Best Sounding Acoustic Guitar Strings
All guitarists have been there. It’s time to change the strings on your acoustic guitar, and you are staring blankly at a wall of various types and sizes of guitar strings wondering which ones to get. The task is daunting because there are so many choices for the best sounding acoustic guitar stings. You don’t want to get just any old set, you want to get the right set for your acoustic guitar.
Your guitar strings determine the quality of your sound, how easy it will be for you to play and how long your acoustic guitar strings will last. To make sure you have the best sounding acoustic guitar strings you’ll need to consider the number of strings, the material and the gauge.
Number of Strings
Traditionally there were six strings in an acoustic guitar. However in the quest to find the best acoustic guitar strings, musicians have found that adding a string or two increases the range of their sound and their tonal variety.
You can find 7 strings, 8 strings, 10 strings but by far the most common variation is the 12 string guitar.
Because it has 6 courses, the 12 string guitar has a natural chorus effect because when played together the two combined strings produce different frequencies or octaves.
However, be warned that the higher the number of guitar strings, the more difficult it is to play. For new learners, the best acoustic guitar strings are 6 strings. This is because it is easier to learn songs on a 6 string guitar and to tune.
The best acoustic guitar strings are made of the best materials. Since acoustic guitars are continually evolving, so are the materials they are made from.
Classical acoustic guitars were and are still made of nylon. Nylon string guitars are the best sounding acoustic guitar strings for young new learners because they are soft so they hurt the fingers less, they have a wide fingerboard so it is easier to play without strumming the adjacent string.
Unfortunately nylon guitar strings do not produce the bass that most professionals look for and are quite squeaky in the initial playing days. This could perhaps be remedied by opting for nylgut strings. These are the best sounding acoustic guitar strings for someone looking for a warm, mellow and quiet tone.
For those looking for the best acoustic guitar strings for a louder and deeper tone try steel string guitars. They may be more expensive but the sound is well worth it.
Other options in between the two include brass, bronze and phosphor which are basically alloys of copper and tin. Research on the effects of the ratio differences to find out which of these are the best sounding acoustic guitar strings for you keeping in mind that the ratios determine the durability of the string and resistance to corrosive elements , the tone produced and the ease of play.
It is important to note that trying to use strings intended for a steel acoustic guitar on a classical guitar could be ruining its neck.
Also, since the tension of the strings are different you will not be able to use classical strings on an acoustic guitar either. Classical guitars typically have strings of nylon. Bass strings too, even though having the appearance of steel strings, are crafted from nylon fibers on the insides.
If you are someone who does a lot of stage shows you possibly will want to carry on with the 80/20 bronze strings. Phosphor strings on the other hand have a propensity of lasting the longest.
To get the best sounding acoustic guitar strings out there, you’ll need to figure out what the best gauge for you is.
Acoustic guitar strings are usually sized by their gauges; the higher the number, the thicker the string. They range from extra light to extra heavy. Light gauge are the best acoustic guitar strings for leisure players and learner because they are easier to play and are ideal for someone going in for a long practice session.
The best acoustic guitar strings for a professional with a long history with guitars who are looking for better tone or folk musicians who will need to do a lot of strumming.
For someone with a fair amount of practice, a moderate gauge is probably the best acoustic guitar strings on offer. With it you can get both the benefits of both a deeper bass and playability.
You also need to consider the type of guitar that you have when selecting your gauge. Most manufacturers create acoustic guitar strings that match their guitars. The dreadnought for instance is built to handle medium gauge strings.
On the other hand the best acoustic guitar strings for the grand auditorium are light gauge because too much tension could compromise the quality of sound or even destroy the guitar itself by putting a lot of tension on the neck.
- 1 Top 10 Best Sounding Acoustic Guitar Strings
- 1.1 Albert Augustine 525a Strings
- 1.2 John Pearse 600L Strings
- 1.3 D’Addario Pro-Arte EJ46 Classical Guitar Strings
- 1.4 D’Addario 12 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
- 1.5 Elixir Strings 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings w NANOWEB Coating
- 1.6 Martin MEC Clapton’s Choice strings
- 1.7 Thomastik-Infeld AC112 Acoustic Guitar Strings
- 1.8 Dean Markley Blue Steel Acoustic Strings
- 1.9 Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze Guitar Strings
- 1.10 Savarez 540R Alliance HT Classic Guitar Strings
- 1.11 How Does a Guitar String Affect Tone?
- 1.12 Worn Out Guitar Strings are Worse
- 1.13 What Makes A High Quality String?
- 1.14 String Size:
- 1.15 How Long Should I Go Between String Changes?
- 1.16 Acoustic Guitar String Materials
Top 10 Best Sounding Acoustic Guitar Strings
Albert Augustine 525a Strings
For a genre that relies almost entirely on acoustic instrumentation, it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that the world of classical guitar places a great deal of emphasis on the quality of strings. After all, this is a genre that has existed for hundreds of years and seen a number of different string manufacturers rise and fall. Some companies, such as Albert Augustine, have developed a reputation as a manufacturer of superior strings. In this review, we’ll examine why the Albert Augustine 525a’s are consistently rated one of the most popular strings in the world of classical guitar.
Sound and Feel
The Albert Augustine 525a’s, which are commonly called “Blues” due to their packaging, are considered some of the finest sounding nylon strings in the business. While the lows on these strings are as full and robust as anyone could ask for, the real highlights of the Augustine Blue’s are the high notes. Besides their incredible balance, the treble strings are notable for their clear, crisp tone. Seeing as these strings are typically used in classical guitar, the superior tone of the upper strings really allows for melodies to punch through the mix.
