8 Best 12-String Guitar Strings

8 Best 12-String Guitar Strings

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What’s more gorgeous than the lush tone of an acoustic guitar?

How about an acoustic guitar that’s two acoustic guitars!

Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea of the 12-string guitar.

As subtle and complex as music can be, sometimes it’s really as simple as “the same, but more!” Or in the hilarious words of Frasier, “if less is more, then just think of how much more ‘more’ will be!”

When it comes to musical instruments it’s true. The alto sax was expanded into the tenor, then baritone, then bass sax. The cello is a bigger viola, which is a bigger violin.

And have you ever seen the inside of a piano? As if 88 keys were not enough, each key gets 2-3 strings to strike, for a total of around 230. Little wonder that piano players can’t just tune their instruments just like guitarists can.

That of course brings us to the 12-string guitar, and you know that this means you have to be 12 times more careful with the type of strings you’ll get.

So, if you’re also here to discover the mysteries of the twelve-string guitar and what strings will make it sing as it has never sung before then you’re in the right place.

Then again if you want to skip ahead and see which ones made the cut then we got them all right here:

Best Overall
Martin MA180
9.9
  • These strings are made from 80/20 bronze and along with the high-quality wrap wire they offer longevity and durability.
  • These extra-light gauge strings will produce a rich, bright tone with both stronger lows and highs.
Best On A Budget
Ernie Ball Earthwood Light
9.7
  • You can also get these strings in a bundle which is a real money saver!
  • The Earthwood classic materials can get you a bright sound with crystal clear highs.
Best For Warm Tones
Martin MM10 Retro Acoustic
9.5
  • The Monel wrap wire will protect your strings from losing their sound and from the deteriorating forces of everyday use.
  • The Extra-light gauge will get you that warm tone while maintaining the bright tone of a twelve-string guitar.

The Essense Of The Twelve-String Guitar

This “more is more” approach leads us to the 12-string guitar.

The idea of doubling strings in “courses” is nothing new. Classic folk instruments like mandolins and bouzoukis have doubled strings, 4 courses of 2 strings each tuned in unison.

In the mid-20th century, the idea became popular for the guitar, but with a unique twist: a 12-string guitar usually has the E and B strings tuned in unison, but the other four lower strings are paired with an upper octave with a much thinner gauge.

The result is an instrument that sounds enormous. The 12-string guitar has, by its nature, a massive, shimmering tone.

Since the strings are guaranteed to not be perfectly in tune with each other, the instrument has a natural “chorus” effect which sounds like multiple people playing at once.

This is the same reason a choir or string section has a different tone than a solo singer or violinist. The subtle tuning imperfections create power and size.

The result? Well, just listen to Hotel California and hear for yourself.

It’s no coincidence Free Fallin’ by Tom petty and songs like these share a lush, saturated, billowing sound.

How To Choose The Right Twelve Strings For A 12-String Guitar?

As you might imagine, when it comes to 12-string guitars, it’s all about the strings. After all, doubling their number is pointless if they are not great strings with excellent tone.

What’s more, the 12-string guitar is not the lowest-maintenance instrument.

It takes twice as long to tune, and acoustic guitars are already particularly high-tension instruments compared to their electric and bass cousins. Doubling the number of strings just exacerbates this concern.

Finally, most acoustic players (present company included) should probably be replacing their strings more often than they are.

I once heard someone put it like this: if you’re not sure whether it’s time to replace them, it’s probably time for new strings.

So read on to make an informed decision about stringing your twelve-string guitar.

String Material

When buying strings, string material is one of the biggest choices you face. The popular materials for 12-string acoustic packs are phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze alloy.

Phosphor bronze is essentially the default material for acoustic strings in general. Broadly speaking, phosphor bronze strings are associated with a balanced sound, equally parts bright and warm, shimmering and deep.

Comparatively, 80/20 strings are very bright and articulate, but not as warm or deep. In the context of 12-string tone, phosphor bronze strings are known to be thick and even “chunky” whereas 80/20 strings will give you a tone that “sparkles.”

Aside from 80/20 and phosphor bronze, you might find some less common materials. Monel was a material that was popular decades ago, but virtually disappeared, and is now experiencing a revival.

Monel is another alloy that contains nickel along with the typical blend of copper and other metals. This translates to a tone that is almost always described as “mellow” compared to other materials. To put it another way, they sound “played in” immediately upon being strung.

