An acoustic guitar can have a beautiful tonewood construction and high-end appointments, but it can never produce good sound without high-quality guitar strings.
After all, tonewoods only reflect the vibrations coming from the guitar strings.
That is why beginner and seasoned guitarists always debate which among the guitar strings is the best.
Unfortunately, one’s choice of guitar strings reflects sound preferences, guitar-playing style, and maintenance commitment.
Different guitar strings also have signature properties, producing a marginally different sound that the untrained ear cannot distinguish.
Sadly, it makes choosing more complicated for newbie guitarists unless they use all guitar string types to find the best match for their playing style.
While there are many acoustic guitar string types, two hotly contested varieties are 80/20 and phosphor bronze.
Join me in comparing phosphor bronze vs 80/20 guitar strings and help you decide which string set is best suited for your acoustic guitar.
The Principal Differences between 80/20 and Phosphor Bronze Guitar Strings
The most recognizable differences between 80/20 and phosphor bronze guitar strings are maintenance requirements, durability, and sound quality, with phosphor bronze getting the upper hand.
Nevertheless, 80/20 guitar strings remain popular options for hobbyists and professional guitarists because of their unique attributes.
In general, we can differentiate 80/20 guitar strings from phosphor bronze string sets with the following:
- Age: Phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings are a newer creation (in the 1970s) than 80/20 string sets (in the 1930s), making the latter seem like an obsolete technology.
- Chemical composition: Phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings contain at least 12% more copper than 80/20 strings (92% vs 80%).
- Service lifespan: The higher copper content of phosphor bronze strings gives it exceptional durability (against corrosion) than 80/20 guitar strings.
- Sound: 80/20 acoustic guitar strings produce a bright tone, especially with large-bodied guitars.
- Sweat resistance: Sweaty hands and fingers can impact 80/20 guitar strings’ structure, while phosphor bronze strings are more impervious to salts.
On the other hand, many guitarists prefer the natural sound of phosphor bronze string sets.
Before we delve into the realm of 80/20 and phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings, let us get to know their principal specifications.
Parameter 80/20 Phosphor Bronze
Composition 20% zinc, 80% copper About 8% tin, 92% copper, and <1% phosphor Coating With or without
Gauge Heavy, Medium, Light, and Extra Light
Tone Bass-heavy, crisp, bright Natural, warm, full, well-balanced
String core Hex and round
Average lifespan Not longer than one month Several months
The information on the table above is sufficient for some people to decide which guitar strings they should buy.
However, it makes sense to learn more about these attributes in greater detail to help you make a better-informed decision.
Let us start with phosphor bronze guitar strings.
Phosphor Bronze Guitar Strings
A mainstay element of many contemporary guitars, phosphor bronze strings deliver a warm and natural sound perfect for small to medium-bodied guitars.
Its combination of high copper content and traces of tin, zinc, and phosphorus gives these guitar strings exceptional durability, lasting at least three months.
The unique chemical composition also makes phosphor bronze strings more resistant to acid sweats and corrosion, without requiring extensive and meticulous maintenance.
Unfortunately, phosphor bronze guitar strings vary in performance, depending on the manufacturer.
- High bronze (copper) content (92%) with 8% tin
- Two to three months service lifespan
- Excellent corrosion resistance
- Produces well-balanced, full, warm, and natural sound
- Ideal for parlor and concert guitar body shapes
- Available in various gauges
- Available with coating and without
D’Addario introduced phosphor bronze guitar strings in 1974 to counter the 80/20 strings’ quickly-aging characteristics.
At the time, guitarists using 80/20 strings had to replace their guitar strings every month, more frequently if they did not observe judicious maintenance activities.
The company added more copper into the winding material, increasing it by 12 percent from the base 80 percent of the 80/20.
D’Addario also added tin, zinc, and phosphorus to the bronze, improving the material’s corrosion resistance.
The bronze material’s higher copper content and addition of tin give the strings better resistance against rusting and deterioration by salt interaction.
Unfortunately, the resulting guitar string dampened the 80/20’s bright tones.
Nevertheless, many contemporary guitarists prefer phosphor bronze guitar strings because of their unique tonal attributes and durability.
Materials and Durability
Manufacturers of phosphor bronze guitar strings use different winding types to wrap the core string element with winding materials.
The core material is almost always metal or steel because it delivers a brighter tone than nylon.