While almost no players complain about the sound of the Albert Augustine Blues, some players do have an issue with their feel. Compared to many similar strings, the Blues are rather stiff; this contributes to their balanced sound, but may not necessarily be suited for all genres. However, if you regularly employ hammer-ons and other fast-fingered techniques, the Blues will be right up your alley. Otherwise, you might want to check out the Albert Augustine Reds, which are very similar strings but have a softer, warmer feel to them.
Basic Construction and Durability
Because the Augustine Blues are a classical string, they constructed entirely out of nylon. After all, the pressure created by other types of strings such as phosphor bronze is enough to damage a classical guitar. The top three strings on the Augustine Blues are entirely constructed of nylon, while the bottom three strings are bronze coated copper wire rounded up by the nylon. In terms of construction, this is fairly identical to most classical string brands.
In addition to their tone, the Augustine Blues also boast superior durability. These strings will keep their tone throughout many hours of play and seem to stay in decent condition for much longer than many other strings. However, professionals or frequent players will likely need to order several packs of these strings, especially prior to a tour. After all, there’s no reason not to ensure that you’re playing with the absolute best tone at every show.
Tuning and Intonation
Players should have little to no difficulty getting these strings to stay in tune although we can’t decidedly say that they have an outright advantage over other classical guitar strings. Furthermore, some players complain of intonation problems when using the Blues. Obviously, intonation problems are entirely based on the construction and set-up of the guitar itself, but stringing the Augustine Blues on instruments that are prone to string buzz and intonation problems will no doubt take away from the integrity of this product. As such, this claim in unfounded.
Price and Availability
Augustine Blues are often somewhat hard to come by, at least in physical stores. While shops that focus on classical guitars will no doubt stock both the Blues and the rest of the Augustine classical line, more general music shops such as Guitar Center or Sam Ash may not carry these strings. Luckily, with the advent of the internet, anyone can order these strings and have them arrive at their doorstep in just a few days. Besides through the Albert Augustine website, players can also order these strings through Amazon, eBay, and other general online retailers.
In terms of pricing, players shouldn’t expect to pay more than $10 for a pack of these strings. While they are regarded as some of the finest classical strings available, the Augustine Blues aren’t exactly “luxury” strings, and therefore they should be found for a reasonable price. If you play quite a lot, consider purchasing these strings in bulk to get a deal.
John Pearse 600L Strings
In the world of guitar strings, each and every brad has its own strengths and weaknesses; some strings last longer, while others produce a brighter tone, or a less string noise. Very few strings possess the ability to excel in every area, yet every now and then, one such product comes along. For many acoustic players, the John Pearse 600L Phosphor Bronze set is one such product; between the superior playability, engaging tone, and decent life spans, it’s easy to see why this product is loved by so many players. Read on to learn more about these fantastic strings.
As any player will tell you, the number one most important factor to consider when purchasing strings is the sound quality. Luckily for owners of the 600L’s, these strings have a fantastic tone. Like most phosphor bronze strings, the 600L’s are quite warm and mellow in tone, even before the player has had time to break them in. Furthermore, the tone of the John Pearse 600L’s will remain relatively consistent throughout the lifespan of the strings. This reliability is quite important for professionals, as it means there will be less of a need to change out strings every couple performances.
Like any phosphor bronze string, the 600L’s use a wire wrap around the core of the string to enhance the middle and lower ranges of the instrument. In the 600L’s, this wire wrap consists of 92% copper and 8% zinc. While this will no doubt allow players to achieve a very desirable tone, it does have the unwanted side effect of leaving black residue on the players fingers. This is because the strings are uncoated, which in fact is part of the reason these strings achieve such a high quality tone.
No matter how fantasticly a string may play, if it can’t stand up to the test of time, it will not be useful to players. Fortunately, the 600L’s pass this test with flying colors. The long life of the strings may actually be what distinguishes these strings from its competitors the most; even as the strings get older and grimier, the tone remains relatively constant. Most players find that they can get 2-3 months of constant use out of the 600L’s, which is quite a bit more than your average acoustic strings. Furthermore, these strings are relatively thick for light gauge strings, which means that while they are still easy to play, they are less likely to snap than many of its competitors.
The stock gauges in a pack of John Peasre 600L’s are 12, 16, 24, 32, 42, and 53. Experienced players will likely notice this choice of gauge is pretty consistent with most bluegrass and Americana oriented string brands, and indeed John Pearse is considered one of the strongest brands in bluegrass. In order to get a fuller sound with a better representation of the low end, some players suggest switching out the bottom two strings with slightly higher gauge alternatives. This will undoubtedly change the tone of the guitar, but players looking to experiment with slightly heavier tones may find using alternate gauge strings to be to their advantage.
Price and Availability
Perhaps the only downside to the John Pearse 600L’s is their relatively sparse availability. While professional shops will no doubt carry these popular strings, Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and many of the other big box music retailers often do not stock these strings. However, the strings are widely available through the internet, meaning any consumer who wants to can get their hands on these fantastic strings.
In addition to their somewhat spotty availability, John Pearse strings tend to be a bit more expensive. Typically, one will find these strings retailed for around $10, but don’t be surprised if one can find them for as low as $6 per pack. The main competition for the 600L’s is likely Elixir, which tends to sell coated strings for similar prices or even slightly cheaper. However, the 600L’s are widely considered to be the superior string in both tone and durability, and for that reason many musicians recommend that players spend the extra cash on the better pair of strings.
