Back to Bronze Acoustic Strings

Bronze isn’t so bad after all!

A quick update to last week’s post about bronze and nickel strings: Over in the forum, Bear suggested trying 80/20 bronze strings. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I thought some of the strings I’d stocked up on and tried were 80/20s, but just realized they were another variety of phosphor bronze. D’oh!

So I got a nice, simple set of uncoated 80/20 Martin Marquis, popped them on, and realized that I don’t hate bronze strings — just phosphor bronze (and just on my particular guitars). I’m happy now. :pacman:

Anyway, if you’re curious, I’ve updated the audio examples to include this third string type along with the phosphor bronze and nickels. Have a listen if you’re curious:

I’m hearing the warmth I missed, and the whole guitar seems to gush more. The phosphor bronze strings sound so tonally stingy in comparison.

All thee sets are regular lights, with .012s on top. The tone is also a bit mellower on the new 80/20 tracks because last night I snapped off a fingernail while attempting to snap a picture of a gorilla at a gig.

10 comments to Back to Bronze Acoustic Strings

  • JH

    Ha ha. Peter Gun! Makes me think of when I was young. Making believe I was Kieth Emerson on the keyboards.

  • Oinkus

    I only see phospor bronze and nickel wrap where’s the 80/20 ?

  • Oinkus

    :stupid: Had to copy this to add it kinda odd should just be clickable ? Sorry you had a dude at a gig in a gorilla suit, pic is good but guy is just wrong.

  • Scott

    Sounds to my ears like the recording level is hotter on the 80/20 tracks. I hear more background on them. However, you can definitely hear the warmth of the 80/20 over the Phosphor Bronze. The Nickel sound to me like an old pair of strings. Nice and mellow. I use Martin Marquis and have been for years. I do use Elixers on one guitar that sees a lot of sweat… Those sounds great to, imo. Maybe you should try a set of those to add to the comparison?

  • bear


    It’s weird because the normal view is that 80/20 is brighter than phosphor bronze.  (Most string brands will tell you so on their comparison tools.)  The phosphors seem to have more bass and darkness, but along with that bigger sound there’s that zing and twang as previously mentioned.  80/20’s well broken in are pretty mellow.

    Cool discussion at the forum, though, with lots to explore.  Very interested in the “argentine”/”Gypsy jazz” strings now.

  • “Bronze” wound strings are of course brass wrapped (I think the marketing guys just think calling them bronze is less likely to put people off). Most plain strings are tin plated steel and are all quite similar, regardless of whether they are from a phosphor bronze, “bronze” or nickel set.

    Some of the Martin string sets use “bronzed” plated plain strings and core wire on the wound. I found those string sets to have a rather odd hollow sound when I tried them.

    And then there’s pure nickel or nickel plated steel wrap, stainless steel and one or two other wrap wire materials.

    One thing to consider when comparing string sets is the core wire to wrap ratio on the wound strings and whether or not the wound strings use hex or round cores. Most wound strings use hex cores, but there has been a swing back to round cores particularly on “vintage” style nickel strings. Wound strings with round cores feel softer and a wound string with a small gauge round core will feel much softer in tension than a wound string with a larger hex core.

    My impression is that a wrap wire that is made from a physically harder material will tend to produce more treble. Manufacturers string comparison guides tend to be a bit misleading I think.

    And ask yourself this – why does the tension of most string sets vary by up to 40%? Do such sets play better or sound better? It is perfectly possible to produce a set that offers equal tension. D’Addario now do so.

    • joe

      Thanks for yet another brilliant post, Terry. 🙂

      Man, I am still so hung up on this topic! These days “bronze” strings are simply toxic to my ears. The high end sounds nasty and “hype-y,” and I don’t know whether it’s due to my changing tastes, or my aging ears. Standard acoustic strings feel stiff and unresponsive to me as well. (I guess I could summarize my string and setup tastes these days as “heavy gauge, but low-ish action and tension.”)

      I like silver- and nickel-wound sets better, but I’m still searching for something I love more. So I just dropped another bundle of cash at, ordering a stack of arcane acoustic strings. I’ll let you know what I encounter.

      One interesting thing I discovered, which I wish I’d documented at the time: You might think all unwound strings of the same gauge and material sound about the same, but au contraire: The unwound nickel first strings of my default electric set these days (flatwound Pyramid .011s) sounds way better than at least one popular American brand’s pure nickel string. The fundamental is stronger and more solid on the German strings. The American string sounds thin and indecisive in comparison.

      • Well despite all plain strings being conceptually the same – a high carbon steel round wire with a protective plating – perhaps the exact steel alloy, the exact wire drawing process used and the type and thickness of plating makes more difference than you might expect, even when the gauge is the same.

        There aren’t that many wire mills making music wire in the world (maybe 12 at most I would guess) and as far as I know the majority of string makers (there’s between 50 and 100 string makers worldwide) do not draw their wire themselves (D’Addario might be an exception). So I would guess quite a few different brands of strings end up being made (sometimes in the same factory) from the same wire and so these plain strings should be much the same.

        In this case perhaps it is a difference between the wire from American wire mills and the Swedish wire used by Pyramid. Unfortunately string companies aren’t always super transparent about these details. The Pyramid web site offers very little detail.

        My impression is that the plating on the plain strings can make a difference. To me the Martin SP bronze plated plain strings did seem to have a very specific sound.

  • joe

    You’re not kidding about “aren’t always super-transparent!” I don’t know the exact number of companies who make their own wire, but whatever the count, it’s safe to say that most string vendors source their strings from OTHER manufacturers. I’m not sure exactly who makes their own, though I’ve seen the machinery at Dunlop and DR with my own eyes, so I know they do. I believe D’Addario, GHS, Ernie Ball, and Dean Markley do as well, though I can’t swear to it. Beyond that, it’s all hearsay to me, and I have no idea what the story is in Europe. Anyway, string manufacture is definitely an area of willful obfuscation, and has been for a long, long time.

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