How To Choose The Right String Gauge For Acoustic Guitars

When it comes to your acoustic guitar, it is absolutely essential that you pick the right string gauge in order to get the most out of your playing. The right string gauge can make an impact on your instrument, playing style, and tone. But if you’ve only just discovered how important guitar string gauge is to your playing and you’ve never really given them much thought, don’t worry!

In this article, I will give you a beginner’s introduction to acoustic guitar string gauge and help you decide what strings to use for your acoustic guitar.

What is string gauge?

Before we dive into choosing the best string gauge for your guitar, we must understand what string gauge is. To put it simply, string gauge is the thickness of the guitar string. In acoustic guitars, the thickness can range from extra-light to heavy.

Lighter strings have less tension, so these strings are much easier to bend and press. They’re much easier to use and kinder to your fingers. Lighter strings also have a brighter sound. The opposite is true for heavier strings. Heavier strings will typically have a bolder and warmer tone, and they require more pressure to bend and fret. But the tension makes these heavier strings more likely to stay in tune.

Often, the gauge difference between two different strings will be barely anything (I’m talking .01 inch difference). But this tiny difference in thickness will still greatly impact the tone of your guitar.

String gauge types for acoustic guitar

Here are the different string gauges that are typically available for acoustic guitar. 

StringExtra light (10s)Light (11s)Medium (12s)Heavy (13s)
High E.010 inches.011 inches.012 inches.013 inches
B.014 inches.015 inches.016 inches.017 inches
G.023 inches.023 inches.025 inches.026 inches
D.030 inches.032 inches.032 inches.035 inches
A.039 inches.042 inches.043 inches.045 inches
Low E.047 inches.052 inches.053 inches.056 inches

How to choose the best string gauge for acoustic guitars

The most common string gauge for acoustic guitars is usually the 11s or 12s, which are the light or medium string gauges. But there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer when it comes to the best string gauge for acoustic guitars. The best string gauge for you depends on a number of factors. The best gauge will be the one that is best suited for your playing style, desired tone, guitar size, and even skill level.

One major reason acoustic guitarists may lean toward medium and heavy gauge strings is that they are louder. Since you won’t be plugging your guitar into an amp, the guitar’s shape and the strings are essential for volume.

I never really recommend using extra-light strings on acoustic guitars unless you are an absolute beginner and the string tension is bothering you. These strings are quiet, have an unbalanced tone, don’t stay in tune, and break easily.

Playing style

With fingerpicking styles, you’ll find it much easier to play with lighter gauge strings for obvious reasons! On the other hand, if you use a guitar pick and you’re into riffing and alternate picking, medium or even heavy gauge strings might be the pick for you. However, keep in mind that playing with heavy gauge strings may be hard on your fingers, especially if you are a beginner. So, pick the medium gauge if that’s a concern of yours. 

Finally, if you mix a lot of strumming and fingerpicking, take your pick between a light or medium gauge string. Or, you can use a mix by using lighter gauges on the top three strings and heavier gauges on the bottom three. 

Desired tone

The string gauge you pick will also affect the tone of your guitar. Heavier gauge strings will accentuate the bass frequencies of your guitar and will produce deeper, stronger, and louder tones. So, if you’re after this warmer tone, a heavier gauge string is for you. But if you want a brighter tone with more emphasis on your treble notes, a lighter string gauge may be the better pick. Lighter string gauges have a brighter sound and are a great choice if you want to be able to bend easier.

Guitar size

Generally, smaller guitars should have lighter gauges, and bigger guitars should go heavier. The louder sound of the medium and heavy string gauges will really emphasize the larger sound chamber of your bigger guitar, and the opposite is true for smaller guitars.

Skill level

While this shouldn’t be a determining factor for the string gauge you choose, beginners will find it a lot easier to play with lighter string gauges than with heavier ones. When you don’t have the callouses built on your hands yet, playing with strings with less tension may be more forgiving on your fingers. However, keep in mind that if you only use the lightest string gauge, you may never develop the callouses needed to play guitar with heavier string gauges. 

Wrapping up

String gauge can have a considerable impact on your guitar’s tone, playing style, and more. While most guitarists will stick to the basic 10 or 11-gauge strings, in some cases, lighter or heavier gauges may be beneficial. Knowing how the string gauge can affect your playing will give you a better understanding of your instrument and how to use it.

What about electric guitars? I have a full article that covers electric guitar string gauge with a breakdown on everything you need to know about it, so feel free to check it out!

If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me! I’m happy to answer them.


How to adjust the action on an acoustic guitar?

To adjust the action on an acoustic guitar, you should first check that the neck is straight, adjust the truss rod if necessary, adjust the saddle by filing it down or purchasing a larger one, depending on whether you are lowering or raising the action. Finally, when that’s done, you can adjust the nut. For a more in-depth look on this, check out my article and step-by-step guide on how to adjust the action on your acoustic guitar.

How often should you change your acoustic guitar strings?

As a general rule, you should change your acoustic guitar strings after every 100 hours of playing. This means that your guitar strings may need replacing either every couple of weeks or every few months, depending on how often you play. But besides playtime, there are some other factors that can contribute, such as: sweat, playing style, and humidity.