D’Addario Pro-Arte EJ46 Classical Guitar Strings
Few string manufacturers command the respect and authority of D’Addario. These ubiquitous strings have been found on the guitars of professionals, amateurs, and beginning players alike, but have you ever considered why these strings are as popular as they are? After all, what really sets apart a D’Addario from the competition?
We’ve wondered those exact questions for awhile now, which is why we decided to test out one of D’Addario’s more popular string series, the Pro-Arte EJ46. We’ve taken a look at all the different facets of this string to report back on what all must be considered before purchasing one of these string sets.
Based solely on their reputation, one might expect the EJ46’s to have a pretty fantastic sound; fortunately, this assumption proves to be correct. As a matter of fact, the sound the strings produce is considered one of the top qualities of the EJ46’s. These classical guitar strings are full-bodied, but they have enough punch and top end for quick playability. This best suits the strings for flamenco, as the flurries of hammer-ons and fast fingerings on the top strings will be aided by the treble boost. As far as tone goes, the EJ46’s have sound that is of the same caliber of the D’Addario EJ16’s.
Those of you who know about a thing or two about classical guitar strings are likely wondering what the tension on these strings are; suffice it to say that they are high tension strings. This further serves to aid flamenco players, who often require higher tension strings in order to get a crisp and precise sound to serve their needs. The EJ46’s definitely deliver on this front.
Basic Construction and Durability
Like all classical guitar strings, the primary component of the D’Addario EJ46’s is nylon. This nylon is either stretched over the neck of the guitar as a single filament in the case of the upper strings or wrapped around a bronze core for the lower strings. This allows the manufacturer to control the balance of the strings; by all accounts, the D’Addario EJ46’s have a fairly decent balance that may slightly favor the top end.
One of the EJ46’s strongest points of contention is their durability. Compared to almost every other type of classical string, the EJ46 has an incredible level of durability, often lasting the player for months. While playing on the same strings for months definitely won’t lead to the best sound possible, it is reassuring to know that should access to these strings be severed, the player still has a number of weeks of playability ahead of them.
Another great quality of the EJ46’s is their ability to fall into tune. After relatively little playing, the strings will have become sufficiently “warmed up” and should hold their tuning no problem; compared to similar strings, this warm up period is quite a bit shorter. This is definitely a benefit to professional players, as it means they can string up just a few hours prior to show and be ready to go that evening. Once these strings are in tune, it’s fairly easy to keep them as such, and unless they experience extremely heavy use, the strings will not degrade or unwind.
Price and Availability
Another high point of D’Addario products is their massive availability. Pretty much every music shop, big boxes included, will stock D’Addario strings (they are, after all, one of the most popular brands of strings around). Players should have no trouble finding these strings at a reasonable price. Furthermore, if finding them in your local shops proves challenging, these strings are easily available and cheap through online marketplaces such as Amazon.
As far as price goes, the D’Addario aren’t particularly expensive. As of the writing of this review, the strings typically sell between $5-7 online, and will likely be a few more bucks in person. For the quality of the strings, this price point is a great value for guitar players.
D’Addario 12 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
There’s nothing in the world like a 12-string guitar; the fullness and richness of the sound is simply unmatched by any other instrument. Players like John Butler and Roger McGuinn can make their axes sing like none other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any musician can pick up a 12-string and burst into “Ocean”. In order to get the most pristine sounds possibly, players need to be aware of all the aspects of their instruments, including their choice of strings. Today, we’ll examine one of the more popular 12-string sets on the market: the D’Addario EJ38’s.
Okay, we’d like to point out that obviously sound quality is subjective, and yet we can say with confidence that the D’ Addario EJ38’s are some of the best sounding phosphor bronze strings out there. Players typically report these strings having a mellower, warmer sound than many of their competitors; longtime players may recognize this as being a quality also present in the 6 string packs D’Addario releases. Depending on the make of your guitar, these strings also have the ability to resonate for quite some time.
Many players find that 12 string guitars are rather limited in usage to folk and rock tunes, but the D’Addario strings are actually quite versatile. We recommend experimenting with blues, jazz, or even polka with these strings, and sending us videos of you using them (especially if you write polka).
The D’Addario EJ38’s are phosphor bronze strings and are constructed in a very similar manner to all other phosphor bronze strings: a steel hexagonal core is wrapped tightly with a wire. In this case, the wrapping is 92% copper and 8% tin with some phosphorous added for extended lifespan. The strings are round wound, which besides being fun to say is also the most popular style of winding in the world.
It’s worth noting that like most phosphor bronze strings, players will need to properly stretch the strings prior to playing. This will both open up the tone and help to keep the strings in tune during extended playing. If you have some alternate technique, such as boiling the strings, it may help, but an old fashioned stretch has never done strings wrong.
One of the most fantastic aspects of the D’Addario EJ38’s is their lengthy lifespan. In fact, compared to most 12-string packs, the EJ38’s should last substantially longer. D’Addario claims this is because of the phosphor they’ve added, a technique they pioneered back in the 70’s. While that may have been true back then, nowadays, every string brand uses phosphor to resist corrosion and wear, which means that there’s really no telling why the EJ38’s stick around for as long as they do. That being said, if you’re taking these strings on tour, go ahead and order a few packs. You’ll be happy you did the first time one breaks or gets damaged, which inevitably happens during life on the road.
Price and Availability
Another one of the advantages of the EJ38’s is their price point. At only $10 for a pack of strings, the EJ38’s are competitive with most mid-level string companies.
