What are Monel strings?

Martin MM10 Monel Acoustic Guitar Strings

Monel….wasn’t he an impressionist painter? Hhhmm, close, but not quite!

You’d be forgiven for asking what on Earth Monel strings are exactly? Well, below we’ll be running you through what these lesser-known strings actually are and see what all the fuss is about… so, let’s get cracking!

So what is Monel?

There are plenty of alloys that dominate today’s guitar string market so there’s a good chance many players will never have tried (or even heard) of Monel strings before. Monel is an alloy made from a mix of Nickel and Copper. There are smaller traces of other elements in there too such as iron, manganese, carbon and silicon, however, the significant components of Monel come from its unique blend of Nickel and Copper.

So what’s the significance of Monel?

Well, before steel strings were even available, players used Catgut for their guitar strings. Although the name suggests the strings were made using the guts from our furry feline friends, this wasn’t actually the case. However, that being said, Catgut did use the lining of other animal’s intestines (e.g. sheep and goat being the most commonly used)… a bit of an unpleasant thought even for the non-vegans among us!!

Towards the latter part of the 19th Century, Catgut began to be replaced with steel and by the early part of the 20th century, steel strings were the norm on most guitars. But what steel was used? Well, this is where Monel strings came in to play. Monel was extremely popular at the time and was the first nickel-based string to be used by guitarists.

Monel was first created by a gentleman named Robert Crooks Stanley back in 1901 whilst working at the ‘International Nickel Company’. The official term ‘Monel’ was given to the alloy and was named after one of the company presidents Ambrose Monell. It’s a trademarked alloy and as part of the trademark licensing, the ‘International Nickel Company’ were ordered to drop one of the L’s from its name because at the time companies were unable to use people’s names as a trademark name.…. You learn something new everyday, eh!

What made Monel a popular choice for guitar strings?

Monel possesses several properties that made it an ideal choice for guitar strings. It’s known to have high tensile strength and is also highly resistant to corrosion too.

Less breakages and less rusting!?!… these are the sort of things that many string companies continually strive to improve upon. So, why did manufacturers move away from creating Monel strings? Well, despite these desirable properties, Monel was an expensive alloy. From a business standpoint, they were costly to make so many of the brands began to search for cheaper alternatives. Not only that, musical styles were evolving and players were looking for a string that delivered a little more power, brightness and attack which led string manufacturers to develop Nickel Plated steel strings. This solution helped solve the tonal demands of the modern player and also helped bring manufacturing costs down too.

Fast forward to today and Nickel Plated Steel is still the most popular alloy used. However, there are a handful of brands that have continued to manufacture or have made a conscious decision to reintroduce Monel strings to their string lineup. The good news is that it’s not just electric strings that are constructed using this alloy. Today, Monel sets are also made for acoustic and bass guitars, mandolins and violins too. We’ll take a closer look at a few of these below;

Electric Sets

The Monel electric guitar sets available are made by German string makers Pyramid. Pyramid have been in the string business for over 150 years so they really know their onions when it comes to making strings. They describe their Monel strings as bridging the gap between Pure Nickel and Nickel Plated steel strings.

Pyramid Monel Classics 09-42 Electric Guitar Strings

‘Pure Nickel’ strings typically impart a warmer tone whereas the popular Nickel Plated Steel sets of today deliver a brighter modern tone. The Pyramid set is a nice compromise between these two alloys and is described as “Vintage Bright”…. something that may sound appealing for a lot of players. Their Monel sets are also wound over a round core too which gives them that little bit more of a ‘vintage’ vibe. In a nutshell, round cores add a bit more flexibility and warmth to a string. If you would like a bit more information on the differences between hex core and round core strings, feel free to check out our previous blog post here.

We tested a set of the Pyramid Monel strings on a Telecaster. Typically a bright and twangy instrument, the Monel strings certainly gave this particular guitar a touch more warmth and helped to tame that twang. From a tonal and feel standpoint, after only a few minutes of playing them, this particular set felt as though they’d been played in nicely and didn’t quite have that snappy bite a new set of Nickel Plated Steel (or Stainless Steel) strings often has but they certainly weren’t dull by any stretch of the imagination either. The added benefit of the round core helped give this particular set a comfortable feel under the fingers too. Another thing we observed was that they didn’t take a long time to settle down and for their tuning to stabilise, possibly a result of Monel’s higher tensile strength. Overall, a great first impression!

Rotosound Monel Jazz Bass Flatwound Set

Bass Sets

The Monel Bass sets available on today’s market are made by top UK string manufacturer, Rotosound.

