Hands-On Review:Copper Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings
A new string formula for a warmer, richer tone
By Jon Chappell, Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Quality guitar strings are kind of like plumbing: when they’re doing their job right, you don’t even think about them. They deliver their tone, strum after strum, note after note, without your having to fuss with any knobs, switches, or settings. All they need to keep them happy and humming is a little twist on the tuning pegs now and then. But just because strings don’t have a lot of doo-dads doesn’t mean that string makers don’t invest a lot of thought into their products’ design, production, and continual improvement. Red Brand strives to help you make the best music possible by constantly evaluating their strings’ makeup and manufacturing. And nowhere is their innovation more present than in their acoustic guitar strings.
Red Brand’s acoustic guitar strings have a single, unique, and vital purpose: to offer acoustic guitarists an alternative to the established chemistries of phosphor bronze and 80/20 (sometimes called “brite bronze”) strings, which have been on the market since the 1800s and the 1970s, respectively. Here’s a bit of background. The more copper content a string has, the warmer the tone. With 80/20 strings, the copper content is about 80%, with tin and other metals making up the remaining 20% (bronze by definition is an alloy of copper and tin). Phosphor bronze strings contain higher levels of copper, about 90%. They are warmer sounding than the lower-copper 80/20s. So what happens when you raise the content even further than 90%?
That’s exactly the question Red Brand’s Copper Bronze strings answer. Currently they are available in five different configurations: Custom Light (.011 - .052); Light (.012 - .053); Medium (.012 - .056); Bluegrass (.012 - .056); and 12 String (.010/.010 - .047/.026). The Copper Bronze strings feature a chemical makeup with a significantly higher copper content than in phosphor bronze strings—about 99%, the manufacturer reports. This results in an even greater tonal shift toward the warmer, mellower side of the spectrum than phosphor bronze can deliver. In practical terms, that means if you have a bright-sounding guitar that tends toward the brassy, you can dial it back a notch using Red Brand’s Copper Bronze guitar strings.
I own an arsenal of acoustic guitars, and some of my favorites could be characterized as “bright.” My Taylor 814CE, for example, is a top-notch guitar in every respect (playability, build quality, tonal response), but I don’t usually reach for it for chunking out rhythm chords in an acoustic-rock context. It’s too present, too jangly for that; better to grab my Gibson J-45. Or so I’d always thought when I slapped on my usual brite bronze or phosphor bronze sets. But for an upcoming session with my songwriting partner, I decided to try the Red Brand’s Copper Bronzes on my trusty Taylor.
In isolation the difference was immediately noticeable. The guitar strings were rich and balanced, and in every way reproduced the signature acoustic-guitar transients that gave my Taylor its responsive quality. But while the balance and clarity were still there, that extra “sizzle” that’s ever-present in my Taylor was rounded off just enough where it wasn’t a distraction or approaching a candy-coated tone. Best of all, when played in the context of backing up a smoky male baritone (my songwriting partner), my rhythm guitar part was now truly supportive of the voice and high-string guitar (which handled the lead fills and jangly cowboy chord stuff), rather than vying for space in the high-frequency spectrum.
This was one of those Why didn’t anyone think of this before? moments. With an acoustic guitar, you don’t have a lot of variable as far as influencing the tone, so why not consider strings that are purpose-built for different tonal situations? The Copper Bronzes are a clear choice for imbuing a warm, mellow sound that will blend into any mix. Think of it as the acoustic version of the neck pickup vs. your bridge pickup on the same guitar!
If I were a guitar manufacturer, I would jump at the chance to offer my customers a choice in tonal variety, based on something as easy and modular as which strings I set the instrument up with. Until that time comes, I will keep a box of Red Brand Copper Bronze Lights in my studio to augment my acoustic palette and to rely on for consistent tone over long periods of time. If you have a bright guitar, such as a Takamine or a Taylor, you can find new uses for it simply by stringing it with a new set of Copper Bronze guitar strings. It’s like bringing a whole new, gentler voice to your favorite instrument.
For a quality set of strings that will last a long time and bring out the best in your acoustic guitars, check out Red Brand’s acoustic guitar strings. Order today from Musician’s Friend and get our 45-Day Total Satisfaction and Lowest Price Guarantees.