Essential Guide to 12-String Guitar Strings: Top Choices for Players

They say heaven doesn’t exist within the confines of mortal reality, but as I caressed the strings of my first 12-string guitar and heard the chorus of harmonies radiating from its body, I found my slice of paradise. I’m Brian Lamacraft, your personal guide in unravelling the mystique around buying guitar strings, particularly the 12-string variety. You might have shared the euphonic joy of dissecting ‘Hotel California’ under my guidance or have come across my reviews in ‘Six-String Journal’. But today, we will voyage together into a world that I’ve explored meticulously – the universe of 12-string guitar strings.

Our shared expedition begins on a crisp Boston autumn day. There, amidst the echoic hallways of Berklee, a young version of me, passionately fallen under the spell of the hauntingly beautiful resonance of 12-string guitars. I’ve invested countless hours in understanding these guitars, their strings, the heart of every guitar player’s essentials. Now, I want to help you find the unique sound that will resonate with your artistic nuances, the sound that takes you, too, to your slice of paradise.

Each string on your guitar carries a story, transmitting your emotions directly to the listener’s heart. Selecting the right 12-string guitar strings can be a game-changer. It not only impacts the overall sound of your guitar but can transform the way you play. It may seem a simple process, but it’s far from it. But don’t worry, you’re not alone on this journey. Together, we’ll demystify these strings and empower you to make an informed choice that can elevate your sound to celestial levels. So, put on your explorer hat and let’s dive deep into the world of 12-string guitar strings!

Top-Rated 12-String Guitar Strings

Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze

Best for Longevity

Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze

As a veteran 12-string guitar player, I’ve encountered my fair share of strings, each with their unique selling points and drawbacks. However, none have quite matched the Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze strings’ durability and tonal vibrancy.

What sets the Elixir strings apart is undoubtedly the NANOWEB coating, a feature that has carved a niche for it in the ‘Top-Rated 12-String Guitar Strings’ category. This protective coating acts as a shield, prolonging the strings’ life span while ensuring that they maintain their phosphor bronze tone even amidst grueling gigs or incessant at-home practices. I fondly remember playing a marathon gig under a searing summer sun without worrying about my strings’ tuning or robustness. That was a transformational experience! That was Elixir.



  • Premium quality comes with a higher price tag.
  • Guidelines for new users could be a little more forthcoming.

In comparison to competitors like the D’Addario EJ38 and Ernie Ball’s Earthwood Light, the Elixir strings distinguish themselves with their NANOWEB coating, creating an almost impenetrable barrier against rust and grime. While the D’Addario strings provide excellent tonal balance, and Ernie Ball presents an affordable alternative, they lack the durability that is a hallmark of the Elixir strings.

As a closing note, it’s worth saying that while these are my experiences as a guitar teacher, each musician’s journey is unique and preference is subjective. However, if longevity, tone preservation, and durability are your main considerations, Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze strings are unquestionably the way to go. Cheers to unadulterated music sessions!

D’Addario EJ38 12-String Phosphor Bronze

Best for Balanced Tone

D'Addario EJ38 12-String Phosphor Bronze

In an exploration of top-rated 12-string guitar strings, I’m sharing my journey with the D’Addario EJ38 12-String Phosphor Bronze strings. These celebrated phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings have been my companion from my old practice rooms back in Berklee to many spotlight moments on local stages.

The harmonically rich tunes produced by these D’Addario strings will touch your soul, just like they did mine. I distinctly recall the day I discovered the EJ38s – it felt like my guitar riffs had finally found their balanced voice. When plucked lightly, these strings whisper sonnets; and when strummed with passion, they roar with authority.

Compared to the Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light, the D’Addario EJ38s are superior in durability while still offering a nuanced, balanced tone. And, while akin to Elixir Nanoweb’s phosphor bronze offering in terms of tone, I find the EJ38s better value for money. They are my go-to teaching tools – reliable, versatile, and always ready to perform.


  • High durability – these strings are built to last.
  • Fabulous balanced tone suitable for all styles of play.


  • Requires frequent tuning.
  • The initial brightness may not be suitable for all musical styles.

In the vast landscape of 12-string guitar strings, the D’Addario EJ38 12-String Phosphor Bronze strings stand out. They sport a balanced tone and high durability at an affordable price point, making them lauded contributors to this category. The intimate description above informs my fond attachment to these strings and their role in my musical journey. As we move forward, let’s dive into other crucial aspects of 12-string guitar strings.

Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light

Best for Light Gauge Preference

Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light

The world of 12-string guitar strings is wonderfully vast and the Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light strings have firmly earned their place on the podium. Over the years, I’ve often turned to these acoustic guitar strings for their light gauge that caresses the fingertips, making them perfect for beginners and those with tender fingers.

Picture this, a young student with dreams of playing like David Gilmour walks into my studio, his fingers weary from a week of strenuous practice. It’s in moments like these that I turn to the trusty Ernie Ball Earthwoods. Their light gauge make them easier to play, reducing finger fatigue, and the sound they produce is only surpassed by their playability. Whether for practice or performances, these strings enhance the character of an acoustic 12-string beautifully.

When compared to the likes of the Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze and the D’Addario EJ38 12-String Phosphor Bronze, the Earthwoods hold their own. While these brands offer high durability and a brighter tone respectively, the Earthwood seems to strike the delicate balance between playability and a robust, full-bodied sound.


  • Perfect for musicians who prefer light gauge strings
  • Note clarity and even tone across the frequency spectrum
  • Great for reducing finger fatigue and aiding extended practice sessions


  • Some players may prefer a brighter tone
  • Slightly less durable than some other options on the market

In the grand symphony of 12-string guitar strings that is our article, the melody of the Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light adds remarkable depth and finesse. Yet, as we move forward, we still have one more contender to consider, the GHS Strings Zakk Wylde Signature. Up next, let’s explore how they tug the right strings for the metal-heads among us.

GHS Strings Zakk Wylde Signature

Best for Electric 12-String Guitars

GHS Strings Zakk Wylde Signature

Headline: Best for Electric 12-String Guitars

My journey to a beefy yet melodious tone on my electric 12-string guitar found its destination with GHS Strings Zakk Wylde Signature. These heavy gauge strings, crafted perfectly with nickel wound, bring a robust and vibrant tonality, which my students often applaud. When they strike the classic ‘Stairway to Heaven’ riff, the air is filled with an unmatchable resonance. The distinct strength and sustain from Zakk Wylde’s are simply unparalleled.

Comparing with other notable strings such as Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze and D’Addario EJ38 12-String Phosphor Bronze, the Zakk Wylde’s heavy gauge provides added durability and an exceptional feel. The nickel winding emphasizes the enriched tonal quality while its sturdy built offers commendable string life. Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light, on the other hand, presents an easier playability but lack the meaty sound that Zakk Wylde’s deliver.


  • Uncompromised tonal richness.
  • Heavy gauge strings offering high durability.
  • Dense and resonant sound.


  • Heavier gauge might require a slight adjustment period.
  • Higher price range compared to other available strings.

As we traverse through the landscape of electric guitar strings, GHS Strings Zakk Wylde signature stands out with its unique offering. It seamlessly aligns with our exploration of top-rated 12-string guitar strings showcasing that real tone can’t be bought on the cheap. Although it demands a higher price, the promise of prolonged, glorious sound, and unwavering quality is worth the spend. Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned guitarist, Zakk Wylde’s holds the power to elevate your musical journey.

Understanding 12-String Guitar Strings

Understanding 12-String Guitar Strings

The 12-string guitar is a unique and powerful instrument, defined by its complex tonal allure. The pathway to that widespread, shimmering resonance we cherish in a 12-string guitar lies within the orchestration of its strings. As an experienced guitar player and teacher, I’ve spent countless hours studying and understanding the intricate dynamics that play out beneath my fingertips. My pursuit and curiosity have led me to unravel the secrets of this beloved instrument, shaping my understanding of the dynamics between its octave and unison strings.

What comes to mind when you hear someone mention a 12-string guitar? Perhaps it’s the robust, chime-like quality of its sound, or maybe it’s the formidable challenge of mastering an instrument armed with twice the number of strings as a standard 6-string guitar. But understanding what’s going on under the hood is an equally, if not more, compelling investigation.

As my guitar mentor once guided me, asking ‘why’ is the first step towards mastery. And, the dance between octave and unison strings creates the symphony in a 12-string guitar. But is there more to this harmonic union? After all, knowing the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ primes you to elevate your performance in ways you may never have realized before.

Each pair of strings (or courses) on a 12-string guitar works in tandem. One string in each pair, called the unison string, is typically tuned to the same pitch as a standard 6-string guitar. Its partner, the octave string, is tuned one octave higher. This unique setup means that every note you play actually rings out twice, simultaneously, but in two different octaves. This creates that lush, resonant sound that makes the 12-string guitar unmistakable.

