How to Choose the Best Acoustic Guitar Strings

Choosing the right type of strings for your acoustic guitar can almost make or break the sound and playability of your guitar. It’s important that you select the right type of string, but with so many options, it can be hard to know what type of strings to get for your guitar.

Here are some important things to keep in mind that can help you with selecting strings for your guitar. For now, we’ll just look at choosing steel strings for the acoustic guitar. I’ll also give some recommendations of specific types of strings to try out.

What Type Of Acoustic Guitar Do You Have?

The body style of your acoustic guitar should play a role in what type of strings you choose. The most popular body styles are dreadnought and grand auditorium. Think of ‘body style’ as the shape of your guitar.

DreadnoughtGrand Auditorium

The guitar on the left has a dreadnought body style and the guitar on the right has a grand auditorium body style.

Different string sizes, or the gauge of the string, will suit different body styles. Usually, medium gauge strings will most suit dreadnought guitars, while light gauge strings will most suit grand auditorium guitars. Often dreadnought guitars are built and designed to be played with medium gauge strings. The same is often true for grand auditorium guitars: they are build and designed to be played with light gauge strings.

Something important to keep in mind about the gauge of the strings is that higher gauge strings like mediums will put more tension on the guitar neck than lights. Again, dreadnought guitars are built to handle this tension, but on the flip side, grand auditorium guitars are often not built to be played with medium guitar strings! 

I’ve put medium guitar strings on my grand auditorium guitar once and it wasn’t good news. Because of the added tension, the neck ended up moving and the action of my guitar got really high!

What is Your Playing Style?

Think about the types of songs you play. Are you more of a fingerpicker or a heavy-handed strummer? Choosing the best acoustic guitar strings can depend on the type of music you play.

Often times, fingerpickers will be more prone to light strings. Light strings are easier to play than medium strings. This is why if you are first beginning guitar you might want to use light strings. 

If you are doing more strumming, medium strings are good for it. But again, medium strings can be a little harder on the fingers, so it won’t be uncommon to use light strings even if the majority of the music you play involves strumming.

Some people find that they want the best of both worlds and will get light-medium strings. With light-medium strings, the bottom three strings are light gauge strings, and the top three strings are medium gauge strings. This can be good if you are doing both fingerpicking and strumming. Some people like this, others don’t. 

What Sort Of ‘Sound’ Do You Want?

This also kind of involves looking at the types of songs you play. Often medium strings will have a deeper and bolder sound than light strings. Medium strings tend to really bring out more bass. On the flip-side though, light strings can accent more of the highs and be brighter in sound.

This is also why medium strings tend to work really well on dreadnought guitars. The shape of dreadnought guitars is much wider than the grand auditorium body style. Naturally, dreadnought guitars bring out more bass. If you throw some medium strings on it, that deep bass and booming sound will really come out from your dreadnought.

Some Recommendations

Elixir Nanoweb Light Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

Elixir Phosphor Bronze Strings
I’ve used Elixir strings for many years now and they’ve been very faithful to me. The good thing about Elixir strings is that they sound good and hold up for a long time. A lot of strings get dead after a week of playing them, but I could go a couple months of playing my Elixir strings before I had to change them. They are a bit more expensive than other strings (I recommend getting them online), but because they last so long, you don’t end up spending more money in the long run. Elixir makes both light and medium gauge strings.

John Pearse 200L 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

John Pearse 80/20 Bronze Strings
Someone recommended these strings to me a year ago. I was thrilled with the sound of them when I tried them. A great thing about them is that they are dirt cheap compared to say Elixir strings. The only downside with them is that they don’t last as long as Elixir strings. But I’ll tell you what, they sound great.

You can get John Pearse strings in both light and medium.

What types of strings do you use on your guitar?

There are so many different options when it comes to choosing strings. Sometimes it’s just a matter of experimenting and trying different strings.

What types of strings have you found to work on your guitar?

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.

Comments

  1. Chris

    I’ve got a GA shaped guitar and its been setup to take mediums but to my ear i think the lights come up a bit better as the mediums become a bit muddy when strumming.

    have you come across that? i dunno if thats my untrained ear playing tricks on me hah.

    Your thoughts?

  2. Chris, I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit! I too have tried mediums on my grand auditorium and I didn’t like it. While mediums might bring an extra “boominess” or low end, I think it can detract from the clarity. I definitely like the clarity that the lights bring.

    On the other hand, I love mediums on my dreadnought.

  3. Chris

    Thanks for that;

    hmm… i might give the John Pearse New Medium 80/20s a whirl… its not heavy a gauge as the Martin PB Mediums i currently use – but it might be a nice in between.

    Yeh the mediums went well with my Dread (currently loaned out to my brother in law), im still trying to find the nice in between with my Grand Auditorium.

    John Pearse strings are a bit of a struggle to find down in Australia – but thankfully i found a online supplier down under.

    Cheers mate.

  4. Chris

    … actually ill buy a couple packs of both …
    Lights and New Mediums… ill report back :)

  5. Yeah, definitely let me know how you come out!

    Also, Chris, have you ever tried light-medium guitar strings? I’ve tried light-medium phosphor bronze elixirs on my grand auditorium awhile back and I liked them. The reason I didn’t go back to them was because I was sick of spending so much $$$ on elixir strings! hah! They might be a good in between option for you to try if the strings you order don’t suit you. Just another idea.

  6. Erin

    Hey! I’m new to the guitar scene, but I have this beautiful Fender California Series Dreadnought Acoustic that I absolutely love. I’m currently taking lessons, but I need new strings! The guitar came with mediums, and I love the sound, however, my fingers are taking a beating. I was looking at your post, and you mentioned something about medium-lights? Those sound like a great middleground, but would they work well on a dreadnought?

    Just asking, and thanks for any help!!

    • Charlie

      The hardest thing to learn on an acoustic guitar is that when you change string guages, you most likely have to get another setup (you can do it yourself). Changing the guage of the strings creates a change in the tension on the neck. Just something to be aware of. Going from mediums to medium lights might now create to big of an issue, but going from xtra-lights to mediums most likely will.

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