Can EL wire be used as guitar strings?
The short answer, maybe.
If we look at a cross-section of EL wire you see that is core is made of copper:
According to Dan Ports Electroluminescent Wire paper, the core of his double core wire was ~22 gauge, or 0.64mm. If we look at a comparison of standard steel and nylon guitar string sizes, we can deduce if the tensile strength of the el wire could withstand tuning:
Steel (Regular Light):
E – 0.254mm
B – 0.3302mm
G – 0.4318mm
D – 0.6604mm (wound)
A – 0.9144mm (wound)
E – 1.1684mm (wound)
E – 0.3048mm
B – 0.5334mm
G – 0.635mm (wound)
D – 0.8128mm (wound)
A – 1.0668mm (wound)
E – 1.3462mm (wound)
Now we need to figure out what the tension exerted on the strings during tuning is. Liutaio Mottola has a great string tension calculator that should get us in the ballpark.
Using Liutaio’s calculator and D’Addario’s string tension guide, it looks like for a steel stringed guitar you will have a max of 19.5 lbs and 7.08 lbs for the nylon acoustic.
Now if we look at the copper, with an approximate UTS of 220 MPa or ~32000 PSI, and use Liutaio’s calculator stating S = UTS * Pi * (D/2)^2, we get a breaking stregth of:
S = 32000PSI * 3.14 * (0.0253in/2)^2
S = ~16.10 lbs
So from our deduction, it looks like you could use EL wire to string an acoustic guitar, and certainly warrants further testing. Some of the hurdles you are going to run into is dealing with the elasticity and spring properties of copper. There is a reason copper is onto used for modern guitar strings. Also, winding on the tuning posts, which could be overcome by soldering the ends to piano wire, and stringing the piano wire through the post. Finally, electronic interference with the pickups. But this shouldn’t be a big problem if you are using a raw acoustic
I am going to try and pick up some as well for my acoustic and give it a try. If the copper can maintain tune, you certainly would have a wicked looking guitar, or at least great show piece!
Alternatively, Dr. Strings has black light active strings which give the same effect with less hackery, but where’s the fun in that?
I hope this answers you question, and good luck with the idea!
Don’t forget, everyone is invited to ask a question!
“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.