As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 3 – Ladies Rock the Blues – June 2018
When it comes to playing acoustic blues, you’ve got to have the right strings.
But making the right choice is not so simple, as there are a lot of factors to consider before threading that steel and turning those pegs.
First of all, think about how important sound projection is for your guitar. This depends on whether or not you’re playing your acoustic unplugged or plugged. Thicker strings (that is, strings with a heavier gauge) have a louder and fuller tone. While great for strumming rhythmic chords, that thickness can hold you back from letting your fingers fly and experimenting with some rather bluesy riffs. If you’re not an acoustic purist, and your sound is getting a little help from an amplifier of some sort, you can get away with lighter-gauged strings.
Aside from volume and projection, the right strings matter when you have a specific sound you want to achieve and style you want to convey. As a lead guitarist, you may prefer a brighter, lighter, and more sustained sound. As a rhythm guitarist, you could be partial to a warm, mellow resonance.
Being an acoustic blues guitarist in particular doesn’t make the choice any easier. Emphasizing hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and bends, acoustic blues possesses a very distinctive sound and style. The strings you select for this genre will make a significant difference in your playing.
Let’s look at four types of strings you should consider if you play acoustic blues. We’ll help you make an informed decision about which ones to purchase and cure your case of acoustic string blues once and for all.
Ernie Ball 2146 Earthwood Phosphor Bronze Medium-Light Strings (gauge .012-.054)
Ernie Ball strings always perform well. When playing, they have an unforced feel and superior projection – ideal for performing unplugged. The Phosphor Bronze Medium-Lights are versatile, in that they possess a warm and rich tone that suits rhythm playing as well as distinctly clear trebles that suit lead playing and singular notes. In regard to sustainability, the packaging these strings come in prevent oxidation (not to get too scientific) and prolong their lifespan and sound quality. These strings don’t sound metallic like many others, but rather provide a slight twang that is perfect for playing acoustic blues.
Martin MSP4150 SP Phosphor Bronze Light-Medium Strings (gauge .0125-.0550)
If you’re an acoustic guitarist, you know “Martin” means quality; C.F. Martin & Company makes some of the best guitars in the world – and their strings are no different. Whether you’re strumming or picking individual strings, the MSP4150 SP Phosphor Bronze Light-Mediums will produce a sound and range that a blues player needs. The core wires and plain strings are plated with an acoustic bronze finish that makes them very durable and responsive, particularly for fingerpicking. However, some find these strings to be harsher than most in the light-medium category, so if you’re a novice guitarist, these aren’t for you. Build up your calluses before trying these out.
Cleartone Phosphor-Bronze Light Strings (gauge 12 – 53)
Guitarists either love these strings or hate them. With that in mind, you should try them at least once. These strings are a perfect example of how some can sound great on one guitar but may fall flat on another. These could be the strings that will give you that bluesy sound you’ve been searching for, or they could sound terrible – but there’s only one way to find out. The Cleartone Phosphor-Bronze Lights tout a “treated” string instead of “coated” string, which offers a more natural tone and effortless feel that many blues guitarists prefer. For the price, these strings hold up and are worth a shot.
D’Addario EJ17 Phosphor Bronze Medium Strings (gauge 13-56)
The packaging on these suggest a “warm, bright, and balanced tone,” and that’s what they deliver. D’Addario’s EJ17 Phosphor Bronze Mediums project a quality resonance and exceptional intonation. These strings don’t break too easily, and universally sound great on almost any acoustic. You may chew up your fingers on the deeper bass strings, but it is worth the crisp sound you will get playing rhythm or lead. Cleverly enough, the tuning end of these strings have about a four-inch section of unwrapped core, making it easier to insert the string into the tuning axle hole and saving time and frustration. Many swear by D’Addario products, and if you’re an acoustic blues guitarist, you need to try these at least once.