Of course, this price is mildly variable, and you’ll likely find them to be slightly more expensive at Guitar Center or other big box retailers and less expensive online. Check around online for deals, or take a look at D’Addario’s website to find authorized dealers in your area.
Speaking of finding deals, you might be wondering where you could pick up a set of these EJ38’s today. Because of the name-brand status of D’Addario, just about every local and big box music store will likely carry their strings.
In addition, players should have no trouble finding these strings online; both music websites and general marketplaces like Amazon and eBay should have these strings available for cheap. It’s a great value and a fantastic set of strings to slap onto any 12-string guitar.
Elixir Strings 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings w NANOWEB Coating
From pretty much every perspective, the Elixir Nanowebs are a great set of strings. From tone to longevity to value, they have it all! The following review is going to delve into exactly what makes the Nanowebs so good.
The Elixir Nanowebs have a steel core wrapped in bronze or phosphor bronze wire, much like most other guitar strings. However unlike other guitar strings, they are then coated with a polymer that is designed to be ultra-thin.
This polymer coating is designed to cover the string in its entirety, which keeps moisture, dirt and other substances out of the winding. This provides the string with a barrier from corrosion inducing agents, which in turn keeps your string sounding sweet for longer.
The polymer is also designed to be extra smooth, which has a couple of benefits. The first is that it feels extremely slippery against your fingers as you move up and down your guitar neck, reducing friction and drag on your hand and generally making your playing more comfortable.
The second, which affects the first to some degree, is that it prevents dirt and grime from getting trapped in the coating itself, which keeps the string feeling smooth for a longer period of time.
In short, the Nanowebs sound good. They are generally bright, although slightly less so than a comparable set of non-coated strings. If you have a guitar with an extremely strong treble, these might pull it back a little bit. If you have a guitar with weak treble, you might be left wanting, but this would be only in extreme cases.
These strings can be had in many different flavors and sizes. They are available for both acoustic and electric guitars, and come in a myriad of different sizes ranging from extra light all the way up to heavy. To phrase it plainly, if you have a size you like, you can get a set of Elixir Nanowebs in your size.
The strings last a really long time. Compared to an average guitar string lifespan, they typically last me five times as long. The reason for this is that you essentially have to degrade the coating to the point where it no longer protects the string from corrosion, or to the point where it becomes noticeably rough on the hands. This is nice, because it means you have to replace your strings less often, which saves a lot of hassle over time.
Well, let’s break out the pencil and paper and do some quick calculations to see where Elixir Nanowebs rank on the value guitar strings spectrum. They last five times as long as a normal string set, but only cost three times as much. The logic follows that these strings represent a good value. In fact, they are cheaper to run over the long run than a regular set so in a certain light they could be viewed as budget guitar strings if you are willing to incur the initial cost. At the end of the day, they are economy guitar strings, despite the cost of entry.
Martin MEC Clapton’s Choice strings
Ah, Eric Clapton. Lovingly known as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, the man has actually been entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times, as a solo artist, with Cream, and with the Yardbirds.
It shouldn’t be too surprising then that entire generations of guitarists have grown up honing their skills with messy covers of “Layla” or “Cliffs of Dover”, but very few amateur guitarists can nail the exact tone Clapton has become so famous for. This is probably due in large part to the fact that Clapton can afford to play out of the highest quality equipment made (as well as the fact that he’s awesomely talented…), but is also due to simple, achievable changes, such as string.
Luckily for you Clapton wannabes out there, guitar powerhouse Martin has released the Martin MEC Clapton’s Choice strings, which are meant to emulate the sound of the legendary guitarist, but just how well does it do the job?
Overall, most players tend to find the Clapton’s Choice strings to be mellower than many comparable strings, but that shouldn’t deter players from testing these strings out. They still have a bit of punch, but lack the metallic edge offered by other Martin strings. Of course, these tonal characteristics are quite similar to Clapton’s own tone, so the overall the goal of the strings has been satisfied. Players will likely find blues and meditative acoustic music to be well suited to the Clapton’s Choice strings, whereas folk or bluegrass players might want to look elsewhere to achieve a little more twang.
One aspect of Clapton’s playing these strings emulate well is sustainability. The MEC’s should ring with a rich and full tone for quite some time, far longer than many comparable phosphor bronzes. This is definitely one of the most popular reasons players pick the Clapton’s Choices and should be kept in mind whilst picking strings.
In terms of basic construction, the Clapton’s Choice phosphor bronzes are quite similar to any other phosphor bronze. The upper strings are steel, while the bottom strings are a 92/8 blend of bronze around a central strand. The bottom strings also have phosphor ingrained in the string, which add durability and length to the lifespan of the strings. As previously mentioned, this is fairly standard construction for a phosphor bronze string, and really does nothing to distinguish the Clapton’s Choices from other strings on the market.
While there are many advantages to the Clapton’s Choice strings, one of their strongest points is durability. Most users report these strings lasting for quite some time; they should stick around substantially longer than many comparable brands, including other Martins. While some players attribute this to the phosphor included in the strings, the truth is that these strings already have a mellow tone, and therefore it takes much longer before your average musician can tell a substantial shift in tone has occurred. Note that these strings are also prone to corrosion, so be sure to wash your hands and avoid getting grime on the strings as much as possible to maximize the lifespan of these strings.
Price and Availability
The availability of the Martin MEC Clapton’s Choices could be described by the word spotty. Yes, Martin strings are available in just about every music store of any size, but the Clapton’s Choice’s are a niche product that may or may not be available in location close to you. That being said, we do live in the age of the internet, and that means these strings should be easy for just about everyone to get ahold of. Check both online music retailers and general merchandisers, including Amazon.
