Comparison of Elixir Acoustic Guitar Strings

Elixir strings are some of the most popular for acoustic guitars.  One of their main selling points is the coating they use to help protect the strings.  But, there are two types of coatings, and a whole variety of gauges.  Where to start?  If you’re interested in Elixir strings, keep reading,  Below, I compare the choices and give you my review of Elixir strings for acoustic guitars.

Material and Coatings

comparison of elixir strings  comparison of elixir strings  comparison of elixir strings

Typical of most acoustic guitar strings, two types of material are used:  phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze.  I’ll not go into detail here about the difference between the two, but see this post which explains it in more detail.

For coatings, Elixir uses two different types: PolyWeb and NanoWeb.  PolyWeb has a thicker coating than NanoWeb, and this is important.  The thicker coating of the PolyWeb makes it slicker than the thinner NanoWeb.  The result is it allows for faster playing, meaning you can move your fretting fingers just a bit quicker.  However, if you sweat a lot, that slicker coating can actually become a liability as it makes it harder to keep control of your fretting fingers.  The NanoWeb coating feels more like a non-coated string, which gives you a bit more friction with your fingers on the strings.  Some people claim this gives you more control, and that’s probably true, although I haven’t personally experienced it.comparison of elixir strings

Tone

Here’s where the combination of material and coatings matters.  This is why you care.

In general, the PolyWeb coating makes the sound more warm and mellow; whereas the NanoWeb has a bright, crisper tone.

The PolyWeb coating, combined with the 80/20 bronze, gives you a rich warm tone.

The NanoWeb coating, with the phosphor bronze, gives you a moderate bright tone.

The NanoWeb coating, with the 80/20 bronze, gives a bright tone.

Gauges

The following table lays out the diameters for each string (measurements are in inches).

Gauge

1st String

2nd String

3rd String

4th String

5th String

6th String

Extra Light

0.010

0.014

0.023

0.030

0.039

0.047

Custom Light

0.011

0.015

0.022

0.032

0.042

0.052

Light

0.012

0.016

0.024

0.032

0.042

0.053

Light/Medium

0.012

0.016

0.024

0.035

0.045

0.056

HD Light

0.013

0.017

0.025

0.032

0.042

0.053

Medium

0.013

0.017

0.026

0.035

0.045

0.056

 

So, which set should you get?  That depends on several factors.

Guitar body style – use lighter strings for smaller-bodied acoustics, and heavier strings for larger-bodied instruments.

Playing style – use lighter strings for fingerpicking, medium strings for heavy strumming, and light/medium for a mixed style.

Sound – heavier strings will accentuate the bass notes, while lighter strings will give a greater emphasis on higher notes and can bring out more subtle picking.

In general, lighter strings are easier to play and easier to bend and fret.  However, they break more easily and have less volume and less sustain.  In contrast, heavier strings are harder to play and harder to bend, but they are louder and have greater sustain.

Pros

All Elixir strings are longer lasting than un-coated strings.  I’ve had some sets that lasted 3 or 4 times longer than I expected compared to un-coated strings of other brands.  As far as I know, there is no difference between PolyWeb and NanoWeb coatings, in terms of how long they will last.

The unwound, plain steel strings (1st and 2nd) have an Anti-Rust Plating so their life equals that of the wound strings that are coated.comparison of elixir strings

Tonally, I like the bright, crisp sound of the NanoWebs, regardless of gauge.  I play a mixed style, but when I really need a solo or some fingerpicking to be heard, these come through for me.

Cons

Sometimes these coated strings can take a bit longer to break in.  This could be because the coatings need a bit more time to stretch.

Occasionally, the PolyWeb strings will feather and shred over the soundhole where it comes into repeated contact with picks.  To my knowledge, this doesn’t impact the sound, although it might shorten the life of the strings a bit.

Price

Elixir strings can run higher than other brands, particularly compared to some un-coated brands.  However, since they last longer, it can actually work in your favor.  Let’s say you pay $15 for a set, compared to $5 for an un-coated set.  If your Elixir’s last 4 times longer, then you come out ahead.  Obviously, there’s no guarantee of it working out like that, since a string can break at most any time.

Conclusion

One of the keys to any strings is to match the string type to the guitar and your preferred sound.  This holds for all strings, not just Elixir.  One guitar will sound better with strings from one company, while another guitar will sound better with strings from another.  Keep trying to find the one that sounds best.  I believe Elixir strings should be considered for any guitar.  The combination of materials (80/20 bronze and phosphor bronze) with the coatings allows for a wide range of tone and feel.  If you have a guitar that tends to be bright sounding, but you really want a mellow sound, go with the PolyWeb coated strings.  If your guitar is a deeper sounding instrument, but you want a brighter sound, like when fingerpicking, go with a set of NanoWeb strings to brighten it up.  Experiment!  And have fun!

Personally, I really like the Elixir strings I have used.  The bright tone of the NanoWebs has really let my fingerpicking stand out.  Yes, they are more expensive, but tend to last longer.  Overall, I highly recommend Elixir strings.

If you have any comments, please leave them below.  In the meantime, keep playing – music makes the world a better place…

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Rock On!

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