Finding strings for your acoustic guitar can sometimes be tricky and can become even more complicated when searching for strings that are suited towards a specific style of playing, like blues. There are many things to take into consideration, and those can all make your decision seem even more difficult. Thankfully, we have compiled a list of the ten best acoustic strings to get you started playing blues as soon as possible.
The best acoustic strings for playing blues are D’Addario Nickel Bronze, John Pearse Pure Nickel Wound, Martin Retro Monel, Ernie Ball Earthwood Rock & Blues, Martin MA140T, D’Addario XT, D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze, Martin MSP4100, Elixir 80/20 Bronze, and Martin MA170S Marquis Silked strings.
Throughout this article, we will discuss all of the factors you need to consider when buying acoustic strings for blues and give you some recommendations for strings sets you can buy to put on your guitar. So let’s get to it!
What You Need To Consider When Buying Acoustic Strings for Playing Blues
Blues is one of the more interesting genres and styles of music playing, and one of the things that makes it so is how broad and diverse of a genre it is. For that reason, it would be wrong (and perhaps foolish) of us to say that there is just one set or type of string that is suited for playing this style of music.
Instead, we will go over a list of factors that contribute to making strings suitable for playing blues, and then we’ll suggest some strings that combine some of these traits.
This is often seen as one of the most (if not the most) important factors that influence the sound of a string and suitability to a specific style of playing. String gauge, in essence, tells you how thick a particular string is. In a set of strings, each string is assigned a number representing how thick it is, and the higher the number, the thicker the string.
The blues style of playing considers individual expression to be one of the most essential factors in its sound, and one of the ways players can do this is by utilizing a string’s bend and vibrato. Lighter gauge strings are easier to bend and thus easier to add vibrato to.
However, this doesn’t mean you should get the lightest gauge string available; learning to bend the string the right amount for the sound you want is a skill that takes a long time and lots of practice to perfect. We suggest getting a string with a gauge that will suit your current level of playing and help you develop your skills so that eventually, you can move onto a different string gauge should you want to.
One thing that is important to note is that on a lighter gauge string set, the thicker strings will be lighter as well. If you like to play a little bit of rhythm style, too, a lighter set might give you great bends, but it means you’ll be sacrificing the tone on the lower end. To remedy this, you might want to go for a hybrid gauge. This means you’ll be getting a set of strings with light gauge treble strings and heavier gauge bass strings.
Some players prefer to use a hybrid gauge string set as they offer them the benefits of two different gauges. The lighter strings make bending and adding vibrato easier, while the heavier strings provide depth to your sound.
Another thing that string gauge has an effect on is the speed at which you can play your guitar. Lighter gauge strings will allow you to move your fingers up and down the fretboard much faster than heavier gauge strings, which require a little more effort to play on. Thus it would be best to consider how you like to play your instrument when looking at the gauge of the string you’re getting.
The way you tune your guitar will also come into play when you’re choosing strings to put on it. Many blues players stick to the standard guitar tuning, but some people prefer to experiment with their guitars’ tuning. Most notably, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were known to tune their guitars down by one semitone.
Tuning your guitar down will make the strings looser, which is fine for some, but others don’t like the feeling of loose strings under their fingers. To remedy this, you could get a set of heavier gauge strings. The extra tension from a heavier gauge will offset the tension lost when tuning the strings down half a step, making them feel like what a lighter gauge string would feel like at the standard tuning.
The material your strings are made of also affects how they sound. Back in the day, when blues were all the rage, guitarists primarily used strings made of pure nickel or a composite called Monel. Lately, more materials have been introduced into the mix, including nickel-plated steel, phosphor-bronze alloy, and 80/20 bronze alloy.
All of these material types have a distinctive sound, some being brighter and some being warmer; however, all of them can be used in a blues style of playing. The material you choose will depend on your personal preference and the kind of sound you like when you play.
String Cores: Shapes
The last factor that you’ll need to consider is the size and shape of the core of the wound strings in your string set. These days, most string sets either have a hexagonally shaped (hex) core or a round core wire. However, there are exceptions where the core wire might be a square shape, but those are very rare. Both hex cores and round cores can be used for blues playing, but each of them will add a different touch to the sound of your guitar.
Hex core strings usually feel slightly stiffer and will have a brighter tone, while round core strings are more supple and soft on the fingers and have a warmer tone. Keep these in mind when going to buy your next set of strings, and you’ll find the decision-making process to be a bit easier.
Now that we’ve discussed the different factors that will play a role in deciding which strings you want to use on your guitar, we can get to the strings we would recommend you use for playing blues with your acoustic guitar.
Best Acoustic Guitar Strings For Playing Blues
Nickel is one of the most popular materials used by blues guitarists (on electric and acoustic guitars alike) because it has such a warm and almost ‘vintage’ sound to it. It should come as no surprise that we would recommend these nickel bronze strings by D’Addario. They are uncoated, made from nickel-plated phosphor-bronze wire wrapped onto a high carbon steel core, and provide players with better tuning stability and break resistance.
Though they come in many different gauges, we recommend sticking to the extra light, custom light, and light gauges as they are best suited toward blues-style playing. These strings will give you unparalleled clarity, resonance, and projection while still producing a well-balanced sound with rich overtones.
John Pearse is also a reliable brand for high-quality strings that last longer and sound great. These pure nickel wound strings are no exception! They are made from a pure nickel wire wrap, which will produce a warmer sound than D’Addario’s nickel-plated strings, and may have more of that ‘vintage’ vibe since most blues players from the ’60s played on pure nickel or monel strings.
Though these strings are rated as light gauge strings (0.012-0.054), they may be a bit on the heavy side for the purpose of playing blues. However, if you’re someone who likes to experiment a little or stray from the status quo, you should definitely give these a go! They will give you a slightly punchier tone than some of the other lighter gauge strings on this list, and if you’re into that, these are the strings for you.
