With some guitar brands there’s often a lot of debate, and even mystery as to what strings they ship their instruments with. Although with others, for example, Martin Guitar, they announce these facts loud and proud.
It certainly makes sense that a premium manufacturer like Martin would share this information, after all, their master luthiers go to great lengths to create some of the world’s best guitars and slapping any old set of strings on them would absolutely not do the instrument the justice it deserves.
So, what strings do Martin Guitars ship with? The answer is either Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 in phosphor bronze medium gauge on low to mid range models, or for high end models like the D-45, you’ll get Martin’s Titanium Core Nickel Wound strings in a light gauge.
Like many other manufacturers, Martin produces their own guitar strings, and every instrument they make, whether it’s a $300 Backpacker from the Mexico plant, or a $30,000 custom dreadnought from a master luthier in Nazareth, PA, will arrive with Genuine Martin strings.
This information is always good to have, because if the sound you fell in love with when you bought your guitar is influenced by the stock strings, the only way to keep that consistent is to replace them like for like.
While the phosphor bronze Acoustic Lifespan 2.0s are fairly averagely priced, their specialist titanium core strings are upwards of $40 for a set of 6. If you aren’t looking to spend so much every string change, or you’d just like to experiment with something different, keep reading as we go through how to select new strings, and some of the better options out there for your Martin Guitar.
By the way, if you’re a Martin fan, check out this killer book on the history of Martin Guitars!
How To Choose Guitar Strings
Strings are one of the single most cost effective changes a player can make to their guitar. Unlike some mods with subjective sound benefits (I’m looking at you, saddle upgrades!), as little as $10 and half an hour of installation can have an enormous (and demonstrable) impact on both tone and playability.
When you’re choosing your new strings, there are a number of variables that you can select from. Each will have an effect on the overall sound, reliability, and playability of your guitar.
Guitar strings aren’t measured in length, they are measured in width, or diameter. Because their diameter is so small, manufacturers use an easy to understand, universal measure in order to let consumers know what size their strings are, and that measurement is gauge.
You may hear guitarists saying, “I play 9s”, or “I play 12s”. This number refers to the measurement of the thinnest string, usually high E. The thinnest string is usually the reference point for the entire package.
The gauge, or width of the string is measured in 1/1000th of an inch, so in a set of 12s, which is typically a light gauge set for acoustic guitars like Martins, the high E would measure 0.012”. In a packet of Martin Acoustic Lifespan strings, like those that come on many Martins from the factory, the gauges are as follows, .012, .016, .025, .032, .042, .054, with .012 representing high E, and .054 representing low E.
Using the actual gauge of the string is generally better practice than using the descriptions, which are typically extra-light, light, medium, heavy, extra heavy. Each manufacturer differs their interpretation of these descriptions, so, while Martin refers to 12s as light, Ernie Ball calls their 12s medium light. But if you know you like 12s, then that number is universal.
Do be aware, even if you do shop by the gauge, different manufacturers may use different gauges for the other strings in the packet. You can check this on the packaging.
Lighter strings typically have a lower volume output because they have less mass vibrating. On the other hand, lighter strings have better playability due to their lower tension. This makes them more comfortable than heavy strings, and also makes bends and vibrato easier to play.
Heavier strings to benefit from a fatter tone and better sustain, again due to their increased mass over lighter strings, which tend sound thinner, and have less sustain.
Another important factor in the tone and playability of acoustic guitar strings is the material from which they are made. Most strings have a steel core wire, which may either be round, or hexagonal. The core shape’s impact on tone is subjective, but hex core strings do tend to have better tuning stability because of the improved grip they have on the wrap wire.
The core material in use does have an impact on vibration and sustain, however, and will also impact the tensile strength. Steel is cheap to produce and works well across most applications. Titanium on the other hand, is a much more exotic core material. It is as strong as steel, but is much more flexible, making it more forgiving and more comfortable to play.
Speaking of the wrap wire, the three bass side strings are wound with a metal wrap wire. The material of the wrap wire is the difference maker when it comes to differences is tone, sustain, and comfort.
- 80/20 Bronze – Bright and shimmering, but become dull quickly
- Phosphor Bronze – A little richer and warmer than 80/20 with better longevity
- Aluminum Bronze – Excellent bass response
- Polymer Coated – Made from any of the typical materials, but treated with a coating that makes them smoother, and provides a long lifespan
- Silk and Steel – Some of the warmest and most mellow strings available
Best Replacement Martin Acoustic Strings
If you love how your Martin sounds from the factory, you should probably look at replacing the strings like for like. In the case of Mexican made Martins, this will be the medium gauge Martin Lifespan 2.0 Phosphor Bronze, or, if you own a US made Martin, you’ll be replacing your strings with Martin Titanium Core light gauge strings.
If you’re looking to branch out and try something new, take a look at our Best Acoustic Guitar Strings post for a detailed description of the best acoustic strings on the market. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick rundown of some of our favorites that will work well for any Martin acoustic.
If you’re looking for a high end coated string with the bright character of 80/20 bronze, these Elixir 80/20 Nanowebs in medium gauge (13-56) are some of the best. The coating is so thin, you might not realize it’s there at first, but you’ll absolutely notice it when you realize how long your strings are lasting.
Folk players will really enjoy the rich warmth of these Martin SP Silk and Steel strings in custom gauge (11.5-47). They’re made with classic Martin quality, and they truly come alive with fingerstyle playing.
Anybody looking for a no-nonsense, inexpensive, yet great sounding bronze string with sparkling highs and incredible projection need look no further than the Ernie Ball Earthwood in medium (13-56).
As I said right at the beginning of this post, strings are a great way to experiment with the sound capabilities of your Martin without making any permanent changes or without the risk of any real damage to the guitar. Of course, if you do change the gauge of your string from the factory specs, remember to perform a setup to ensure that your neck relief is set correctly for the new string tension.
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