8 Best Sounding Acoustic Guitar Strings (2020 Reviews)
Need a new set of strings for your acoustic guitar? There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a new set of strings, changing them over, and then realizing they sound…mediocre. That’s an hour of your time and a few handfuls of your hard earned dollars gone for good!
But here we are. We’ve done the research and testing, and found the 8 best acoustic guitar strings (out of more than 100) that you can confidently buy right now. Keep reading to find out which strings to consider, which to avoid, and how to ensure you make the right choice.
Top Picks: 8 Best Acoustic Guitar Strings of 2020
1. Martin Guitar Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 MA540T, 92/8 Phosphor Bronze, Treated Light-Gauge Strings – Best Overall
Material: 92/8 Phosphor Bronze
- Durability: Treated with Cleartone proprietary technology
- Sound: Bright and Balanced
From the famed house of Martin Guitars, these are undoubtedly one of the best acoustic guitar strings that money could buy. Each set of strings is treated with Martin’s Cleartone technology to withstand corrosion due to humidity, sweat, and grime accumulation, leading to a much longer lifespan than generic guitars’ strings (hence the name). These strings are designed to feel and play amazingly for a long time without any dullness creeping into the tone. According to George’s Music (1):
These strings tend to last anywhere between 3 to 5 times longer than normal uncoated strings.
The Martin SP Lifespan Strings have a very bright yet balanced tone that is fit for any genre. Whether you have an expensive and premium acoustic guitar, or a budget one, these strings will breathe new life into your playing. Strumming, fingerpicking, and leads all sound clear and well-defined.
If you’re looking for the best blend between versatility, cost-effectiveness, and durability, then these strings are perfect for you. They were designed to be the best for whatever purpose you may think of; bedroom practice, recording in a studio, singing around a campfire, or even for performing live in front of an audience. They’re simply the best strings for acoustic guitar.
Material: Phosphor Bronze
- Durability: Uncoated
- Sound: Rich and bright
These entry-level Martin guitar strings may be cheap, but they sound far better than their price. With a rich and consistent tone in each string, these strings will ensure that you enjoy every chord that you strum on your guitar. They also have an 80/20 bronze variant for those looking for an even brighter sound from their guitar.
These strings have a bright sound similar to the SP Lifespan series and are versatile enough to fit various genres. However, since they are uncoated and untreated, they are very easily prone to corrosion. It’s advisable to clean these strings after every playing session, and they may require string changes every 1-2 months.
If you’re looking for acoustic guitar strings on a budget that will get the job done, then this is the right one for you — no fancy bells or whistles, just clean, simply great acoustic guitar strings for any player.
3. Elixir 16052 Strings Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings w NANOWEB Coating – Best Durability
Material: Phosphor Bronze
- Durability: Patented ‘NANOWEB’ Coating
- Sound: Rich and Warm
Elixir has gained a worldwide reputation for producing guitar strings that truly stand the tests of time. These strings are no exception; they come with Elixir’s patented NANOWEB coating technology, which makes them feel like uncoated strings but are proven to last longer than any other acoustic guitar strings on the market. These coated strings are easy on the fingers and a breeze to play. According to Maury’s Music (2):
The difference is remarkable. They feel better than any other coated string I have played. I could still feel every groove in the windings.
These Elixir strings have a rich, warm, and mellow sound that’s great for blues, jazz, classical, and fingerstyle playing. The coating makes them very smooth and easy to slide across the strings, and don’t hurt your fingers as much as other strings when playing for extended hours. For rhythmic strumming, however, they have a slightly subdued sound that’s not as pronounced as other strings.
If you’re looking for premium quality acoustic guitar strings that don’t need to be changed often and provide a rich, warm tone, look no further. Elixir strings are a hallmark of durability and strength when it comes to acoustic guitars. They may be a bit pricey, but they’re among the best sounding acoustic guitar strings out in the market.
Material: Aluminium Bronze
- Durability: Corrosion-resistant
- Sound: Crisp and Brilliant
Ernie Ball guitar strings resonate confidence in players just by their name. This latest offering by the company utilizes a new aluminum bronze alloy that significantly enhances their clarity and corrosion-resistance. They are made from a mixture of copper and aluminium, with Ernie Ball Maraging Steel hex cores and Aluminum Bronze wrap wire, which lend these strings a brilliantly crisp sound with well-defined lows and pronounced highs.
