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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best acoustic guitar strings

Last Updated April 2019

It's easy to neglect changing the strings on your acoustic guitar. Sometimes, you simply don't notice how dull the instrument's tone has become, but more than likely, you put off changing your strings because it can be a bit of a chore. If you're a beginner, you might ignore the task altogether because you don't know which set of acoustic guitars strings you should get.

Once you understand a bit about gauge, materials, and some other essentials, picking the best acoustic guitar strings will go from intimidating to effortless. If you've been playing for a while and have already found the strings that work for your style, consider the options we've listed in this article. If you'd like to be more knowledgeable about the wide variety of strings available, keep reading.

Because it will be incremental, the tonal quality of your guitar strings will deteriorate without you noticing. Don't wait for them to sound bad — change your strings regularly.

Nylon or steel?

If you are unsure whether to get nylon or steel strings, the first distinction you need to make is whether you have a classical guitar or an acoustic guitar. If you have a classical guitar, you may notice the fretboard is a bit wider and doesn't typically have fret markings on it. Additionally, there's probably no pickguard on the guitar. But the important difference is your strings. Classical guitars — guitars used to play classical and flamenco music — use nylon strings. It's not just a preference; it's what the guitar is designed to use. An acoustic guitar — used to play folk, country, blues, rock, and more — uses steel strings. Steel strings, especially thicker ones, exert more pressure on the neck of the guitar. Because of this, nylon and steel strings are not interchangeable. Placing steel strings on your classical guitar could damage it.

Gauge

After you've determined whether your guitar needs nylon or steel strings, the next decision is how thick you want the strings to be. This is mostly a matter of preference. Thicker strings tend to be louder and produce a more robust sound. The strings are under higher tension and may be more difficult to play. Thinner strings require less effort to play but produce a thinner sound.

There are other reasons besides tone and ease of play that may be involved when choosing your ideal string thickness. An older guitar may need a lighter gauge, and smaller-bodied guitars tend to use thinner strings.

On the package, the thickness is usually expressed in terms such as heavy, medium, and three versions of light. This gives you a general idea of what you are getting. However, guitar string thickness (gauge) is measured in increments of thousandths of an inch. A light high E string might be .012 while a heavy high E string might only be .014, which is a very small difference.

For convenience, an entire set of acoustic guitar strings is often called by the gauge of that high E string. For instance, the set of heavy strings that includes a .014-gauge high E would simply be called 14s. It is better to purchase your strings based on a specific gauge, like .010, rather than a more general label such as "custom light," to be sure you are getting the exact size you want.

There is one other aspect that needs to be covered when talking about string gauge. Getting a guitar to play its best requires a great deal of balancing. Using a heavier or lighter set of strings might require some adjustments to the guitar's truss rod — a steel rod that stabilizes the curvature of the guitar's neck so the strings aren't too close or too far away from the fretboard. For this reason, when many guitarists find a gauge they prefer, they stick with that gauge to prevent the need for other adjustments every time they change strings.

DID YOU KNOW?

Often, string sets are referred to by the gauge of the high E string. For instance, if your high E is .012, you would call the set 12s.

Materials

The next step in finding the best acoustic guitar strings is choosing the materials. This choice, with few limitations, is based on user preference. Some of the most popular materials and their general tonal qualities include the following.

For classical guitars

Clear nylon: As noted earlier, if you have a classical guitar, you'll be using nylon strings. Although there are many types of nylon available, most players prefer the clarity and brightness of clear nylon.

Silver-plated: Adding a silver plating around the lower strings of a classical guitar adds a little more warmth to the tone.

Gold-plated: Wrapping a gold plating around the lower strings of a classical guitar gives the guitar a little more projection and allows it to produce a brighter tone than silver-plated strings do.

For acoustic guitars

Bronze/brass: Bronze strings are usually mixed with zinc and produce a bright, clear tone. These strings tend to wear out more quickly than other options.

Phosphor bronze: These are bronze strings with phosphor added to increase the life of the strings. The phosphor produces a warmer sound than bronze strings do.

Silk and steel: These strings are considered a hybrid between nylon and steel. They offer many of the same playing qualities as nylon, including a softer touch and a more delicate tone, but they are designed to be used on an acoustic guitar.

Other considerations

The last two considerations involve the string core and the winding of your acoustic guitar strings.

String core

Guitar strings may have a round core or a hex core. Like it sounds, a round core strings are round in shape. Nowadays, it is considered a vintage style because the industry standard is a hex core. Hex core strings have six sides. These edges and angles offer a string that is stiffer, more durable, and provides a more consistent tone. Hex core strings also tend to be brighter and produce a sharper attack, but they decay more quickly.