Gauge

The other big choice to make when choosing strings is gauge which is the relative thickness of the strings.

As I mentioned, tension is a particular problem for 12-strings. To the point that many 12-string guitars start to develop bowed necks, high action, and other problems over time.

There are a couple of ways to combat this. One is to buy lighter gauge strings than you normally would. Most 12-string string packs are actually a lighter gauge than their 6-string counterparts.

After all, the extra strings do make up for any tone deficiency you might experience with lighter strings.

And if you want to play a 12-string guitar using the fingerstyle technique then it requires more finger strength- you have to fret two strings at once, so lighter strings help here too.

Alternately, some players buy medium strings, and actually keep the guitar tuned down one, two, or three half steps. You can use a capo to use typical fingerings, or just learn to play in a new tuning!

8 Best 12-String Guitar Strings

To get your twelve-string guitar to sing for you in the right kind of tone and produce the right kind of sound you need a good set of strings.

So, let’s take a look at my favorites!

Best Overall: Martin MA180 Authentic Acoustic Extra Light Strings

Best Overall
Martin MA180
  • These strings are made from 80/20 bronze and along with the high-quality wrap wire they offer longevity and durability.
  • These extra-light gauge strings will produce a rich, bright tone with both stronger lows and highs.

Martin is an American brand mostly known and beloved for its acoustic guitars from all the way back to the 1833s. They make acoustic guitars in much the same way Fender makes classic electric guitars.

Nobody can argue with the quality and pride of craftsmanship, and it only makes sense that Martin makes strings worthy of being strung on their own gorgeous instruments.

In fact, Martin really shines with 12-string packs, offering some of the best lines of 12-string options and this Martin SP MA180 also comes at a really good price.

Which makes these strings a great starting point for new 12-string guitar owners.

But what makes them great for everyone is the fact that thanks to their amazing tuning stability and playability you are guaranteed a consistent tone whether you’re just practicing on your guitar, or you’re performing live.

These Martins are available in extra light gauges and as I mentioned, they actually feel lighter than their comparable 6-string sets.

Each 12-string is made from 80/20 bronze that is corrosion-resistant, but what really makes these bad boys so durable is the high-tensile-strength core wire that is tin-plated.

So you don’t have to worry about sweating your hands off while vigorously fingerpicking at the strings.

You also don’t have to worry about overusing these strings during long sessions, whether you’re a country, blues, rock, or bluegrass twelve-string guitarist.

If you want to learn more about these strings and check today’s price on Amazon click here.

 

Runner Up: Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light Phosphor Bronze

Runner Up
Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light Phosphor Bronze
  • Both light and custom light gauges produce a more balanced sound between a bright and warm tone.
  • The phosphor bronze gives the strings extra durability.

When talking about strings the ultimate choice is really highly personal and subjective.

Some guitarists prefer the tone an 80/20 bronze set offers, while others need that bright tone that still retains the warmth and depth that only Phosphor bronze can give them.

This Ernie Ball Earthwood set made from 92% copper, 7,7% tin, and 0,5% phosphorus wrapped around brass-plated hex-shaped steel core wire will give you just that.

These strings are warmer and airy which can go well with your fingerpicking style on a 12-sting guitar, but they are also more durable and strong thanks to the phosphor which is much tougher than bronze. While I’m sure most of you are aware that each guitar is different even if they have 12 strings, I still want to point out that the materials, design, and age of your 12-string will affect the sound it produces.

Nonetheless, I think when it comes to this Ernie Ball Earthwood line you can expect a good result on most guitars.

Here you have two gauge options for your twelve-string guitar, that’s light and custom light with the latter featuring a slightly more mellow sound that still manages to retain clarity.

Just remember that if you’re not looking for a warmer sound then this set might not be for you.

At the end of the day, combining the excellent price point of these Earthwood 12-string phosphor bronze strings, the element shield packaging, and the simple fact that phosphor bronze is a little more corrosion resistant you will also get a long-lasting set of strings.

When choosing your gauge be careful to read the description properly so you don’t end up with a 6-string pack.

Learn more about these 12-guitar strings and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best On A Budget: Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light

Best On A Budget
Ernie Ball Earthwood 12-String Light
  • You can also get these strings in a bundle which is a real money saver!
  • The Earthwood classic materials can get you a bright sound with crystal clear highs.

Ernie Ball strings are The musicians’ strings.