As far as pricing goes, most users can expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.00 per pack. For bearing the brand of Clapton, that’s actually pretty inexpensive, and those seeking deals or to purchase in bulk can likely find even better deals than that. An assessment of the quality and durability of these strings should be enough to convince you that these strings are more than worth their while, and guitarists of all calibers can rest assured that the Clapton’s Choice strings are a great value.
Thomastik-Infeld AC112 Acoustic Guitar Strings
Back in 1919, two of Vienna’s finest acoustical engineers decided to combine their research efforts. Franz Thomastik and Otto Infield originally decided to keep their business enterprises separate, despite occupying the same building in Vienna. Because they shared an address, the Vienna government registered the businesses as one enterprise, and in 1921, the companies officially combined.
It takes a lot to keep a string company’s doors open for more than 100 years, but Thomastik-Infeld has a few tricks up its sleeve. The company patented several key string innovations, including the usage of steel strings in plucked instruments (they were previously used strictly for pianos). Furthermore, the company has done an admirable job of developing a culture around themselves and fostering long-term customer relationships. Because of this, Thomastik-Infeld currently positions itself as a premium producer of strings for all kinds of instruments, including the acoustic guitar. The company offers several different versions of acoustic guitar strings, but this review focuses primarily on one of their more popular series, the Plectrum.
Seeing as Thomastik-Infeld spent the last hundred years refining their product, one would expect their Plectrum series acoustic guitar strings to sound phenomenal. Fortunately, this assumption proves to be true, and these strings provide players with a richly warm and balanced sound. One of the most redeeming attributes of the Plectrum series string line is the precise balance across the frequency spectrum. This is especially evident in the high strings, which sounds clear and crisp but do not punch through the sound nearly as much as many competitive strings. If you like a shrill high end, these probably won’t suit your taste. This balance best suits acoustic singer-songwriters, jazz artists, and rhythm guitarists; lead players looking to solo and stand out from the mix would be better off investigating Thomastik-Infeld’s related product, the Spectrum series.
Basic Construction and Durability
Interestingly, the actual construction of the various strings in the Plectrum series varies considerably from most of Thomastik-Infeld’s competitors. In order to achieve such a smooth balance throughout the range of the instrument, the company opted to use several different types of strings.
The lowest E string is round wound, while the next three strings feature a flat wound design. The two top strings consist solely of steel wires. Furthermore, all of the strings utilize a silk inlay. The addition of the silk serves primarily to control the harmonic and overtone characteristics of the string, though they do also change the overall feel and tension of the string.
Speaking of tension, that’s another area that the Plectrum series differs substantially from other strings. Thomastik-Infeld designed these strings for low tensions. This not only noticeably warms up the tone, but also makes these strings suitable for use on vintage equipment not designed to handle today’s high tension strings.
When Thomastik-Infeld chose to alter the construction of their Plectrum series in the ways previously described, there’s little doubt the company focused primarily on warming the sound. However, these modifications also increase the life of the string, granting the Plectrum series supreme durability.
The one downside to using low tension strings is tuning issues. Unless the manufacturer specifically calls for low tension strings, the construction of the neck, fretboard, and tuning pegs was likely designed to hold high tension strings in tune. Without proper stretching and care, low tension strings often take longer to lock in tune.
While Thomastik-Infeld’s Plectrum series is no more susceptible to this than their competitors, players ought recognize the potential for tuning issues when using low tension strings on an instrument designed for higher tensions. This can be remedied by adjusting your truss rod in your neck, however before you start playing with your truss rod make absolutely certain you know what you are doing or you risk damaging your guitar.
Price and Availability
Unfortunately, many physical stores fail to carry Thomastik-Infeld products, especially outside of Europe but that’s the nature of boutique guitar strings. That being said, one shouldn’t find it too challenging to locate these products online. Both dedicated online music equipment retailers and more general marketplaces such as Amazon.com carry these strings in a variety of gauges. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $15-20 per pack, but well worth it if you want an extremely well thought out string set. Though these strings cost more than many of their competitors, the unique sound, durability, and low tension differentiate the product enough to justify the uptick in price. All in all, the Plectrum series strings are a great value from a company that really knows it stuff. You can’t go wrong.
Dean Markley Blue Steel Acoustic Strings
To aid in your research, we continue on our saga to compile basic string reviews about a variety of different products; this edition will focus on the Dean Markley Blue Steels.
Sound and Feel
To the uninformed observer, most strings seem to sound and feel fairly identical. After all, how much difference to the sound could the exact type of strings actually make? The answer is quite a bit, as the Dean Markley Blue Steels prove. This fantastic string set provides a very balanced sound; the highs are bright but avoid becoming overly treble-heavy and bright, while the lows grant warmth without the ability to overpower the highs. As one could imagine, the superior balance these strings offer work well for acoustic rock or blues sounds, but if you’re interested in playing something rather melodic or are in need of punchy higher strings, the Dean Markley Blue Steels may not be the string for you. For the rest of the world, however, the sound quality of the Blue Steels is perfectly suitable.
While sound is definitely a strong suit for the Blue Steels, it’s actually their feel that most distinguish them from other strings. Many consumers find the Blues Steels to be easier on their hands; the strings are “soft” and therefore they’re easier to play, especially for beginners or guitarists whose calluses aren’t as developed.
