespan 2.0's are the strings we'd recommend. We found that even after playing them a few hours a day for a couple of weeks, they still had some of that 'new string' brightness - even after they'd settled in and stretched.
This is simply a great-sounding acoustic guitar string that's durable and fit for all styles of playing. These aren't for you if you're into coated strings, but if you're open to trying something different, then give them a go. We found they sound warmer and more dynamically responsive than some coated strings - and they still last a long time, too.
Elixir is the first name in coated guitar strings, and this coated phosphor bronze light/medium hybrid (0.013-0.053) set has been treated with Nanoweb. Elixir coats the entire string - which they claim no other company does - to protect the gaps between each winding from collecting dirt, gunk and other gross things.
This not only keeps the strings fresh for longer, but reduces finger squeak. Developed in close association with Taylor Guitars, these strings are designed to provide a warmer bottom-end and bolder top-end with some mid projection boost in between.
Other string gauges are available, but we found this gauge in particular to offer a really satisfying, even level of string tension. The first string (.013) is heavier than in most 'light' gauges, and during testing we found the extra tension to provide a charming level of sustain. While there are cheaper strings available on the market,
String up with these and steel yourself for a booming performance that sees a fat low-end pair well with detailed mids and enough top-end shimmer to really make your chord playing ring out.
But these aren't just for strummers... The Aluminum Bronze set has a nice natural playability, with the copper and aluminium wrappings over Maraging steel hex core promising long life without coating.
These strings sound pretty bold - and it's kind of their selling point - so that's something to remember. We found that for fingerpickers, these strings are a great way to find some extra brightness and presence in your playing - but for those who play with a pick, you may find them a little too much at times.
Dean Markley strings often take a bit of a back seat when pitted against bigger brands, and unfairly, we think. Regardless of what you think about DM's 'cryogenic processing', any set of treated acoustic strings under $10 are worth a closer look.
The ‘cryogenic processing’ with liquid nitrogen that Dean Markley use for the Blue Steel range may sound a little like something from a sci-fi movie, but by freezing strings to -320 degrees Fahrenheit and then gradually bringing the temperature up, greater frequency response and tuning stability is claimed.
While the frequency response might not be particularly greater than any other set of treated or coated strings, it still delivers a satisfying depth of tone. For roughly half the price of a set of coated strings, these could be a great choice for anyone looking for killer tone on a budget.
D'Addario's acoustic strings need no introduction. The New York company's string ranges cover vast swathes of musical styles, tastes and personal preferences, with their EXP strings sitting in the 'coated-but-not-too-coated' camp.
D’Addario claims that its coating offers more of the natural feel you get with uncoated strings, while still having the life-extending benefits of the coated types - and we'd be inclined to agree. From a tonal perspective, we found that the life of these strings was extended by another 50% or so against an uncoated set - but feel-wise, we wanted to change them after the same amount of time as you would an uncoated set.
All in all, the EXP's are undeniably good strings, and if you're insistent on an extended life and a natural feel, then there are no better strings on the market. For what it's worth, however - we'd shell out the extra five bucks and treat ourselves to the XT set.
The 80/20 bronze Earthwood range offers this Extra Soft Silk And Steel iteration, which adds a layer of silk between the wrap and steel core to make playing easier on your fingers.
Because of the silk core, the overall tension of these strings is reduced greatly - making them a perfect choice for those with grip strength issues, smaller hands, or just anyone who doesn't want to fight their guitar. As a result, the tone is mellower, smoother and finger noise is reduced - which could prove useful for recording sessions.
Using Silk and Steel strings, you'll sacrifice on the tone front. It's not the end of the world, and the tone of these strings is still fantastic - but you'll find your guitar doesn't quite have the same punch or resonance that it may have once had. These strings are mostly about the feel, however - and we can vouch for the fact they feel great.
A back-to-the-future move from Martin saw these strings launched back in 2014; think of these as a vintage string.
Returning to the old nickel-based alloy blend of monel results in a softer touch and warm tone, to bring out the inherent tone in your acoustic’s wood. Because of this, we found these strings to be thoroughly enjoyable to play and hear - and the tonal dropoff of the 'settling in' period is greatly reduced.
There’s also a claimed longer life than some other phosphor or 80/20 options, as these strings feel 'worn in' for longer. They definitely bring out the darkness and extra warmth from your guitar, though - something worth taking note of.
Available in light, normal and high tensions, these classical guitar strings from D’Addario are manufactured in the USA and have a wonderful punchy and bright tone.
They might be classical by name, classical by nature, but the custom-extruded treble strings are produced by a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled laser. Because of this, the consistency of the Pro-Arte series is next level - and your classical guitar tone and playing will thank you for it.
The Pro-Artes can be a bit too bright at times - especially before they've had a proper chance to settle in - but once they're bedded in and doing their job, you'll have no issues.
Designed under the watchful eye of Gibson’s acoustic guitar builders, these phosphor bronze strings balance a sharp brightness that rounds out as it sustains. We found that most Gibson acoustics offer up a delightful punchy tone, and with these strings equipped, people will hear you for miles.
Once you’ve dropped three grand on a Hummingbird, it's nice to know that you can still afford great strings with the change in your pocket, and for less than $10/£6, a set of Phosphor Bronze strings is a rare find.
The gauges of these strings do run a little bit on the heavy side, so we'd double check the gauges on each pack if we were you. What Gibson considers to be a medium set of strings may not be what you or your guitar is used to - so best to be on the safe side.
La Bella coats its strings in a different way to others; changing the actual surface of the string during the Ionic Vapor Process where “propriety compounds are activated in a glow discharge electromagnetic plasma to modify the surface”.
The result is a string the company says lasts five times longer than non-treated strings and sound brighter than the coated competition - and we'd say that La Bella is pretty accurate with these comments. 'Five times longer' might be employing a little bit of artistic license, but on the whole, these strings do last a long time, and sound great.
While they definitely sound brighter and more pronounced than the competition, we can't help but wonder whether the coating process is a little over the top? Elixir's Nanoweb coating or D'Addario's EXP coating both sound great - without needing to go to the lengths of 'electromagnetic plasma'. The Vapor Shields are great strings, don't get us wrong, but for this price, we're struggling to see that much improvement over cheaper coated alternatives.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Buying advice
Acoustic guitar string gauges explained
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All of the strings in this best acoustic guitar strings round-up come in a variety of gauges. 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 that is 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!
Which acoustic strings are best for beginners?
If you’re a beginner acoustic guitarist, 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 10’s’ or ‘a set of 11’s’ - 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.
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, nickel strings have warmer tone, make an excellent vintage choice, as does monel – a nickel-based alloy that many guitarists swear by for getting the best out of their tonewood.
Are nylon 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 a more easy 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.
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 its 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.
The good news? Strings are not expensive!
Our biggest piece of advice would be to pick up a few options and get restringing and experimenting! What feels light to one player may pose a struggle to others. But guitar strings are cheap enough that you can try a few sets without breaking the bank. The more you experiment, the sooner you find a set that gives you the tone and feel you want. Once you settle on a gauge you like, your guitar can then be set up to make it even more playable and comfortable.
How we test 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 you 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 which 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 discolour, 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.
Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.
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