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Phosphor Bronze vs 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

Phosphor Bronze vs 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

Without question, phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze are the two most popular acoustic guitar string alloys—but what are the differences between them?

Watch our shootout to hear how they compare:

Today we’re talking about the different alloys that are available for acoustic guitar strings and what those mean for the sound and playability of your guitar.

So while there are a couple different alloys used in acoustic guitar stringsphosphor bronze, 80/20 bronze, monel, even just standard nickel-plated steel—really the two that are most often used—and I really mean like 98% or 99% of all sets seem to feature these two alloys—are phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze, so those are the two that we’re really going to focus on today.

For us at Stringjoy those alloys can be found in our Naturals, which is our phosphor alloy, and our Brights, which is our 80/20 alloy.

80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

80/20 bronze—technically brass, but commonly known as 80/20 Bronze in guitar player parlance—was one of the most popular alloys throughout the middle of the 20th century before phosphor bronze was brought to market in the 70s.

This is a pretty simple alloy, it’s 80% copper and 20% zinc, it has a really bright, scooped sort of tone—I think it’s best known for its brightness. A lot of players find that it has quite a bit of bass as well. It doesn’t have quite as much midrange as phosphor bronze though, it’s a little bit more of a scooped sort of frequency response overall.

80/20 Bronze is probably the less popular of the two alloys these days, though a lot of players do still really like it. Really if you’re looking for a really, really bright and articulate sound, this is the composition for you.

The main drawback to 80/20 bronze has always been and probably always will be that it really just doesn’t last as long as phosphor bronze for some reasons that we’ll talk about here in a second.

80/20 bronze’s lifespan can vary on the player, but some players with very acidic sweat find that it only lasts for a couple days before it kind of wears out a little bit on them. Some players can get a lot more life out it, especially if they’re wiping their strings down, using a string conditioner, or anything like that, but in general 80/20 bronze in the same conditions is pretty much never going to outlast phosphor bronze.

Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

Phosphor bronze, on the other hand, is a bit of a newer invention, not really new exactly, as it was back in the second half of the 20th century when we started to see phosphor bronze come into vogue. It seemed to pretty quickly supplant 80/20 bronze in popularity once it hit the market and players became aware of it.

Basically phosphor bronze is 92% copper—so a little bit more copper than 80/20 bronze—has about 8% tin and contains trace amounts of phosphorous, which is what makes it a little bit more corrosion resistant compared to 80/20 bronze.

Phosphor bronze is really known for having a balanced, rather warm response. It has a little bit more mid-range than you see in 80/20 bronze, it doesn’t have those really peaky, ice-picky highs, or that really, really strong bass either. It’s just kind of a nice flat, natural sort of sound—which is why we named ours Naturals!

In general, those are the big tonal differences that we see between phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze, we don’t generally see that there’s a huge difference in playability, at least not that most players can really tell.

If you haven’t already, check out the video above to hear a sonic comparison of the two alloys.

What do you think?

Obviously everybody has their preferences, nothing is right for everyone but that’s the beauty of having all sorts of different options, is that everyone can try things and find what they like. Be sure to share your experience, let us know what you really like down in the comments and thanks for watching.

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26 Responses

  1. I swore by medium gauge 80/20’s for years. Wound up trying the Naturals because I was curious about the balanced tension approach, and y’all weren’t making 80/20’s at that time. I wound up preferring them, a preference that remained once your Brights were available and I gave them a go. I’ve also stepped down to lights after comparing how both gauges record, and I used to HATE lights. We change. Guitars change. Needs change. Just goes to show how important it is to never settle and always be open to try new things. I have to remind myself of that often.

  2. For my taste, I prefer phosphor bronze. There seems more going on. With that said I put on your 20/20 bronze on a big Dreadnaught style guitar, I build and I’m pleased with the sound. I usually build smaller tighter waist guitars like the Gibson 185 and L-00. I’m a finger picker and fall prey to those small wasted round bottom guitars. That’s almost a Freudian slip.

  3. Even the most expensive guitars, sadly don’t sound any better than Harley Bentley’s, running 10 times cheaper 🙂

    I own 12 acoustics and 2 electrics, amoung those are a few Taylors, Martins, Gibsons, yet the rest is Harley Benton’s, and when comparing them during rehearsal or preparing for live events, NO ONE can tell the difference, and becomes shocked, when you tell them the price difference 😛

  4. As a wizened old geetar player I do have a bit to add. What the advent of Phossy strings did—and still do—is, they became a “great equalizer” type string. That is, you can make beginner guitars and cheaper guitars with no inherent tonal quality of their own still sound pretty good.

