I have bought some coated strings because I wanted to try that out. After my purchase I noticed that the package says the uncoated strings are stainless steel.

Since my frets are made out of nickel and nickel is softer than steel, this would mean I would see increased fret wear because of those strings.

Am I correct ? But more importantly, if this is correct how much faster approximately will my frets wear out ?

It would be great if people have had any experience with this.

EDIT: Reading some of the answers it seems some people think I am talking about changing nylon strings to "steel" strings.

To quote from wikipedia: "whereas acoustic guitar and piano strings are usually wound with bronze" and "Electric guitar strings are usually wound with nickel plated steel; pure nickel and stainless steel are also used" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guitar_strings#String_construction

If you read the packaging of Ernie Balls, Martin, DR, etc. you often see them advertise their strings as "nickel", "bronze", "phosphor bronze".

  • Do you mean that the strings are stainless underneath the coating?
    – Jduv
    Apr 9, 2011 at 13:55
  • 1
    No, the set in question is an Elixir Nanoweb string set. Only the wound strings are coated. The unwound strings are uncoated (this seems to be the case for both their Nanoweb and Polyweb stes). These unwound uncoated strings are made out of steel to "resist tone-deadening corrosion" in the words of the manufacturer.
    – Anonymous
    Apr 9, 2011 at 16:38

7 Answers 7


Frets wear. It's inevitable with any steel string guitar; the unwound strings are technically made of "music wire" which is an industry-standard alloy.

The degree of wear is dependent on how hard you press the strings down, whether you bend a lot, etc.
It's pretty typical to see older instruments with the "first position" frets rather badly grooved. Any luthier can rather easily replace worn frets.


Stainless steel is a harder metal than your typical fret wire, which can be constructed of nickel/silver, plain steel, or more exotic alloys. The most commonly used is the nickel/silver alloy. Don't be fooled by the name though, nickel/silver is actually an alloy of nickel and brass. You can get some hard scientific data (pun intended) if you look up the Mohs hardness values of nickel (4.0) along with brass(5.5-6.0) and compare it to that of pure stainless steel (5.5-6.0 depending on the grade). The Mohs hardness scale describes a material's resistance toward being scratched by a harder material, which is a pretty solid metric for our purposes here.

So, given that the hardness of stainless steel is a half a point to one and a half points higher than that of typical nickel/silver fret wire given that you average the hardness numbers for brass and silver, then you will likely see more wear on your frets. This wear, however, will be proportional to how much you bend and how hard you fret.

Disclaimer: A more precise description would likely come from comparing the Vickers hardness numbers for nickel/silver to that of the grade of stainless steel that the strings are made of. But, YMMV because each manufacturer likely has different values for the fret wire they use. It's unfortunately an guestimation game and I definitely fudged the numbers a little bit above, but the general concept is solid.


What were your previous strings made out of? If they weren't steel, you shouldn't be putting steel strings on instead, coated or not. Steel and nylon string guitars aren't interchangeable.

  • My previous strings were Ernie Ball. According to their website the wound strings have steel cores with an external nickel plated winding, while the unwound strings are made of a tin-plated, steel alloy.
    – Anonymous
    Apr 9, 2011 at 19:24

Ok, so I did some research and found part of my answer.

Normally for acoustic and electric guitars, the wound strings are composed of a steel core on which a wire a wound. This winding is either made of; nickel, bronze, steel or various other metals.

Nickel being often seen on sets for electric guitars and bronze often seen on sets for acoustic guitars.

As for unwound strings, they are made from a steel alloy and sometimes plated with another material or alloy. In the case of Ernie Ball Slinky (a popular string brand) the unwound strings are made from a steel allow plated with a tin allow.

When you buy a set of Elixir coated strings, the only string which are coated are the wound strings. The coating is there primarily to prevent gunk from getting in between the windings. This is why the unwound strings aren't coated.

Elixir also advertises that their uncoated unwound strings on their coated set (remember only the wound ones are coated) are made from stainless steel.

Before reading up on the subject I thought that since Nickel was written on the packaging of my old strings there was probably nickel in all the strings in a pack of those strings. In fact, the word nickel on the packaging refers only to the winding of the wound strings of the pack.

I was therefore thinking my current situation as having all 6 strings made out of nickel playing on nickel frets, which would mean both material already have about the same hardness. I was therefore thinking I was going from nickel strings to steel strings on the unwound ones.

This is not correct as my research as shown me.

There is still some differences between the unwound strings from Elixir compared to other brands so I may see faster fret wear. I will have to try them for myself and see.

The only part of my answer I am missing is if someone could has some experience changing if the slight change in materials on the unwound strings has some noticeable effect.


Regarding fret wear and string materials on steel string guitars, nickel silver frets are softer than most string and winding materials, except pure nickel. When I take off a set of pure nickel wound strings, I see the "fret marks" worn into the areas where they contacted the frets. I seldom find wear marks on the frets themselves, just on the pure nickel wound strings. As for "nickel" electric strings, the are actual nickel plated steel. They have a thin coat of nickel on the outside, which will wear off as you play them and eventually expose the harder carbon steel wrap wire to the frets. Fortunately, the contact area with wound strings is relatively high, so the contact loads are distributed over a broader area (less contact stress), and they don't lead to excessive fret wear. Knowing this, I recommend changing nickel plated steel wound strings before all the nickel is worn off, for the sake of a clean tone and preserving the frets.

Compared to brass frets are harder than nickel silver frets. I have an old archtop guitar with brass frets, which never showed any strings wear marks after more than 50-plus years. I had to level and re-crown the frets for other age related reasons, and found during the filing processes that brass is much harder and tougher than nickel silver.


To begin with, it depends on what type of guitar you have. If it's a classical guitar, you shouldn't put steel strings!
Also, it's not only the material of the strings that make frets wear out, but also the the gauge (diameter).

  • It's an electric. I know the difference between classical and acoustic guitar and my question could also apply to an acoustic. The question stems from the fact that the unwound strings from the coated set seem to be made of a different material than regular unwound strings.
    – Anonymous
    Apr 9, 2011 at 19:23

From my experience I found that strings labeled as steel have a more metallic sound than those that are labeled nickle plated. I used Elixir for a while and noticed the frets on the elixir guitars were wearing out faster. I switched to DR Black Beauties (which are all coated) and have found no unusual wear. While it is easy for a Luthier to put new frets on. In my area they are hard to find due to the fact that most of them were put out of business by corporate music stores, which have technicians who for the most part do not know what they are doing.

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