12 string guitars have features on some of the most iconic tracks in the world, from ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles to The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride.’ My piece on the very best 12 string 80/20 guide will reveal the cream of the crop for acoustic guitars.
Many guitars write off 12 string guitars and a folk instrument, or even a gimmick guitar, but this is certainly not the case. A major part of the defining sound of a 12 string guitar is the strings themselves, and while this article will tell you what they are, you can read this article: on the best 12 string guitars to find your perfect pairing!
In this guide, I have taken an in-depth look at the very best 12 string 80/20 for guitars. I have also outlined the benefits of using 80/20 strings and provided a brief buyer’s guide.
At a Glance: Best 12 Strings 80/20
- Elixir 80/20 12-String Bronze Acoustic Strings– #1 Top Pick
- Martin MA190 SP 12-String 80/20 Acoustic Strings – #1 Top Budget Pick
- Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings
- D’Addario Coated 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings
My Bottom Line Up Front: I have named the Elixir 80/20 12-String Bronze Acoustic Strings as my top pick, as I found these to be excellent with a great tone and superb longevity. I believe the Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings to be an excellent budget pick; they hold tune well and outperform strings at a much higher price point.
A Brief Guide to Buying the Best 12 80/20 Guitar Strings
The philosophy for buying the right strings for a 12 string guitar is the same as for any other guitar. The plus octave strings on a 12-string set are made to the exact specifications and the same materials as the traditional 6.
So, the same buying process should apply. Let’s look at this a little further.
Acoustic guitar strings are made with distinct alloys due to their sound profile matching the guitar well. The 80/20 bronze is the most typical string alloy for acoustics, and this is because it is bright and vibrant. However, it is prone to dulling fairly quickly.
There are a few differences when it comes to phosphor bronze Vs. 80/20. Strings made from phosphor bronze tend to be warmer than the 80/20, and because of the phosphor content, they also have an increased lifespan. In addition, many players find phosphor bronze strings to have excellent clarity.
Aluminum bronze is a good choice. Notably brighter for acoustics, some musicians find that these strings lack depth, but they have good longevity.
The guys over at Stringjoy explain the differences in material for 80/20 strings in much more depth here.
For 12 string guitars, guitarists should still look for the exact gauge they would for their familiar 6-string guitar.
On packs of 12-strings, you will be able to see the gauge range, just as you would with regular strings. So, for example, you’ll see things like .010-in – 0.45-in on the pack, and the lightest string is the + Octave.
Gauge plays a significant role in many areas for a 12-string guitar, particularly the general comfort. There will be a lot of pressure on the strings, and although you may not be playing full-step bends, there will be advanced finger pressure as you play if you select a disproportionate gauge for your experience and skill level.
Basically, sticking to what you know for now would be my advice.
When I was researching the best 12-string 80/20 guitar strings for this article, I was primarily looking for the following things:
I wanted to recommend strings to you that other musicians have had a good experience with. You have more than just my opinion to go on by doing this. I felt it really mattered that these reviews were easily accessible too for you to find yourself online.
So often, it is the case that you’ll read a review guide to find the product out of stock or even discontinued. I want to assure you that every 80/20 12-string set I have featured was available to purchase at the time of writing.
For fairness, I included a selection of gauges so that every musician could find a suitable set of 80/20 12-strings in this guide.
As a player myself, I know how irritating it is when strings snap, and although this is often inevitable, the chances are reduced when the quality is good. For this reason, I have chosen only to include 80/20 12-strings that I believe to be of very high quality.
You will find 12-string sets of varying prices in this article, and that is because I wanted to ensure that whatever your budget, there will be a suitable 80/20 12-string set here.
Best 12 Strings 80/20
|Elixir 80/20 12-String Bronze Acoustic Strings – #1 Top Pick
|Martin MA190 SP 12-String 80/20 Acoustic Strings – #1 Top Budget Pick
|Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings
|D’Addario Coated 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings
Elixir 80/20 12-String Bronze Acoustic Strings – #1 Top Pick
Elixir is a brand that comes to many players’ minds regarding coated or long life strings. And this is with very good reason. Elixir has cemented its position as a leading brand due to years of consistently producing top-quality, premium coated strings that sound amazing and have stellar playability.
