Gibson mona-steel strings

badjazzbadjazz Maui, Hawaii USA✭✭✭ Rodrigo Shopis, YL Cholet
I have an old Gibson catalog from like 1936. Maybe somebody here will know more about some of the questions this thing was raising for me. Does anybody know what is/was the deal with the old mona-steel strings that gibson used to sell? From what I can tell, the wrapping on them was something called monel, which the internet says was a 70/30 alloy of nickel and copper. This sounds pretty close to gypsy strings, right? Anybody ever play these or have any experience with them? The mona-steel strings were actually the featured strings over the bronze strings. I guess I was wondering if these strings are just gone now, or if they were really basically the same as nickel guitar strings or something else. Also kind of funny was that there were only two different 'weight' of strings--those with a wound B string and those without. I can only imagine what the gauges of the set with the wound B were.

The other question that I had was related to what appears to be a premium subset of the mona-steel strings, labeled 'hand-polished' and costing more. The only thing I can think of was that these may have been flatwound or something, but that is just a total guess. Anybody know anything about these? It may be noteworthy that this is the first Gibson catalog that had electric instruments in it, so that may have something to do with what strings were featured.


  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,891
    I've never heard of the mona-steels...but I have heard string gurus mention that silver plated copper strings are an older technology that was quite common at one time. I suppose bronze strings are more stable, so maybe they won out in the end. But there's no doubt that silver plated copper is making a comeback. So many manufactures now! Savarez, Galli, John Pearse, D'Addario, etc.
  • Ken BloomKen Bloom Pilot Mountain, North CarolinaNew
    Posts: 164
    I remember the mona steel strings. I used them a couple of times. They were similar to the nickel strings we have now but sounded closer to the Newtone nickel wrap strings. They didn't last as long as the Newtones do now. Not many people I knew used them. A of the jazz players,but back in the 60's, most folks used D'Angelico strings for acoustic guitars. They were more available, cheaper, and lasted at least as long.
    Ken Bloom
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,250
    I now use Argentine reds on my 1920 Gibson L1 because they're just wonderful on it. The nickel strings of the same gauge feel too squishy and lack bass - so with nickel/bronze strings I have to use a "true medium" (12-53) which is just too heavy for that guitar and dampens the soundboard too much (L0/L1/L2 were lightly built... unlike most archtops they do not benefit from heavy strings) I have a feeling that a lot of the griping you hear about early Gibson archtops is due to people putting 14's on them and then wondering why they sound crappy...)

    It's very interesting to learn that these "mona" strings may have been the design of strings intended for this instrument when it was produced because I can tell you for a fact that they sound much better - and that's not just a "gypsy jazz" guy's opinion - and it's not a subtle difference. My brother, who largely plays archtops was just bowled over at how much better the Argies sounded and felt on the L1. The relatively high action (low by Gypsy standards - maybe 2.8mm) all of a sudden made sense... in other words - the high action became very playable. Most important - the volume and tone took a big leap forward.

    Very interesting stuff. Thanks for digging into this.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • CampusfiveCampusfive Los Angeles, CA✭✭✭✭
    edited April 2016 Posts: 98
    So, just bumping this super old thread because monel strings are now available again under the Martin "Retro" band.

    I'm a big fan of these for acoustic archtops. One of my pet peeves is how anemic sounding "modern" nickel electric strings make an acoustic archtop sound. I've always found that an acoustic archtop really needs some kind of bronze to really speak. These have the projection of bronze with a midrange emphasis - cuts down on unpleasant highs and boomy lows. It all adds up to good projection and focus, but still warm.

    These bridge the divide between "acoustic" and "electric" strings in the modern sense between than any of the hyrbid strings I've seen (say, GHS white bronze, or DR zebra strings). Because of the nickel content they do respond to magnetic pickups, and while they are not as pefectly balanced as regular nickel set, they are reasonably well balanced on my '37 ES-150. The amplified tone is similar to "pure nickel" sets, but acoustically the guitar has more "acoustic" character.

    I don't think of them as having that much in common with gypsy strings, but they have a unique timbre and projection that I like very much.

    The Martin Retros are relatively inexpensive to try out. They've been so successful that D'Addario's new Nickel-Bronze are an attempt to go for the same market. As far as I can tell the D'Addarios are NOT actually monel, but rather nickel-plated bronze - still they also sound excellent and have much the same character as the real Martin Monels. But, the D'Addarios are $12/set, and I get the Martin Retros for $6 from

    Lastly, my own conjecture about the "hand-polished" option is that is was merely additional finishing/cleaning of the wound strings. Studio guitar legend Bob "Telecaster Bob" Bain (who's first big gig was playing rhythm guitar for Freddie Slack/Ella Mae Morse) told me flat wounds first came in the early- to mid-1950's and he found about them from George Barnes. I'm guessing that the strings from back then were not as nicely finished as the ones now, and perhaps the hand polishing helped to clean up some of the burs. Other string brands of the time came with "sepam cloth" which was basically like sandpaper for doing the same thing at home. I can't image how much effort and force one would need to use to shave off enough of the wrapping to make them into something like "half-rounds" or "ground-wounds" (i.e. like D'Addario Chromes).
  • edited April 2016 Posts: 3,707
    Monel metal is harder than copper, so strings would last longer than plated copper and be a bit brighter perhaps. Would also be much less affected by acid fingers. Monel is pretty corrosion resistant.

    Steel technology has come a long way since the 20,s. I use Thomastic Jazz flatwounds as they come in sets all the way down to the .010-.044's I use. Super slick and great sound and balance through the pickup.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
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