All of us know that the guitar has a body. But do you know a guitar also has a soul? Every guitar has a soul, but most importantly an acoustic guitar. What is a guitar’s soul? Its strings. It is the set of 6 strings on your guitar that originally produces the sound, and then the body does the labor to amplify, superimpose and deliver it. A guitar is nothing but a piece of wood without the strings; a piece of wood that is of absolutely no use. It is only with the right set of strings that you can achieve your perfect tone. Yes, the body, the fretboard, the playing, all these factors come into play too; but what tops the list is the strings. There are a million and one types of strings for an acoustic guitar available out there and all of them are made for a different type of sound. There are strings that are brighter and sharper, but then there are some which are mellow and soft. There are strings that have a natural reverb to them and then there are also some strings that are dry. There are strings that give beautiful sustains so that the notes superimpose on each other while playing, but there are also strings that play on hit. All such differences make these strings different from each other, and a great option for a specific type of sound. If you want a mellow, warm, sustaining sound on your acoustic guitar and you are playing a dry set of strings (even on drop D or DADGAD), they are not going to sound like the tone in your head. There is a time that musicians invest in exploring their style of music and then exploring the perfect set of strings that will suit their playing the best.
Guitar strings are made with different combinations of metal alloys. The center wire, which is also called the core wire, is made of steel. Steel is an alloy with 90% iron and 10% carbon. There are two types of cores: a rounded core and a hexagonal core. A rounded core, which is the more common of the two, produces a brighter sound. The hexagonal core, however, produces a warmer, vintage-like sound. This core is wrapped with another wire that is basically the skin that you press against the fretboard. You can usually see the core and the wrapping separately at the upper ends of the strings. This wrapping is also of two types: The Phosphor Bronze and the 80/20 Bronze. The Phosphor Bronze is made of bronze with phosphor added to the alloy. This will give a warmer sound. The 80/20 Bronze means 80% Copper and 20% Zinc have been used to make that Bronze. This coating will sound brighter than the one mentioned earlier. The lower 3 strings, however, do not have this coating. More often than not, the lower 3 strings are plain steel, similar to strings on an electric guitar. All these 6 strings have a brass end, which is called the ball end. The ball end is the end that goes into and fixes in your bridge. Some strings also have a coating above them. This gives more life to strings but also increases cost. So, some brands do it and others do not, depending on which target audience they are trying to tap.
All the brands have different techniques and technologies to manufacture strings, and it is because of this they sound so different from each other. All of them have their pros and cons. At the end of the day, it is up to the musician to make the best choice. And for that, you need a great understanding of the features and characteristics of strings. To make things easier for you, we have compiled a list here of the best available sets of strings in the market right now. All the mentioned string sets have been discussed and deciphered in detail so that you have a precise understanding of what suits your music best. This will help you in making a wise, informed decision.
Top 10 Best Acoustic Guitar Strings 2020 Reviews
1. Elixir 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
The first time you realize you need to change your strings and you start researching, Elixir will probably be the first option someone would recommend you. There is no brand above Elixir in string-making. The quality, the life, the sound, everything is basically out of this freaking world.
To prove that, let us get into the strings more. So, there are two reasons due to which a set of strings can lose their vibrance. First of those reasons is the moisture your fingers deposit on the strings. As you keep playing them, the moisture keeps clogging on the strings. Secondly, the strings corrode. This can happen otherwise, or as a consequence of the moisture. But what happens is the strings on your guitar lose their tone. That is like the number one reason why you need to change your strings frequently.
Elixir introduced their full “coated” technology to tackle these issues. The entire strings are coated with an “invisible”. The coating is there, but you will never feel anything while you play them. Elixir calls this the Nanoweb coating. It is so thin that they gave it a “nano” prefix. With this coating, the strings do not corrode, and consequently, the life of the strings increases. So, you will get your desired tone for way longer than normal strings. Moreover, these strings do not even “squeak” as much as normal strings. Again, that is because of the Nanoweb coating they have.
This one is not a Phosphor Bronze set. It is an 80/20 Bronze set. Hence, the tone is brighter and a little sharper, like the standard acoustic tone.
2. Elixir 80/20 Bronze Polyweb Coating Acoustic Guitar Strings
Here we are with another set from Elixir. Their level of manufacturing premium products has already been mentioned so let’s not go into that. We have already kind of established that Elixir is top of the line.
Polyweb is an older technology than Nanoweb. Elixir produced Polyweb before they created Nanoweb, which is pretty recent. Polyweb, in essence, is a little thicker coating than Nanoweb. Thick enough that the player’s fingers will feel a certain coating over the strings while playing the guitar. However, that is nothing to be worried about. It does not hurt the tone of the guitar. In fact, it gives it the classic Elixir “warm” tone. It is more subtle, while the Nanoweb coating sounds bright, like most acoustic guitar strings. So, the Polyweb coated strings have a tone entirely different from the Nanoweb coating. Other qualities of this coating are exactly the same as Nanoweb’s.