This is very much the case with the Elixir 80/20 12-String Bronze Acoustic Strings.
The Elixir 80/20 strings have been treated with Nanoweb polymer, which is the brand’s proprietary blend. I found this coating so thin that it is barely noticeable to the eyes, fingertips, or ears – absolutely no string squeak, which is highly unusual.
Despite these being light strings (.010 – 0.47), I didn’t find them to sound thin or brittle. Overall, the strings felt pretty awesome and are certainly amongst the most comfortable I have come across.
Over several hours of play, I could detect no hint of dulling or degradation, with the sound continuing to be clear and bright. Other consumers cite the retained outstanding note separation and remarkable longevity.
I am confident that the Elixir 80/20 strings are super durable – although I have found some reviews to dispute this, which could be down to excessive play or different playing styles; to play devil’s advocate.
Another significant pro to these strings was the ease of putting them onto the guitar; the stretch and settling period were complete within mere moments, with tuning stability pretty much perfect. However, if you do struggle with this, here’s a guide on how to change and replace guitar strings.
- Almost Perfect Tuning Stability
- Superior Comfort
- Excellent Sound
- Wonderful Note Separation
- Good Durability
- A couple of reviews have mentioned a short life span, but this may be due to heavier playing styles.
Martin MA190 SP 12-String 80/20 Acoustic Strings – #1 Top Budget Pick
For a budget price, the Martin MA190 SP 12-String 80/20 Acoustic Strings are sublime quality strings made to last.
This is a historic brand that has recently merged into the newer technology. Pair this with their renowned attention to detail and excellent craftsmanship, and you could well have the perfect string set.
I found these strings to be the best of any Martin strings I have experienced previously. They sound better, feel better, and tune better than you’d expect from a lower-end brand. Quite simply, they’re a workhorse of a string.
One area where these strings really shine is their higher than ever tensile-strength core wire, which withstands really heavy play. In addition, there is tin-plating for extra corrosion resistance.
Some musicians cite that corrosion resistance leads to a dry tone, but to my ears, this is not the case with the Martin 80/20 strings.
I found the tone to be surprisingly deep, rich, and authentic for lighter strings than I would typically go for.
- Sublime Value for Money
- Super Durable
- Great, Authentic Sound
- Comfortable, Light Strings
- The only brand on the list to have their strings made out of the US; a con for those who want American-made.
Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings
The Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings are a prime example of a basic product done right. I make no secret that I adore EB strings, and although I don’t personally own a 12-string guitar, I use EB strings on 6-string electric and acoustic guitars and have done for some time.
However, I am not biased about the brand and am aware of the flaws.
At any price, I would find the EB Earthwood 80/20 to be a great string set. Yet, the fact they’re priced at just over $10 (for 12!) is pretty remarkable. I would pay far more for this quality level.
I found these strings to be factory fresh, with each string individually sealed to prevent unnecessary oxygen exposure, which could lead to early corrosion.
The strings have an even texture, with no rough patches or pitting, making them super comfortable to play.
Tonally, the EB Earthwoods are fantastic. Personally, I love the sparkly and jangle produced by the strings and how bright the overall sound is. Other players note the good sustain and responsiveness to strumming changes.
The tuning stability is good, and there isn’t an excessive time delay for the strings to hold pitch and settle—a little more than the Elixir, but certainly not a deal-breaker.
When it comes to durability and longevity, the EB Earthwoods sadly don’t live up to other brands.
- Good Value for Money
- Long-Standing American Brand
- Comfortable Strings
- Iconic Sound
- Good Tuning Stability
- Pretty Sensitive to Snapping
- Not the Most Durable
- Short Life Span Compared to Most
D’Addario Coated 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings
The D’Addario Coated 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings are certainly worth your consideration. I found these strings to have an insanely smooth touch, much more so than any others I have come across in any string set.