I’ve just never seen strings with as many fans, or enthusiasm, as Ernie Ball seems to inspire. Full disclosure, myself included.  Ernie Ball strings are solid, reliable, and good-sounding strings across the board. They also tend to be very reasonably priced, and they always have some of the most expansive options, in any category.

When it comes to a 12-string guitar you have three options, 12-string medium. 12-string customer light and 12-string light.

The Earthwood wound strings are 80% copper and 20% zinc wire that’s wrapped around high-carbon steel core wire. This helps them produce a truly bright ringing sound that compliments the natural bright resonance of a 12-string guitar.

Even if your guitar is a bit toned down you will still be able to hear the sparkle coming through as you fingerpick at it. However, with prolonged use, the brightness might give place to a warmer sound, as it usually happens to 80/20 bronze strings.

As you can imagine the sustain is great on these and when it comes to Ernies I’m always happy about the timing stability they offer. What makes these a great starting point for 12-string guitarists is the quality but also the price. More so, with the element shield packaging you can also expect your strings to stay fresh for longer so getting a bundle is simply a bargain!

You can check all three available gauges for your 12-string guitar and today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best Coated Strings: Elixir Phosphor Bronze Strings With Nanoweb Coating

Best Coated Strings
Elixir Phosphor Bronze Strings With Nanoweb Coating
  • The nanoweb coating technology gives your strings long-lasting protection while keeping the feel real.
  • Let your 12-string guitar sing with clarity and brilliance for much longer with these Phosphor Bronze strings.

Elixir is one of the newest string manufacturers on the market, but they have taken players by surprise and by storm.

Elixir’s strings are nearly always your most expensive choice, but this is not without cause. Because their selling point is their proprietary coating.

Other brands have introduced coated strings, but Elixir is the real deal and you simply need to give their Nanoweb pack for 12-strings a try.

The strings are phosphor bronze, but the coating extends their working life by a factor of two or three. And I’m not simply talking about the damage that sweat, oil, and grime can cause to your strings, but the coating will also extend the rich and full tone without drowning the clarity of the high tones.

In other words, these strings pay for themselves.

Even if you’re not a coated strings kind of guitarist then I still think you need to give these Nanoweb strings a try and see how unexpectedly good they feel on your fingers. There’s no squickiness which can be 12 times more prominent in a guitar with so many strings.

You also don’t have to wait too long for these strings to settle from the moment you string your guitar.

If you want to try coated strings that feel uncoated then Elixir’s Nanoweb is the way to go, you can also check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best For Warm Tones: Martin MM10 Retro Acoustic Strings

Best For Warm Tones
Martin MM10 Retro Acoustic Strings
  • The Monel wrap wire will protect your strings from losing their sound and from the deteriorating forces of everyday use.
  • The Extra-light gauge will get you that warm tone while maintaining the bright tone of a twelve-string guitar.

It’s true that you have to try a few guitar strings before you can find your one true love and for some of us this feeling changes as we explore the world of music and its genres.

Some of us try to catch that old-school warmth in our fingerstyle that not a lot of strings can reproduce properly, but these Martins can.

And Martin is probably responsible for bringing Monel back to the public’s awareness with their Retro line of Monel strings.

If you’re seeking a warm vintage tone that will release the unique woody sound that a twelve-string guitar possesses, without completely overshadowing the brightness that is expected. You can thank Monel for the earthy tone these strings produce, but these bad boys are also very durable because this material is much stronger than pure nickel.

In fact, Monel was first developed in the early 1905’s and it consists of 66% Pure Nickel, and 31.5% Copper, with small amounts of iron, manganese, carbon, and silicon. This consistency is what makes these strings resistant to agents like seawater, and that includes sweat. So, you can expect less rusting and breakages.

The extra light gauge is also easy on the fingers while being durable even during extensive studio sessions or live performances and genres that require a bit of aggressiveness like bluegrass.

You can learn more about these strings by reading the 1,000+ reviews and don’t forget to check out today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best For Electric 12-String Guitars: Ernie Ball Slinky Nickel Wound Strings

Best For Electric 12-String Guitars
Ernie Ball Slinky Nickel Wound Strings
  • The light gauge increases playability and all 12 strings feel comfortable to the touch.
  • The steel hex core creates a bright sound that is soft but clear.

Twelve-string guitars can thrive in their electric form as much as they do in their more common acoustic form.

With six extra strings, your electric guitar can produce a fuller and more ringing sound.