These strings have increased projection and clarity as compared to other strings, and are great for both strumming and fingerstyle. Leads sound clear and it’s easy to bend these strings as well. Genres like country, pop, and RnB sound great on these strings.
With a consistent bright tone that lasts for ages, these strings are a great match for both beginners and seasoned acoustic guitarists. They are most suitable for those looking to play bright music with a ‘twangy’ sound. But if you’re unsure about which string to buy, you can’t go wrong with this one.
D’Addario is a well-known brand when it comes to guitar strings and accessories, and rightly so. These acoustic guitar strings are one of their most popular products used by guitar players worldwide. D’Addario is trusted for its corrosion resistant packaging that ensures you always get fresh strings out of the box. Their sound is crisp and well-balanced for any genre of music.
These strings are made with D’Addario’s NY steel cores that provide much greater tuning stability and sustain than regular steel wires. Each string undergoes extended lifespan treatment with a thin, hydrophobic coating to prevent corrosion and enhance its durability. These strings are also smooth on the fingers and are great for both rhythm and lead. However, their sound is a bit mellow as compared to regular uncoated strings.
These strings are versatile enough to fit almost any acoustic guitar. Players around the world swear by the D’Addario name for their quality and consistency. While these may not be the best or cheapest strings on this list, they’re certainly worth a try.
Material: 92/8 Bronze
- Durability: Cryogenically Activated
- Sound: Bright and lively
Dean Markley is most famous for its innovative string treatment method known as cryogenic activation, which involves freezing the strings in liquid nitrogen at -320º F and slowly bringing them back up. This essentially makes the strings more consistent with a lively tone and a longer lifespan. These strings certainly do feel and sound uniquely different from other guitar strings on this list.
They have a bright and crisp sound while playing, and are well balanced for different genres and styles of play. These strings are great for pop and blues.
If you are looking to try something different with some new advanced technology behind it, you can check these out. You surely won’t be disappointed.
Material: Phosphor Bronze
- Durability: Uncoated
- Sound: Bright and Sparkling
These guitar strings come from the house of the guitar masters themselves, Gibson. With its worldwide reputation for producing top-quality acoustic and electric guitars, it’s quite natural to expect that the same kind of quality and dedication would be observed in their strings as well. These are premium phosphor bronze strings with a bright, ‘chimy’ sound and a lot of grit. They are generally a bit thicker than other strings, but are very durable despite being uncoated strings.
These strings are great for lively acoustic performances where you need a strong sound with a balanced bass and treble. Rhythm and lead both sound great with well-defined clarity in the notes.
These strings offer premium quality at a very reasonable price tag. For those wanting great strings to accompany their Gibson guitar, these strings do justice to their name. All in all a well-rounded set of strings for any guitar.
Material: Phosphor Bronze
- Durability: Uncoated
- Sound: Rich, Warm, and Balanced.
Another top pick on this list, D’Addario strings never cease to impress. These are D’Addario’s budget offering, but they certainly don’t sound cheap. These strings are precisely wrapped around a hex-core by computers to ensure pristine clarity and top-notch quality in every set of strings. As always, they come in corrosion-resistant packaging to prevent rusting.
These strings have a very balanced tone with rich highs and warm lows. They are suitable for any acoustic guitar and most genres like pop, blues, and rock. They are great for fingerstyle and are quite easy to bend too. However, since they are uncoated and untreated, they don’t tend to last very long and get corroded within a few months.
At a bargain price, these strings are a great fit for any player and any guitar. If you don’t mind changing your strings every couple of months, these strings are good for you. For traveling and performing players who need fresh strings on the go, they are great value for money.
How To Pick The Right Acoustic Guitar Strings For You
We tend to spend so much time researching and choosing a great acoustic guitar, yet we tend to rush our purchase decision when shopping for strings. But this is a mistake; a good set of strings can make your guitar sound even better, and a bad set can make it sound mediocre.
When buying a set of acoustic guitar strings, there are several factors to keep in mind; the material of the strings, the durability and type of string, as well as the characteristic sound produced by them. If you’re confused about which string is best for you, then this guide will help you find the right one.