But the story doesn’t end there. The quality of the sound produced by a 12-string guitar also relies heavily on factors such as the guitar string materials and string gauges. The way the resulting notes overlap, resonate, and interact depends on these aspects. It’s like painting – choosing different brushes and paints changes how your finished canvas appears to the observer. Think of the materials and gauges as the color palette for your tonal landscape.

From my Berklee days, buried in textbooks and engrossed in theories, to years of experience, experimentation, and real-world teaching, I’ve learned that every 12-string guitar is as unique as the musician playing it. As I delve deeper into the performance nuances of different guitar string materials and string gauges in the upcoming sections, remember that the true magic lies within your ability to understand and harness these aspects to fit your unique sound and playing style.

There’s an enchanting relationship at play under your fingers, in every strum, every pluck on a 12-string guitar. The journey of unraveling its symphony lies in understanding the role of these octave and unison strings, and selecting appropriate string materials and gauges that best paint your musical intentions. Remember, the wonder of music is not in the instrument, but in the hands and hearts of those who play it.

Choosing the Right Strings for Your 12-String Guitar

Choosing the Right Strings for Your 12-String Guitar

The fascinating world of instrument accessories is rich with variety and detail, something I have indulged in over my years of playing, teaching, and living with guitars. The universe inside a guitar store—gleaming guitars, an array of picks, endless options of strings—I’ve been there, admiring, analyzing, and absorbing. It’s been a journey, one that has shaped the guitarist and teacher in me. But, let’s focus on one essential aspect of that universe—strings.

Guitar strings, much like the ink to a writer’s pen, are a pivotal component in the delivery of our artistic expression. I’ve seen it all: the eager newbie with a budget guitar, dreaming of six-string stardom, to the seasoned pro fine-tuning their axes. Each choice in string alters the playability and tone, a delicate balance that I help my students navigate weekly. Tension, material, windings—I break it down, making their eyes widen with the realization that with great strings come great possibilities. Remember, what works for my cherished Martin may not be the sweet spot for your Taylor.

Ask any seasoned guitarist, and they’ll tell you that finding the right strings is akin to a spiritual quest—a journey we’re about to embark on together.

For a 12-string guitar, durability is key. Here, the strings are paired, which is why string tension and the guitar setup are particularly important. Balancing longevity, playability, and tone is crucial for your 12 strings to get along harmoniously. This harmonious balance is what can turn ordinary strumming into soul-stirring music. Gauge plays its role; a lighter option feels easier under the fingers but may sacrifice a bit on the longevity and tone, while heavier gauges offer robust sound and longevity but can be tough on the fingertips and demand more from your guitar set-up.

Materials matter too. Phosphor bronze, known for its warm, rich, sparkly tone, is a go-to choice for many guitarists while 80/20 bronze—bright and articulate, suits many styles. And then, there are coated strings; they fight off the environmental elements and sweat residue, keeping your strings sounding fresh for longer. And believe me, when you are buying guitar strings for a 12-string beast, durability is a blessing!

Just as the choice of a pick can significantly alter your guitar’s tone and how you play it, so too can your choice in strings. And just as every guitarist is different, expecting different outcomes depending on their style, genre, skill level, and personal preferences, so too are the various options you have when choosing your strings.

Remember, it’s not about finding the ‘best’, it’s about finding what’s ‘right’—right for you, for your guitar, for your music. Often, it’s a trial and error process, but as we learn from our choices, we begin to understand our uniqueness in a broader musical panorama, adding to the rich tapestry of musical diversity.

We’ll explore more about the top choices for 12-string guitar strings in the upcoming section. The Elixir Nanoweb Coated Phosphor Bronze, D’Addario EJ38 12-string Phosphor Bronze, and others send their shiny hellos. The journey of choosing your companion in this beautiful world of 12-string guitar playing is about to get a lot more interesting.

Until then, keep strumming, keep exploring, and most importantly, keep enjoying your music!

Maintaining Your 12-String Guitar Strings

Maintaining Your 12-String Guitar Strings

After getting acquainted with the unique qualities of your 12-string guitar strings and selecting the right strings that resonate with your style, one might wonder, ‘What’s next?’ The answer, my friend, lies in one word: maintenance. And believe me, it’s nothing short of an art.