Winding

Winding refers to what is used to wrap around the lower strings of an acoustic guitar. The two types of winding considered in this article are roundwound strings and flatwound strings.

  • Roundwound strings have greater texture and offer a brighter and richer tone full of harmonics. If you are thinking about getting roundwound strings, consider getting coated strings since the good qualities can diminish quickly due to oil and dirt buildup. The downside to roundwound strings is they produce more finger noises and wear out your frets more quickly.

  • Flatwound strings use a flat, tape-like wrapping to encase the lower strings, providing a smoother playing experience. However, it tends to bring out the fundamental of the note, making the overall sound a bit darker than roundwound strings. The downside to using flatwound strings is that they are more expensive, are limited in variety, and may be harder to bend. The upside is that they are kinder on your guitar's frets.

EXPERT TIP

If your guitar is older, match the gauge when replacing your strings. Additional pressure on an older guitar may damage the instrument.


Staff  | BestReviews

Acoustic guitar string prices

The good news about acoustic guitar strings is that even top-tier strings are affordable, so cost shouldn't be a deterrent in purchasing your dream strings. Unless you are getting a special deal or the strings are being offered as add-on items at a reduced price, you probably won't find the quality you want in the $3 to $6 range. Between $8 and $12, you will discover some great sets and have a much wider selection. Once you’re looking at acoustic guitar string sets in the $14 or $15 and above range, you’ll likely find the best of the best. If you know the type of strings you like and find a buy-in-bulk deal, that may be the best value. If you find a single set of strings priced at $49.99, be wary — that's about three times more than you should be paying.

Tips for prolonging the life of your guitar strings

The more you play your guitar, the faster the strings will wear out. However, there are a number of other factors that can shorten the life of your guitar strings besides good practice habits.

  • Wash first. Before you pick up your guitar, make sure you wash your hands. It's not a good idea to eat a meatball sandwich or a slice of pizza and place your greasy fingers on those pristine strings.
  • Wipe last. The last thing you should do before you put your guitar in your case is wipe it down with a clean cloth. If you don't, everything sitting on those strings will just corrode away until you pick the guitar up again for another practice session.
  • Keep it cased. It is better for the strings and the guitar to keep it safely stored in a case whenever you are not playing.
  • Notate the date. Whenever you change your strings, write down the date. Often, what seems like only weeks is actually months.
  • Spend the money. Don't settle — get the set of strings you really want. Cheaper strings will likely wear out faster anyway, so you won't actually be saving any money in the long run.
EXPERT TIP

Once you find a set of strings that you like, it's a good idea to order several sets at once. That way, you’ll never need to make an emergency run to the music store hoping to get there before it closes.


Staff  | BestReviews

Other products we considered

For your convenience, we found a few more good acoustic guitar string choices. First up is a kit from Benvo. It provides the beginner with everything needed to change strings along with some other extras: strings, guitar picks, a capo, a string winder, a pin puller, and an assortment of finger picks. If you prefer an extra-light gauge (.010 to .047), then Elixir Strings coated 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings will be a good bet. If you like your strings on the other end of the spectrum, Vibe Strings Phosphor Bronze set of heavy (.013 to .058) strings is a fine choice.

It is possible to mix different sets of strings on your guitar, but different string tensions will likely make the instrument more difficult to play and in some cases, it might even cause neck twisting issues.

FAQ

Q. How often should I change my guitar strings?
A.
There is no correct answer to this question. The more you play, the faster your strings will wear out. If you practice every day and perform on the weekends, you probably want to change your strings every week. If you play rather infrequently, you might be able to get three months out of a set. If the guitar sounds dull, the strings look dirty, or you can't remember the last time you changed your strings, you're probably due for a new set. No matter when you decide to change your strings, your first thought will likely be, "Why didn't I do this sooner? I sound great!"

Q. Is there anything that shortens the life of my strings?
A.
Yes, and it's usually not anything bad. For instance, if you play every day, your strings will wear out more quickly. Another reason might be loud/hard strumming or executing a lot of bends. If you frequently change the tuning, that might be responsible for a shorter string life. Another reason your strings might need to be changed more quickly is if you leave your guitar out of its case or bring it with you to a variety of different environments.

Q. What are coated strings?
A.
The oils in your fingers can damage your guitar strings. Coated strings provide protection from dirt, oils, and dead skin cells that build up and prematurely dull your tone. Coated strings are more expensive, but they last longer than uncoated strings. Some coated strings are colored.

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    Editorial Director
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