Guitar string gauge
The gauge of a guitar string refers to its diameter or thickness, measured in thousandths of an inch. This is perhaps the most crucial factor when it comes to buying any guitar strings. To help you understand the various gauges, have a look at the table below:
To gain a better understanding of how different gauges of strings affect your playing, here are some essential points to consider:
- Lighter gauge strings are more comfortable for the fingers to press and make playing more comfortable. However, these strings also break more easily, have less sustain, and may cause fret buzz.
- Heavier gauge strings are louder, have more sustain, and do not cause fret buzz. However, they are harder to play for beginners and exert higher tension on your guitar.
Guitars are set up according to the strings’ gauge, so a change in strings requires a change in the guitar setup.
If you’re a beginner and unsure about which gauge strings to use, we recommend trying 11 (Custom Light) or 12 (Light) gauge strings as they are easy to play and well balanced.
The material of your strings
Acoustic guitar strings come in a variety of different materials and alloys:
- Bronze is the primary metal used in the construction of acoustic guitar strings. They have a clear, ringing, bright tone, but are quite prone to oxidation and rusting.
- 80/20 Bronze alloy strings are made of a mixture of copper and zinc. These strings have a very crisp and balanced tone.
- Phosphor Bronze is a popular alloy of bronze strings wherein phosphor is added to the alloy to extend its life. They are among the most popular choices for acoustic guitar strings as they have a vibrant and warm tone.
- Silk and Steel: These steel core strings have silk, nylon, or copper wrap wire on the lower strings producing a softer touch and a delicate tone. They’re popular with folk guitarists and fingerstyle players.
If you are a beginner and have never played acoustic guitar, then phosphor bronze strings might be the best option for you as they are versatile and durable. Ultimately, this is a matter of personal preference as some people prefer the sound of certain alloys over others.
The longevity and durability of guitar strings depend primarily on two factors: coating and treatment.
Standard acoustic guitar strings are uncoated. These strings are either raw steel strings (for the thinnest strings), or wound with an alloy as mentioned above. They are quite prone to corrosion due to environmental forces as well as sweat and grime that deposits due to regular playing. Hence, these strings do not have a long lifespan and start to rust, quickly losing their tone.
For this reason, several brands now produce coated guitar strings with an extra layer on top of them to help defend against corrosion.
They come in all the same varieties as uncoated strings but are generally more expensive. Of all the strings mentioned here, the Martin MSP7200 SP Lifespan, as well as the Elixir Phosphor Bronze strings are coated with their proprietary technologies.
Certain strings like the Martin SP Lifespan and the Ernie Ball Aluminium Bronze are not coated; instead, they undergo special treatment procedures to enhance the durability and resistance of the strings (3).
Coated strings are generally warmer in sound and very smooth to the touch. In contrast, uncoated strings are bright and quite rough on the fingers.
If you don’t want to change your strings very often, you should definitely try coated strings. However, if you prefer a raw, bright acoustic sound, then uncoated will suit you better.
As a beginner, it’s a good idea to change your acoustic guitar strings every 3-6 months based on your playing habits as well as environmental factors that may lead to quicker corrosion. The durability and longevity of guitar strings depend on the brand and its coating/treatment procedure as well, hence certain strings like the Elixirs can last even longer than six months.
Yes, it is perfectly fine to put electric strings on an acoustic guitar. These strings are made of a nickel alloy instead of the usual bronze, resulting in a brighter sound and a different feel. Your guitar will still work just as good, and many players prefer the feel of electric strings.
Yes, cleaning guitar strings often is a good practice to adopt. Using a clean and soft cotton cloth or a microfibre cloth, you should wipe down the strings and neck area of the guitar after every playing session to maximize the strings’ longevity.
- Martin SP Lifespan Strings. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/6-V0NXlrEt0?t=104
- Elixir Phosphor Bronze Strings Review. Retrieved from: https://www.maurysmusic.com/elixir_phosphor_bronze_strings___todd_s_review
- Guide for selecting Coated or Uncoated Guitar Strings. Retrieved from: https://www.swamp.net.au/swamp-content/blog/guide-for-selecting-coated-or-uncoated-guitar-strings