The name says it all; these strings are retro! Martin has dubbed these their proprietary ‘monel’ strings, which are made of a nickel-copper alloy and are naturally corrosion resistant. They offer reduced pick attack, ensuring that the tone of your guitar doesn’t get overshadowed while you’re playing. These strings bring out the natural warmth of your guitar in their sound and provide consistency of tone throughout their playing lifetime.
They have an extra light gauge (0.010-0.047), which is just about perfect for blues style playing; however, this doesn’t make them any less strong or long-lasting. In fact, the monel wrap wire might even offer increased longevity over the extra light gauge strings made by other manufacturers.
The Ernie Ball Earthwood strings are well-known to be great strings for almost any acoustic guitar playing style (Question: Can a left-handed person play a right-handed guitar?), but their hybrid’ rock and blues’ gauge strings are made specifically for, well, rock and blues. The individual string gauges are 0.010, 0.013, 0.017, 0.030, 0.042, and 0.052, and are a hybrid of strings from the extra light, light, and medium string sets.
The wound strings are made from an 80% copper 20% zinc alloy wire wrapped around a tin-plated steel hex core wire, while the plain strings are made from tempered tin-plated high carbon steel. They enhance your guitar’s natural tone and provide superb projection. They produce a well-balanced sound with crisp highs, pleasing overtones, and remarkable clarity.
These Martin Authentic Acoustic Strings are a perfect choice if you like to play fingerstyle blues. They feature 80/20 bronze wire wrapped around tin-plated steel cores and tin-plated plain steel wires that will brighten the tone of your guitar naturally. They give a balance to the tenor, mid-tones, and bass of your guitar’s sound without taking away from the tuning or feel when you play it.
This specific string set is a light gauge string set, but there are also sets that come in extra light and custom light gauges, which are also very well suited to playing a blues style with your acoustic guitar. All of the authentic acoustic string sets offer excellent tuning stability and have been treated to resist corrosion, ensuring they have a better-sounding and longer-lasting lifespan.
D’Addario’s XT lineup of strings is another excellent option for those who want to play blues music. They come in several guitar variations, including acoustic, and are made of plain high carbon steel strings and wound strings that feature a high carbon steel crow wire wrapped in phosphor-bronze wire for a wonderfully balanced sound. These strings offer exceptional tuning stability and long-lasting sound for outstanding performances.
To play blues-style music, we would recommend you go with either the extra light or custom light gauges for this particular string set, as they would be best suited to the style and sound you are looking to produce. This string set features an extended lifespan treatment on the strings that D’Addario claims makes them last four times longer than uncoated strings, without sacrificing the feel and tone of uncoated strings.
These EJ16 strings are one of D’Addario’s most popular acoustic string sets, and with good reason too. These strings feature a phosphor-bronze wrap wire wound around a hexagonally shaped high carbon steel core. This combination has long been known to produce a well-balanced sound with great intonation and consistent tone throughout their playing lifetime, as well as strings that are long-lasting and comfortable to play on.
This string set comes in several different gauges, though the extra light and custom light gauges (perhaps even the light gauge if you’re experimental) are best suited towards a blues style of playing. They are made from high-quality materials and are naturally corrosion-resistant, so you know that you’re always going to get a good set of strings. For reliable strings that will stand the test of time, these are the ones you’ll want to go with.
These MSP4100’s are made from a 92/8 phosphor-bronze alloy wire wrapped around the core wire and are wound to the most precise specifications that ensure they are of the highest quality possible. The combination of phosphor and bronze gives these strings deep and rich bass sounds and clear and bright trebles, which, when combined, create a well-rounded and balanced sound.
These strings come in a light gauge (0.012-0.054), which might not be the typical gauge used for blues; however, they can still deliver that same ‘sound’ that people associate with that style of music. These strings have brilliant intonation, great clarity of sound, and longevity of quality, all of which make them an excellent choice for your acoustic guitar.
These strings for Elixir are coated with their patented ‘nanoweb’ technology, which is ultra-thin, so strings feel like traditionally uncoated strings but are protected from common corrosive elements, which extends their tone life and makes them more resistant to breakage. They are constructed from an 80% copper, 20% zinc bronze alloy wire wrapped around a core wire, and anti-rust plated plain steel strings.
For blues style playing, you could use these strings in the extra light, custom light, or light gauges, depending on your personal preference. No matter which gauge you use, you can be assured that these strings will produce a fantastic sound that has a clear and bright tone and a vibrant and expressive presence.
These strings are an excellent choice for you, especially if you like playing fingerstyle blues. They are made of an 80/20 bronze wrap wire, a high-tensile core, and tin-plated plain steel strings, which gives them a bright tone with a softer sound and a mellow feel on the fingers while playing. The ends are wrapped with silk, which is intended to protect your guitar’s bridge plate and holes from the wear and tear of daily use.
This set of strings has an extra light gauge rating (0.010-0.047), which is the preferred gauge range for most blues players. However, this does not mean that they are not as strong as strings with a higher gauge; in fact, these strings are just as strong. They are made from high-quality materials and offer consistently good playability and excellent tuning stability, so there’s no need to worry about being extra careful when playing on these strings.
Finding the right strings for your guitar and preferred playing style can be difficult, especially considering the massive amounts of different strings on the market nowadays. But hopefully, by giving you a few tips about the factors you should consider in your decision-making, we will have helped make things easier for you.
And if you’re not sure which strings are reliable, the list we have compiled should help you get an idea of the kinds of strings that work well for a blues style of playing. In any event, good luck picking out your new acoustic blues guitar strings!