Choosing the right acoustic guitar strings.

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Choosing the right strings for your Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitar strings come in many varieties and gauges.  We have put together this guide in attempt to share our views with you and hopefully help you choose the correct strings for your instrument.

There are so many different gauges and manufacturers to choose from you can often find yourself confused as to what to use on your acoustic.  I for one have tried hundreds of brands and gauges on various acoustics to achieve that great playability and tone that is swimming around somewhere in the outer bounds of my minds ear.  Often the only way to find the ultimate strings that suit your instrument is to give them a try but this can be quite costly so hopefully sharing our experience with strings will help you reduce the expenditure and stumble across the strings of your liking relatively quickly.


There are many gauges to choose from but we will concentrate on the most recognised for the Acoustic guitar.  There are essentially four main popular gauges to choose from.  A word about gauges.  It seems that Tone and playability work against each other in terms of guitar strings.  Let me explain.  The heaviest gauge strings often produce the fullest, loudest and most vibrant tone and have excellent tuning stability.  But the tension on these also offers the worst in terms of how easy your guitar is to play.  So often choosing the right string gauge is a compromise between playability and achieving the best possible tone without having to invest in a Arni schwarzenegger hand transplant. 

Extra light guage 10-46

These are one of the lightest gauges available for acoustic steel string.  They are the easiest to play and have the least tension.  Really great for Electro acoustic guitar where the acoustic tone and projection is not ultra important and is outweighed by the need to have an instrument that will not cause your hand muscles to cramp after the first three songs.  These tend to be too loose for our liking on standard acoustic guitars and have a thinner sound with a tendency to fret rattle on some instruments.

Custom Light guage 11-52

We like this gauge since it suits a lot of instruments and retains the ease of playability due to the tension not being too high.  The tone is good and they can be used on both electro acoustics and small bodied acoustic guitars.  (Never use steel strings on a classical guitar, you need nylon for those).

Light gauge 12-54

This is the most popular gauge used in the professional music industry.  The strings of this gauge offer a full tone with excellent projection.  The tension is about right on a well set up instrument but can be a problem if you have a budget guitar or the instrument is set with a relatively high action.  The tuning stability is much better on this gauge than the lighter gauges we discussed earlier.

Medium gauge 13-56

This is the fattest and heaviest gauge of string.  Offering the biggest tone and projection and the best tuning stability.  However there are a lot of guitars that simply will not take the tension of this gauge of string and they become very hard to play.  Some instrument manufacturers, particularly on the smaller bodied parlour size and finger style guitars warn against using this heavier gauge of string since the high tension can cause damage to some instruments.  We are not quite sure why the string industry chooses to name these Medium gauge since it is one of the heaviest gauges and most high tension string available.  This can be confusing and lead to wrong choice to some beginners.  I remember buying a medium set for my first guitar.  Once I attempted to string it up to concert pitch the action at the 12th fret measured over 10mm and the guitar was impossible to play.  Having said that, on a high end dreadnought set up correctly this gauge can sound awesome.



Definitely our favourite for all round tone and playability.  We favour the phosphor bronze strings.  We find these tend to be warmer sounding than the 80/20 bronze but the tone lasts longer.  Where as the 80/20 strings start off sounding brighter but do not retain the bright new sound for very long.  The phosphor bronze strings tend to be a little more expensive than the 80/20 bronze.  D'Addario now produce a coated string which is said to last many times longer.  The wrap wire is coated with a microscopic polymer layer which stops sweat and grease from deteriorating the strings quite so quickly.  They call these the EXP series strings.  We found the EXP strings excellent.  the tone is almost identical to the non coated strings in either Phosphor bronze or 80/20 but the 'new' tone seems to last forever.


Martin produce various types of acoustic string.  We favour the SP (Studio Performer) series of string that they produce.  These strings use a brass electro plating on the non wound strings (even the steel string that is the outer winding is wound onto is electro plated).  The strings have a softer tone than the D'addario and produce pleasing harmonics and overtones.  Again these come in Phosphor bronze and 80/20.  They have also just release a finger style version which have slightly more flexibility. less tension and are great for finger picking.


These are the original coated strings.  We found these very bright sounding with reasonable tone.  These strings retain the 'new' tone for a very long time.  However we found them lacking in bass when fitted on our Taylor test guitar and particularly when compared to a similar gauge in the D'Addario range.  Taylor use these as stock for their instruments.  A high quality string that lasts a long time. 

Well that's it for now.  We hope you have found this guide useful, and informative.  You can see our range of strings at


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