Nickel strings on nickel-plated guitar?

It sure sounded like a match made in heaven, nickel strings on my nickel-plated National. But after trying them, I am going back to the Gore-Tex-coated bronze ones! I know, I’m a traditionalist about a lot of things, but as my buddy Blind Boy Paxton says, “Sometimes the new things are better.” He’s the one who persuaded me to go back to using a wound third string on my parlor. Mostly by laughing at the strange quacking sound the unwound third was making.
I still have nickel strings on that parlor, though! And if you’re going for old-style authenticity, I encourage you to try them. On any guitar. Even a National.
That’s what all our guitar heroes of the prewar era would have used.
Until bronze strings became popular sometime in the 1960s, nickel strings were what all “steel” string sets were. We’re really talking about the wound strings here, the 6th, 5th and 4th, and maybe the 3rd, unless you use an unwound third. The metal they are wound with is usually some kind of bronze these days. Phosphor bronze is what you most commonly find in stores, although I have never cared for the superbright sound of those. You can also find white bronze, 80/20 bronze etc. The unwound strings up top are just plain steel, I believe that’s the same in almost any set of metal strings, even if you get coated strings. The bronze wrapping, and the coating, is only on the wound strings. The high strings are still plain steel.
So nickel strings have nickel wraps on those wound strings. I’m not one to change strings at all very often, much less string types. But since I got that new, old-fashioned parlor guitar recently I started experimenting with different strings on it. And I tried nickel and I really like it.
I wouldn’t say they instantly make me sound like an old 78 (that probably has more to do with the guitar and how you play it) but they do sound different. It’s hard to describe the difference — string companies typically promote their strings as “bright” and “warm,” which I think are opposites when it comes to string sound! These nickels probably are more toward warm and away from bright. But it’ll probably be different as they age, and certainly will be different on different guitars.
They do look cool, I think. And, perhaps most importantly, they are easier to play! Nickel strings have less tension than bronze strings. So you use less (left) hand strength. And you might want to try a heavier gauge than you usually use. (That might cancel out the difference in tension, but it might give you a better sound.)
If you want to try them, look for electric-guitar strings. Yes, I’m talking about putting “electric” strings on your acoustic. Most of the nickel strings now available are sold as electric-guitar strings: DR Pure Blues and D’Addario Pure Nickel Jazz are two such brands. And yes, they do work on acoustic guitars and no, you don’t have to plug them in (although I suspect they would sound great with a pickup)!

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