Guitar and Fretted Instrument Service and Repair


Acoustic Guitar String Choices in the Shop

Left: 80/20’s, Center: EQ’s, Right: Phosphor Bronze. Which set fits your acoustic guitar and playing style?

Just stocked up on string sets again recently and I wanted to highlight the styles and gauges that I have available in the shop and also give a brief explanation of the different types.

As I have for quite a while, I stock the Cleartone brand of strings for both electric and acoustic guitars. They are a local company with great service and offer a treated string for longevity that plays and sounds like a non treated string. Right now we have 3 types of acoustic strings available from Cleartone: standard Phosphor Bronze in 10, 11 and 12 gauge sets, 80/20 in 12 gauge sets, and the newer EQ string packs in 10, 11 and 12 gauge sets.

String set gauges for acoustic, like electric sets, are normally referenced by the diameter of the high E string, thus 10’s are 0.010″, 11’s are 0.011″, etc They range normally from 10’s to 13’s. The most popular being the 12’s. Some players prefer the lighter 10’s and sometimes to allow for a larger gauge string on the low end but a little more ease of playing the 11’s have also become popular. The other string gauges follow an unwritten but seemingly stock pattern these days with only minor variation from different manufacturers. So for all intents and purposes they are a standard now.

As for the different string materials, this is referencing the wound wrap portion of the E through G strings with the inside core and high B and E strings being essentially piano wire and the same for all string material types. Here is a quick breakdown of each style of string and typical sonic palette.

80/20 style strings are the original modern day metal acoustic strings developed in the 1930’s and used exclusively up to the 70’s. The wound portion consists of 80% copper and 20% zinc, which is brass. Sometimes they are called 80/20 bronze but that actually not bronze. They embody the vintage style sound of acoustic guitars on old recordings and can impart a bright tone with scooped mids. If you have a guitar that is larger bodied or has a darker tone, these can help to brighten it up. If you are planning on recording your guitar and would like a brighter tone in the mix, stringing up with new 80/20’s would be a great choice.

Eventually another alloy was developed in the 70’s that would allow the strings to corrode slower and thus last longer. This is the current Phosphor Bronze , which consists of 92% copper, 7.8% tin and 0.2% phosphor. These string sets tend of have a warmer, softer tone and less attack during strumming. They have become more of the standard installed on today’s guitars and many players are not aware that there are other options. If your acoustic is smaller bodied or brighter tone to begin with, this alloy may be a good choice to tame of of the brightness and give a more even tone.

A third material set is now available from Cleartone, which is called the EQ Set. They are interesting in that its a mixed set of straight Copper on the Low E to increase bass, Phosphor Bronze on the A and D, and then 80/20 on the G to give an overall brightness adjustment to the different strings. Its a novel idea and interesting to see if it takes hold. These strings like the other two styles from Cleartone are treated and should last longer than than standard untreated strings.

So if you have an acoustic guitar that you are not completely happy with the tone, or perhaps you are going to record with and would like more brightness or evenness, that might be the time to experiment and try a different style string set, besides the phosphor bronze, to see if it changes the tone enough to meet your needs. The nice thing about trying a different string gauge or material is that its an inexpensive, completely reversible modification. Doesn’t get better than that. If you have any questions let me know next time you have your guitar in the shop. See you soon.

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