Your Guide to Buying Strings for an Acoustic Guitar

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Your Guide to Buying Strings for an Acoustic Guitar

The strings on an acoustic guitar affect its tone and playability. There are a number of different strings available, each producing characteristic sounds and with different benefits.

About Strings for an Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitars are string instruments played in various musical genres. As members of the chordophone family, they are related to instruments such as violins and harps, and similar to these instruments, sound is produced by the mechanism of vibrating and resonating strings.
There are various types of acoustic guitar. These fall into two broad categories: classical or nylon strung guitars and steel string guitars. Classical guitars are usually strung with six nylon strings and the shape can vary, modern classical guitars having a typical guitar shape. They are used in classical music genres such as flamenco.

Steel string guitars have a typical guitar shape and six steel strings. They are used in many music genres, including pop and rock. Sub-types include small bodied acoustic guitars and larger dreadnaught guitars. Acoustic bass guitars have four strings.

Choosing Strings for an Acoustic Guitar

The type of guitar is the most basic consideration when purchasing strings. Further considerations include gauge, or tension, type of material, structure, quality and price.

String Type

The two different types of guitar have different strings. Classical guitars have nylon strings, which give the guitar a softer sound. Nylon strings have a lower tension which makes them easier to play than steel strings, but their elasticity makes them more difficult to tune.

The steel strings of steel string guitars produce a sound that is both louder and fuller bodied than that of nylon strings. They have a higher tension which can make them harder to play, at least initially.

Nylon and steel strings have different tensions, so always use the right string for the right guitar. Using steel strings on a classical guitar will damage the instrument.

Steel Strings

Factors to consider when purchasing steel strings include gauge, material, and type of winding.


Steel strings are available in various gauges, or diameters, which in turn indicate the string’s weight. The amount of tension required when playing heavier strings is greater, so they are more difficult to play. However, greater gauges also produce sounds with louder and fuller sounds. They are also often easier to tune. It can, therefore, be necessary to weigh up a string’s ease of playing against its quality of tone. String gauges are typically measured in inches. There are four standard gauges for steel strings.

Extra light gauge

.010 - .046

The thinnest and lightest gauge available. They have the least tension and are the easiest to play. However, they can also feel slack due to the lack of tension and can be prone to fret buzz. The sound is thinner with less volume.
Extra light gauge strings are sometimes considered too thin for standard acoustic guitars, but they are recommended for use with electro acoustic guitars where tone is not as important. They may also be used with delicate vintage instruments.


Custom light gauge

.011 - .056

Popular strings with a good balance between playability and tone. The tension is not too great and they have more tone than extra light gauge strings.
Custom light gauges are especially recommended for use with small bodied acoustic guitars and electro acoustic guitars. They are also suitable for plucking playing styles.


Light gauge

.012 - .054

The gauge most used by professional musicians. Strings have excellent tone and projection and they also have better tuning stability.
Light gauges are popularly used for standard acoustic guitars.


Medium gauge

.013 - 0.56

The widest and heaviest gauge available. They have the most tension and are the hardest to play. They also have the best tone and projection, the greatest volume and the best tuning stability.
Especially recommended for use with dreadnaught guitars. With small bodied guitars they should be used with caution, if at all, as they may cause damage to the instrument.



Guitar strings may either be plain strings, which are solid threads, or wound strings, which have more than one thread. Plain strings for acoustic guitars are made with a metal alloy for strong resonance. The three main types of wound string are made from bronze, phosphor and silk, and steel, and they are outlined in the table below. The type of string will depend on required sound and playing style, but qualities to look for include nice tone, good volume, and durability.

Bronze wound strings

Made with 80 per cent copper and 20 per cent zinc so often referred to as 80/20 bronze. They are popular strings, used for all playing styles. The sound is bright and warm when new but can fade quite quickly, producing a more mellow sound on older strings. Recommended for recording and for beginners.


Phosphor bronze wound strings

Bronze strings with phosphor added to the alloy. They are popular and used for all styles. The sound is warmer and longer lasting than that of bronze strings. Recommended for beginners.


Silk and steel wound strings

Unwrapped strings are made of plain steel and wrapped strings are made from a steel core surrounded by nylon and silver plated brass. The sound is softer and mellower, suited to more classical playing styles. The tension is lesser, volume quieter and the strings not as long lasting. Recommended for vintage guitars requiring specialist light gauge strings.


Many strings have an ultra thin coating applied to the surface which helps to retain tone and protect against corrosion. They are sometimes available in different colours and are typically more expensive than standard strings.

Type of Winding

Wound strings have three basic structures – round wound, half round wound, and flat round.

Round wound strings

The most common strings. They are the most round and the roughest. They have a bright tone with the most squeak.


Half round wound strings

Less round and smoother than round wound strings. They have a less bright tone and less squeak than round wound strings.


Flat round strings

The flattest and smoothest strings. The tone is mellower and they have the least squeak of all three types.


Nylon Strings

The three higher strings on classical guitars are made of nylon, while the three lower strings have a nylon core but are also wound with nickel or silver. The metal winding adds weight to allow for lower tuning and enables the string to be thinner than it would otherwise need to be.

Tension is one of the primary considerations when purchasing nylon strings. Tension is determined by the gauge, as with steel strings, but nylon strings are more often described in this way.

Low-tension strings

Popular and versatile strings. Recommended for beginners.


Normal-tension strings

Popular and versatile strings. Recommended for beginners.


High-tension strings

More resistant strings, producing a stronger tone.


Extra high-tension strings

More resistant strings, producing a stronger tone. Can be used for producing percussive sounds in flamenco.


String Quality and Price

Strings vary in quality, but it is not necessary to buy top-quality strings to produce a good sound. Cheaper strings can produce very decent sounds. It is worth doing some research into the type of strings used by certain bands if their kind of sound is to be imitated.

Vintage Guitars

Vintage guitars may require specific strings, and certainly lighter strings are often a good idea if the instrument is particularly fragile. Consult the manufacturer, seller or an expert if there are any queries.

Find Strings for an Acoustic Guitar on eBay

Finding relevant listings for acoustic guitar strings on eBay can be done by following through the category menus. Go to the eBay home page and scroll over All Categories on the left. Click on Musical Instruments. Scroll down to Guitars and select Accessories. Under Item Type select Strings and under To Fit Guitar select Acoustic. Specific brands can be selected if desired, and the condition and price range can also be specified. Alternatively, to carry out a direct search, go to the top of the page. Enter terms such as “acoustic guitar strings”, “phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings” or “nylon guitar strings” and press Search.


Steel string acoustic guitars used in pop music, rock music, and other genres have steel strings. Classical acoustic guitars have nylon strings. It is important to always use the right string on the right guitar. Steel string guitar strings are available in four different basic gauges, which affect their tone and playability, as well as the instruments they are suited for. The three main types of steel string are bronze, phosphor bronze and silk and steel wound strings. The method of winding also affects sound quality. Decent-quality strings need not cost a fortune and can be found simply and quickly.

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