Whilst Rotosound haven’t been making strings for quite as long as Pyramid, they have a long history in making top quality strings and recently celebrated their 60th Anniversary. Whilst Rotosound’s Swing Bass sets are considered to be the company’s flagship bass set, their Jazz Bass flatwound range has been a staple for over half a decade. Whilst many of the other flatwound bass sets on the market today use stainless steel as their wrap wire, Rotosound’s flatwound sets use Monel and have done so ever since they were first released back in the 60’s. Rotosound say the Monel wrap helps to add more warmth to the sound whereas the tone from stainless steel can be a little harsher.

Russ Pritchard - Bassist for Noel GallagherFlatwound Bass strings are typically favoured by many Jazz players and those with fretless basses as they deliver a distinct deep, warm and mellow tone and also help to reduce finger noise too! Whilst they don’t tend to have the brightness or growl of a round wound set, there’s plenty of top names that have used these flatwound sets including Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), John Deacon (Queen), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) and many more. So if any bass players out there were tempted to try a set, you’d certainly be in good company!

Rotosound have also created a Monel flatwound set for electric guitars too. Their RS200 Top Tape set comes in gauge 12-52 and have wound 3rd string.

Acoustic Strings

When it comes to looking at Monel strings made specifically for acoustic guitars, we’ll turn our attention to Martin. Martin need no introduction when it comes to guitars, and their strings are hugely popular amongst acoustic players too.

Martin Monel Wound Acoustic Guitar Strings

Martin originally fitted Monel strings to their Mandolins but began to use them on their guitars as far back as 1922. When nickel became harder to come by, much like many other string manufacturers, Martin began to explore other materials and made the popular move towards using bronze strings.

Back in 2015, Martin reintroduced Monel strings into their product lineup and in doing so their Retro Range was born. These were designed in conjunction with bluegrass legend Tony Rice after he originally asked Martin to create a set of Monel strings especially for him. The aim was to bring out the true tone of his instrument allowing its natural character to shine through. Whilst bronze strings sound great, they can have a more ‘boisterous’ tone in comparison to nickel-based strings. As a result, some players, including Tony Rice, argue that a brighter bronze sounding string can colour and dominate the sound of the guitar, rather than allowing the natural character of the guitar to be heard.

We replaced our usual set of 80/20 bronze strings for a set of the Martin Monels on a Sigma acoustic. It’s quite unusual to unwrap a set of acoustic strings and see a silver/nickel coloured set as opposed to the familiar golden colour of bronze. Tonally, the Monel set certainly didn’t have the jangly brightness of bronze strings, although they still gave a nice projection in the upper mid-range, so they’d be more than capable of cutting through in a band situation.

Much like the electric set we tried, the mellow nature of this set made them sound and feel as though they’d been ‘played in’ straight from the pack. You could also play them pretty aggressively without getting the harsh overtones you often find when using a new set of brighter sounding strings.

The Retro strings have proven very popular with our customers and the wide range of gauges Martin offer help to make these a viable string for any player looking to dip their toe in the Monel string waters. We’d certainly be happy to continue to use a set on our acoustic guitars in future.

Any other sets out there?

D’Addario are a company that always have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to string construction, and whilst they don’t produce a Monel set as such, they recently introduced their Nickel Bronze acoustic range. Rather than going down the route of creating a set wound with Monel, D’Addario opted to create something slightly different whilst indirectly giving a nod to the Nickel strings of yesteryear.

DAddario Nickel Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings

The Nickel Bronze sets are wound with a nickel plated phosphor bronze wrap wire. Much like the Martin Retro strings, D’Addario say that these let the true tone of your acoustic guitar shine through, rather than your natural tone being dominated by the sound of the strings themselves. In fact, D’Addario’s tagline for the Nickel Bronze range is “Reveal what’s real”…

Another Nickel-based acoustic set you may wish to check out would be the John Pearse Pure Nickel Acoustic strings which can be found here.

Any other instruments that use Monel Strings?

We mentioned earlier that in the early days of Monel, Martin would use these strings on their Mandolins. Today, they produce an 80/20 Bronze set for those players looking for a more conventional set of mandolin strings, but their M465 set is wrapped with Monel, making them great for players looking to hark back to those earlier mandolin tones.

Another mandolin set that also utilises Monel is Gibson’s Sam Bush signature Mandolin set.


It should be said that whilst Monel strings certainly aren’t all bells and whistles, this is the very attribute that adds to their appeal. Instead of being bright, brash and in your face, they impart a warm and neutral tone that’s consistent and comfortable to play and they perform in the exact way they were designed to.