Basic Construction and Durability
Interestingly enough, the construction of the Blue Steels varies substantially from comparable strings. The strings are marketed as “cryogenically activated”, which isn’t a reference to a science-fiction movie but instead a technique used to change up the feel of the strings. After the 92% copper and 8% zinc strings are finished being constructed, they’re blasted with frozen nitrogen at roughly -320 ºF. This helps to remove small gaps and inconsistencies in the string, allowing for maximum performance and consistency.
In addition to improving the sound quality, the cryogenic treatment most definitely enhances the durability of these strings. Players report the Blue Steels lasting for much longer than your average string(Although not as long as coated Elixirs). That being said, professionals or anyone on the road will still likely want to order several packs in order to maintain the most professional tone at all times.
Tuning and Intonation
According to the reports put out by Dean Markley, the cryogenic activation actually makes the strings stay in tune for longer as well. While this is definitely a great selling point for the strings, you will need to keep in mind that the ability for the strings to stay in tune is strongly related to the actual guitar the strings will be played on. For this reason, be sure to regard reports on tuning accuracy with a grain of salt.
Price and Availability
One of the nice things about the Dean Markley Blue Steels is the massive availability of these strings. Guitarists looking to pick up a pack of these strings can probably find them at their local mom and pop store, and could even pick them up at a big box retailer. Furthermore, the strings are widely available online; both general online marketplaces and specific music retailers carry a large stock of these strings and sell them at a reasonable price.
Speaking of price, the retail price point of these strings is another one of the stronger suits of the Blue Steels. While you shouldn’t ever have to pay more than $10 for a pack of these strings, through most retailers you can find the Blue Steels for as little as $5-6 per pack. Seeing as most other strings at $5 a pack aren’t nearly as high quality, that makes the Blue Steels one of the best values available today.
All guitarists have been there. It’s time to change the strings on your guitar, and you are staring blankly at a wall of various types and sizes of guitar strings wondering which ones to get. The task is daunting because there are so many choices. You don’t want to get just any old set, you want to get the right set for your acoustic guitar.
While string choice can be very much a product of personal preference, we have compiled the interactive string chart below to help illuminate some of the differences between the best brands and types in order to help make your selection easier. Additionally, we have provided some analysis and information to assist you in understanding how important string choice is and why!
Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze Guitar Strings
Over the years, we’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in the music gear space: people only notice large items. For instance, everyone knows that Jimmy Page played the double-necked SG, and most rock fans have no trouble visualizing the concentric circles adorning Zakk Wylde’s infamous Les Paul.
Fans likely even know that AC/DC’s Angus Young plays through a Marshall Amplifier. Occasionally, even the guitar pedals are well-known, such as Jimi Hendrix’s well known infatuation with the Fuzz Face.
That’s a lot of knowledge about the setups of the stars, and yet we doubt very many fans can readily name the choices artists make regarding one of the most important pieces of gear: their strings.
Whether you’re rocking out in front of stadiums or for your cat in the basement, strings provide the foundation of your tone, and it’s essential to choose wisely. We’ve provided lots of reviews for you to help out with this decision, and we’re at it again with this review of the popular Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze strings.
Most all guitarists have had experiences with Ernie Ball strings; the brand is ubiquitous in music stores, and many guitars come pre-strung with some variety of Ernie Ball strings. There’s a good reason for this practice: these strings sound fantastic and are a great value.
The Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze strings are no exception to this policy. These strings have a reputation for cleanliness and often highlight the higher end of your sound. This makes these strings a perfect choice for lead players, especially those in a flamenco or jazz setting.
The Aluminum Bronze strings can help to balance the overwhelming bass present in many acoustic guitars with a crispness to the treble side. While the vast majority of users like this effect, those in possession of small bodied acoustics, resonators, or guitars that otherwise naturally emphasize the higher strings need to use caution.
Basic Construction and Durability
Like many of Ernie Ball’s strings, the composition of this line is right in the name: Aluminum Bronze. These are coated strings, with an aluminum exterior surrounding a bronze wrapping that encompasses an interior steel hex core. In theory, the addition of the aluminum oxide layer extends the life of the strings with only minute changes to the sound.
This approach is used rather commonly in the world of guitar strings and definitely does prevent against corrosion, but users should still be sure to wipe off the strings after use to prolong their lifespan.
One downside of the aluminum oxide is its tendency to leave black residue after prolonged use. Although this problem isn’t universal, many players report finding their fretting and even picking hands sporting a layer of black gunk after a few tracks. That being said, taking the time to adequately wipe and protect your strings should clear up this problem.
The steel hex cores in the Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze strings seems to stay in tune rather well. While players definitely still need to tune before gigs and recording, they shouldn’t find these strings slipping too much during play. Furthermore, these strings seem to do a fantastic job of standing up to extensive bends, which any experienced guitarist can tell you is a major cause of falling out of tune. All in all, these strings won’t stay in tune forever, but they shouldn’t fall out of tune any more often than any other comparable string.
Price and Availability
As previously mentioned, Ernie Ball products seem to be ubiquitous in both local and big box music retailers, making it easy to pick up a pair of the Aluminum Bronze any day of the week. Furthermore, this product is widely available online (and usually for much less money), both through dedicated music retailers and more generalized marketplaces such as Amazon.
As of the writing of this review, these strings are available for $7-8 per pack. While this price point definitely qualifies these strings as budget options, the feel, playability, and durability of these strings say otherwise. For this reason, we would qualify the Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze strings as a great value, and we recommend that any acoustic guitarist experiment with them.