However, some manufacturers also use polymers, such as fluoropolymers, polybutylene terephthalates, and polyetheretherketones.
The core can also come in two shapes: round and hexagonal.
Many guitarists prefer hex core-shaped phosphor bronze guitar strings because they are flexible, more resistant to breakage, and improve tuning stability.
You can play different songs every day for several weeks without losing your tune.
Even if you decide to embark on a guitar-shredding adventure, hex-core strings will never give up on you.
On the other hand, round cores have a more traditional design.
As for the winding material, phosphor bronze consists of 0.01% to 0.35% phosphorus, 0.5% to 11% tin, and 90% to 92% copper.
D’Addario’s original phosphor bronze composition had 92% copper and about 8% tin, with a tiny fraction of phosphorus.
As mentioned, the higher copper content lends the phosphor bronze string better resistance against corrosion.
It also does not matter if you have sweaty palms and finger pads because the string’s chemical composition can take such abuse.
Phosphor bronze guitar strings have a fuller, almost darker tone than 80/20 string sets.
These strings also add warmth to the guitar’s tone.
The additional phosphorus gives the strings tonal softness, making pick attacks less pronounced than other guitar string types.
It has a more pronounced mid-range tonal quality than the 80/20, without the ice-picky highs and deep, strong bass.
For some guitarists, the sound phosphor bronze strings make is somewhat flat but in a pleasant way.
I can best describe it as the natural sound of music the way only phosphor bronze strings can deliver.
The good news is that you only need to use the phosphor bronze guitar strings for a few hours, and it will already be ready for a live performance.
It will sound like 80/20 guitar strings, only better with a slightly more natural and warmer vibe.
Because of its slightly warmer and darker natural tone, you can pair it with Taylor, Alvarez, Ibanez, Takamine, and other bright-sounding acoustic guitars.
These strings are also suitable for amplifying the sound of smaller guitar body shapes, such as Parlor, Concert, and Orchestra guitars.
Unfortunately, no guitar string can last very long if you have an aggressive guitar-playing style.
The longest any guitar string might last will be a few days, if not several hours.
The same is true with phosphor bronze guitar strings.
Although the strings’ chemical composition makes them corrosion-resistant, they are not impervious to abuse.
The good news is that phosphor bronze strings are more reliable than other guitar string types, including 80/20 string sets.
You can expect to use these strings for at least two months, although occasional use and pristine storage habits can extend the service lifespan to three or four months.
It is also crucial to understand that phosphor bronze strings are not wear-resistant.
These guitar strings slowly degrade over time, producing subtle changes in the guitar’s sound and other tonal characteristics.
Other Noteworthy Features
Manufacturers of phosphor bronze guitar strings offer these products in various gauges, appealing to different genres and guitar-playing styles and preferences.
A guitar string with a higher gauge rating is exceptional for producing soul-reaching bass, perfect for rhythms or accompanying the lead.
On the other hand, lower-gauged phosphor bronze strings are perfect for highlighting the guitar’s treble notes.
Phosphor bronze guitar strings can also have specialized coatings, although most do not have.
The coating protects the winding material against oxidation, improving corrosion resistance, and extending the string’s functional lifespan.
Some companies formulate a synthetic coat, protecting the strings without affecting their tactile characteristics – the strings feel they do not have a coating.
It is crucial to understand that manufacturers add features to their products to differentiate them from other phosphor bronze guitar strings.
It would be in your best interest to research a phosphor bronze string’s product features and characteristics before buying.
The Elixir Strings Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze is an excellent phosphor bronze string set you can use in your guitar.
It has a Nanoweb string coating technology, providing you with natural sound and an uncoated feel.
80/20 Guitar Strings
Vintage guitar enthusiasts love 80/20 guitar strings because they deliver the classic sound of the 1960s and 1970s rock and roll.
These guitar strings have a brighter and crisper tone and are sufficiently versatile to work with almost any music genre.
Unfortunately, its lower copper and higher zinc contents translate to a shorter lifespan and more meticulous upkeep.
- 4:1 copper-to-zinc ratio
- Recommended for jumbo, super jumbo, and dreadnought guitars
- Exceptional highlighting of low-frequency tones
- Bright, crisp, and bass-heavy tone
- Modest one-month service lifespan
- Available in various string gauges
- Versatile design, applicable for many genres
Some people think that D’Addario (the same brand that introduced phosphor bronze guitar strings to the world in 1974) also created the very first 80/20 guitar strings in the mid-1930s.
