Strings are one of the most-bought accessories by guitarists. This should not be surprising at all, considering they’re the least durable component of any guitar. For people with budget limitations and who own a guitar (or who make a living from playing it), there may be concerns about the costs of consistent restringing.
How much do guitar strings cost? The price of a single set of guitar strings (in USD) ranges from $4-$41 for electric guitar, $4-$43 for acoustic guitar (steel, including 12-string sets), $6-$43 for classical (nylon), and $9-$133 for bass guitar (steel, including 6-string sets). Multiple sets can be bought in packs at a discount.
In this article, we’ll discuss how much guitar and bass strings cost and look at a few examples. We’ll also consider how often strings should be replaced, which is an important factor in determining the cost of the strings over the long term.
How Much Do Guitar Strings Cost?
The cost of guitar strings may vary widely, mainly because it hinges upon the type of guitar, the material used to build the strings, and the extras that manufacturers add to them (such as coating). However, we may be able to ascertain a range. In general terms, the least expensive set of strings could cost you as low as $4, while the most expensive sets can be in the 40-dollar range. Bass guitar string sets can cost over $100, especially 5-string or 6-string sets.
The price range described above is per string set. This is not a clear indication of how much you would likely spend in a period of six months or a year. It could be the case that you’ll end up saving more in the long-term with a $30-plus string set as opposed to frequent $5 buys. In the end, It comes down to what you may have available at the given moment, as well as your financial projections.
To illustrate with an example: for acoustic guitar owners, a Martin Authentic Acoustic MA175 80/20 Bronze set (link to check the price on Amazon), an affordable set, currently costs about $7, while an Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze set (link to check the price on Amazon) will have you spending nearly $10 more.
Nevertheless, you may save more long-term with the latter, considering it’s supposed to provide far more durability than the uncoated Martin model. Of course, that alone does not make the Elixir set the overall best choice fundamentally, though it may be financially beneficial for the long run.
Let’s now go into the specificities related to strings’ pricing.
Factors That Affect The Cost Of Guitar Strings
A myriad of factors come into play when trying to settle for a guitar string set price. Let us delve into them in more detail:
If you own a Spanish or classical guitar, you will not be able to fit steel strings on it unless you modify the entire setup. In which case, it will end up becoming more like an acoustic guitar, defeating the entire purpose of owning a classical guitar in the first place). There are workarounds for fitting nylon strings on an acoustic guitar. Still, it won’t have the exact same “feel” that a classical guitar provides.
Related article: Are Nylon Or Steel Strings Better For Acoustic Guitar?
On the other hand, you may not find many differences in pricing between nylon and metal string sets when taking into account the raw pricing data, although an above-decent La Bella 2001FLA nylon flamenco set (link to check the price on Amazon) comes at $22; a sizable difference when compared to a D’Addario EFT16 Flat Tops set (link to check the price on Amazon).
Notwithstanding, it matters long-term. This is because you will find yourself changing metal strings more, while nylon strings have far more longevity.
Bass strings are a category of their own, and they are far more expensive than regular acoustic or classical guitar strings (at times doubling the amount). A D’Addario EPBB170 phosphor bronze bass string set (link to check the price on Amazon), for example, costs roughly the same as a 3-set pack of D’Addario EJ16-3D (link to check the price on Amazon), which is effectively the acoustic guitar counterpart.
We will not get into electric guitar strings too much for the purposes of this section, as the difference will mostly come down to the material used to make them (most electric guitar strings are built from nickel-plated steel). With that said, they usually don’t differ in terms of production costs but rather in their durability.
There will be differences with regard to the brand. It’s not the same to buy strings made from household names such as La Bella, Savarez, or Martin as it is to buy generic guitar strings or those made from an unknown, local supplier.
If you are starting in the guitar world, you could benefit from cheap generic strings. Otherwise, you should probably opt for recognizable brands with a proven record of quality and longevity.
Some brands have a very longstanding presence in the market (such as Martin Guitars, which has been active for almost 2 centuries), and, even then, they place relatively affordable price tags on their products.
For my take on the best (though not necessarily the most expensive) guitar strings brands, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Electric Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Bass Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 10 Best Classical Guitar String Brands On The Market
Acoustic guitar strings are usually made from phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze. Phosphor bronze strings are 92% copper and 8% tin, with just a tiny amount of phosphor, and they regularly render better performance and more durability than 80/20 bronze. Therefore, they’re a bit more expensive than the latter.