Savarez 540R Alliance HT Classic Guitar Strings
Many of the strings we’ve talked about it other reviews are mainstream, mass-marketed products, but there are also a handful of lesser known luxury strings available if you search hard enough. In the realm of classical guitar, Savarez is typically marketed as a higher-end boutique brand, and for good reason: these strings offer a number of advantages that cheaper strings simply cannot compete with. It should be noted that the Savarez 540R’s are a classical guitar string; players should not attempt to string these on a standard acoustic guitar, as the instrument will not be set up to handle such a low amount of tension.
By far the most popular reasoning behind the purchase of Savarez 540R’s is the superior sound quality these strings offer. As always, it’s hard to put words to the characteristics of sound, but the 540R’s are often described as brighter and more present than similar strings. In fact, a brief search online will reveal dozens of players that switched to these strings solely for the purpose of livening up an otherwise dark or dull instrument. Keep in mind that if your instrument is already rather bright in tone, these strings will further accentuate that brightness, perhaps beyond a point of satisfaction.
Seeing as these are rather tight, bright strings meant for a classical guitar, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear these strings in a flamenco setting. However, other genres, such as more traditional classical guitar or even Hawaiian are also well suited to these strings, and players shouldn’t be too afraid of experimenting with other styles and genres.
Being classical guitar strings, the upper and lower sets of three strings are constructed using entirely different methods. The upper strings are plain, monofilament strings, very similar to what one would find in just about every other type of strings. In contrast, the bottom three strings consist of a filament wound in with a wrap string in a “traditional manner”, according to Savarez’s online description. This combination of constructions styles actually gives Savarez a rather well balanced final product; the bass strings provide a very solid foundation on which the punchier higher strings sit which makes for nice tonal interplay and dynamics.
Being luxury strings, one would hope that the Savarez 540R’s are long-lasting; fortunately this desire appears to be fulfilled. Many players report these strings as lasting for months, which is quite a long time compared to most guitar strings. Of course, the lifespan is entirely dependent on how often one practices, meaning those who spend hours a day slaving away on their fretboard shouldn’t expect these strings to last nearly as long.
Another advantage of these strings is their ability to stay in tune. After a proper stretching, one should expect these strings to hold their tuning quite well, especially in comparison to many of the cheaper classical guitar strings on the market. This definitely adds a lot to the value of the Savarez 540R’s, as any player can tell you that having to stop and tune is enough to jolt one completely out of the creative flow.
Price and Availability
One of the downsides of the Savarez 540R’s (or any Savarez string, for that matter) is their relative unavailability in many stores. While one might be able to find them at larger, big box music retailers, there’s a decent chance that these strings won’t be available in smaller music stores. Fortunately, in this day and age, it’s fairly easy to find access to the internet (which you have obviously done already), which should make it quite a bit easier to find the Savarez 540R’s. Both smaller, music focused websites and larger, more generalized retailers stock these strings; you just have to hunt around or take the easy way out and get them from Amazon.
Being a higher quality, exclusive string, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the Savarez 540R’s clock in at a higher price point than many of its competitors. Typically, these strings sell from about $15-$20 per pack, though deals can be found. While this is roughly twice as expensive as many comparable strings, the extended lifespan and utterly fantastic tones definitely make up for the few extra bucks. For this reason, we recommend the Savarez strings as a great value for players looking for something special to put on their classical guitar.
How Does a Guitar String Affect Tone?
An acoustic guitar works as a system. When you pluck a string, everything vibrates from the body wood to the neck wood to the string itself, all working in concert to produce the sound you hear. People spend thousands on nice guitar bodies and necks, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the string choice isn’t every bit as important. Strings can alter your volume, the treble profile, the bass profile, overtone structure and overall timbre of the instrument, meaning they can be the difference between a dull and a beautiful sounding instrument. They can also affect sustain, player comfort and general playability.
Worn Out Guitar Strings are Worse
So when playing an acoustic guitar, how much do worn guitar strings affect your tone? A lot. Don’t believe me? Go to a pawn shop, pick up a guitar that looks like it has been sitting there a while, and give it a strum. What you’ll notice is that the guitar sounds muddy, quiet and just plain doesn’t sound good. Now, go to a music shop that has a lot of inventory and find a guitar that has just been taken out of the box. Tune the strings for the first time and give that guitar a strum. It is going to sound a lot brighter, have more clarity and generally sound sweeter. So why is it that the old set sounds so much worse? Well it is due to a number of reasons really.
The first reason is that over time strings get dirty. The way they are constructed, with a wound wire surrounding a core, allows dirt and grime to get trapped in between the winds on the wire. This dirt dampens the string vibration, if only slightly, but it creates an audible difference in tone. So where does the dirt come from? Well, the dirt is present on your hands, on your guitar case and if you count dust, even in the air. There are some ways you can cut down on the amount of dirt that gets trapped in your strings. Specifically, you can wash your hands before you play. You can also use a quality string cleaner. Another way to avoid dirt in your strings is to stick with a set of coated strings, which you can find more information about here on this site.
The second reason is that strings corrode, which is a fancy way of saying that they rust. From a technical standpoint, rust is the oxidation of iron, which is found in steel as well as other materials that are used to make your guitar strings. One of the biggest accelerators of the rusting process on a guitar string is water. That’s right, I said water! Now, I know that you don’t bring your guitar into the bathtub with you or use it in the pool during the summer. However, there is moisture in the air all around you which is more commonly referred to as humidity. Even when your guitar just sits there and you aren’t playing it, it is exposed to this moisture, which slowly helps rust form on the surface of the strings. Like dirt, rust will dampen string vibrations enough to change the sound. Additionally, although not related specifically to tone, it makes the strings rough and uncomfortable to play.
