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The guitar strings you put on your acoustic or electric guitar can make a huge difference to the sound.
The right strings can take your playing to the next level, and there are some incredibly poor-quality strings out there that could actually hinder your playing, making it harder and giving you an unpleasant, flat tone.
Guitar strings are a bit like different tyres for your car. Not only do you need quality, you can also impact the way you drive your car, or in this case the way you play your guitar and generate a rich and solid tone.
In this guide we’re going through the top 15 best guitar strings, and the different types of strings that can give you the sound that you desire.
Buying Guide – How to Choose Guitar Strings
Buying guitar strings can actually be quite intimidating for beginners. You get your first set of strings with your guitar, and after this you’re on your own. It can take a bit of time to get used to the choices in strings, but our guide will help you with all of the crucial decisions.
Types of Guitar
Let’s start with the very basics. The type of guitar that you are playing will largely dictate which strings you need to buy. You can’t put bass guitar strings on an acoustic guitar or classical strings on an electric. At least, not if you want good results. The very first step, then, is to narrow the results down to the right style of guitar.
What is String Gauge
This is something that you’ll see on the packaging when you are looking at guitar strings. Some beginners have a hard time understanding string gauge and how it impacts sound.
The gauges are listed in order of the string thickness. A medium gauge could have string sizes like these:
.010 .014 .017 .026 .035 .046
An example of a light gauge could be:
.009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042
Generally speaking, the heavier the gauge, the “meatier” and more bassy the sound will be. Lighter strings tend to have a breezy and bright sound. Along with this, the heavier strings can make it more difficult to play the guitar for beginners, as they’re more demanding when it comes to finger strength.
Coated vs. Uncoated Guitar Strings
The coating of guitar strings is something we’ve mentioned a lot as we have reviewed some of the top models. You need to decide whether you want coated strings or uncoated.
Uncoated strings may feel a bit more flexible, and people tend to like the crisp feel and sound. However, coated strings tend to last far longer, even if they do cost more money. Coating technology such as NANOWEB coating has come a long way in recent years, so some of the coated strings actually feel more like uncoated strings, giving guitarists the best of both worlds.
String Material – Which is the Best for your Guitar
The materials used to make the strings should definitely be some consideration, but they aren’t the most vital feature when it comes to the sound.
Phosphor bronze strings have become really popular due to the fact that they have a phosphor intertwined with the alloy which gives more protection and durability.
Zinc, copper, and other alloys can be used in both electric and acoustic strings. If you are looking to buy classical guitar strings, nylon strings are the norm.
D’Addario EJ16-3D – Best Acoustic Guitar Strings
Phosphor-Wound D’Addario Acoustic Guitar Strings With a Bright Tone
These acoustic guitar strings do a superb job of creating a rich and well-rounded tone on your treasured acoustic.
The strings are made out of phosphor bronze which makes them much more durable than a lot of others, meaning that you can use them for longer before they start to sound flat and unpleasant. The corrosion-resistant bronze wire helps them to last, and the tone to stay strong and warm.
In general, the tone itself is crisp and balanced with good projection, perfect for the professional or beginner.
This guitar comes with gauges including Plain Steel in .012, .016, Phosphor Bronze Wound in .024, .032, .042, .053. The excellent US-manufacturing and free shipping are even more of a bonus for the consumer. The D’Addario brand is incredibly well-respected, and when you play these strings it’s really easy to hear the difference compared to a lot of stock strings you may get with cheaper acoustic guitars.
- Phosphor bronze design is built to be very long-lasting and retain the tone.
- Crisp high frequency sound production for a rich acoustic tone.
- Some users who do a lot of finger picking find these strings uncomfortable.
Elixir 16052 with NANOWEB Coating – Best Coated Guitar Strings
Elixir Strings with a Subtle But Effective Coating
It’s amazing that with a product as simple as guitar strings, manufacturers are finding new and exciting ways to make their offerings even better. The Nanoweb coating is a smart way to provide a level of protection to the strings and extend the life of the bright tone they provide, but without making them feel rough on your fingers. Some coated acoustic guitar strings can really start to chew up your fingers.
NANOWEB coating uses different materials to give more of an uncoated feel, but the tone life of these strings really is exceptional, with a much longer time between required restrings.
They come in a number of different gauges but our test is on the light gauge: .012 .016 .024 .032 .042 .053 set of acoustic strings. On top of a very solid tone, these strings offered us even more, as they have a design that keeps them in tune for a longer period of time than some strings, which can frustrate players by needing to be tuned up every five minutes.
- Excellent at staying in tune for long periods.
- NANOWEB coating protects these strings but still feels flexible and uncoated.
- Quite an expensive set of acoustic guitar strings.