On the other hand, electric guitar strings come in stainless steel, pure nickel, and nickel-plated presentations. Pure nickel is normally the cheapest choice (which does not make it automatically the worst.) Steel tends to have a more powerful, punchy sound when compared to nickel, although many people would prefer the more modest output that nickel provides because it fits better with a given musical style.
Brian May’s favourite guitar string set is Optima’s 24 Karat gold electric guitar set. The average Optima roundwound string set (link to check the price on Amazon) costs over $36, which is almost double the amount of some of the most expensive coated strings on the market. Some guitarists claim that gold strings can retain their brightness more than other materials, but others consider it a gimmick.
Note that string gauge typically does not affect the price of a set of guitar strings. Many companies will produce a variety of gauge sets for a specific string set design, which are most often priced equally. This is despite the fact that thicker gauge strings, by definition, use more material.
Bass strings (both those attached to bass guitar and the lowest notes of an acoustic, electric, or classical guitar) are built using various winding methods:
- Round wound
- Flat wound
- Half wound (or ground wound)
Roundwound wires sport a heavier appearance due to the ridges they form, which will produce noise when sliding your fingers across them. You will find that most guitars and bass guitars come with roundwound strings attached by default due to them being the cheapest option available.
In the case of flatwound strings, the wire and metal thread woven on them are compacted, giving a more flattened appearance (hence the name “flatwound). With them, guitarists claim to have a much smoother playing experience. They are more expensive than roundwound strings due to the additional flattening process.
Still, the difference in pricing between the individual sets, just as with the other cases mentioned, doesn’t mean that you’ll spend more money by the end of the year on flatwound strings. Flatwound strings tend to last much longer than roundwound strings as roundwound strings are prone to accumulate grime, oil, and sweat at the ridges, invariably accelerating the oxidation process on the wound metal.
Finally, groundwound strings are a mixture between roundwound and flatwound. They still exert more friction when interacting with them, but the ridges are also reduced to a minimum.
To learn more about string winding methods, check out my article Flatwound Guitar Strings Vs. Roundwound Guitar Strings.
Coated strings, especially those offered by Elixir, are touted for their extensive durability. They should be able to last at least three or four times more than their uncoated counterparts.
The coating consists of a polymer layer applied to the surface of the strings, which presumably protects the core and the winding from the elements. Coated strings require a heavy amount of quality control and expensive equipment for their manufacturing.
The layer is made mostly of polytetrafluoroethylene, which is sprayed uniformly across the string’s length and is not regularly visible to the naked eye.
This coating, while offering protection, can dim the string’s bright tone by varying degrees, which could be a concern for most audiophiles. However, Elixir’s nanoweb variant supposedly produces the same tonal quality as a regular non-coated string without compromising too much in the anti-corrosion department.
Coated strings usually cost around $3-5 more than uncoated strings of the same material. Elixir’s Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze set (link to check the price on Amazon) is roughly $10 more expensive than a D’Addario’s regular phosphor bronze version (link to check the price on Amazon). In contrast, the coated D’Addario’s phosphor bronze (link to check the price on Amazon) set is sold at $4 more.
To learn more about coated strings, check out my article Differences Between Coated & Uncoated Guitar Strings.
Number Of Strings In A Set
All else being equal, additional strings in a set will cost more money.
Though the standard guitar has 6-strings, we must account for those instruments with non-standard counts. 12-string acoustic guitars are a popular example, where each of the bass strings is doubled with a string an octave up, and each of the treble strings is doubled with another string of the same gauge (and tuning). 7-string electric guitars have been around for a while, and 8-string guitars are becoming more popular in metal subgenres.
Similarly, 5-string basses will have pricier sets than 4-string basses. 6-string basses aren’t as popular but do exist, and their string sets will be even more expensive.
For more information on the variety of guitar string counts, check out my article How Many Strings Do Guitars Have? (With Examples).
A Note On Restringing Frequency
As a general rule, acoustic and electric guitar strings should be changed every three months or 100 playing hours (whichever comes first).
There is no rule of thumb regarding classical/Spanish nylon guitar strings, although the bass strings should be changed in almost the same frequency as acoustic/electric guitar strings.
Owners of bass guitars have the upper hand in this regard since basses carry more hefty strings, meaning that it will take much longer for them to wear out. Restringing a bass before its current strings finish their life cycle (which can take several years) comes down to tonal preference.
So then, price per unit does not automatically mean that you will spend more money throughout the year, as other features provided by the strings will most likely save you money in a longer span of time.
Related articles on new guitar/bass strings:
• Do New Guitar/Bass Strings Sound Better?
• How Long Does It Take To Break In New Guitar Strings?
• Why New Guitar Strings Go Out Of Tune Faster Than Old Strings
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.