Best Acoustic Guitar Strings

2017 Updates

For 2017 we took a close look at some excellent, but maybe lesser known, strings. Cleartone became an easy pick after analyzing a set of strings ourselves as well as looking at the feedback from around the web. They have been added to our list!

It’s that time, you need new strings on your guitar. Maybe you broke that high E string while tuning it? Picking the right strings doesn’t have to be a guessing game.

There are a number of factors that play into choosing the right strings when finding that perfect tone. None of us have the same guitars, acoustic backgrounds, amps, or even the same taste in music. On top of that acoustic strings come in a seemingly endless variety. Personal preference paired with a quality product will lead you to the right strings.

Quick Look – Our Favorite Strings
Feel free to read through the entire article, in fact we encourage it. However if you are looking for a quick guide to pick up some strings, check out the table below for details!

Strings Price Why? Where to Buy
Elixir Strings $14 Longest Lasting – Excellent tone See on Amazon
Martin Strings $10 Great Tone – Reputable Company – Pairs well with Martin Guitars See on Amazon
DAddario Strings $13 Most Popular – Good for Beginners See on Amazon
Cleartone Strings $17 Best Coated Strings – Corrosion Resistant See on Amazon

Basics

Good guitar strings are made by quality companies, and quality companies will only use the best materials when it comes to manufacturing a set of strings. Different material give us the sounds we love, and the tone that defines our preference.

Before we talk materials, lets go over some must know basics…

Must Know Details

Light strings are actually the default gauge for acoustic strings

This is a common misconception, and often times, first time acoustic string buyers will pick medium or heavy gauge strings. Heavier gauge strings can definitely give you a thicker tone, but it’s not always needed and thicker strings can be harder to play.

See the table below for a complete reference of acoustic string gauges.

Are nylon strings used on acoustic guitars?

Technically a classical guitar is an acoustic guitar, although classical guitars use nylon strings and you wouldn’t want to use those for a typical acoustic guitar.

Does a specific guitar impact how strings sound?

The same set of strings will produce a different sound on a different guitar. Each guitar will have differences whether subtle or great, it depends solely on how the guitar is made and the materials used.

Gauge Types

Acoustic strings to show a visualization of the table

String Name (E) (B) (G) (D) (A) (E)
Extra light .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047
Custom light .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052
Light .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054
Light-Medium .0125 .0165 .0255 .0335 .0435 .055
Medium .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056
Heavy .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059

 

Guitar strings may be constructed differently

Wound Strings

Strings are made differently, even strings in the same pack depending on gauge. Wounded strings are some of the most popular, and they usually include the G, D, A, and E strings on your acoustic guitar. There are a few different types of wound strings as well.

Common winding materials include:
  • 80/20 Bronze
  • Phosphor Bronze
  • Nickel

Roundwound

The winding is round leaving a small spaces between every turn, which can lead to squeaking when changing chords.

One of the most common and easiest to manufacture type of wound strings are roundwound. They usually comprise a type of round wire wrapped tightly around a steel core. Chances are you’ve played strings like this, and they are even on your guitar right now.

Have you ever noticed that squeaky sound generated by the strings as you move you hand position to a new chord? If you have there is a good chance you were playing roundwound strings. This is sometimes viewed as a disadvantage, although guitarists can also use this sound creatively to their advantage.

Advantages
  • Usually the most afforable type of strings
  • Flexibility provides a wide range of tones to experiment with
  • Generally easier to play
  • Wide selection
Disadvantages
  • Tend to corrode more easily than other types of strings
  • Can increase wear on your guitar’s fretboard

Flatwound

Flatwound strings are similar to roundwound strings, except the wire wrapped around the core is engineered a tad differently. Flatwound are particularly popular among jazz guitarists and older rock music.

Flatwound strings give a smoother feel for your fingers and fret board.

Advantages
  • Less squeaking noise when changing position
  • Likely to last much longer
  • Reduces the amount of wear on your frets
Disadvantages
  • Can be harder to play
    • Bending strings is harder
    • Can be restricting to certain tones
  • More expensive due to lack of demand

Halfwound

Halfwound strings are a hybrid of roundwound and flatwound

Halfwound is really just a hybrid of both roundwound and flatwound strings. Typically a string manufacturer will start with a complete roundwound wrapping wire. Then the string will be polished on the outside and significantly reduce the mass of the string. To account for this, heavier gauge wires are used, and the end result is a more flexible string along with the benefit of eliminating much of the squeaking you may get with a roundwound string.