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky – Best Electric Guitar Strings
Iconic Electric Guitar Strings from Ernie Ball
Plenty of guitarists around the world have a set of Slinkys in their bag. These are iconic strings in the world of electric guitar, and they were made by iconic player Ernie Ball before being adopted by some incredibly famous musicians including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. So, the Ernie Ball brand has a rich history and you know they can perform at the top level.
These are made in California using fantastic materials and craftsmanship, and the packaging that they come in helps to retain the sound and keep the strings ‘fresh’. This means you can buy in bulk if you need to and the “Element Shield” packaging will give the strongs a long lifespan.
Ernie Ball strings come in loads of different gauges so that you can achieve different sounds and tones from your guitar. These come in 10-46 gauge which is the size played by Clapton and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
- Used by industry professionals and famous electric guitarists.
- Packed with Element Shield packaging to protect the strings until they’re needed.
- May not be as strong in the high-end tones as some other strings.
Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor – Best Ernie Ball Acoustic Strings
Acoustic Ernie Ball Strings with a Mellow Tone
This massive brand is known first and foremost for their electric guitar strings, which are some of the best-selling models out there. Ernie Ball manufactures a good range of acoustic strings, too, so those who are brand-loyal can use their strings on everything from a classical guitar to an electric.
Just like the custom light electric guitar sings, the Ernie Ball acoustic strings can boast some very famous and successful users including the one and only Paul McCartney. There can be no denying whether these are up to pro standard.
Like many of the competing acoustic strings, these have a phosphor coating shown to impressively extend the lifespan and improve the tone of your strings for weeks and months to come. You won’t find yourself needing a new set every few days.
The light acoustic strings have a 12-54 gauge and do a really great job of creating a “shine” to your playing and responsive high-end tones.
- Great shine in the high-end and generally mellow tone.
- Used by lots of impressive musicians and industry pros.
- Though they’re excellent quality, they can be hard on the fingers for an absolute beginner.
D’Addario Pro-Arte – Best Classical Guitar Strings
Classical Guitar Strings with a Great Projection
Buying classical strings can be a different prospect entirely. These guitars need nylon strings to generate the signature sound we all expect from these jazzy and clean guitars.
Classical guitar strings tend to be much easier on the fingers, so some newcomers love them, but the tone generated is very different when compared to steel strings and phosphor models.
These string gauges include: Trebles .0280, .0322, .0403, Basses .029, .35, .043. The D’Addario brand has over 100 years of history providing strings for guitars and other instruments.
The truth is that it is easy for classical strings to make the instrument sound flat or struggle to project. These strings tackle this issue by using multi-filament nylon and then adding silver-plated copper winding to give the strings more warmth and help them to project the sound much further. The strings are durable and made in the USA. These are the ‘normal tension’ strings, but there are lighter and heavier models available for those who need them.
- Easy on the fingertips with a softer feel than most strings.
- Excellent projection for a set of classical guitar strings.
- Tone is not quite as bright and pleasant in the high-end as some competing strings.
Elixir Strings 80/20 Bronze – High-End Coated Strings
Fantastic 80/20 Coated Strings with Anti-Rust Feature
Another great set of light strings with a gauge of .012 .016 .024 .032 .042 .053. Elixir has focused on providing a set of strings that can last players a long time, making some big claims about these strings:
They say that their “patented coating technology protects against common corrosion, extending tone life longer than any other brand’s coated or uncoated strings.”
It’s definitely true that the clever coating helps to retain brightness and quality in the tone for a very long time. These strings do have a good level of projection and vibrancy, too. The protection comes from the 80/20 (80% copper, 20% zinc) design for the string winding.
Like with the other strings this manufacturer provides, these are so good at staying in tune, so they really impressed us when it comes to stability. They are a little on the more expensive side when it comes to guitar strings, but this is not unexpected for more of a luxury product.
- Anti-rust coating that also keeps the tone strong and vibrant.
- Strong projection.
- Good at staying in tune.
- More expensive than a number of competing strings.
- Some find the tone too bright in the high end, and lacking a bit of bass and body.
D’Addario NYXL1164 – Guitar Strings with Enhanced Mids
Rich Midrange Strings Used By Nile Rogers
By now, you’re probably starting to see what an incredible range of strings D’Addario provides including these fantastic electric guitar strings, the NYXL1164.
They’re a combination of plain steel and nickel-wound:
Plain Steel: .011, .014, .018, Nickel Wound: .028, .038, .049, .064.
These strings do a fantastic job of staying in-tune, and the brand has even performed some tests on this. “NYXLs stay in tune 131% better, so you can spend less time tuning and more time playing.”
