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The 10 best acoustic guitar strings 2020: top choice strings to get the best from your instrument

The 10 best acoustic guitar strings 2020: top choice strings to get the best from your instrument
(Image credit: Press Material)

Strings are absolutely critical to your overall sound when it comes to acoustic guitars, playing just as important a role as your playing style or your guitar’s bracing pattern or tonewood. But with so many types available, choosing the best acoustic guitar strings for you isn’t easy.

There are so many decisions to make on material, gauge, and price. Coated strings have made huge advances in terms of tone and feel, and are an increasingly popular choice among acoustic players looking to extend the life of their strings. They invariably enhance higher frequencies, too, but all this comes at a price – quite literally, as coated strings are typically more expensive.

Many of the string sets in our buyer’s guide are coated, but we've included some alternatives, options for all budgets, and some more traditional acoustic guitar strings, too.

The best acoustic guitar strings right now

Not only do Martin make some of the best acoustic guitars in the world, they make some of the best strings, too. The Martin SP Lifespan acoustic strings are treated to extend their life and have an excellent frequency response and feel. What's more, they present excellent value.

Developed with US acoustic guitar giants Taylor, Elixir’s Nanoweb HD also provide a solid, pronounced low-end and bright highs, with less of the finger squeak that can be a nails-down-the-blackboard moment when playing. Plus, they won’t go dead on you after three days of heavy playing.  

The best acoustic guitar strings: buying advice

All of the string sets featured here come in a variety of gauges. The string gauge - the thickness or diameter of the string - has an impact on your tone and technique, and on your guitar.

Thicker strings will sound fuller, with a more rounded low end, and on balance they tend to be louder. They’re more durable, too. Fewer string breaks? That’s great. But there are drawbacks. For players who are still building strength in their fretting hands, thick gauges can make for a chastening playing experience, especially if you are a finger-picker or like to play fast runs and bend your strings. If you are a folky strummer, heavier might be a better option.

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

Take a look at your guitar, too. For smaller bodied guitars, lighter gauge strings might complement the sound better, and vice-versa, with thicker strings a better fit sound-wise for larger bodied jumbo and concert models. 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.

Here is a generic guide to acoustic guitar string gauges:
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

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.

What about nylon strings?
If you’ve got a classical guitar, you’ll need nylon strings. 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 silverplayed copper wire wrapped around a multi-filament core. 

Classical 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. 

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.

The best acoustic guitar strings you can buy

Best acoustic guitar strings: Martin SP Lifespan

(Image credit: Martin)

1. Martin SP Lifespan

Treated guitar strings from an acoustic legend

Price: $11.99/£13.99 | Material: Treated bronze

A great value treated string
Versatile response for strummers and pickers
Hard wearing
Nothing of note

Martin offers a wide range of acoustic guitar strings, and these Lifespans are its treated option of the SP “Superior Performance” line. They have ultra-pure steel SP core wire and are available in 80/20 and phosphor bronze sets, while 12-string and acoustic baritone players are also catered for. This is simply a great-sounding string, durable, and fit for all styles.

Best acoustic guitar strings: Elixir Nanoweb HD Light

2. Elixir Nanoweb HD Light

Among the best coated strings for acoustic guitar

Price: $17.99/£15.99 | Material: Nanoweb-coated phosphor bronze

Outstanding frequency response
Nice balance between warm and bright
Long lasting, low squeak
Cheaper options available

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, which not only keeps the strings fresh longer, and protects the entire string, but reduces finger squeak. It's designed to provide a warmer bottom-end and bolder top-end with some mid projection boost in between.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019 - Ernie Ball 2564 Medium Aluminum Bronze Acoustic Strings

(Image credit: Press Material)

3. Ernie Ball 2564 Aluminum Bronze

The bright-sounding, loud and clear choice

Price: $11.99/£11.99 | Material: Aluminium bronze

Wonderful clear tone
Natural feel
Long-lasting without coating
Maybe too bold for some

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 are not 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.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019: Dean Markley Blue Steel

(Image credit: Dean Markley)

4. Dean Markley Blue Steel

Cryogenically processed strings with greater tuning stability at cheap prices

Price: $6.09/£6.99 | Material: Cryogenically-processed steel

Incredible value for money
Bright and clear tone
Stable and consistent
You’ll feel like Derek Zoolander asking for them

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.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019: D'Addario EXP

(Image credit: D'Addario)

5. D’Addario EXP

A softer-feeling set with reduced string noise, ideal for recording

Price: $15.99/£12.61 | Material: EXP-coated phosphor bronze

Natural feel will convert traditionalists
Great price for coated strings
Promises “3 to 4 times longer-lasting” than untreated strings
You’d rather pay five bucks more for the ultra-premium XT set

We highly recommend sampling a range of coated strings from various brands in order to narrow down your preferences. The New York company’s EXP range should be on your list. 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.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019: Ernie Ball Earthwood

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

6. Ernie Ball Earthwood Extra Soft Silk And Steel

A softer-feeling set with reduced string noise, ideal for recording

Price: $8.99/£14.49 | Material: 80/20 bronze wrap, silk, steel core

Great feel
Ideal choice for those with finger trouble
Low noise
Too mellow for some

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. It promises a mellower sound with reduced finger noise that could prove useful for recording sessions.

Best acoustic guitar strings: Martin Retro Monel Vintage Tone Acoustic Strings

(Image credit: Martin)

7. Martin Retro Monel Vintage Tone

Vintage strings that promise to bring out your guitar's true voice

Price: $8.99/£7.99 | Material: Monel

Old-school tone will please purists
Soft feel and smooth playability
Good value
A little dark-sounding for some

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. There’s also a claimed longer life than some other phosphor or 80/20 options.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019: D’Addario Pro-Arte Laser Selected Classical Strings

(Image credit: Press Material)

8. D’Addario Pro-Arte Laser Selected Classical Strings

Made in the USA with lasers!

Price: £/$8.99 | Material: Silverplated copper wrap and mutli-filament core on wound strings, extruded nylon on treble strings

A tech-forward option for enhanced intonation and stability
Lovely feel, normal tension is hugely playable
That price is hard to argue with
Nope, nothing here….

Available in light, normal and high tensions, these classical 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.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019: Gibson Masterbuilt Premium Phosphor Bronze

(Image credit: Gibson)

9. Gibson Masterbuilt Premium Phosphor Bronze

A premium string at a bargain price

Price: £5.99/$9.99 | Material: Phosphor bronze

Bright, sparkling, upfront tone with warm aftertaste
You could tow a truck with them
Dirt cheap
Runs a little thick so check the gauges on the pack

This must be a great string to use once you’ve dropped three grand on a Hummingbird and find yourself paying for a top-quality string with the loose change in your pocket. 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.

Best acoustic guitar strings 2019: La Bella Vapor Shield

(Image credit: La Bella)

10. La Bella Vapor Shield

The technologically advanced alternative to coated acoustic strings

Price: $20.81/£22.25 | Material: Treated phosphor bronze

Sharp treble bite
Long-lasting treated phosphor bronze design
Made in USA
These are really expensive

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. They are not cheap but many players swear by their dynamics.