The alloy used in the wrap wire will have a dramatic influence on the sound your strings produce. There are also differences in the longevity of the strings due to different corrosion rates of various alloys.
Wound acoustic and electric guitar strings are made from different alloys to suit different purposes. Though tone is a key component of both, acoustic guitar strings need to project volume whereas electric guitar strings are constructed of ferromagnetic metals, like steel, to interact with the pickup’s magnetic field.
Popular Acoustic Guitar String Wrap Alloys
The most popular alloy for acoustic guitars, phosphor bronze wrap wire is made of 92% copper alloyed with 8% tin. It contains less than 1% phosphorus added to remove oxygen, thus adding longevity by hampering corrosion. Phosphor bronze wound are the best strings for those who desire a rich, warm tone. Their appearance leans slightly more towards red than gold.
Sometimes known as 80/20 Brass, this combination is considerably brighter than phosphor bronze due to its combination of 80% copper and 20% zinc. Popular among recording guitarists, these are the best strings for those requiring a bright, crisp tone. The high percentage of zinc results in a more golden or yellowish appearance.
Silk and Steel
Silk and Steel strings have a low-tension, soft feel that’s great for fingerpicking styles. A silver-plated copper wire is wrapped around a silk covered, thin steel core providing a lower volume and mellower tone similar to that of the wound strings on a classical guitar. Used by professional players, they are also popular with beginners who enjoy the ease of playability.
Popular Electric Guitar String Wrap Alloys
Nickel Plated Steel
This is the overwhelming favorite among electric guitarists. By virtue of being electric, these guitars necessitate different demands of strings than do acoustics. Whereas an acoustic guitar’s strings need to produce a lot of volume, an electric’s strings require strong magnetic properties for proper interaction with the instrument’s pickups. Nickel Plated Steel, often referred to as “Nickel,” is composed of 8% nickel electroplated to the steel for a smooth, warm sound. This is what most electric guitarists use and what comes stock on almost all new instruments.
Pure nickel was the standard in the 60’s and is recently experiencing resurgence. Pure nickel provides a warmer tone with less brightness. It is also the easiest on your frets, being made of the same material. In the war of strings vs. fret wear it’s more of a level playing field.
Stainless provides the brightest, “springy” sound as well as enhanced volume and sustain. It also boasts the longest lifespan of uncoated strings, tending to be more durable due to reduced tarnish and corrosion. On the downside, you can expect a little more fret wear owing to stainless steel’s relative strength compared to the nickel frets.