The strings are not coated and may not last as long as some competing options, but there is one huge advantage to the strings for some players, as they are designed with a boost between 1-3.5 kHz on the frequency spectrum. This helps the real basis of the guitar tone shine through in the mix or when playing live and gives it more “presence”.
- Great at making your guitar sound more present in the mix.
- Used by respected industry pros including the great Nile Rogers.
- Excellent tuning stability.
- Not as long-lasting as some other fully-coated strings.
Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 – The Best 80/20 Guitar Strings
Great Projection and Jazzy Tone
If they’re good enough for Joe Bonamassa, they may well be good enough for you. These light coated acoustic guitar strings do a spectacular job on the majority of acoustic guitars and use the 80/20 technology that is becoming popular in modern strings.
That design means 80% copper, 20% zinc, and a hex-shaped steel core wire. The strings are made of specifically tempered carbon steel and do a brilliant job of projecting the tone of the guitar. They are therefore very good for acoustic performances. On top of that, they keep the strings in excellent condition for far longer than many other manufacturer models.
The clever Ernie Ball Element Shield packaging is great for keeping the strings really fresh in their packaging so they can last years in your kitbag if needed. They’re made at Ernie Ball’s facility in California using high-grade materials, and you can rest assured of the quality that they offer.
- Excellent quality with a smart 80/20 design to keep the strings in good condition for longer.
- Fantastic projection.
- Some of the users have reported that the high E string has a bit of a tinny and unpleasant tone.
Martin Authentic Acoustic MA175 – Martin Acoustic Guitar Strings
Great Acoustic Strings for Folk Music
Martin is undeniably one of the most incredible brands in the world of acoustic guitars. Throughout a long and prestigious history, they have made some brilliant models that have gone on to become the most sought-after guitars. Their strings also live up to the expectation and the MA175 is an example.
The custom light guitar strings are between .011 and .052 in size, a great middle-ground for acoustic guitarists with a bright-enough tone that doesn’t lack in bass and presence.
The MA175 strings have become really popular for a variety of genres and styles of guitars. They are suitable for “fingerpicking, flat picking, and other methods” in the words of the manufacturers.
The silk and steel strings have a really interesting tone that might not work as well for some genres of music, such as rock music, but they give a folky tone to the guitar and are popular for some acoustic musicians.
- Excellent tone for folk and country styles of music.
- Easy to use for flatpicking or fingerpicking as well as strumming the guitar.
- Not as long-lasting as some of the other strings on the market.
- Good build-quality
D’Addario EXP16 – Light Coated Steel Guitar Strings
Easy to Play Strings with Light Coating
These strings have EXP coated phosphor, like a lot of the other guitar strings on the market that are designed to provide a much longer lifespan than some of the other options on the market.
The strings are light in gauge, and they include: Plain Steel .012, .016, Phosphor Bronze Wound .024, .032, .042, .053.
The NY steel within is one of the ways in which these strings are different. It gives a lot of strength and stability to the EXP16s, so you can keep using them for a long time to come. The tone is reliable although it isn’t necessarily the brightest tone.
The strings are cleverly-made by the D’Addario brand, which has such a rich history and makes use of some brilliant new technology to produce their strings. The barrier created means that the strings manage not to corrode easily, even after a lot of long playing sessions.
- NY Steel makes the tone 157% more stable when it comes to staying in tune.
- Durable, long-lasting, and corrosion-resistant.
- Rounded tone.
- They don’t have the brightest, most spectacular sound on offer.
Fender 250L Electric Guitar Strings – Easiest Guitar Strings to Change
Color-Coded Strings Which are Easy to Change
If you have bought a model of non-tremolo Fender or Squier electric guitar in recent years then there is every chance that you already know what these strings feel like to play. They are the default strings that are included on these guitars.
So, if you have played them, you’ll know that they are light, versatile, and flexible to play. They feel good on the fingers and they’re suitable for beginner and pro players alike. These Fender strings do a good job as an “all-rounder”.
Another reason a lot of people buy these strings is the fact that they are color-coded. For beginners, this can make all the difference, changing your strings can be quite a stressful process if you don’t know what you are doing. These strings are coded with a chart provided for your convenience. They effectively teach you how to restring.
These strings are good value, and while they are unspectacular, they form a solid affordable option for players of all different ability levels.
- Very easy to restring with the color coding and included chart.
- Affordable and good value for all levels of guitarists.
- Unspectacular tone, although it is solid and perfectly acceptable.
- Not as long-lasting as some alternatives.
Martin Guitar Classical M260 – Best Classical Sounding Strings
Great Strings for a Traditional, Classical Tone
The classical guitar has such a unique tone to it, and fortunately, you can enjoy that tone if you buy the Martin M260s and equip your classical or Spanish guitar with these Nylon strings.
