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Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for Beginners

Photo of a person playing an acoustic guitar against a dark background.

Learning to play acoustic guitar is an endlessly rewarding pursuit. Being able to play your favorite songs, write songs, and connect with others is incredibly satisfying and fun. However, the gear side of guitar playing can be a bit overwhelming for beginners—strings in particular.

Beginners are met with a wall of different types of strings when they walk into a guitar shop. Manufacturers make strings with all sorts of different materials, different sizes, some with coatings, and more. While having all these options is great, it can make it hard to choose a set of strings if you don’t know what you’re looking for. 

This post will take a dive into the world of acoustic guitar strings, breakdown the basics, and try to find out what are the best acoustic guitar strings for beginners.

Material: Phosphor Bronze vs 80/20 Bronze

Most beginners will notice that acoustic guitar strings can be made of different materials. There are many different alloys manufacturers use, but let’s focus on the two most popular for acoustic guitars—phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze.

Photo of a person playing the guitar with their fingers.

Phosphor Bronze

Phosphor bronze is the most popular choice for acoustic guitar strings. They generally have a warm, dark, and full tone, especially when compared to 80/20 bronze strings. The inclusion of phosphorus gives phosphor bronze strings a softer tone and makes the pick attack less pronounced. When worn in, phosphor bronze strings are about 80% as bright as 80/20 bronze strings.

For acoustic guitars, players often choose strings that are opposite of the guitar’s tonal qualities. So for example, players with brighter sounding acoustics—like guitars from Taylor, Ibanez, Alvarez, and Takamine—usually prefer phosphor bronze strings. The softer and darker sound of the phosphor bronze strings combined with a brighter guitar results in a more balanced tone.

80/20 Bronze

80/20 bronze strings are the second most popular choice for acoustic guitar. They are known for their crisp, bright, and resonant sound. They provide clear highs and bassy lows with fewer mids. These strings are also popular amongst vintage guitar players since they featured on many classic recordings from the 60s and 70s.

Like phosphor bronze strings, players usually pair 80/20 bronze strings with darker sounding acoustics. Dreadnought sized acoustics—like those from Martin, Taylor, and Gibson—typically produce a very balanced sound when paired with our 80/20 bronze strings

Our Recommendation

At the end of the day, there is no wrong choice. Both phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze strings can work well for beginners. It ultimately depends on your guitar and your tonal preferences. However, we recommend that beginners start with phosphor bronze strings, such as our since they are the most popular acoustic guitar strings. Our phosphor bronze strings are a great choice for beginners just getting started with acoustic guitar.

Gauge

Another important factor in choosing guitar strings is gauge. Put simply, gauge is the thickness of the string. Though it may seem like a small factor, string gauge plays an incredibly important role in both playability and tone. Let’s take a look at the four main acoustic guitar string gauges and how they impact playability and tone.

Black and white photo of an acoustic guitar's sound hole.

10s

Those in the guitar community consider 10s light or extra light strings for an acoustic guitar. Because of their smaller size, these strings are remarkably easy to play. Fretting takes less effort, bends are easier, and they generally increase the playability of the guitar.

However, small strings come with downsides—tone. Though this is a debated subject, most agree that smaller strings like 10s result in a thinner, less full, smaller sound. For beginners, that may not be a huge issue. But for musicians who are playing live and or recording, the tonal sacrifice can be a deal breaker.

11s

11s are a more standard light set of acoustic guitar strings. They are slightly harder to play than 10s, but they also have a more full and big sound. These strings serve as a great starting point for players who are unsure of what strings they need. However, they still don’t have the tonal fullness that larger strings like 12s and 13s can produce. Still, these strings are a common choice amongst beginner and professionals alike.

12s

Many manufacturers fit their guitars with 12s from the factory, and players consider them the standard gauge for acoustic guitars strings. As expected, they are slightly harder to play than 12s, but they also provide a fuller and bigger sound than 10s or 11s. 12s are a very versatile string gauge that are well suited for a variety of experience levels and play styles.

13s

Players and manufacturers consider 13s a heavier set of acoustic guitar strings, and experienced players in specific styles and settings use them most commonly. Many use them for larger guitars like archtops, dreadnoughts, and jumbos that can handle the higher string tension. 

13s can be difficult to play, but they produce incredibly full, big, and loud sounds that project well. Bluegrass flatpickers who need a big sound to cut through the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin frequently use 13s on their acoustics. For most though, the tonal benefits of 13s are not worth the decrease in playability.

Our Recommendation

Again, there are really no wrong choices when it comes to string gauge for acoustic guitar. It all comes down to your guitar and your personal preference. Many prefer light gauge strings like 10s or 11s, and many others prefer heavier gauge strings like 12s or 13s.

That said, starting with too large of strings can make playing harder than it needs to be for beginners. Because of that, we recommend that beginners start 11s (such as these) and work their way up to 12s over time. This allows for you to get comfortable playing and build the calluses and finger strength necessary for larger string gauges.

Photo of an acoustic guitar sitting outside of a door.

Coated vs Uncoated

Coated strings can be one of the more confusing things for beginners when they are looking for strings. What are they coated with? Why are they more expensive? Are they worth it? What does the coating actually do? But don’t fret; coated strings aren’t as complicated and confusing as they can seem.

Coated strings have a thin layer of polytetrafluoroethylene (commonly known as TeflonⓇ) that serves to keep strings from going dead and losing their tone. The coating protects the strings from sweat and oils that cause corrosion, therefore keeping the strings more fresh for a longer period of time. Many players prefer them because they last longer than uncoated strings and allow them to go longer without having to change strings. 

On top of that, coated strings generally produce less string noise due to the coating. For acoustic players highly focused on tone or those recording, coated strings can be a great option. However, coated strings do come with downsides.

Most notably, coated strings have an impact on tone. While the coating makes the strings last longer, it also inhibits their ability to vibrate and resonate. This results in a quieter guitar with less resonance and sustain. Some also feel coated strings cause their guitar to have a more plastic sound, though this is subjective.

Lastly, it’s important to note the difference in feel between coated and uncoated strings. Coated strings are more slick and slippery than uncoated strings. This can be a pro or con depending on your preferences. Many players cannot stand the feel of coated strings, and others can’t live without them.

Our Recommendation

Coated strings are not for everyone, but they are certainly worth trying if you have the extra money. A set of coated strings like our Foxwoods can be a great way to get more life out of your strings. Consider getting a pair to try so you can figure out whether or not coated strings are a good fit for you.

Conclusion

Even though a lot can be said about the different types of strings for acoustic guitars, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. The only way to find the best set of strings for you is by experimenting with different types of strings.

For beginners though, it’s best to start with tried and true classics and go from there. Our top recommendation for acoustic guitar strings for beginners are our 11-52 phosphor bronze strings.

One Response

  1. I’m a beginner…just learning chords…myfriends guitar feels good on my fingers…but the bottom 2 strings on my (Fender Starcaster) acoustic guitar really hurts my fingers..feels like piano wire….SOOOO thin. I’ve built up calla my fingertip callouses…it’s not that…it’s just they are TOO thin.

    What do you recommend? A higher (thicker) guage? Coated strings? Like I said, my friend’s guitar strings feel good to play and I don’t hesitate using E/B strings. But not my guitar….
    Advice?

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