The Fusion Twist technology contributes significantly to the tuning stability of these things, which is actually rock solid. The brand uses an improved method of securing the ball end to limit slippage and maintain stability, with the tuning much better than the standard method.
I found there to be no loss of tone or any snapping during long periods of play, so I am confident to call the D’Addario 80/20 strings super durable.
The tone of these strings is notably different to some, and this is likely due to the phosphor bronze alloy; this gives them a much warmer tone than the EBs and the Elixirs. The sustain is significant, too, especially given the fact that the strings are coated.
Some musicians are disappointed with the longevity of these strings, but it would be unfair to state this as authentic when it could be down to many other factors. However, it is fair for me to mention that not everyone is as impressed as me.
One drawback I have found is that these strings are not returnable. So, ensure you’re fully confident before purchasing!
- Fusion Twist Technology; results in elite tuning and stability
- Insanely Smooth Touch
- Warm Tone
- Significant Sustain
- Top Seller
- Questionable Longevity by Some
- Quite Pricey
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What Are 12 String Guitars Used For?
Answer: Generally, 12-string guitars are used by players who want a fuller, richer sound and resonance than one can get with a 6-string. This happens simply due to there being double the amount of strings, equating to double the sound.
I have found that most players of 12-string guitars do so for rhythm. However, players like John Butler opt for a 12-string for the unique sound when fingerpicking.
Question: How Easy is it to Play 12-Strings?
Answer: This will depend on your experience and level of play. If you’re just in the thinking stages of 12-string guitar ownership, a good starting point is to consider how you plan to use it for the sounds you want to create.
If you’re after a Zakk Wylde-style vibrato, then this isn’t the instrument for you.
However, 12-string guitars are perfect for adding sparkle and depth to more simple strumming patterns, especially on big open chords. Chord progression and picking patterns are the objectives of these guitars.
Why not look at some YouTube channels for free guitar lessons on 12-strings to get an insightful visual as to how this could work for you.
Question: Moving up to 12-Strings – How Easy is it?
Answer: A 12-string guitar isn’t for everyone. But, there are ways to gradually build up to this, thanks to 7 and 8-string guitars. Why not look at a 7-string guitar kit as an affordable stepping stone to see if 12-strings is the way to go for you?
If you feel you could already handle an additional two strings, then check out this guide on the best 8-string guitars of 2022.
Question: How Often Should I Clean 12-Strings?
Answer: As often as you would any other! It’s a great habit to get into, to clean your strings after every use. Even a simple wipe down will be enough to reduce a build-up of dirt and debris.
There are many string cleaning products on the market, but not all are necessary. Find out how we do it by reading our guide on how to properly clean your guitar strings.
The Best 12-String 80/20 Guitar Strings – My Verdict
Starting with my top choice, the Elixir 80/20 12-String Bronze Acoustic Strings, I believe them to truly deserve their position in this guide. I experienced no loss of tone, pitting, or corrosion.
These are certainly amongst the smoothest, most comfortable strings I have ever come across, and tonally they couldn’t achieve much more.
For a truly budget price, the Martin MA190 SP 12-String 80/20 Acoustic Strings are of sublime quality. A real gem of a find. Get over the fact they’re not made in the US, and you could have a true workhorse of a string set for less than the price of a fast-food lunch!
A die-hard EB fan, I truly did find the Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings to be one of my favorite 12-string sets. The quality and consistency of these strings are excellent, and certainly, if you don’t want coated strings, you won’t find much better than this.
As always with this brand, the longevity isn’t where they shine, but every other check box is ticked – with a permanent marker pen!
I loved pretty much everything about the D’Addario Coated 80/20 12-String Acoustic Strings. From the beautiful warm tone to the super comfortable feel. I found them to be exceptional for fingerstyle play, but the durability does let them down somewhat. For the price of the D’Addario 12-string set, I would expect greater longevity.
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