They sound brilliant for a variety of styles including Spanish and Flamenco guitar. These strings have a medium tension which means a 0.028″ high E string through to a 0.043″ low E string. The projection is good, and that warm attack that we associate with classical guitar and jazz guitarists through history is definitely present, showing over 100 years of Martin history through their reliable strings.
For durability, these take advantage of that modern technology that is taking over; 80/20. With sturdy bronze ball ends, they’re easy to play and even simpler to install if you know a little about guitar maintenance.
- Durable but true to the classical sound we all know and love.
- Great high-end combined with a warm presence in the mids.
- The nylon strings are comfortable to play and easy on the fingers.
- These strings don’t stay in tune as well as many of the other competitors.
Elixir Strings 19052 Coated Nickel – Most Comfortable Coated Strings
Comfortable Coated Strings, Easy on the Fingers
There’s a constant dilemma that some guitarists face, in that they want to use uncoated strings because they’re more comfortable, but the coated models tend to last a lot longer. Uncoated strings also have a crisp tone that some styles of music really work well with.
However, these Elixir Strings manage to provide the best of both worlds. In spite of being coated nickel strings, they have an uncoated feel. How do they achieve this? Well, the OPTIWEB Coating provides a natural feel in spite of the fact that there is a coating surrounding the strings.
According to a player survey, they extend tone life better than any other brand’s strings, but we’d take this with a pinch of salt. The survey was carried out by Elixir’s players. The plating means that these strings will avoid rust as well as sounding good for a long period of time.
The tone itself is very strong and helps you to get the most out of your guitar with a rich high-end and punchy mids.
- Excellent, long-lasting tone that doesn’t fade quickly.
- Available in both light and heavy iterations to suit every player.
- Quite an expensive set of strings.
Ernie Ball Power Slinky Electric – Best Strings for Rock/Metal Tone
Rock and Metal Guitar Strings for a Heavy Tone
Sometimes, people look for guitar strings that can suit their preferred genre and style of music perfectly, and the Ernie Ball Power Slinky electric guitar strings are undeniably iconic in the world of rock and metal, and have helped countless musicians to generate heavy tones from their electric guitar (with the help of amps and pedals, of course).
The bass response and meatier mid-range and lows make this suitable for these genres of music and give a slightly heavier tone for guitarists. Ernie Ball’s range is so impressive, with a number of different gauges to help you to choose the ideal strings for your own unique style. The likes of Slash, Jimmy Page, Metallica, Eric Clapton, and more have used these strings, which helps you get some idea of what they are best suited for.
Ernie Ball’s great packaging keeps the strings in great condition until they are ready to be used on your instrument, so they won’t be dead and flat sounding before they’re even installed like some other strings.
- Great value for money.
- Good for creating a heavier tone from an electric guitar.
- Not as long-lasting in terms of their tone when compared to coated alternatives.
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky – Best 6-Pack of Guitar Strings
Multipack Guitar Strings to Save Money and Sound Great
We wanted to include this pack as a bonus guitar string review. The Ernie Ball models are exceptional in their tone and the choice of a lot of guitarists, so it is common that people purchase a lot of them all at once that they can then keep in their case or bag and use as required, either as spares for individual strings that break or for the whole set.
This six-pack can save you money and make sure you’ve got strings for the foreseeable future.
- Can save you a lot of money and ensure you always have strings.
- Not the longest-lasting strings in terms of the tone.
Conclusion – The Best Guitar Strings For You
Guitar strings can be chosen with so many different factors in mind. For a start, you will want to consider whether or not the strings are right for your style of guitar (classical, electric, acoustic) but you should also give some thought to tone, durability, and reliability. The 15 models on this list give a great starting point to find the ideal strings to help you to build the exact tone you’re looking for.
How often should I change my guitar strings?
Of course, when a string breaks it will need replacing, but there are other factors you should consider too. Eventually, the guitar will sound dull and fresh strings can brighten it up again.
If you play guitar every single day then it makes sense to change the strings more than once a month. This might be frustrating, but it will definitely provide you with the greatest sound. If you play more rarely, every couple of months may be fine, but it really depends on the tone you want. Fresh strings will give you more of a bright attack and “zing” when you strum.
How many strings do guitars have?
The standard guitar design has six strings, while a standard bass guitar has four strings. But there are exceptions. Some metal guitarists have bigger designs, and the 12-string guitar also provides a different design, with six sets of two strings tuned the same.
Is it hard to change guitar strings?
The actual process of changing guitar strings is not excessively hard. However, it certainly takes some getting used to and it can be easy to make mistakes. We recommend practicing by taking the old strings off and putting them back on again (if they’re in decent condition) before putting new strings on your guitar. Once you’ve been through the process a few times then you will likely be much more confident next time.