Learning acoustic guitar is a process which is full of fun. Beside strumming and other playing tricks, you can also try different type of strings and discover which acoustic guitar string sounds the best for you.
BEFORE YOU START
One of a very important step before you start your learning journey is to make sure your acoustic guitar is properly ‘setup’. This could be done by sending it to music store and get the staffs there to help you out. In general, setup an acoustic guitar will cost you around $50. After setup done, your guitar had been adjusted and you will find it easier to play.
Guitar strings have a steel core. The bottom 4 strings are “wound” with a wrap wire. For acoustic guitar strings, the wrap wires are normally phosphor bronze or 80/20 bronze (which is actually brass). Phosphor bronze has a brighter and prettier tone, but it tend to be slightly fuzzy. 80/20 bronze is initially brighter but then will mellow in a day or two. Phosphor bronze will mellow also, but not quite as much. Guitar strings wound with pure nickel normally used on electric guitars, but they will make an overly-bright guitar sound quite mellow and good. Similarly, nickel-plated steel can sound very good on an acoustic guitar. That is what Tony Rice uses, and he’s a great guitarist.
There are also acoustic guitar strings which have an 85/15 formulation. These strings are very mellow sounding and are good for an overly-bright guitar. Lastly, Rohrbacher makes Titanium strings, wound with either phosphor bronze, nickel or coated bronze wire. These strings will last longer than steel, since Titanium is non-corrosive. They are a bit pricey (in the $20.00 per set range) but will last a year or more. They have a slightly softer, sweeter sound than steel strings.
In general, all string makers have a line of own ‘coated’ strings. These guitar strings have been either dipped or sprayed with a fine coating of polymer that protects the string. However, the coating dampens the sound of the string and the guitar. If your hands perspire a lot, you can use coated strings or the Rohrbacher Titaniums. But if your hands always stay dry, then coated strings are not necessary. They cost a lot more and really do not sound as good as uncoated strings. To me, coated strings are just meant to be made for those people with sweaty palm.
Guitar strings come in various gauges (thicknesses or diameter). A 56 gauge string is thicker than a 54 gauge string. Generally, the most common gauges for acoustic guitar strings are Extra-light (11-47), Light (12-54) and medium (13-56). Do note different string makers may have slightly different string gauges for their products. If you have a dreadnought guitar, I recommend medium strings. Why? Because medium strings have a greater tension than Lights or Extra-Lights, and will transfer more sound to the top, or soundboard, of the guitar. This is recommended for a new guitar, especially, because the top is tight and needs to be “played in.”
However, medium gauge strings are harder to finger than Lights or Extra-Lights. Therefore, I only recommend medium gauge to beginner who can take the pain on their fingers. If this is tough for you, then go for light or extra light gauges. Smaller guitars, such as parlor guitars, O, OO or OOO models will do well with Light gauge strings.
D’Addario is the most famous brand and their acoustic guitar strings are very good. Elixir is another trusted brand in America. These strings are very durable. Martin & Ernie Ball make a variety of strings and they are also very good choices. The Martin SPs strings are excellent and have a core of high-tensile steel. This is a fine string for blues, or if you are bending the string.
Which acoustic guitar string is the best will be subjected to your personal preference. One string sounds excellent to you may not sounds the same to other people. The best is, buy 2 or 3 pack of different strings and test them yourself. Once you get your own best pick, stick to it.