More importantly, this highlights how significant it is to check before you buy. If you are convinced to get an Elixir set for your guitar, you need to be sure what kind of sound do you want. If you want a bright sound, go for the newer, Nanoweb coating. But if you are fond of a warmer, more subtle tone, go for the older, Polyweb coating.
3. Martin Acoustic Guitar Body M540
If they ace guitar-making, they should also win the strings race. And well, they almost do. Just like their beautiful guitars, they also make sets of strings that are brilliant. This one specifically, the M540, is a Phosphor Bronze set. Phosphor Bronze is already for its natural, soft tone and when it is made by Martin, it is ought to be the best of its kind.
The best part of the Phosphor Bronze set is the versatility. Whether you are in a gig or a studio, indoors or outdoors, these strings will never let anything affect their tone. They will sound as crisp and beautiful in a gig as in a studio. Hence, this is one set that serves all the purposes.
This particular set is also a bit flexible, even with higher gauges. This characteristic gives them a natural vibrato while you play because they bend very easily. They might not have as long a life as the coated strings, but for some guitarists, the tone matters more than the durability. They are okay with changing their strings often, but they can’t compromise on the tone. And this set definitely has a better tone than coated strings.
4. Martin Acoustic Guitar Strings MM12
There was a specific type of strings Martin used to establish back in the 70s. These strings had a nickel alloy, and the sound was one of its kind. As years passed, the bronze and steel strings started getting more popularity. Martin jumped into that and stopped making the nickel alloy string set.
However, when they could not find any replacement for that unique sound over the decades, Martin decided to come back to it. The result was the MM12 set of strings. MM12 is made with a similar nickel alloy that Martin introduced back in the days and has the same unique tone. Why would one call it unique? It is the best fusion of brightness and warmness. It is the best middle-ground between two contrasting sounds. So much so that nobody could replicate the sound in so many years.
However, the uniqueness can be good and bad both. It should come as no surprise to you when the strings buzz. It is how they are made. They serve a specific sound texture and the sharpness is a part of it. Their tone was supposed to be cut-through and that is what it is. Also, it is pretty technical to set the strings right. A little error in the action, for instance, will result in a not-so-mellow sound.
This set is a set for professional players. This is for players who precisely know what sound they want from their instrument and who also know how to handle strings with precision and great care. The price, however, is not that high. They cost more or less like other sets of strings.
5. Ernie Ball 2146 Earthwood Medium Light Acoustic String
Ernie Ball is the only company that started small against the big giants and finally did make their name! Ernie Ball, the guy, knew exactly what musicians need. He knew some needs that were not being fulfilled by the companies and had a design in mind. He tried approaching big brands like Fender and Gibson, but all of them turned him away. With all that disappointment, he started manufacturing his design himself and they were available only at his shop in Los Angeles. Time went by and Ernie Ball transitioned from a guy with a shop to a company!
This particular set is known as Earthwood. It is steel alloy wire covered with Phosphor Bronze that gives it the subtle touch. The best part about it is its balance. It is called a medium-light set. It is not light and not even medium; it is a mixture of two. This is probably why the higher frequencies in this set are bright, while the lower frequencies are deep and resonant. Also, there is this natural sustain these strings have. They just ring in the body longer than normal strings and honestly, it is beautiful. They might take a day or two to settle with your guitar but once they do, they are going to prove that they are the best choice. A lot of professional musicians use this set and it is said that these strings perform great in the studio, on stage, at a camp bonfire, and basically everywhere.
6. Ernie Ball Earthwood Rock and Blues 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Set
It is obvious that Phosphor Bronze is not a solution for every guitar player and every genre. Having that said, Ernie Ball just had to release their 80/20 version of the Earthwood that is originally Phosphor Bronze. In this set, the strings are 80% copper and 20% zinc. This is obviously the coating; the core wire is steel but a different kind of steel. It is tin-plated steel and not just plain steel. The 80/20 coating and the tin plating on a steel core wire might have already told you the brightness, the “ring” it has.
This brightness is very well thought of. This particular set is developed by Ernie Ball specifically for players who play blues and rock on acoustic guitars. These guys need a certain type of crispy sound that also resonates and has a decent sustain. Those are the exact features this set of strings has.
The particularity of this set is so much that the G string is plain. Some people also prefer calling it unwound. This unwound G makes it easier for the guitarist to bend strings even while playing a chord. All of us are aware of the importance of bends and smoothness in general when you are playing any of the two aforementioned genres, especially blues.
