Best Guitar Strings for Acoustic Guitar

By: Dan Kopilovic
Posted under: Review

Choosing a good set of strings for your acoustic guitar is tremendously important. As opposed to an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar is much more delicate. You can’t just turn a knob on your amp and change how you sound. Everything is much more organic and the tiniest detail can make a huge difference – your choice of strings being one of them.

Below you’ll find what we think are the three best set of strings for acoustic guitars, all things considered. These are not premium top of the line strings, but the acoustic guitar strings that are both highest rated by players, and offer the most value for money. Also, we don’t claim that there is such thing as the best guitars strings – the one set of strings to rule them all – but there are obviously good and bad strings out there. We’re simply listing a few good ones to help those who new to the world of guitars and don’t know what to pick. Once you try a few different ones and get some experience under your fingers, you’ll be able to decide which ones to stick with.

This article is a part of the series we did in helping you choose strings for your guitar. For a recommendation on strings for your electric guitar, check: Best Guitar Strings for Electric Guitar – GroundGuitar

The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings Overall

Elixir Strings 80/20 Acoustic Guitar Strings w NANOWEB Coating

These strings are coated with a very thin layer of what Elixir calls Nanoweb. They feel more smooth and easier on the fingers than all of the standard uncoated strings. This makes them probably the best acoustic guitar strings for beginners – although one could also argue against this. Using a standard set of strings without coating will arguably toughen up your fingers quicker.

The Nanowebs, however, do last noticeably longer than a standard set of strings, which somewhat justifies the higher price point (they cost double the price of a regular set). The coating prevents dirt from getting into the tiny gaps between the coils and slows down corrosion – which is the main enemy of the strings. 

Pick up a set with standard gauges if you’re a beginner or less experienced (measuring .012-.053). If they still feel too hard on your fingers, go for a lighter set next time. After settling for one, buy the strings in a pack of three and you’ll save money.

Runners Up

As said, it’s really hard to single out one brand and one model of strings and label them as the best guitar strings for an electric guitar. For that reason, we decided to list a couple of more strings, both offering perhaps better value for money, but lacking some of the features – like the Nano coating that you get on the Elixirs.

Ernie Ball 2146 Earthwood Acoustic Guitar Strings

The Ernie Ball Earthwood strings are among the best sounding acoustic guitar strings out there. They are made from a 92% copper, 7.7% tin, 0.3% alloy, in contrast to the 80/20 copper and zinc alloy used on most of the popular strings. This alloy (known as phosphor bronze) has higher resistance to corrosion and higher strength and stiffness than a standard set of strings.

Regarding the sound, they are often described as warm, with a very good balance between the bass and the treble side. If you want to go for a brighter sound, Earthwood 80/20 set is recommended instead. If you don’t know what any of this means, just stick to the Phosphors, and you’ll figure it out later.

D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

D’Addario EJ16s are pretty much the most standard acoustic guitar strings out there. A package with three sets of these costs about as same as one set of the Elixirs. They are budget oriented guitar strings, with probably the best value for money ratio out of the all three sets listed here.

In terms of the sound, they are more on the bright side. The brightness, however, reduces over time (basically this is true for all strings), and the sound softens. This also means that they don’t last nearly as long as the Elixirs, but at this price range, you really cannot expect them to.

Acoustic Guitar Strings Gauge Guide

On an acoustic guitar, the standard set of gauges (string thickness) is a bit heavier than on an electric. This makes them a little harder to play, especially when it comes to bending.

The thicker strings are however louder. If you think about it, the heavier string forces the soundboard (the top of your guitar) to resonate more than a thinner string. Heavier string obviously has more mass than a thinner string, which means that the kinetic energy will be bigger.

The standard gauges on an acoustic guitar very slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they are usually around .012 .016 .024 .032 .042 .053, from bottom to top E, measured in millimeters. You’ll see these often branded as “Light”, and as such are mostly recommended to people with a lighter touch or untrained fingers.

If you’re a beginner, stick with the standard gauges. A couple of months of practice on these will give an idea whether you should go thicker, thinner, or whether you’re fine with the standard set.

Acoustic Guitar Strings Brands

Most popular brands are Ernie Ball, D’Addario, GHS, Martin, and Elixir. You should be able to find these wherever you happen to live.

One name that you will most likely recognize among these is Martin. Martin is, of course, most famous for their acoustic guitars, which are considered to be among the best in the world. At the time of writing this list, we didn’t include one of their strings as recommendations, but this is likely to change in the future. In general, they are not that different, and it all comes down to the personal preference/brand loyalty.

How to Change Strings on an Acoustic Guitar

Changing the strings on an acoustic guitar isn’t generally that hard, but it can be confusing for the first-timers. Here’s what you should have in mind when it comes to acoustic guitar strings replacement:

  • Be careful when removing the old strings. Release the tension from all strings, and remove them one by one. Pull out each peg very carefully, as you want to avoid strings making scratches on the finish after they pop up from the holes.
  • After all the strings are removed, pick up a cloth and wipe down the neck thoroughly. Focus on the edges next to each fret, as this is usually where the dirt accumulates.
  • If the neck has no lacquer on it (most likely the case), this usually means that you should condition the wood from time to time. Dunlop Ultimate Lemon Oil is recommended, as it has a pleasant odor and it keeps the wood from going dry.
  • The process of putting the new strings is relatively straightforward. We recommend watching Martin’s guide on Restringing Your Acoustic Guitar on their YouTube channel. This should make everything much easier to understand.

Keeping the Strings Clean and Fresh Sounding

The same few rules apply to both acoustic and electric guitar strings, which will help them sounding fresh as long as possible.

  • First and foremost, always wash your hands before playing your guitar. It is also important to completely dry your hands because moisture causes corrosion.
  • From time to time wipe down each string with a dry cloth. If you wanna go a step further, damp the cloth with some rubbing alcohol. If you’re doing this, be sure to protect the neck itself and the fretboard first. Alcohol must not come in contact with any surface on the guitar. If this makes you anxious, best avoid doing it – dry cloth will do just fine.
  • Use commercial products such as Dunlop 65 String Conditioner if your budget allows. The bottle is only a few dollars but will last for a long time.
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