The Best Guitar Strings for Fingerstyle Playing: Acoustic and Electric

The Best Strings for Fingerstyle

While playing with a pick may be more commonplace for the non-classical guitarists of the world, fingerstyle guitar playing is unmatched for nuance and detail. If a pick is a blunt hammer, fingertips are a precise scalpel, giving you orders of magnitude more dynamic range.

Blackbird by the Beatles, Deep River Blues by Doc Watson, Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers, and everything Mark Knopfler’s done are just a few examples of what can be done with fingerpicking. From classical pieces and country to solo arrangements of your favorite anime soundtrack (Bink’s Sake anyone?), fingerpicking has a lot to offer to any player.

But what strings should you use for fingerpicking on electric or acoustic? Well don’t worry; that’s why we’re here! In this article, we’re going to focus on which strings are best for fingerstyle, whether you play acoustic or electric. By the end, you’ll be ready to pick out the perfect set of strings to make your fingerpicking really sing. 

Why Play Fingerstyle?

First off, let’s talk about why you should play fingerstyle. Most guitarists simply use a pick, so why get rid of it? What’s wrong with a pick, and why should you learn fingerstyle?

Nothing is wrong with picks, and they have a lot to offer. However, playing solely with a pick can limit what you’re able to do. Even in metal bands that you’d assume only use picks, oftentimes the guitarist utilizes hybrid picking (using both fingers and a pick) to do things they couldn’t otherwise. Bringing your fingers into the equation can free you up to do lots of new things.

With just a pick, you only have one way of hitting the strings. You can play on a single string, hit multiple strings next to each other at once, or you can strum them all. What you can’t do though is play multiple strings that aren’t next to each other at once. For example, say you want to play notes on the low E and B strings at the same time. That’s not possible with a pick, but it’s easy with fingerstyle or hybrid picking. 

With fingerpicking, you can play bass lines while also playing a melody. You can play and outline chords while providing the melody. You can create fuller, more involved arrangements with a single guitar than you could otherwise. 

The other big advantage of fingerpicking is control. Your fingers are directly touching the strings, so you can get more nuanced dynamics and timbre with your fingers. You also have the ability to use your nails and fingers, giving you multiple tonal options for every finger. And if you hybrid pick, you can get the tone of a traditional pick at the same time. 

Best Strings for Acoustic Fingerstyle

Acoustic is what most people think of when they hear fingerstyle, and it’s likely the more popular choice of guitar for fingerstyle. As with everything string-related, the best strings for you ultimately come down to preference. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing strings for fingerstyle on an acoustic. 

String Gauge

First, you want to figure out what gauge strings you want. 12s or 13s are the most common strings for acoustic guitars. Many players choose even heavier strings than that, but they are almost always players who use a pick.

For fingerstyle, slightly lighter string gauges are generally recommended. Because you are playing directly with your fingers, there are a few complications. Heavy strings can quickly tear up your fingers. All guitarists develop calluses and tough skin on their fretting hand, but that’s not the case for the strumming hand if you use a pick. You’ll have to build calluses on the fingers of your strumming hand, and that’s much less painful with lighter strings. 

The other complication is strength and tension. Heavier strings mean your guitar is going to have more string tension. That means your fingers will have to work harder just to pick a string, which can quickly get tiresome if your fingers aren’t strong enough. 

For most players, we recommend 11s or “Super Light Gauge” strings as the de facto choice for fingerstyle guitar playing on an acoustic. It’s the perfect happy medium—light enough to be expressive, but not so light to pull out of tune or cause unwanted fret noise. If those are a bit too heavy, you may want to try 10s, or if they’re a bit too light you may want to opt for 12s, but we believe that in about 80% of cases, 11s are the perfect choice.


The next thing you need to figure out is what kind of string material you want. The main choices are phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze, though nickel strings are another (and oft-forgotten) choice. 

Phosphor bronze is by far the most popular choice for acoustic guitars for fingerstyle or pick playing. They provide a projecting, mid-focused tone, are longer lasting, and they can work for just about any genre or style.