The one thing that you may notice about the companies that produce Monel strings is that they all tend to subscribe to the big selling point that the strings are there to help bring out the natural tones and voice of your instrument as opposed to imparting some sort of mystically new and wonderful tone. Less is more is certainly the expression we’d use here.

If you’re a player that’s concerned with the lifespan of your strings, Monel may be a new avenue you wish to explore. Nowadays, most sets are vacuum packed to prevent oxygen attacking the strings whilst sitting on the shelf, but the corrosion resistant nature of Monel also helps them from rusting whilst sitting on your guitar. If you’re not a huge fan of the feel (or cost) of coated strings, Monel could be a more ‘organic’ option for you.

Whilst it’s unlikely that Monel will reach the popularity of some other alloys, it’s certainly something worth trying if you’re on the lookout for something a little different. After the tests we carried out, we certainly wouldn’t grumble about using them again!

If you’ve used Monel strings in the past, feel free to leave a comment below as we’d love to hear the experiences that you’ve had whilst using them.

Thanks for reading our blog. As always if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Of course, if you’d like to hear from us about anything else specific in the future, please let us know and we’ll see what we can do.

Thanks again, See you next time 🙂

80/20 Bronze, Phosphor Bronze and Monel Guitar Strings


  • Alan

    Interesting and informative reading. Thanks! Apologies I’d this is a daft question but……are the Martin Retro strings wound on a round or a hex core? I’ve tried round core acoustic strings from a couple of other brands and had mixed results. But we are talking guitar strings so as ever a subjective opinion!

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Alan,
      not a daft question at all. Martin don’t appear to specify the core shape anywhere, only that it’s a “solid steel core.” We are confident that they are hex core strings as we’re sure Martin would have mentioned that they were round core otherwise.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

      • Jairo

        I’ve been using the Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) set for a few months now. They’re Monel flats. I play mostly hard rock and funk (separately) and I’ve found them to be perfect for it. Usually when playing hard rock, I use a pick and fingers for funk. I have them on a Fender Jazz Bass and only use the front (neck) pickup which gives them a big sound. I use my Blackstar bass amp to dial in the rest of the high end and mids. I’ve tried many sets and different brands and I can say I don’t see myself changing any time soon. Oh, they also keep their sound very well. It seems the claim that they resist corrosion is true

      • RJVB

        The core wire is longer than the wound part, and as best as I can tell it’s round. I won’t claim I could feel the difference for the D or G strings but the A and esp. low E have a thick enough core wire that you should be able feel that it’s not smooth if you turn it between your fingers.

    • Tim Bliss

      I’m wondering what the difference is between an electric set and an acoustic one. Surely if they are both made from the same material (Monel) they should work on both?
      One of my guitars is a 60 year old archtop with a fingerboard mounted magnetic pickup. I have generally found that ‘acoustic’ strings sound very thin when amplified but ‘electric ‘ strings sound too bright acoustically.
      Would Monel strings solve this problem?
      If so, Pyramid or Martin?

      • stringsdirect

        Hi Tim,
        Good question!
        The outer wrap material will be the same of course, but what’s underneath may be slightly different. In particular, the core-to-wrap wire ration may be different across the two sets, which will influence how they feel. Of course, the gauges will have been selected to be used for electric guitars and acoustic guitars specifically too.
        With regards to the strings for your guitar specifically, if you’re looking for something a little less bright, Monel may do the job, certainly worth a try. Another option would be a pure nickel electric set (these are warmer in tone in comparison to the more commonly found Nickel plated steel sets on the market. You may wish to explore the possibility of a halfround electric set. The windings on a halfround sets are polished off slightly at the end of the production process which means they do tend to have a more mellow sound than traditional roundwound electric strings. Hope this gives you some other options. If you need any further help, just send me a message at lee@stringsdirect.co.uk. Thanks

        • Home Movies

          I had to raise the pickups on my guitar on the wound string side when using Pyramid Monels compared to Pyramid Pure Nickels. The wound Monel strings were a touch quieter & thinner sounding i noticed when playing in a live band mix.

        • Max Mitchell

          I’ve used Martin Monels on my Larrivee L-03 for a couple of years now and love, love, Love them. They do sound and feel almost “played in” when first put on and they get out of the way of the woodiness of my acoustic. Haven’t tried the electric guitar or bass strings yet but will soon! Thanks.

    • Rob Watkins

      I have used Rotosound Top Tape Flatwound 12 s on my Gretsch 6120 which are Monel strings and found the excellent in terms of tone and feel and would certainly recommend them.

      I have also used Curt Manganese Monel 10s on my James Collins GTA, whichhad previously has Rotosound Nickels on. I can clearly see the difference in clarity in the tone. I will certainly continue to use Monel strings in the future.

