“Silk and steel” acoustic guitar strings, available through a number of manufacturers, are made of silver-plated copper wire wound over a silk and steel core. A lot of my fellow bluegrass and fiddle tune pickers think I’m crazy, but I love silk and steel strings. Alright, the fact is I don’t play in a bluegrass band, and when I jam it is usually only with one or two people who aren’t playing too loud. But volume and projection are related to, not only the gauge and type of string or the size of the guitar, but picking technique as well. In fact, not only do I use silk and steel strings, but I use them on small guitars! I play only 00 and 000 size guitars: I quit playing dreadnaughts years ago. Yet, I get plenty of volume. In fact, I have my little 1930’s Slingerland May-Bell (a small 12-fret to the body parlor guitar with an arched top and a round soundhole) strung with silk and steels and she has cutting power like you wouldn’t believe!
But here’s why I love silk and steel strings. First, they are in lighter gauges than their respective steel string counterparts. For example, GHS medium gauge silk and steels run from .011 to .048 inches, where Martin light gauge phosphor bronze strings range from .012 to .054 inches. The result is that silk and steel strings put much less stress on the top and neck of a guitar. I wouldn’t dream of putting regular steel strings on my Gibson L-C Century from the 30’s, because it has an extremely thin top. Silk and steels are also my choice for my Carson J. Robison (A Gibson-made “no frills” depression era guitar), because it has no truss rod reinforcing the neck.
Another reason I love these strings is that they sound wonderful. I have not liked the sound of silk and steels on a few of the newer guitars, but on my vintage instruments I adore them. Though these strings sound mellower, they don’t sound wimpy for flatpicking. In fact, if you play a guitar which is biased toward the high end, silk and steels may provide a wonderful solution. I love the sensitivity of these strings! You don’t have to punch them hard to produce a wide range of dynamics. And, last but not least, because they are lighter in gauge, they are more flexible, and thus easier on the fingers and easier to play.