Updated: January 25, 2020 by Richard Cole
Acoustic guitars, instruments that provide some of the sweetest sound known to man, have been used for decades in all kinds of music. No matter what genre of music you like the most, you probably recognize the unique character of acoustic guitar.
There’s nothing out there quite like it. So, how does an acoustic guitar work? Answering that question is not too hard at all. The strings that are installed on the acoustic guitar vibrate when you pick them.
That vibration is then amplified by the soundbox of the guitar, shaping the sound depending on the choice of tonewood, and allowing you actually hear the tones you are playing.
At this point you probably know that the wood used in manufacturing of the guitar plays a big role in what kind of sound you’ll get from that specific instrument. However, your choice of strings also has a big impact on the sound.
Unlike it’s the case with electric guitars where strings don’t matter too much, when it comes to acoustic guitars, a choice of strings can define the sound you’ll get. This makes choosing the right set of strings that much more important.
So, what types of strings out there, and how do you choose the right one?
Types of Strings
If we take the classical and flamenco guitars out of the equation, we are left a number of different ‘steel’ strings to choose from. There are a lot of different materials being used in production of modern acoustic guitar strings. Each of those materials has different sound properties, just like different types of tonewood do. Let’s talk a bit about these materials.
Bronze – Bronze has a very clear and bright tone. Bronze strings usually ‘ring’ more than other types, but one of their major drawbacks is the fact that they age a lot faster as well. Bronze doesn’t do great with oxidation, and you can expect a relatively short lifespan from a single set.
Aluminum Bronze – These strings usually have a more defined bass response along with punchy trebles. The addition of aluminum gives them a longer life cycle compared to pure bronze strings.
Phosphor Bronze – Compared to pure bronze strings, phosphor bronze combination extends the low end of the spectrum a little while retaining the highs with good clarity. Like the aluminum bronze strings, these also have an extended life cycle.
Polymer-coated strings – Polymer-coated strings solve the problem of oxidation. However this has an impact on sound properties, and you can expect to have less brightness and less sustain.
Brass – Brass strings offer a good amount of brightness, and often have that metallic ring to them. This type of strings make your tone jangle a bit.
Silk and Steel – These strings feature a steel core design with some kind of material wrapped around it. It’s usually nylon, copper or silk. Silk and steel strings offer a more defined and delicate tone compared to other types we’ve mentioned.
When you’re looking for a new set of strings, you should also consider the gauge of the strings. Different gauges offer different sounds, and this is also a factor that needs to be considered.
For example, if you prefer fingerpicking over strumming, you should get a lighter gauge. If strumming is more of your thing, than a medium gauge should be used. On the other hand, heavy gauge strings offer more accentuated bass tone.
Now that we know a little about acoustic guitar strings and the way they work, let’s take a look at some of the top rated acoustic guitar strings on the market. There are hundreds of different sets that feature different qualities and sound colors, so choosing the best one may seem like an impossible task.
However, over the years the feedback from the users has filtered out the most, and we’re left with a great selection of strings that you can trust.
– Elixir Strings 80/20 –
Alright, before we go further we need to mention that Elixir is one of the best acoustic guitar string manufacturers in the world, period.
Their 80/20 series are very durable and quality made strings. Elixir used 80% copper and 20% zinc alloy with an ultra thin NANOWEB coating to increase the life span of the strings. This really boosted the life span of these strings, without having an impact on the sound.
Speaking of which, these strings offer a very bright tone with crips highs and overall vibrant response. It’s a medium gauge set so you can expect a decent bass presence as well. We think that this set from Elixir is currently the best acoustic guitar string pack you can get.
– D’Addario EJ16-3D
D’Addario is an old brand, probably even more popular than Elixir. They actually invented the whole 80/20 bronze trend, and have since been leading the market. Their EJ16-3D Phosphor Bronze series feature some pretty advanced tech.
These strings have a hexagonal carbon steel core that is wrapped with phosphor bronze that is corrosion resistant. The results are pretty impressive.
D’Addario EJ16-3D Phosphor Bronze have a great sound, that’s why they are one of the most popular strings on the market.
This is a light gauge set that gives you a bright, warm tone with great bass and treble projection. It’s an odd combination that envelopes a very wide frequency range. So if you need an all purpose set, these are the strings for you.
– Elixir Strings 16545 Acoustic Phosphor Bronze
Elixir also has a phosphor bronze set that is quite remarkable in terms of sound and durability.
It’s the same combination of bronze being wound over a hexagonal steel core, and a nice NANOWEB coating to give them more protection and extended life span.
The sound these strings produce is similar to the D’Addario set we talked about previously, but with certain differences.
There seems to be a more accentuated low end response along with more defined trebles. This is pretty good performance considering that this is a light gauge set.
These sets we presented you with are definitely some of the top rated acoustic guitar strings you can get at the moment.
Any one of these models will serve you well. Just remember to choose the correct gauge for your application.