There are four things to consider when buying
acoustic guitar strings: gauge, metal composition, coating,
The gauge of the strings tells you how thick they are.
The higher the number, the thicker a string is. Here’s
the tradeoff: The thicker the strings are, the louder they
are and the better they sound when played loudly… but they
hurt fingers more and are more difficult to press down onto
the fretboard. Most steel string acoustic guitars come
from the factory with “Medium” gauge strings, which are 13
gauge on the thinnest high E string and 56 gauge on the
thickest low E string. They have a good tone but are
hard to press and are quite painful for beginning
students. “Light” gauge strings are usually 12 gauge
on the thinnest and 53 gauge on the thickest. These
are a good compromise between good tone versus ease of
playing. The next gauge down is called “Custom Light”,
which are 11 gauge on the thinnest and 52 gauge on the
thickest. They don’t create as much volume but are
easy on the fingers. Finally, the lightest strings are
called “Extra Light” or “Slinky” strings. These are
usually 10 gauge on the thinnest string and 47 gauge on the
thickest one. They are super easy on the fingers and are
easy to bend but they don’t create much volume and are thin
sounding on the bottom end. They are not generally
recommended for acoustic guitars without electric
For beginner students, I usually recommend Custom Light
(11-52 gauge) strings. This is the gauge I use on my
Taylor. They are MUCH easier to press than the factory
strings, which allows the beginning student to play for much
longer stretches of time during the months while his or her
callouses are building up. METAL COMPOSITION
On an acoustic guitar, the two thinnest/highest strings are
steel, and the lowest four strings are steel inside but with
brass wound around the outside. There are two types of
brass alloy that are used to make these strings: “80/20
bronze” and “phosphor bronze”. These two different
alloys result in very different sounds.
“80/20 Bronze” strings are OEM on most acoutsic
guitars. They are the “standard” sounding
strings. They have a good tone from top to
bottom. They have a “punch” when you first hit them
with a pick, but they are mellow and warm after the initial
punch. On most guitars, these strings sound great when
using a pick. (They call them "bronze" but they are
“Phosphor Bronze” strings come OEM on many Taylors.
They have more complexities in the overtones/harmonics that
give them a richer midrange. But they do not have as
much thickness on the bottom. Because they are
brighter, on most guitars, these strings sound great when
There’s no right or wrong; it is a matter of individual
taste. If in doubt, go for the 80/20’s.
Normal (non-coated) strings sound good for a few weeks then
go bad fast. Oxygen in the air attacks the bronze, and
oil and dirt from your fingers seeps through the windings,
which dulls the sound. During the last decade or so,
technology has solved these problems. String
manufacturers have started making strings that last longer
by nano-coating them with a substance that keeps oxygen from
attacking the bronze and keeps the oil out of the
windings. Although coated strings cost a little more,
they last a LOT longer, so they are extremely cost
effective. Instead of a few weeks or months, it is not
uncommon to get almost a year’s use out of a set of coated
strings before they start sounding dull.
Coated strings are highly recommended. All the strings
listed below are coated. BRAND OF STRINGS
Elixir is my favorite brand of string, because they sound
better and last longer than any other strings I have
tried. Elixir makes two kinds of coatings: Nanoweb and
Polyweb. They are both fantastic sounding and they are
both super long lasting. The Nanoweb’s are a little
brighter and thus in most cases they sound slightly better
than the Polyweb's. They make a little more “finger
noise” than the Polyweb’s but are still really quiet.
The Polyweb’s are slightly more dull sounding but are very
silky feeling and are the quietest of any strings on the
market for “finger noise.” Most people say they also
last longer than Nanoweb's. I like Nanoweb’s best, but
some of my friends prefer Polyweb’s. The only bad
thing I can say about Elixirs is that the thinnest wound
string (G) is prone to breaking when played hard.
D’Addario EXP’s are another excellent string. They
sound great and last a long time. In my opinion, they
are not quite as rich sounding as the Elixirs, but they are
a little less expensive and they have a good reputation for
The highest technology strings are the brand new "Paradigm"
strings from Ernie Ball. These strings sound nearly as
good as Elixirs and are coated, but are made out of a steel
alloy that makes them almost impossible to break.
There are many other brands, but these three seem to be the
best. Cleartone’s are super long lasting but are
extremely bright sounding. If you have a dull sounding
guitar, you may want to try them. On most guitars,
they are too bright, in my opinion. Some people swear
by them, but I’m not a big fan of the tone.
For most beginners, I recommend either Elixir Nanoweb’s or
D’Addario EXP’s in the Custom Light gauge (11-52), as
KSM Music usually has some, but not all, of these strings in
stock. If they run out and don’t have the set you
want, don’t let them talk you into buying what they have on
hand. Ask them to order them in. Or you can
always purchase strings at www.juststrings.com, but I prefer
to support local businesses when I can.
When changing strings, there are many ways to wind strings
onto the tuning pegs, but there is a “best” way. Ask
Irv and he will show you.
For students who have been playing for a while and have good
callouses, and who want a little more volume and tone, keep
your favorite brand and coating and type of brass, but go up
one gauge thicker to Light Gauge (.012-.053).
For students who are having difficulty doing bar chords or
whose fingers don't develop callouses so it is painful for
them to play for more than a few minutes at a time, keep
your favorite brand and coating and type of brass, but go
one gauge thinnner to Extra Light Gauge (.010-.047).
You can change brands and brass types and coatings all you
want, but if you change gauge of strings, you will need to
adjust the truss rod in the neck. Talk to Irv and he
will help you do this.