      • stringsdirect

        Hi Rob, Thanks so much for sharing your experience of using monel strings 🙂

  • That made for very interesting reading! I took a punt on some Martin Retros recently (in contrast to the Martin 80/20s I normally use), and the first thing that struck me was how different they felt under my right hand! Not quite as stark as, say, switching between rounds and flats on a bass, but quite a different feel for playing fingerstyle nevertheless. The warmer tone is certainly very nice, although I did wonder if it was a bit too much on my already rather dark-sounding acoustic guitar – I normally find a bright set of bronze strings helps to balance that out, but I’d certainly consider another set of Monels in the future.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Ralph, thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you’ve used the Monel strings in the past. Interesting to hear that you found them feeling different under the right hand for fingerstyle. Thanks for the input 🙂

  • Annie

    Very informative, thank you. This is a very basic question as I am not a ‘technical’ buyer, I tend to listen to advice and try out to see how strings feel. I often use Elixir Phosphor Bronze ‘Nanoweb’ strings on my Lowden and Brook acoustic guitars. How, in your opinion do these compare with Monel strings regarding tone and brightness? I have noticed that the Elixir strings sometimes ‘moult’ and can leave quite heavy lines on my fingers, although they do have a good lifespan.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Annie,
      Elixir strings are considered by many to be the best make of string for longevity. I must admit, I haven’t come across anybody mentioning anything about the lines left on the hands but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. With regards to the tone, Monel strings will be mellower than the Phosphor Bronze ones you have used in the past. Certainly warmer too. They’ll still retain some clarity but just may not be as ‘bold’ as a bronze string. They’re certainly worth a try. Hope that helps.

    • Fc

      I love the Martin Retro on my new Martin 00-28. They are a little quiter than bronze, ma they sound really beautiful. They also sound like new after 2 months.

  • Roddy Clenaghan

    I’ve been using them on my Recording King ROS-627 which is a replica of the Martin 000-28VS and it’s like the guitar has ‘come home’. I wouldn’t use anything else on that guitar now.

    • stringsdirect

      Glad to hear you’re loving the Monel Strings Roddy! Hoping they get into more players hands as they’re a great alternative to bronze strings

    • Tom Formanek

      I just purchased a set of Ernie Ball aluminum bronze strings. I like their resistance to corrosion and lack of coating. Are they similar to Monel?

      • stringsdirect

        Hi Tom,

        No, the Aluminium Bronze strings aren’t really similar to the Monel strings. The Aluminium Bronze are a lot brighter and ‘zingy’ in tone than the monel. The monel are a bit more mellow and have a bit more of a neutral tone (neither overly bright or mellow). Also they have a bronze colour whereas the Monel strings are silver in colour.
        Hope that helps 🙂

  • Ian

    I fitted Martin’s Retro strings to my 00028 and it instantly felt more ‘playable’ and I felt the sound was warmer/better than with the original Martin SP strings. I have since put Newtone’s Monel strings onto a Cort Ga10 electro-acoustic and the improved depth of sound and sustain is quite remarkable. A luthier friend who is also a very competent player found the Monel strings to be ‘noisier’ when rapidly moving around the neck. He also said that the noise may be the result of his ‘technique’ and style of playing. I don’t find the noise to be greater than that produced when using bronze/phosphor bronze. I intend fitting some Pyramid Monel’s to my Yamaha CPX12 II next.

    • stringsdirect

      Thanks Ian, glad you’re getting on with the Monel Strings.
      Interesting to hear about your friends experiences of them too. Must admit we didn’t really notice that so much but it’s certainly a possibility if he has a unique playing style.
      Thanks again 🙂

  • I have used D’addario Phosphor Bronze 11-52’s on my main acoustic teaching instrument for many years. This is because, with gentle retuning, they are capable of withstanding numerous retunings into and out of DADGAD, open D major and D minor,and standard tunings plus grimy student guitarists hands. Usually I restring every 3 months but recently decided I wanted something different. Having read the blog I took the plunge and installed Martin Retro Acoustic strings 11-48(?). The sound is quite different and students have responded with “Wow! What have you done to your guitar? It sounds amazing!”


    The strings feel a little tighter but do sound warmer, fuller and maybe softer. An unexpected bonus is the immediate stability of tuning. Restrung a matter of 2 or 3 hours before teaching and tuned only twice (no pre-stretching, unlike the D’addario’s) they have stayed to pitch all day.

    The next test will be longevity, multiple altered tunings and sweaty hands; I will be pleased if they survive the half term!

    I have a set of Pyramid Monels to go on the Les Paul which may even end up with flats on, as I “think”they are more period correct for a ‘59 (R9, not a real one unfortunately)?

