Have you ever noticed how your strings on your electric seem to go dead quicker than the ones on your acoustic? I just finished a Lab for my Chemistry class that explains this. I submerged one nickel (electric) and phosphor bronze (acoustic) guitar string, both 52 gauge, low E strings into a solution of water and salt (the ratio is approximately that of the chemical composition of human sweat) and as you can see from the results, they did not fare so well. At least that statement can go for the nickels string.
The nickel string, as you can see from the photos, has corroded much more than the phosphor bronze string, which in a few spots, is literally unscathed. (Fun Fact: Bronze is made up of 80% copper and 20% tin or zinc and Phosphor is added to prolong the life of the string. This can explain why it corrodes less easily than nickel.) The final result you see is of them sitting in the solution for 48 hours (two days).
The strings did not begin to corrode and rust in the water did not start to form until about 8 hours into the experiment. In relation, gigging wise, I usually play 4 hour shows, most frequently on Fridays and Saturdays. The total time for each performance is 8 hours. I string up on Friday and at the end of the show on Saturday (at the end of the 8 hours) I usually notice the beginnings of corrosion occurring
on the strings at that time.
While soaking these strings in essential “sweat” solution and playing 8 hours’ worth of shows are very different comparisons, it is a coincidence that it takes around the same amount of time for strings to corrode and rust. (FYI: My hypothesis of predicting the nickel string will rust the most when submerged in the solution proved to be correct!) Just some food for thought!
written by Billy Grant