That symphonic tone is why the 12-string electric guitar is not usually used in a solo like a Fender Telecaster, or even a Gibson Les Paul would, but more as a supporting rhythm instrument.

Much like a bass guitar or drums, the 12-string electric guitar is there to provide a strong beat, and that’s a serious role that requires high-quality strings. In this case, you can rely on the Ernie Ball Slinky line. These strings have a nickel-plated steel wire that’s wrapped around a steel hex core.

They are uncoated so their life expectancy is not as long, but the element shield packaging will keep them fresh.

Beware that this Slinky custom gauge is quite light, and the tension is low so while these are really comfortable to play, they might not be the best choice if you’re heavy-handed.

You also need to be more careful when tuning these and if you are not heavy-handed then winding by hand will get you the best result, especially for the plus octave strings.

When it comes to sound you can expect a balanced tone that is consistent, while still having those shimmery bright notes to help you stand out.

Find out more about the 12-string Ernie Ball Slinky and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best For Reducing Finger Fatigue: Martin MA500FX Authentic Acoustic Flexible Core Strings

Best For Reducing Finger Fatigue
Martin MA500FX Authentic Acoustic Flexible Core Strings
  • The flexible core strings reduce finger fatigue while increasing playability and allowing huge bends.
  • These strings will bring out the natural brightness of your guitar throughout the high, mid, and bass tones.

Whether you’re a beginner or not 12-string guitars can be more than challenging.

You have to take into account the increased string tension, the fact that there are double the amount of strings, and their close proximity.

However, a good set of strings can make things a little less hard. In this case, the Martin Flexible Core strings are perfect for reducing finger fatigue and also allow huge bends.

The secret lies in the construction of the strings of course.

The brand uses a lighter gauge and together with Martin’s superior performance core wire that is combined with a heavier wrap wire you get a flexible set that is also very durable.

As you can imagine lighter guitar strings tend to sound brighter, and these Martin’s can truly enhance the brightness that your guitar already has.

This is great news for those of you who are seeking that Jazzy tone, but if you’re looking for something deeper then these strings are not it.

You can check out the reviews and today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best Strings For Studio Recording: D’Addario EJ38 Superb Phosphor Bronze

Best Strings For Studio Recording
D’Addario EJ38 Superb Phosphor Bronze
  • The phosphor bronze coating offers longevity, and tunability and produces a warm and bright tone.
  • The optimized gauges create a balanced tone across high, mid, and bass tones that are easy to play.

It would be criminal to have a list of strings without including D’Addario, so here we have the creme de la creme of strings.

This brand could perhaps be described as the Levi’s of guitar strings, and as we all know Levi’s Sure is never a bad choice for jeans, and the company’s history is as legitimate as it gets.

By the same token, D’Addario is descended from centuries of Italian string-making families, who resettled in New York.

While they produce mandolin, banjo, and violin strings up until this day they have a loyal following for their guitar strings.

So, it only makes sense to have the D’Addario EJ38 set right in this category, because if you want to perform well and capture your true sound at its finest then these strings are just it!

When it comes to construction these strings have a corrosion-resistant phosphor bronze wire that is wrapped around a high-carbon steel core that is hexagonally shaped.

The hex core actually helps your guitar deliver a brighter tone with a more pronounced attack that represents more of a modern tone actually.

They can definitely come off extra bright at first so before you go into the recording studio you could balance them out by playing for a day.

After that, you should have a nice sound and projection that will simply sound stellar, even if you’re just recording in a fully equipped home garage!

You can check out the reviews and today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Conclusion

Bringing a 12-string guitar to a folk jam is kind of like “bringing-a-gun-to-a-knife-fight” move.

You’ll certainly make an impression, not to mention be heard clearly. So you better make sure your strings are worth hearing.

As I said, it’s worth the work to find the strings that really match your (and your guitar’s) personality. Chances are, once you find them, you’ll begin a lifelong relationship.

After that, you just have to work on giving each string their own voice and as the 12-string guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke says here, the whole thing is finger independence!

And even if you are more of a 6-string player, think about repurposing an underloved acoustic as a high-strung (or “Nashville-tuned”) guitar.

This is a 6-string acoustic that uses the “other” 6 strings from a 12-string pack. Doesn’t sound like much on its own, but dub one or two of them over your acoustic-driven recordings. The result is an expansive, thick, and highly satisfying sonic texture.

12 strings or 6 strings, just remember to keep working, and feel the joy of the music!