When you play acoustic there are no guitar pedals or amplifiers to hide behind. It’s just you and your guitar, so you need a set of the best acoustic guitar strings to make sure your sound is at its absolute best. There’s a lot of choice when it comes to strings, however, so we’ve put together this guide to help you find your perfect match.
Part of the majesty of the acoustic guitar is its natural sound, a result of the relationship between the guitar top, body, strings, and the player. Regularly changing your strings is an important of your guitar maintenance routine, as inevitably they dull over time which results in a lifeless tone. Various string materials offer different qualities of sound, and you can get coated or non-coated strings as well, so making the right choice is critical.
If you’re new to the world of acoustic guitar strings, make sure you check out our buying advice section for more information. If you just want to see the best acoustic guitar strings available today, keep scrolling for our top picks.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Our top picks
If you want maximum life for your acoustic guitar strings, then Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze coated strings are your best bet. They’re not the cheapest on the list, but considering you’ll be saving money on buying fresh packs of strings, the overall costs probably work out the same versus a non-coated acoustic string set.
If the feel of coated strings doesn’t agree with you, then we’d recommend Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 acoustic guitar strings. With a balanced sound and excellent value price point, these phosphor bronze strings work well in a variety of situations.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Product guide
Elixir is the first name for coated guitar strings, and this coated 80/20 bronze 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.
These strings really do last longer than any other coated string we've come across. When playing acoustic the sound of the strings is so important that having that reliable, long lasting performance makes these our top choice when it comes to acoustic guitar strings.
Ernie Ball is better known for their ‘Slinky’ electric guitar strings but you can bet they know a thing or two about acoustic strings as well. With decades of experience making strings, they’re a sure bet when fitting your acoustic with a quality string set.
Warmer sounding than your average phosphor bronze string, we liked that they have that already broken-in tonal quality. Great for regular gigging guitarists, there’s none of the overly bright sound you sometimes get from new strings when you first put them on here.
This lack of brightness does mean that they may not be as well suited to finger pickers however, but for most acoustic guitarists, the excellent value for money will more than make up for any small shortcomings.
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 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.
Martin's SP set 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.
D’Addario XT represents the company’s most innovative acoustic guitar strings yet, further adding to its huge range of string sets for all kinds of instruments. Meticulously designed to be super strong and long-lasting, these strings use advanced tech to keep you playing for longer.
According to their website, the new string coating will triple the lifespan of the string, but one of the best things we found was that they don’t feel like regular coated strings. The playing feel is lovely and they feel rock solid thanks to the high-carbon NY Steel core.
There are loads of choices for different types of guitars as well, so you can get steel string and nylon sets to match your particular instrument. As is usual with D’Addario, they’ll do pretty much any gauge you can think of, making the XTs one of the most versatile string sets around.
A relative newcomer to the acoustic guitar string world, Curt Mangan Acoustic Strings comes with some serious backing. Having worked at Ernie Ball for many years, it’s safe to say that Curt Mangan is well-versed in how to manufacture a quality guitar string.
Handmade in the USA using exacting standards and high-quality machining, these strings are a quality product. If you're the type of guitarist who’s also very exacting in what you want from a guitar string, the ability to craft your own string gauge is a cool feature as well.
We found these strings sounded a little bedded in when we first put them on, with less of that trebly clank you get from a new set. They’re bright sounding and not too warm, making them an excellent all-rounder for acoustic guitar players.
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 is worth a closer look.
The ‘cryogenic processing’ with liquid nitrogen that Dean Markley uses 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.
First released way back in 1974, D’Addario Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings fast became one of the standards of the acoustic guitar world. Nowadays D’Addario makes an overwhelming variety of acoustic guitar strings, but this is the set that started it all.
They offer a warmer tone with less top end than some of the sets on this list, largely due to the phosphor bronze wind. The ball end of each string is color-coded too, which makes it that much easier to identify which is which when you string your acoustic.
This set will suit acoustic guitar players who primarily strum, however, we’ve found they do an admirable job with fingerpicking too. They’re really quite versatile, offering great clarity and articulation whatever playing style you prefer.
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 vintage acoustic guitar strings.
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.
Best acoustic guitar strings: Buying advice
What is the best string gauge for acoustic guitars?
All of the strings in this best acoustic guitar string 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, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
How we test acoustic guitar strings
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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 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 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.
Read more about how we test music-making gear and services at MusicRadar.