    With the old standard 80/20s you’re going to hear the sound of the guitar itself more than with phosphor bronze strings. If you have a Martin D series or a jumbo Guild or a Gibson Hummingbird and you want to hear why they are so coveted, wind on a set of 80/20s

    Phosphor Bronze strings can cover up many sins.

    1. I hear that! There’s definitely a cutting mid-range to phosphor strings that sort of takes over the tone, and I think that’s probably what’s covering up those sins you referred to.

  5. You repeatedly refer to “80/20 Bronze” guitar strings. I am a retired engineer who has used many metallurgical samples throughout my career, and what you are saying is technically incorrect. “Brass” is an alloy made up primarily of copper and zinc (as you state the 80/20 mix is 80% copper and 20% zinc). “Bronze is an alloy that is composed of copper and tin – and 20% tin would be an extremely high percentage of tin in a phoisphor bronze alloy (non-existent for all practical purposes). You say that certain terms used for guitar strings are interchangeable…maybe, but “brass” and “bronze” are not. One has zinc and no tin, and the other has tin and no zinc (aside from perhaps a trace). So you see your 80/20 strings are “brass” and your phosphor bronze are truly “bronze”, and ne’er the twain shall meet…technically.

    1. Thanks for reading John! You’re 100% correct and we’ve talked about this countless times on the blog. “80/20 bronze,” as the industry has called it for decades is not bronze, it’s brass. That’s why our Bright Brass (our “80/20 bronze” strings) are called brass. That said, the term “80/20 Bronze” has been used in the guitar string industry for so long that we have to refer to it so that players understand what we’re talking about. It’s crazy, we know.

  6. “80/20 Bronze is probably the least popular of the two alloys these days, though a lot of players do still really like it. Really if you’re looking for a really, really bright and articulate sound, this is the gauge for you.”

    80/20 isn’t a gauge, it’s a composition.

  7. After a fair bit of comparing it’s 80/20 for me all the way and I’m not looking back. PB strings sound dull to me from the very start; moreover, they seem to be inherently lacking the dazzling string separation and definition I’ve enjoyed with at least five different 80/20 sets.

  8. Do you guys have any monel nickel strings? I’d be interested in trying some if you have any. Never tried any of stringjoy products but I would assume that based on the price they are comparable to other similar priced phosphor bronze strings on the market. I’m really trying to find a good nickel string.

  9. I am thinking of trying some 80/20 with a coating to compensate for the length of time they hold up. I really like nickel bronze strings like D’addario and I’m getting some Martin retro this week. I like to change my strings often because I like the crisp and bright tone of the new strings and I have yet to find a string that retains it longer than a week or two at most so I might go cheaper and more often as opposed to pricy because it’s expensive to change $12 set of strings once a week but I really like the D’addario nickel bronze.

  10. Have 1980 Gibson Custom Acoustical, play folk, rock,blues,,. What strings would you reccomend I use to create upbeat sound.

    1. Thanks for reaching out Patrick! No set of strings will have any effect on tempo ? But joking aside, typically I recommend folks start with our Natural Bronze alloy in Super Light or Light gauge.

  11. I have purchased and installed Stringjoy products on the three Acoustic guitars I own and I love them all, thank you.

  12. I appreciate having the transcript of the video!
    I often skip videos tho will read some to see if I’m interested
    I am now a Stringjoy guitarist!

  13. I currently use Elixer phosbronze in my Taylor 914. So I am pretty happy with the sound it produces. I think the 80/20 doesn’t match up well with the Taylor and no way for nickel. I just received my first set of Stringjoy PhosBronze. I will be changing out to them this weekend to see how they compare. I haven’t played acoustic strings that weren’t coated for awhile. It will be interesting.

  14. How about a mix? What would we see if we went with the highest four strings in phosphor bronze, then the low A and E in 80/20 to bring out a bit more bass?

  15. This post that arrived at my mail was a big coincidence, I purchased 80/20 and phosphor bronze together from amazon just a week ago and was going to put them on today. Whoa. Simply can’t believe it.

  16. Couldn’t tell much difference between the 20/20. bronze & the phosphorus/bronze but the nickel wound sounded much weaker & darker. Didn’t care for the nickel.

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