Tone ’em Up: Acoustic Strings Edition

Changing your string type is a simple way to explore new kinds of sounds and moods. And it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new guitar (though not nearly as fun.)

Here are three sets of strings that earned high marks from reviewers. As I have remarked about with electric strings, I suggest getting a few sets of strings and experimenting.

Acoustic strings generally have steel cores: it’s the winding that differs. They tend to be bronze which delivers a warm tone with a longer sustain or 80/20 bronze/zinc which sound a bit brighter but lose some sustain. I’ll include a coated set of strings since I personally like them and they seem to last longer.

As to the gauge of the string, that depends on how you play. Finger stylists might like a lighter gauge, flat pickers a heavier one. My advice? Try ’em out and see.

Here are three top-rated strings to give you a good starting point.

1. D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Light Acoustic Guitar Strings $4.79

D’Addarios are adored by some of the world’s top players and it’s easy to hear why. They sound great. This set is known for delivering a “warm, bright and balanced tone.” That’s pretty good stuff. Technically, these strings have a hexagonal core and a computer controls the wrapping of the phosphor bronze.

18 reviewers gave these D’Addarios a 4.1 rating, and in multi-packs the ratings go even higher. One reviewer thought the strings sounded “harsh and twangy” but then added “that’s an opinion, I guess.” No question, dude. That’s an opinion.

D'Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Strings

2. Elixir Nanoweb Medium Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings $15.29

Elixirs start with a steel core, are wound with phosphor bronze then sheathed in a thin polymer coating. The coating gives the strings a natural feel while resisting the gunk and funk that works between the windings and kills your tone. This is a medium set, so the first string starts with a .013 gauge and works to a .056 gauge on the 6th.

24 reviewers gave these Elixirs a 4.8 rating. One reviewer groused that he broke the D string within two weeks. When that happened to me, I called Elixir and they sent me a replacement set and asked me to return the broken string so they could learn from it. It never hurts to ask.

Elixir Nanoweb Medium Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings


3. D’Addario EJ18 PB Heavy Acoustic Guitar Strings Set $6.99

D’Addarios are beloved so when you look for top-rated strings, they are at the top of the pile. This phosphor bronze set aims to bring warm, bright and balanced tone to your axe in the heaviest gauge. That means your first string is .014 and your sixth string is .059. If you bring a heavy hand or rock an archtop, these guys should hold up.

Eleven reviewers gave these D’Addarios 4.9 stars. That’s pretty close to perfect.

D'Addario EJ18 PB Heavy Acoustic Guitar Strings Set


Experiment. Have fun. See what works and what doesn’t. I’d love to hear how it turns out for you.

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