If there’s one thing I preach louder than a power chord, it’s maintenance. A 12-string guitar demands respect and care—ignore this, and even the finest strings will sound lackluster. Restringing a 12-string guitar and tuning it correctly is an exercise that hones your precision and patience. But more than anything else, it brings you closer to your instrument. I’ve always found a sort of zen in the ritual of restringing; it’s a practice I strongly encourage in all my students.

So, why is string maintenance important? Think of it as a pit-stop in the grand race of rock’n’roll. Your car cannot function optimally without regular check-ups, right? The same principle applies to your guitar. Regular maintenance ensures that your instrument operates at peak performance, preserving your guitar’s tone and making sure it continues to sing as it should.

Imagine that epic night where the guitar just wouldn’t stay tuned, and the strings felt like sandpaper? Here’s how you ensure it never happens again. Remember, every time you play your guitar, the strings collect oil, dirt, and dead skin from your fingers, and this buildup can significantly alter your guitar’s sound over time. That’s why cleaning your strings after each playing session is so crucial. Not only does it prevent gunk from hardening on the surface, but it also prolongs string life, saving you both time and money in the long run.

Restringing a 12-string guitar can be a bit intimidating, especially for beginners. But with practice and patience, it becomes second nature. You want to ensure you switch out the strings one at a time, maintaining the guitar’s balance and preventing stress on your instrument. The process is similar to a standard six-string but requires twice the effort – yet the resulting sound is more than worth it.

Finally, part of routine string maintenance also includes regular tuning of your 12-string guitar. Due to the added tension on the neck from the extra strings, a 12-string guitar can often slip out of tune relatively quickly. By tuning your guitar on a consistent basis, you ensure that your chords always ring true.

String maintenance is not just a chore; it’s an essential part of your journey with the 12-string guitar. Embracing it will not just preserve the quality of your strings, but also enhance your understanding of the instrument and, by extension, your growth as a musician. Now, armed with this knowledge, I hope you’ll be inspired to make this practice a regular part of your routine.


What are 12-string guitar strings?

12-string guitar strings are designed uniquely for 12-string guitars. These strings create a rich, ringing sound distinct to this type of guitar because each string pair (one set of two strings) is either tuned to the same note or the octave of that note.

Why should I choose a specific type of 12-string guitar string?

Each type of 12-string guitar string produces a different tone and feel. Factors like material, gauge, and construction can significantly impact the sound and playability of your guitar. Choosing the right type can enhance your playing experience and the quality of your music.

How often should I replace my 12-string guitar strings?

The frequency of replacement depends on many factors, including how often you play, the style of your play, and even your body chemistry. However, as a general rule of thumb, if you notice a lack of brightness and resonance in your sound, this could be a sign you need to change your strings.

What are some popular choices of 12-string guitar strings?

Some popular choices include D’Addario’s Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings for a warm, balanced tone; Ernie Ball Earthwood Strings for a soft, smooth feel with great clarity; and Elixir’s 80/20 Bronze Strings with NANOWEB Coating for extended lifespan and bright, vibrant sound.


We’ve reached the end of this sonorous odyssey, my fellow string slingers. Whether you’re an eager newcomer navigating the expansive sea of the fretboard, or a grizzled veteran tuning-up your rig, your sound’s lifeline is the perfect set of 12-string guitar strings. Delving into these recommendations is just the start— remember to experiment, fine-tune, and reach out for more.

As this journey culminates, the true symphony begins. But will the perfect set of strings elude you, or are you ready to make history with your 12-string? My mission, both on stage and in the classroom, is to ignite a fervor for the guitar within our community. Now comes the time to act.

Wrapped within every chord you play is a piece of your story. Make sure you convey it with the right guitar player essentials. And, by all means, continue strumming, keep learning, and most importantly, keep playing. Those 12-string guitar strings are not just lifeless metal wires but sonic paintbrushes in your hands, ready to color the canvas of your melodies.

Don’t shy away from online guitar stores if traditional stores are not within reach. With a plethora of brands like Elixir Nanoweb, D’Addario EJ38, or Ernie Ball Earthwood all equipped for your 12-string, you can find what suits your style without having to step outside.

Remember, a well-maintained set of strings is key to improving your sound over time. So, clean regularly, change timely, and you’ll be rewarded with a sound that truly belongs to you. Be bold, be inspired, and let the perfect set of strings amplify your talent and creativity. Keep playing, friends, and let the symphony go on.

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