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear your thoughts on the Monel strings.

      Would love to hear what you think after a few weeks of playing and how they held up with the various changes in tuning.

      Thanks again

  • Nicholas Cowie

    I switched to Martin retro on my 000 DRS1 . The improvment from phospher/bronze was immediately noticable ( and I changed before the SPs were past their best) I know it is subjective, but I won’t be using any other strings now. They suit what is a recreation of a 1930s guitar and they just sound ” right”

    • stringsdirect

      Great news Nicholas, glad you are getting on well with them.


  • William White

    Just strung up my Collings MT2 Mandolin with a set of D’Addario .011-.041 EJM74C. Took it too a huge music jam and could cut through the roar anytime I wanted with an already loud mando, but now one with a distinct bark! I have either Monel or Nickel/Bronze on just about all my instruments for the reasons articulated in this article; from a National Tricone and Steel Ducco to a 39′ Kalmazoo KGN14 Oriole. My tastes run to the fundamentals with less overtones, which is particularly relevant to the country blues and rag time music I play and love.

  • jerry

    I just put a set of Martin Monel 12-54s on my 000-18GE. I love the way they sound and play. It makes the mahogany warmer sounding, which I like a lot!!

    I am so glad to have discovered these strings. Thanks, Martin, for making them available.

    • stringsdirect

      Glad you like them Jerry! 🙂

  • John Pongrac

    I purchased a used 2011 Collings MT Mandolin playabilty unseen via the mail. The strings were in rough shape maybe even originals. The seller through in a packaged set of M465’s. I had no idea about Monels and thought I wanted Flatwounds. The instrument came to amazing life with these strings. And now because of this article I am informed as to why. Thanks!

  • Kevin Rowan

    A few months ago I purchased a Martin that came with the retros on it. At first I didn’t like them, they sounded too metallic. After a few days they started to lose some of the metallic sound. I really like them and they last a long time. I can kill a set of strings in a couple of days. Its been about 3 months and still sound fresh.

  • I have 3 Gibson slope shoulder guitars. The only vintage one is a 1959 Country Western.
    Once I put Martin monels on, over 3 years ago, I stopped string set experimenting.
    They match the feel of the old guitfiddle. And improve the tone of this light build sitka/mahogany dreadnought.

  • I recently became the proud owner of a 1949 Gibson Super 400 non-cut acoustic. I love the guitar in every way save for an aspect of the tone which is a tad too bright for my ears. After much experimentation I have found the Martin Retro Monel medium (.013) strings best. Warm and round with smooth bass right out of the pack, they are great on a guitar with maple back and sides and that iconic, heavy, sustain-enhancing brass tailpiece . Not the strings for my 1973 Martin D-35, but perfect for the 400. And they seem to hold tone and tune forever.

  • Gary W

    I put Martin Retros medium on my Martin HD-28 1993 & on a 1982-85 Washburn with rosewood back & sides. The Washburn I expected t to improve, but was blown away by the difference on the Martin. I don’t know what it is, but since I put these strings on, I can’t put the guitar down. I play mainly finger style & slide. Maybe it’s my inexperience, but they sound much better than the Clapton’s Choice I’ve been using.
    Strumming standard tuning sounds great, but open D & G are magnificent. The Martin sounds like a super Martin & the $100 used Washburn sounds like a $900 guitar. Contrary to all I’ve read, they sound a bit brighter to me.
    Then, maybe it’s just me.

  • David Roberts

    I had been struggling for years to get a good tone out of my Gibson Songwriter. I love the guitar but it never sounded really great until the strings were almost worn out and then they would soon go too dull and need replacing. Don’t get me wrong the tone was great but I have a Breedlove that just drips that perfect mellow tone and made the Gibson seem just a little harsh. Then I read a similar article to this and thought I’d give them a go. The difference was immediate and profound! the guitar just came to life, it vibrates differently and sounds immense. It was like the guitar was made for these strings. I will never go back now. The Breedlove however lost something with these on and I’ve gone back to the phosphor bronze with that but I now have two guitars that I adore. I’m so glad I found these strings.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi David, glad you’re loving the Monel strings 🙂

  • Ken

    The article seems to talk mostly about wound strings, but doesn’t seem to talk much about the plain steel or plain monel strings. I’ve searched for the density of steel and monel and it appears that monel is something like 15 percent denser than steel which would result in much higher tension in the same diameter string tuned to the same note. Does one need to compensate for that with smaller strings?
    Also the claim is for higher tensile strength. Given that G is possible, as in a 12 string, what would be the highest note possible with monel on a standard scale guitar?