It is interesting to point that D’Addario did not become a company until 1974, although the family has been making strings for musical instruments since 1915.
By 1932, John D’Angelico established the D’Angelico Guitars in Manhattan.
D’Angelico collaborated with John D’Addario Sr. (the son of the first D’Addario immigrants to New York in 1915, Carmine “Charles” D’Addario) to make strings for the company’s guitars.
The collaboration’s outcome was the world’s first 80/20 guitar string in the mid-1930s.
The original design called for a mixture of 20% zinc and 80% copper to produce a guitar string with a bright sound.
Although many contemporary guitarists prefer phosphor bronze guitar strings, seasoned players still use 80/20 strings because of their exceptional versatility.
You can play almost any genre with these strings in your guitar.
Materials and Durability
D’Addario and other 80/20 string manufacturers label their products ‘80/20 Bronze.’
Unfortunately, this is a misnomer, considering bronze is copper and tin alloy.
Hence, it is more appropriate to call the 80/20 guitar strings brass strings.
As mentioned, 80/20 brass guitar strings contain 80% copper and 20% zinc.
The additional zinc gave the guitar string its characteristic bright tone while slowing down the copper’s aging process.
Sadly, the high zinc levels reduced the 80/20 guitar string’s corrosion resistance.
Through the years, 80/20 guitar string manufacturers added coatings to improve the stings’ longevity and rust protection.
Unfortunately, poorly-applied coatings impacted the strings’ characteristic tone.
Poor-quality 80/20 coated brass strings cannot retain their iconic brightness for a few hours, making it almost impossible to bring the guitar on the road.
Uncoated or poorly-coated 80/20 strings also tend to turn greenish if left in an area with high humidity.
While experts say the greenish film protects the brass material, it can affect the string’s tone.
On average, 80/20 guitar strings can last about a month or so, depending on your playing style and maintenance routine.
Compared to the phosphor bronze string’s natural and warm sound, 80/20 strings produce crisp and bright tones emphasizing the low-frequency range.
You might hear mids but less pronounced than what you would get from a phosphor bronze string.
The best way to describe the sound of 80/20 strings is by listening to 1960s and 1970s songs, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, and more.
It has a projecting tone, something that vintage guitar enthusiasts appreciate and love.
The 80/20 strings’ brilliant and bright tone makes them ideal for large-bodied guitars, such as Dreadnoughts, Jumbos, and Super Jumbos.
You can put these strings on a Taylor, Gibson, or Martin acoustic guitar because of their darker tonal qualities than Ibanez, Takamine, and Alvarez guitars.
The strings’ bright tone can counter these guitars’ dark tonal attributes, producing a well-balanced tone.
An 80/20 guitar string cannot match a phosphor bronze guitar string’s reliability, despite its phenomenal sound quality.
Guitarists with acidic sweat often find the 80/20’s durability to last only a few days, even with meticulous maintenance.
The acid eats away at the string’s zinc component, reducing its corrosion resistance.
In general, one cannot expect 80/20 guitar strings to last more than a month even with the most advanced coating.
Some guitarists wipe the strings with a string conditioner after every use to extend their lifespan.
Sadly, these actions are insufficient to outlast phosphor bronze guitar strings.
The string’s zinc component also requires more personalized care.
One must protect it against high humidity, lest the strings undergo rapid corrosion.
Nevertheless, if you need guitar strings with an articulate sound and do not mind replacing them frequently, 80/20 guitar strings are an excellent choice.
They are also inexpensive, negating any cost considerations due to frequent string replacements.
80/20 guitar strings are also more versatile than phosphor bronze strings, allowing you to use them on almost any acoustic guitar.
Other Noteworthy Features
Like other guitar string types, 80/20 string sets are available in different gauges.
It would be wise to consider your guitar playing needs to determine the best gauge of string for your instrument.
80/20 strings are ideal for large-bodied guitars to balance the instrument’s naturally dark tones.
That is why many guitarists use these strings on Jumbos, Super Jumbos, and Dreadnoughts.
It would also be best to get coated 80/20s to make them last at least a month.
The D’Addario 80/20 Bronze EJ10 is one of the best examples of an 80/20 guitar string.
