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A look at Martin’s Titanium Core, Retro, Acoustic SP, Flexible Core SP, and Lifespan SP strings.

by Teja Gerken
June 28, 2018

For decades, choosing an acoustic guitar string essentially came down to knowing your preferred gauge and whether you liked 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze, because those were the only parameters offered by most manufacturers. Recently, several string makers have not only added more choices of string materials, but have also been re-evaluating details such as the gauge and material of the core wire and the coatings or other treatments used to enhance a string’s lifespan. C.F. Martin and Co. is one of the companies whose line of strings has become increasingly sophisticated, and in this video, we take a look at five of its current products: Titanium Core, Retro, Acoustic SP, Flexible Core SP, and Lifespan SP strings.

Martin’s Titanium Core strings are the company’s latest development. As the name indicates, the strings’ core wire is titanium, which Martin says is more durable and flexible than steel. For the windings, Martin uses pure nickel wire, which is naturally corrosion-resistant. Although nickel windings had all but disappeared as a choice for acoustic strings (they’re the standard choice for electric guitar strings), many players and manufacturers are discovering that the material’s slightly more mellow tonality can be a great match for certain instruments. Martin’s Titanium Core strings’ combination of flexibility, warm “broken-in” sound, and durability make them a very cool addition to the company’s line of strings.

Retro strings bring back a type of string that was popular in the 1930s. Wound with monel wire (a solid nickel/copper alloy), these strings have a mellower sound than bronze, while retaining crispness. Martin describes the sound as allowing the guitar’s individual tonal qualities to be heard more clearly, rather than being overshadowed by the strings’ own character. Both Tony Rice and Laurence Juber have signature sets of Retros. Tony’s has slightly modified medium gauges, and Laurence’s set is optimized for DADGAD tuning.

Featuring a thinner core wire than other Martin strings, the Flexible Core SP sets are designed for increased flexibility, making them particularly easy to play. The strings’ windings are phosphor bronze, and because they’re slightly thicker than standard to compensate for the thinner core, the strings also have a unique vibrational quality. Though they’re ideal for beginners, Flexible Core SPs will also appeal to anyone who appreciates easier playability or wants to use a heavier gauge without the usual increase in tension.

Available in either 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze, Martin’s Acoustic SPs are the company’s standard acoustic strings. High-tensile strength, bronze steel core wire, and the highest-quality wrap wire results in a brilliant sound. Whether a player chooses 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze will depend on individual preference and the particular instrument they’re used on. 80/20 is often slightly brighter, while phosphor bronze tends to bring a bit more warmth to the tonality.

SP Lifespan strings feature a special treatment that repels dirt, sweat, moisture, etc., making them an ideal choice for players who tend to wear strings out quickly or when playing in hot or humid situations. They are also available in 80/20 bronze or phosphor bronze and have a similar tone and feel to standard Acoustic SPs.  

Trying out new strings is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to experiment with different sounds on your guitar, and with more choices than ever, it’s a great time to try to find the perfect match for your playing style or instrument, so get your string winders and clippers ready and give some of Martin’s new strings a try. martinguitar.com


Category: Instruments & Gear

Comments and Discussion

Posted by Kevin Sanderson-Shortt on
Just started using the 11-52 Martin Retros on a cedar topped Seagull S6 Folk for fingerstyle only - takes me straight back to why I fell in love with the acoustic guitar 42yrs ago!
Posted by P K on
I had been using Martin’s Silk & Steel because I’m primarily a fingerstyle acoustic player and S&S are perfect for fingerstyle and are nice and easy to play. Recently I tried the Retro strings and I have to say that I think I love them even more than the S&S. If you are a fingerstyle player give them a try.
Posted by TejaGerken on
Hi Pace Pace,

That's a good question, and one that's not entirely easy to answer. In general, tuning down and using heavier gauge strings should be fine, as it won't necessarily increase the overall tension. D'Addario has a very cool online tool for calculating actual tension, depending on gauge, scale length, and tuning, so you might want to check that out: www.stringtensionpro.com. Heavier strings don't necessarily lead to more volume, as that really depends on how the top is moved on an individual guitar, and also on your playing style. But trying different string gauges can be a great way to experiment, and as long as you keep an eye on the neck and the bridge you should be fine, as long as you don't leave the guitar for long periods of time with too much tension, especially unobserved.

I hope this helps!

Teja Gerken
Peghead Nation
Posted by pace pace on
My guitar is ebony-rod-era (1943-84130) D-18, Entirely restored at Nazareth in 2012.
I pay kinda iedmnt style in extrely low tunings (B-E-b-e-g#-bb)(often C-f-c-f-a-cc).
5-fnger style. Low bridge. I an thinking of using the heaviest, fattest gaugues possible.
Say, start with a normal b string as my highest (b) string and then use a very thick lowest string. I want to do this because of volume and the littlest strings seem too slinky that ow down. My question is: Will I damage my old wood- reinforced neck by adding the extra heavy wound low string( tuned per above tensions).
Can I achieve more volume by making each string heavier?
Please respond. I want to care properly here. Thanks
Pace Pace, owner, d-18 84130.
Posted by John Corzan on
I’ve been using the Retros lately and I do like them. They are as described. The only thing that I’m still evaluating is that they may not be as durable as others, and don’t last as long as, say, SP’s.
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