There may be no purer sound in this world than a single acoustic guitar playing a gorgeous tune. John Denver could pack in an audience to hear him ‘Fill Up Your Senses’, sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar. It is an amazing instrument that can showcase raw talent.
The only problem: it can showcase raw talent, i.e. if you’re rubbish, no amp or pedal effect can hide your disastrous playing. Even a seasoned player can sound bad if they do not have the right acoustic guitar strings attached.
If you are confused about what makes a good acoustic string, read on ahead my friend. In this post I will discuss the different brands of acoustic guitar strings, what’s different about acoustic strings and why you should always choose the right ones for you.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Quality Acoustic Guitar Strings On The Market
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It’s All About The Thickness
One of the first questions I was asked when looking for strings was, “What gauge do you want?” to which I had no clue what they were on about. The answer is very simple though, the gauge is just how thick you want the strings to be, which is usually measured in inches.
The gauge normally ranges from 0.08 to 0.6. For beginner acoustic players, or children, it is recommended to always go for the lighter strings as they are easier to play. For those wishing for a heavier or deeper sound, try the thicker strings.
What’s the Difference?
Why do I need acoustic strings, won’t my electric strings work?
To be honest, I know a few players that have placed electric strings on an acoustic guitar and noticed very little difference. However, in an acoustic guitar, the vibrations needed to hear the sound quality can be affected by which strings you purchase.
As electric guitar strings have a difference gauge level, this can allow a ‘tinny’ sound to erupt as soon as strings are plucked. It can, at times damage the guitar. Therefore, I would always suggest using acoustic strings on an acoustic guitar. Don’t go breaking your favourite instrument!
What makes quality acoustic guitar strings?
- Finding the thickness that suits your playing style is important. Those that finger pick the strings, tend to prefer the feel of lighter strings.
- Good quality material. Acoustic strings come in all sorts from bronze, stainless steel and nickel. They all have different sounds, so finding one you like is important.
- Lifespan: Various brands of acoustic strings all have their own lifespans. If you are an avid player who picks up their guitar every day, finding a reliable brand is important.
Our Favourite Acoustic Guitar Strings
1. D'Addario EJ16-3D
Any review you read about acoustic strings will most likely mention the D’Addario brand. The playability and lifespan of these strings are fantastic and are a bestseller for those wishing for a warm and bright acoustic sound. The EJ16 are a light gauge made for easier plucking.
- Made of phosphor bronze which helps to extend its lifespan.
- Light gauge which makes for easier playing, beginners will love this.
- Comes in an anti-corrosion package which gives them freshness.
- Lightness of the strings can be tough to install for those without nimble fingers.
- Lightness makes these easier to snap, not as hardy as heavier strings.
- One of the more expensive options as D’Addario is a popular brand.
Here's how they sound...
2. Elixir Light Nanoweb 80/20 (Editor's Choice)
Constructed with 80% copper and 20% zinc, this is another light string which produces a crisp, bright tone. This particular brand using a Nanoweb, ultra-thin coating which makes the strings feel more pleasant and traditionally textured when plucked.
- Special coating feels wonderful, the strings do feel better than others.
- Bright sound makes the acoustic tone cleaner than other strings.
- Great for players who like to finger pluck.
- Not as hard wearing or reliable as the D’Addario.
- Pro for me, but others haven’t liked the feel of the special coating on the strings.
- Took me two sets to find strings that suited me.
Here's how they sound...
3. Ernie Ball 2146 (Budget Choice)
If you wish for a heavier feel on your acoustic guitar, the Ernie Ball mediums will be just the ticket for you. The thicker gauge will allow for a rich, expressive sound that is favoured by many. The element shield packaging prolongs string life which makes for a greater lifespan.
- Favoured by players who love old rock and blues.
- A reliable brand, the strings last a long time.
- Quite well priced compared to other makes.
- Slightly more difficult to pluck, beginners can struggle with the thickness.
- Can be a fiddle to install these strings.
- Sound isn’t as clear or crisp as the lighter strings.
Here's how they sound...
4. John Pearse P3000
Another medium gauged string, the John Pearse strings are nickel plated to allow for greater lifespan. Feeling slightly thicker than the Ernie Balls, these strings are used with G tuning.
- Great lifespan, the John Pearse lasted me a lot of playing.
- Sounds best with a steel-body resonator.
- Gives a good ‘chunky’ acoustic sound.
- Quite heavy strings, need a quality guitar to play them.
- The John Pearse are expensive when compared to other brands.
- Packaging isn’t very good, I’ve had one set that were slightly rusted.
Here's how they sound...
5. D’Addario EJ18
For a heavy string set, you can’t go wrong with the EJ18s. The D’Addarios make another appearance in this list for good reason, they are an extremely popular brand with light and heavy gauges alike.
- Perfect for heavy strumming, flatpicking and experienced players.
- It’s projected tone is pretty much spot on. Often preferred for it’s warm, acoustic balanced sound.
- Consistent reliability, I’ve used this set twice and found the strings to last.
- Very heavy gauge, starting at 14. I wouldn’t recommend these for beginner players.
- With little coating, made from phosphor bronze, these strings do hurt my fingers after a length of time.
- Quite expensive, Ernie Ball strings are of a similar style and quite cheaper.
Take a listen to them...
Finding the best quality acoustic guitar string is a difficult search as every guitar player will have their own preferences. Personally, I like the Elixir Light Nanoweb as I love finger plucking and the coating feels awesome when playing.
Then I have a friend who loves rock and prefers playing his acoustic with the heavier gauged Ernie Ball strings attached. How you play and what type of songs you love will affect the strings you purchase.
The five brands mentioned in this post are what I believe to be the best quality acoustic guitar strings around. They are popular brands for a reason, quality materials and a good lifespan make these my top picks for quality acoustic strings.
What strings do you use? Drop me a comment below and let me know!
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.