Pros and Cons of 80/20 and Phosphor Bronze Guitar Strings
Here is a rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of 80/20 and phosphor bronze guitar strings to help you gain a better picture of each type.
Phosphor Bronze Pros
- Well-balanced, warm, and natural sound
- Excellent for folk and country guitarists
- Exceptional corrosion and sweat resistance
- Minimal maintenance requirements
- Excellent for small and medium-bodied guitars
Phosphor Bronze Cons
- More expensive than 80/20 strings
- Not for Dreadnoughts, Jumbos, and Super Jumbos
- Manufacturer-dependent performance
- Bright, articulate, and classic rock and roll sound
- Excellent tonal characteristics for genre versatility
- Ideal for large-bodied guitars
- More affordable than phosphor bronze strings
- Underwhelming mids
- More susceptible to corrosion and acidic sweat-induced damage
- Short service lifespan
Alternatives to 80/20 and Phosphor Bronze Guitar Strings
While 80/20 strings are versatile enough to fit in almost any music genre, there might be some musical styles where neither the 80/20 nor the phosphor bronze is ideal.
Hence, it would be best to check a few alternatives.
Silk and Steel Guitar Strings
These guitar strings combine an 80/20’s warm tone with a nylon string’s soft tonal qualities to produce a mellow yet warm sound.
The principal advantage of these strings is the near-absence of string noise and surprisingly low string tension.
These strings have a steel core and an outer winding wire sandwiching a silk filament.
The low string tension makes these guitar strings perfect for beginners, allowing them to position their fingers more accurately and comfortably.
Nickel Bronze Guitar Strings
These acoustic guitar strings feature a nickel-bronze winding material wrapping a steel core, giving the strings exceptional corrosion resistance and durability.
Tuning these strings are also effortless, and they are suitable for live performances and studio sessions.
An excellent example of this guitar string type is the D’Addario Nickel Bronze Guitar Strings.
Aluminum Bronze Guitar Strings
Guitar strings with aluminum bronze winding material sound like 80/20 strings, although crisper, clearer, and richer.
Aluminum bronze sets are also more durable than 80/20s.
One of the best aluminum bronze guitar strings on the market is the Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze Set.
What brand of phosphor bronze guitar strings is the best?
Many seasoned guitarists get D’Addario phosphor bronze guitar strings because of their durability and sound quality, making D’Addario the best brand of phosphor bronze guitar string.
Moreover, D’Addario introduced the world’s first phosphor bronze guitar strings in the 1970s, making the brand pioneers.
However, John Pearse and Elixir Strings also make dependable phosphor bronze strings for guitars.
Is it easy to tune phosphor bronze guitar strings?
Yes, phosphor bronze guitar strings are as easy to tune as any acoustic guitar strings.
However, many novice guitarists find tuning phosphor bronze guitar strings a little complicated.
The good news is that beginner players can learn to tune the guitar strings over time, making them feel more confident and simplifying the tuning process.
What guitar type is the perfect fit for 80/20 guitar strings?
80/20 guitar strings have a uniquely bass-heavy sound making them excellent for guitars with large bodies.
Advanced and professional guitarists often use 80/20 strings on Dreadnoughts, Jumbos, and Super Jumbos, although some also use 80/20 strings on Auditorium-body shape guitars.
How frequently must I replace my 80/20 guitar strings?
You might have to replace your 80/20 guitar strings every month.
Although, it is possible to extend it by several weeks if you are judicious in their maintenance and do not use them frequently.
What is crucial to remember is that 80/20 guitar strings start to show a reduction in their sound quality after a month.
Guitar playing frequency, 80/20 guitar strings storage conditions, and playing style can impact the frequency of guitar string replacement.
The Verdict: Which Between 80/20 and Phosphor Bronze Guitar Strings is Best
Phosphor bronze and 80/20 guitar strings deliver exceptional sound quality that only seasoned and professional musicians will recognize and appreciate the subtle sonic differences between the two guitar strings.
However, if I were to choose, I would pick phosphor bronze guitar strings because they last longer than 80/20 strings.
It makes a more sensible choice for professional guitarists who can appreciate the strings’ durability in their playing.
Phosphor bronze guitar strings’ extended lifespan also negates any cost issues, which 80/20 guitar strings have at purchase.
In general, your choice reflects your understanding of your guitar-playing style, needs, and habits.