Coated Strings

Many strings you may come across with have a coating that acts as a shield to protect strings from particles that can contribute shorter string life. Some guitarists really appreciate the smooth feel that this can provide as well as the added life to their strings. Still coating strings can reduce the ability to get the proper tone they desire. Elixir is a popular brand that sells a variety of coated strings, and they tend to have great reviews by guitarists.

Top Picks

1. Elixir Nanoweb Coating Strings

Elixir is known for producing premier strings that last long and produce quality sound. Get a pack on amazon starting at $12.

The Good
  • The coated wiring will provide a long life for your strings
  • Tone is great for songwriting and provides a clean crisp result
  • Has some of the best reviews on the web
The Bad
  • You may need to adjust to coated strings if you’ve never played with them
  • The are more expensive than other quality acoustic strings
Pro Tip

When you restring your guitar with these you may find a new tone to help spark songwriting.

Coating Nanoweb
Gauges Available Extra light, Custom light, Light, Light-medium, HD, Medium
Core Material Steel
Wind Material 80/20 Bronze

 

2. Martin Bronze Acoustic String

Audio Sample

If you know the quality behind Martin Guitars then you’ve probably used their strings as well. These strings are a common musician pick and offer a bright tone that is perfect for live shows, as well as in the studio. Depending on many you want you can get them for around $6.

The Good
  • Martin is a quality company
  • Bright tone perfect for live shows
  • Quality strings at a very affordable price
The Bad
  • Seems to have unfavorable reviews at times depending on the guitar
  • Without coating the strings have a shorter life
Pro Tip

If you have a Martin Guitar, these strings will pair particularly well with that, and offer you superior sound (I currently have this setup).

Coating No
Gauges Available Extra light, Light, Medium
Core Material Steel
Wind Material 80/20 Bronze

3. D’Addario EJ17 Phosphor Bronze

These strings are consistently reviewed favorably by guitarists around the world. With a wide range of gauges there are plenty of tones you can experiment with. These are a great value, snag a set for only $5 online.

The Good
  • Best value out of all our picks
  • Balanced tone suits many styles of music
  • Corrosion reducing packaging keeps the strings fresh when you buy in bulk
  • Great for beginners
The Bad
  • Lack of coating will shorten the string life
  • More experienced guitarists may want a more specific tone
Pro Tip

Buying in bulk can save you money, and you’ll always have strings available should one break.

Coated No
Gauges Extra light, Custom light, Light, Bluegrass, Medium, Heavy
Core Material Steel
Winding Material Phosphor Bronze

1. Cleartone Strings

Cleartone made our list for 2017 for a number of reasons, but overall they are a great strings for a good price. Although they may be a few bucks extra than other options, they will definitely have some added life meaning you can save money in the long run.

The Good
  • Corrosion resistant, and extremely long lasting
  • The coating is lighter than typical coated strings, giving it a natural feel
  • Tone that really pops and gives you come volume
The Bad
  • Price is slightly higher
  • Some guitarists do not like coated strings
Pro Tip

Immediately after restringing your guitar, trying gently stretching each string and then tune again. This will help your guitar to stay in tune by getting the strings loser right away.

Coating Patented “No-Feel” coating
Gauges Available Extra light, Custom light, Medium, Bluegrass
Core Material Steel
Wind Material 80/20 Phosphor Bronze

Where to go from here

There are plenty of options for acoustic strings. Luckily they are pretty inexpensive, so you can do a lot of experimentation to find your preferred sound, and have some fun while doing so. Get your hands on some, string them up, and see what you like.

Let us know if you have any favorites that we might have missed and we will be happy to take a deeper look into them.

  • Mich Ifella

    Good article. Very interesting. Would be prohibitively expensive to experiment with all types, unless maybe a local music store has guitars fitted with the various kinds that a person could test play.

  • Philip Rudy

    I had always used D’Addario, and recently tried the Elixir brand with a new Martin acoustic I recently bought. Was pretty happy with how the sound turned out.