The best acoustic guitar strings depends on your experience, playing style, and sound you want to achieve. It is subjective. But there are three brands that I suggest: Ernie Ball, Elixir, and D’Addarrio. I will review each and provide you with their pros and cons. First, though, let’s understand the different types of strings for acoustics.
There are 80/20 bronze strings, which are 80% bronze and 20% zinc, or phosphor bronze strings — the same strings, but coated with phosphor so that they last longer.
There are also silk and steel strings, which produce less tension so they are good for vintage guitars.
If you are looking for a bright sound that fades away a little quicker, 80/20 bronze strings would be a good fit. But if you want a warmer sound, then go with the phosphor coated bronze strings.
The silk and steel strings tend to have a quieter sound and are easier to play. Unfortunately though, they also happen to be less durable and quieter.
Ernie Ball acoustic strings
Ernie Ball has their own line of acoustic guitar strings known as “Earthwood Acoustic Guitar Strings”. These are the typical 80/20 bronze strings and most stores carry them in light gauges or what Ernie Ball refers to as “Rock and Blues guitar” strings, which come in gauge sizes: 10-13-17-30-42-52. The Earthwood Light pack comes in gauge sizes: 11-15-22w-30-42-52. Neither of these string packs are expensive, typically costing about $5 per pack. They are good starter strings for beginners, especially since the gauge sizes aren’t so wide in diameter as other types of strings.
But if you are a bit more experienced and don’t have any issues with bending, your priority is probably durability. More experienced acoustic guitar players typically go for Elixir acoustic guitar strings. This brand tends to focus more on acoustic strings than standard guitar strings. But they carry strings for electric guitars, bass guitars, and mandolins as well. Still, their greatest variety of products is in acoustic guitar strings.
Elixir guitar strings
Elixir has different versions of acoustic guitar strings. You need to distinguish between “Nanoweb” and “Polyweb” strings, on top of whether they are regular 80/20 bronze strings or phosphor bronze strings. Both strings have a polymer tubing that touches only the winding. However, the Nanoweb strings are coated more lightly and feel like “naked”, traditional strings. The Polyweb strings have a heavier coating in order to protect them from damage and to give them a more balanced tone and eliminate finger squeaking when playing. Choosing which kind of strings are right for you boils down to whether you are going for a more traditional tone, or if you find yourself having issues with unwanted squeaking or durability.
Elixir Light Nanoweb guitar strings are excellent for beginners because of the lighter gauges, but they aren’t too light either, so it helps the player to build up some bending strength. They’re 80/20 bronze strings with light coating. These strings come in gauge sizes 12-16-24-32-42-53. They have a bright and lively tone because of the light coating. They’re not exactly inexpensive strings however, being around the middle price range for strings (about $13 per pack). But they will last the player longer than cheaper guitar strings, as long as the player intends to play in standard tuning. That’s why they would be good for beginners though, because beginners don’t necessarily need to experiment with alternative tuning.
Elixir Light Nanoweb Phosphor bronze strings are just like Elixir Light Nanoweb strings, except for they have that coating of phosphor that helps with squeaking. They have the same gauge size, the same light Nanoweb coating, but they are made with phosphor. These strings would be good for beginners who are being driven crazy with finger squeaking, because of the phosphor, but they also have that more traditional sound because they don’t have the Polyweb coating. These are also $13 per pack and extremely durable. These strings will also have that warmer tone that comes with the phosphor coating.
There are other gauge sizes of Nanoweb strings, such as extra light and light medium. There are also phosphor bronze nanoweb strings. The phosphor bronze nanoweb strings are great for players looking for a traditional sounding string that doesn’t have a lot of heavy coating, but that also has a warmer tone. For more experienced players who strum and pick a little harder and want to play around with tuning, the extra lights and lights might be a little too thin in diameter to withstand a lot of that. They’d probably wear out pretty quickly. The light mediums though, should last a while and most players seem the happiest with them.
The Elixir Polyweb strings come in extra light, light, medium, and light top/medium bottom. The popular verdict among players on these strings is that they have a great, crisp tone. But the coating that creates such a tone doesn’t last very long, depending on how frequently or how roughly you play. The Polyweb strings are around $15 and for that kind of money, you expect the tone you were wanting to last a bit longer than a month or two. The advice I get on forums and in reviews is not to blow your money on the special coating and just stick to the Nanoweb strings because the Polyweb doesn’t last long enough to justify the price.
If you’re looking for acoustic strings for a vintage guitar, experts seem to agree that for some more delicate models, silk and steel strings would be the best fit. 80/20 bronze strings create too much tension for some smaller body models, so silk and steel strings would be a good avenue to go. But the major complaint with silk and steel strings is that they are too quiet and they don’t last very long. But if you have bending issues or just tender fingertips, these would be good strings for you because they are very light. On the other hand, if you play somewhat rough, these strings would probably break rather quickly.
D’Addario and Martin guitar strings
Silk and steel guitar strings are also very hard to find. D’Addario makes a model of silk and steel strings called EJ40’s and are sold through their website, http://www.daddario.com.
I also found a pack of Martin M130 silk and guitar strings on Amazon and on the Guitar Center website after searching specifically for “Silk and steel guitar strings”. The Martin M130 silk and steel seem to be what musicians go for when they want to try out this type of string, or out of necessity because they play a vintage model.