This is a set of lightweight strings, so it needs a certain level of care while installing and otherwise too. Right after getting installed in your guitar, they might sound too sharp. But once they settle, they will perform beautifully on a mic, on a plugged guitar, and unplugged as well. The tone is also extremely balanced. The lows and mids are pretty warm and the highs are a little bright, making these strings an all-rounder kind of choice.
7. D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
You knew it. You knew it since the list begun that D’Addario is going to come sooner or later. But the point is, D’Addario’s name did not come with a run-of-the-mill string set. It came with EXP16 and this one is quite different than what D’Addario usually makes.
It is a set that has Phosphor Bronze coating. Needless to say, the natural softness and resonance of these strings will be quite different than an average D’Addario sound. The core wire in this set is made of steel. Above that steel wire comes the Phosphor Bronze coating. And even above this coating comes another layer of EXP. The Phosphor Bronze coating gives it the warmth and then the additional layer of EXP keeps the strings from corroding. It is a preventive measure essentially, but it also adds to the tone. EXP layer makes the tone even warmer and softer. Additionally, the coatings and the steel quality of the core wire give the strings a commendable strength. They do not break that easily and they also do not lose their tuning that easily.
With the extra coating of EXP, the strings might feel a little heavy to some players. But to tackle this, D’Addario has manufactured this string set in multiple gauges. So, you can choose a lower gauge and things will get smooth. Nevertheless, EXP16 is made for mellow playing and not hard strums.
8. D’Addario EJ17 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
So, the previous variant had a coating. If there is one major reason someone might not choose the previously mentioned set, it is the coating only. You think D’Addario did not know that? They most certainly did. Which is the reason why they made another variant: the EJ17.
The EJ17 is more or less like the EXP16 with just one major difference; it does not have the coating. This changes a few things in its features. Firstly, the strings have the right resonance, the right crunch, and they are a little brighter than EXP16. Secondly, the shifting might feel smoother to some guitarists. However, these strings are a little heavier than EXP16. Why so? Because they are not really made for mellow, open chord feel only. They are made to endure hard strums. Hence, if you are a player that does rhythms and uses a lot of power chords, this set is the right choice for you.
9. Vibe Acoustic Guitar String Set, Phosphor Bronze
These guys are comparatively newer in the acoustic guitar strings market compared to some players that were mentioned earlier. Hence, it is understandable that it is hard to trust them. But, let us get into the details of their strings.
So, this particular set of strings they make are Phosphor Bronze. Just like other string sets, the strings are steel at the core, covered by a coating of Phosphor Bronze. However, there is a small value addition. The coating has not been done just like that. It is a vacuum coating. Meaning, the Phosphor Bronze coating is done in a vacuum so that no particles of dust or moisture can come between the steel core and the coating. While it appears to be a small change, it is big in sound. The quality of the strings speaks for itself.
Because of the vacuum coating, the resonance of these strings is brilliant. They have this natural sustain to them and the sound is right in between warmth and brightness. It is not too subtle, but not too sharp either. They are medium gauge can pretty easily pull off plucking and heavy strumming, both.
10. DR Strings VTA-13 Veritas Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
Other brands usually use a coating of sorts to give their strings a longer life. But that is not the case here. The VTA-13 is a string set that is made on entirely new technology. It is Veritas’ patent technology and they call it Accurate Core Technology, aka ACT.
ACT is a technology that focuses on making the core of the string stronger which will give the complete string a great strength. They do not use any sort of coating for that. Veritas claims that the ACT makes their strings up to 4 times stronger than normal strings! Now, if you are a guitarist who has a problem with coatings, this is your solution. Some people feel that the sound of coated strings is artificial, but they also want a long life for their strings. This is exactly the solution they need.
Not only that, but the strings also stay in tune for long. They do not lose their tuning that easily. Also, they have a great balanced tone. The higher ends are brighter, and the lower ends are warmer. Hence, this can be a great option if a guitarist plays solos and chords both.
It might not be an easy task to choose the best strings for you. The primary thing you should keep in mind is the tone. The strings you’re getting should deliver the exact tone you want. For that, you will first have to decide between coated or uncoated strings. Uncoated strings have a brighter sound while coated strings might sound warmer. Secondly, the choice between Phosphor Bronze and 80/20 matters a lot for the same reason. Phosphor Bronze is usually warmer and 80/20 is brighter. Moreover, the gauge also makes a difference. Higher gauges have subtle tones and they might be more resonant than lower gauges. The gauge, therefore, will also affect your tone. They also matter because lighter gauges don’t really go well with heavy strumming. You might want to with greater gauges for strumming and lighter gauges for plucking and soloing. Once all these three factors have been put into consideration and the perfect choice is made, you will have to check the price and brand. If you’re low on budgets you might have to compromise on the brand. Smaller brands obviously might not deliver as good quality as well-known brands. So, it’s more like a trade-off.