The acoustic guitar is a very transparent instrument – what you play is what you hear. There’s not a lot of digital effects to hide behind. So choosing the best acoustic guitar strings is important.
Now, you can go down the rabbit hole of obscure acoustic guitar string choices. I’ve done that, and even written a bit about it.
You can also go a little crazy trying to analyze the perfect string gauge, produced by the perfect manufacturer, made from the perfect materials… but most of us don’t have the time or money to do that, much less buy and test all the combinations.
So we’re going to provide you here with the top five acoustic guitar strings that players actually use. All of these recommended strings are great-sounding, general purpose strings. They are perfect for everything from bluegrass to rock, from strumming to fingerpicking.
Two quick notes on this list:
- This list is focused on “steel string” acoustic guitars. Those are the most common, and the kind used across rock, bluegrass, modern, pop, etc. Classical guitars (also used in flamenco and folk, commonly) use nylon strings. That’s a different list for another time.
- This list is based on customer popularity and customer reviews. These are the strings favored by tens of thousands of happy players.
Top 5 Best Acoustic Guitar Strings
1. Elixir Strings 16545 Acoustic Phosphor Bronze Guitar Strings with NANOWEB Coating
String Gauges: .012 .016 .024 .032 .042 .053
Elixir Strings became popular by putting a custom, Teflon PFT (Polytetrafluoroethylene) coating over the standard bronze-wound guitar string. This coating protects the metal from the sweat and oils on your fingers, which means the strings don’t corrode and lose their brightness as quickly. They quickly became popular because strings simply lasted longer, and sounded better over that extended lifetime.
The latest version of their coating is “NANOWEB”, which simply implies it’s a thinner coating. This creates a more natural feeling on the string and allows more brightness in the tone.
This particular set of Elixir Strings is the bees knees and used by a LOT of players.
2. D’Addario EJ16-3D Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings, Light Tension
String Gauges: Plain Steel .012, .016, Phosphor Bronze Wound .024, .032, .042, .053
D’Addario is a classic name in guitar strings, with an extensive selection for acoustic, electric and more. These strings (the EJ16-3D Phosphor Bronze) are their most popular strings for acoustic guitar.
Unlike the Elixir’s, these strings are not coated, so they are the more traditional string choice for acoustic guitars. This is the same basic type of string that players have been using for decades and decades.
The D’Addarios strike a sweet spot between playability and tone. Their light gauge and lack of coating make the touch and responsiveness ideal. And their Made-In-The-USA quality provide a warm, bright, even tone.
3. Martin SP Acoustic Guitar Strings – Light (MSP 4100) Phosphor Bronze 92/8
String Gauges: .01, .016 .025 .032 .042 .054
C. F. Martin & Company is known for it’s amazing, classic acoustic guitars. They are the ‘go-to’ guitar choice for acoustic players from all styles. They also, however, happen to make some great strings.
The Light SP strings are similar to the D’Addarios’ in that they are not coated. They are a standard, bronze-wound acoustic guitar string. The metal is a 92/8 composition alloy. Martin describes the alloy this way:
“One of the two most popular “flavors” of guitar strings (the other being 80/20 BRONZE), 92/8 Phosphor Bronze refers to the 92% copper/8% tin composition of the alloy of the wrap wire. In this case, it is the phosphor in the tin that gives this alloy its name.”
The reviews on these strings are great, though. Players seem really impressed with the sound, citing their brilliance and tone.
*Also available as a 3-Pack.
4. D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings, Light, (12-53)
String Gauges: Plain Steel .012, .016, Phosphor Bronze Wound .024, .032, .042, .053.
D’Addario got into the coated-string game with this series of EXP16 strings. The difference is that D’Addario coats the thin wire, and THEN winds it around the string core. Elixir’s, on the other hand, wind the string and then coat the exterior. D’Addario (and some players) would say that the coat-and-then-wind process ensures greater corrosion protection and less flaking off of the coating, resulting in overall longer string life.
5. Ernie Ball 2146 Earthwood Medium Light Acoustic Phosphor Bronze String Set (12 – 54)
String Gauges: .011 .015 .022w .030 .042 .052
Ernie Ball is another classic name in guitar strings, with a huge presence in the electric guitar world. And it turns out they make some great acoustic strings also.
These Earthwood Medium Lights are uncoated, have a slightly thicker bass (.054) than the other string sets we’ve highlighted, and also use the 92/8 “phosphor” alloy mentioned above. You’ll see these all over players in the blues, rock, and pop world.View on Amazon
*Also available as a 3-Pack.