There are a ton of different things that can affect your acoustic guitar‘s sound — the wood used, how often you clean it, and, of course, the strings that you decide on using.
But just how much can different strings affect your sound? And what exactly do different strings sound like? We put together this guide to help you find out.
Perhaps the first thing to consider is the gauge, or thickness, of the strings. String thickness itself is measured in thousandths of an inch, and are normally named after the thickness of the first, or thinnest string in a set. In other words, if someone tells you they use “8s,” their smallest string is 0.008 inches thick.
Your string gauge will affect the feel of your playing perhaps even more than the sound — thicker strings are harder to press down, and you’ll need to build up those callouses a little more before it’s comfortable playing them. Lighter strings aren’t just easier to play, they’re easier to do things like bend and manipulate. On the other hand, thicker strings produce louder volume and more sustain — which is important for many players.
Here’s a list of standard string gauges, along with a recommendation for each.
Extra light (.010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047): D’Addario EJ10 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
Custom light (.011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052): Ernie Ball Earthwood Light Phosphor Bronze Strings
Light (.012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054): D’Addario EXP16 with NY Steel Phosphor Bronze Strings
Medium (.013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056): D’Addario EJ24 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
Heavy (.014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059): D’Addario EJ18 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
Strings can be built out of a number of different materials, and those different materials can have a pretty drastic effect on the sound of your guitar. There are a few popular string materials used, as you can probably see from the list of recommendations above — but there are also a few lesser-known string materials that could also be used, depending on what you’re looking for.
Here’s a list of the different string materials and how they sound, along with a recommendation for each.
Bronze strings are quite clear and bright, making them perfect for those who need something somewhat metallic-sounding. Unfortunately, due to the fact that they oxidize easily, they age relatively quickly — so if you go for bronze strings make sure you’re prepared to replace them every now and then.
Phosphor bronze strings oxidize far less easily than straight bronze strings, so they’ll be a lot easier on the wallet. They are a little warmer and darker than normal bronze strings, but they still sound relatively clear compared to some other string materials.
Aluminum bronze strings offer slightly more bass than the other bronze string offerings, but they still have decently crisp highs and quite a lot of clarity. In fact, most argue that aluminum bronze strings offer more clarity than other bronze strings.
Brass strings are perhaps the most metallic-sounding of all the strings on offer, and you could describe them as “jangly.” As such, they’re also quite bright.
Polymer-coated strings don’t have as much sustain and aren’t as sonically bright as other strings. They’re also quite warm and present. One of their main draws, however, has nothing to do with their sound — instead it has to do with the fact that they’re available with different colorants, making them more visually appealing.
Silk and steel
Silk and steel strings are a little more delicate and soft, making them quite popular with filk guitarists. They generally have a steel core, though the lower strings are wound with silk.
No matter what sound you’re looking for, there should be a great set of strings for you. Sure, there are quite a few different string types to try out — but once you find the right set, you won’t be sorry.