80/20 strings are less popular, but they are still a very common choice. They have less of a mid-focus, with a more pronounced top end and right low end when compared with phosphor bronze, but they tend to dull and lose their tone more quickly.

The other option is nickel. While nickel can seem like an unconventional choice for acoustic guitar, pure nickel strings like our 12-52 Broadways are a long-running “secret menu” choice for acoustic players looking for a warm but crisp tone that is more “vintage” sounding. They also have great durability. 


The last thing you need to figure out is whether or not you want a coated or an uncoated string. This one is entirely preference, and people tend to have very strong opinions about whether or not they like coating. 

Coated strings like our Foxwoods have a thin enamel coating that prevents the strings from corroding due to sweats and oils. The coating also makes the strings feel more slick, making it easy to quickly move up and down the fretboard. 

On the other hand, many say that the coating impacts the tone and dulls the guitar’s sound, although this is a more common feature of plastic-coated strings than with enamel-coated strings like the ones we make here at Stringjoy.

Coated strings can be polarizing, and they’re something you have to try yourself. If you haven’t tried them, we recommend buying a set and trying them out. You’ll either find your new favorite strings or waste a few extra bucks on an experiment. Either way, it’s worthwhile giving them a shot. 

Best Strings for Electric Fingerstyle

Electric fingerstyle playing may be less popular, but it’s still very common. From Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler to The Doors’ Robby Krieger to Derek Trucks and the legendary Chet Atkins, there’s certainly no shortage of fantastic electric players that don’t need a pick to shine.

Let’s look at what you need to consider when choosing strings for electric fingerstyle playing. 


Like acoustic guitars, lighter strings are generally recommended for fingerstyle. This is less of an issue with electrics since they are easier to play in general, but you still need to build finger strength and calluses. 

10s are pretty standard for electric guitars and are a solid choice, especially if you already have experience with electric guitars. If you’re a beginner, 9s are probably the better choice. They will give you the chance to build the strength and calluses you need for fingerstyle without as much wear and tear on your fingers. 


For electric guitars, nickel wound and pure nickel are the two main options available. Either of them are a good choice for fingerstyle, and it comes down to personal preference.

Nickel wound strings are brighter with more mid-range and a crisp sound. However, they also tend to lose their tone more quickly, meaning more string swaps if you care about tonal consistency. 

Pure nickel strings on the other hand are more consistent tonally. They last longer and keep their tone longer. They are warmer, have less midrange, and have fuller bass. Tonally, they are almost like a string that’s already a bit worn in. 

If you already have a preference for either one, just go with that. The consistency will make it easier for you getting used to fingerstyle. If you don’t have a preference, give each one a shot and see which one you like more. 


As with acoustics, whether or not you want coating is a preference thing. You might love them, or you might hate them. The only way to find out is to try them. 

Coated strings such as our Orbiters are protected so they will keep their tone and last longer, but that can come at the cost of reduced tone. They also make the strings feel slick and silky, which is something that some love and some hate.

Again, the only way to find out whether or not you like them is by trying them. So pick up a set, string them up, and see how they feel and sound to you. 

Try Out Some Strings and Get Fingerpicking

Fingerstyle is an incredibly fun and rewarding pursuit. With fingerstyle, you can write arrangements and play parts that aren’t otherwise possible. But first, you need to find the right strings for it. 

Lighter string gauges are generally recommended for fingerstyle, as they’ll make it easier on your fingers. As far as material and coating, that largely comes down to preference. 

At the end of the day, we recommended trying out a variety of strings and figuring out which ones you like best. We have plenty of strings available for you to try out, so pick some up and get fingerpicking!

2 Responses

  1. What is the easiest string for fingerpicking an 8 string baritone acoustic right now I’m using phosphorus bronze 14 / 68 is silk, and steel more pliable?

  2. Good article. I recently started using the Broadways on acoustic as I already prefer them for electric. I only do finger style—no pick.
    The Broadways are great— warm.
    One thing I’ll recommend also not mentioned here is a wound third.
    I’m glad you have that option to customize.
    I’m starting at 11 and with a 22 wound third, and 52 at the bottom. They sound great on electric and acoustic.

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