Review: Guitar String Roundup

How often should guitar strings be changed? There isn’t a simple answer. Because strings wear out at different rates based on your environment, how you play and even your body chemistry, I can’t tell you exactly how often you should change your strings. However I can tell you that once strings are past their prime, your guitar will sound dull and won’t feel right or tune up correctly.

The wall of strings in any music store will offer you many options for both electric and acoustic guitar strings that will make your guitar sound brand new. You’ll find everything from basic steel strings to Alloys to high-tech strings with coatings and other innovations. Which package of strings should you buy? The ones that have the best sound (to your ears), the best feel and the longest lifespan. Here are a few popular and reliable brands that I checked out recently.

Curt Mangan Traditional Light Phosphor Bronze #37007 for Acoustic Guitar is “light” string package containing gauges: .012, .016, .024, .032, .042, and .054. I thought this string set would be most appropriate for a parlor size guitar that I use mostly for finger picking. Though they had a slightly lighter gauge G string that I typically use, these strings offered both the tight bass sound I like for fingerpicking and brilliant highs.

Trying a set of new strings always feels different, but the easy playability offered with the phosphor bronze composition of these traditional lights offered some familiarity; I had no trouble adjusting to the feel. The manufacturer advertises their strings as being ‘Fusion Matched’ which seems to indicate that they pay extra attention to materials, tolerances and ratios during the manufacturing process.

Curt Mangan #37007 Street Price: $8.70

Curt Mangan Medium Light Phosphor Bronze #312254 for Acoustic Guitar is a “medium light” string package with gauges: .012, .016, .024, .032, .044, and .054. This string set is very close to manufacturer’s “light” string set, but with a larger gauge A string that gives it improved bass and fullness. This string set seems ideal for larger body styles where the guitarist prefers the feel and playability of lighter string gauges, or where a strumming style might benefit from a bit more low end.

I also found this string set to be good for fingerpicking and particularly good on my electric acoustic for solo performing. As with the manufacturer’s other phosphor bronze combinations, the feel and playability of these strings was familiar and felt comfortable across the neck.

Curt Mangan Phosphor Bronze #312254 Street Price: $8.70

Curt Mangan Stainless Wound #12010 for Electric Guitar contains gauges: .010, .013, .017, .026 (wound), .036, and .046. Made specifically for electric guitars and 43 inches in length, this basic design hasn’t changed much since the early seventies and for a good reason. Stainless steel strings are bright sounding and keep this tone for long periods, even under bad conditions, like high humidity or if they are used by players who have acidic hands. What has changed about these strings is that this manufacturer’s wound strings are now designed around a hex-shaped core wire of tin-plated high-carbon steel that makes the strings even more reliable and last longer.

I found these strings to have a comfortable feel and bright edgy tone that was easy to control. In this stock light size, these strings happened to require no changes to the set-up of my Stratocaster-style guitar, so they were easily playable right from the start. String bending in any location was easy and the high strings presented a good tone with nice resistance.

Curt Mangan #12010 Street Price: $6.90

D’Addario Light Nickel Bronze #NB1253 for Acoustic Guitar is a light string package that contains string gauges: .012, .016, .024, .032, .042, and .053. With a slightly lighter low E string than I am accustomed to and a composition containing nickel, this string set took a bit of getting used to. I found that the tone favored the midrange and gave my guitar an interesting, perhaps vintage, sound. These would be great strings to check out for older instruments or new redesigns of classic guitars.

This string set, though lighter than my usual sound, provided a very clear sound and pleasant harmonics that I could really appreciate. While I didn’t record anything with these strings, I certainly got the sense that a good guitar would record very well with them.

D’Addario Light Nickel Bronze #NB1253 Street Price: $11.99

Dean Markley Signature Series Vintage Bronze #2004 for Acoustic Guitar is a “medium light” string package that contains string gauges: .012, .016, .025, .032, .042, and .054. This string set has been a standard for many players, some having used them for decades. Made of 85 percent copper and 15 percent zinc, these strings provide a rich, beautiful tone. Of course, strings will sound different on every instrument, but they really sang on my walnut jumbo electric-acoustic model.

While these strings produce a rich, full tone with the great clarity one might expect from a heavier set of strings, they really play more like a typical light set. This would make them a great choice for subtle lead work or other playing up the neck.

Dean Markley #2004 Street Price: $4.79

DR Strings Veritas Light Phosphor Bronze DR for Acoustic Guitar is a light string package that contains string gauges: .012, .016, .024, .032, .042, and .054. Players who use DR strings attest that the process that Veritas has developed produces a string with a core that is ultra-solid and remains stable over time. While I can’t personally support their claim that these strings last up to four times longer than other manufacturer’s strings, I can say that these strings do produce extraordinary brightness and volume — great for playing acoustic lead lines or acoustic parts in a band setting. Their powerful acoustic response was immediately apparent from when I first installed them.

I did check out the manufacturer’s claim that their superior core design helps with intonation. Using a guitar with intonation I trusted, I checked carefully up and down the neck and found the correct intonation I expected with new strings, but also tried quick changes to drop tunings and the strings responded well. DR makes two sets of these strings in lighter versions which is great for those who prefer light or extra light strings where maintaining proper intonation can be more tricky.

Veritas DR Light Street Price: $7.28

When I change strings, I need to know what I’m going to get, so it’s rare for me to step out and try something new like a different string manufacturer or material combination. But, there are some great discoveries to be made by changing things up and I’m happy I tried out some new strings. Here is what I learned: the best strings for your guitar are the ones that sound great to you and match both your playing style and your instrument. A salesperson or experienced guitarist can help you choose, but to find the best strings you have to try them out for yourself.