The final reason is that the metal in the strings fatigues due to the repeated stress of tuning and playing over time. Fatigue results in the string stretching, or in severe cases even breaking over time. Over time this will thin the string, if only slightly, resulting in the string requiring a higher tension to achieve the same note. Higher tension in turn continues to introduce fatigue, and so the process perpetuates itself. Fatigued strings are going to end up having weaker volume and a less appealing sound.
So that’s it. That is some of the science in basic terms behind why guitar strings sound worse over time.
What Makes A High Quality String?
There are four criteria that really define the quality of a string from a user perspective. At the end of the day, when searching for the best acoustic guitar strings, the details such as manufacturing processes, brand names or materials don’t matter all that much so long as the strings have the following qualities:
- Sound – The sound of the string is of paramount importance, because after all, the reason we own instruments is to make sound. Sound is rather subjective, and as such there is no way to define a quality sound other than that it is a sound that you like. Nobody can tell you what a string set will sound like on your guitar, and so the best way to find out is to get a set and try it out.
- Longevity – There are two ways a string can fail. They can either break, or they can slowly wear out. A high quality guitar string will resist corrosion well, not break under heavy strumming, and resist dirt and grime accumulation.
- Comfort – A quality string will feel smooth to the touch, allowing your hand to slide easily across. This goes hand in hand with longevity, because a string that attracts dirt and corrodes will eventually lose its slippery feel, making it uncomfortable to play and abrasive to your fingers.
- Value – While value is not technically related directly to the string quality, it is related to the quality of your experience of buying a string set. If you get the above three traits at a great price, you are going to be far more satisfied.
Guitar string size, often more technically referred to as string gauge has quite a bit of influence on the tone of your guitar. String gauge, typically represented as a number between 8 and 60, refers specifically to the diameter of the string in thousandths of an inch. That is to say that a 12 gauge string has a diameter of .012″ and a 36 gauge string would measure .036″ in diameter. A treble “E” string in standard tuning usually ranges from 9 gauge to 14 gauge, and a bass “E” string in standard tuning usually ranges between 47 gauge and 60 gauge.
Typically, smaller gauge strings will produce a brighter, sharper, more treble heavy metallic sound whereas a larger gauge will produce a more bass heavy, percussive, warmer sound with more complex overtones when compared on the same guitar. Remember that a guitar works as a system, so if your acoustic guitar body has stronger bass characteristics, a set of smaller gauge strings might nicely balance the sound and provide some extra treble character. The same can be said for a guitar body that produces strong treble; in this case a set of larger gauge strings might enhance the bass profile of the instrument. It is also important to understand that thinner strings will require lower tension compared to thicker strings to achieve the same pitch. The lower tension associated with smaller strings will increase player comfort and make it easier to bend or fret notes, at the cost of decreased sustain(meaning your notes will not be audible for as long when you play a string).
Most string manufacturers will characterize their strings using categories such as Extra Light, Light, Medium and Heavy with many hybrid categories in between. Most of the time these labels tend to be consistent between manufacturers, however it is important to pay attention because these labels do occasionally differ. The most effective way to directly compare strings is to use the identified gauges for each string shown on the package, which is typically displayed as a series of six numbers on the package. This way, you can directly compare diameters of each string in any package. Often times, people refer to basic sets of strings casually by referencing only the gauge on the treble “E” string. For example, if you wanted to ask for one of the two most common string sizes for an acoustic guitar, you might ask for a set of “11’s” or a set of “12’s.”
*note* It is important to note that changing string size on your guitar should not be done without an appropriate truss rod adjustment to match. Drastic size changes can result in damage to your guitar neck over time if the truss rod is not properly adjusted to offset their tension.
How Long Should I Go Between String Changes?
The interval at which you change your strings is dependent on how much you play your guitar and what type you use.
The oils in your fingers, moisture in the air, and material fatigue are all factors that cause your strings to wear. Obviously, if you notice a degradation in the sound of your instrument or find that the strings feel rough, gritty or drag on your hands, it’s time for a change.
Otherwise as a general guide, if you play all the time figure on roughly once a month. If you play a few times per week figure on every three months, and if you rarely play you should plan to change your strings at least every six months. Even the best acoustic guitar strings wear out over time, so don’t think you can go forever without changing them.
Acoustic Guitar String Materials
- Bronze – Bronze acoustic guitar strings are the standard, run of the mill string. These are typically inexpensive and very bright. They offer little protection from corrosion, and as such their performance tends to degrade the most quickly.
- Phosphor Bronze – Similar tonal characteristics to the above, with some of the brightness pared back. The phosphorious is designed to inhibit corrosion, which extends the life of the strings over regular bronze.
- Coated – Coated strings are typically coated with a polymer compound designed to resist corrosion which helps to maintain the slippery feel when sliding your hand up your neck. These are the longest lasting and most expensive strings. Usually, these will be a bit warmer and more complex than either of the bronze variants, with less treble bite.
- Silk & Steel – Silk and steel strings typically have a blended silk and steel core wrapped in wire, typically copper. These tend to be sweet and mellow, soft and comfortable, and typically sustain well.
- Nylon – Nylon strings are used on some acoustic guitars, particularly flamenco style guitars. Nylon strings tend to be warm and soft, and are not affected by corrosion. They don’t like to be played with a pick, and should only be used on guitars specifically designed for nylon.