It’s significant when a prominent manufacturer such as D’Addario launches a new model of acoustic strings because it’s such a rare event. The company has only released a handful of new acoustic strings since introducing its Phosphor Bronze model in 1974, which became an industry standard. So what’s the big new deal?
D’Addario claims that Nickel Bronze premium acoustic strings ($12 street) “highlight a guitar’s inner character, allowing your instrument’s natural frequencies to truly shine.” I gave them a thorough test drive on a Taylor 514ce, which notably had a Western Red Cedar top rather than the standard spruce top.
The first thing that catches your eye when you put on a Nickel Bronze set is the nickel color, which is a striking visual difference compared to phosphor bronze. This particular Taylor had gold hardware, so it was somewhat of a mismatch, but one could easily see the opposite being true. Any acoustic with silver-colored hardware would surely look hipper with strings to match.
In the hand, the Nickel Bronze strings feel uniquely tight and tough. You can practically sense the increased tensile strength. They feature D’Addario NY Steel cores on the wound strings, while the top two are NYXL plain steels. For those unfamiliar with D’Addario’s NY Steels for electric guitars and NXYL Bass, they have a high-carbon core designed for increased durability and tuning stability. So the plain strings are a bit wirier, while the wound strings wrapped in a nickel-bronze alloy feel smooth and pliable.
In play, I found D’Addario’s Nickel Bronze super responsive, sensitive, and as snappy as a mousetrap. The string noise was very low when I slid through various fretboard positions. That was particularly welcome for slide playing, which can otherwise be downright noisy on an acoustic guitar. It also came in handy on a recording session, when I wanted to capture acoustic tones unhindered by any extraneous noise.
I eventually came to understand and appreciate D’Addario’s new offering by being able to hear the “inner” sound of the Taylor like I’d never experienced before. It sounded more wooden and less metallic. And since the top was cedar, its inherently soft, sensitive sound was gloriously revealed. All of a sudden I was exploring fingerstyle playing in a more intimate way—almost like on a classic guitar.
Conversely, playing live with the Nickel Bronze strings felt and sounded somewhat foreign from being so accustomed to phosphor-bronze strings. I found myself wanting a bit more treble, because cedar isn’t a particularly bright wood. I missed the bouncy spring of phosphor bronze when playing slappy-tappy stuff, but I dug how the Nickel Bronze strings brought out a rich tone when strumming cowboy chords. They also made blues tunes sound authentically vintage. Nickel Bronze strings are magnetically sensitive too, which is a plus for archtop aficionados and players who use soundhole pickups.
I put the Nickel Bronze set through an almost unfair test by subjecting them to the most severe tuning circumstances imaginable. The Taylor was recently fitted with Tronical’s TunePlus self-tuning system. That means a digital brain controls highratio mechanical tuners that automatically fly from one tuning to another with the push of a button. When those suckers go, they go! I subjected D’Addario’s medium set—gauges .013 - .056—to endless stretching from a low-tension open C tuning to higher-tension open E, and everything in between over a period of about four days. The G string finally snapped when I was going for a strenuous custom A tuning.
Ultimately, D’Addario’s Nickel Bronze acoustic strings deliver exactly what the company claims, revealing a guitar’s natural tone without excess coloration. That’s especially cool on a high-quality instrument, as you might just hear your old guitar’s true voice for the very first time. And that voice will ring out longer too, because these strings provide extended life in exactly the opposite way that coated strings do: Instead of a protective outer coating, they utilize a strong inner core. To summarize, don’t take any wooden nickels from anyone, but do put a set of D’Addario’s Nickel Bronze strings on your acoustic if you want to get to the warm heart of its wooden tone.
KUDOS True tone. Responsive. Tough. Low string noise.
CONCERNS Tone maybe too true for lower-quality guitars.