You’ve probably noticed that some higher-end magazines from third party providers (because not all factory mags are that good) advertise that they use “music wire” magazine springs. Along with the materials and design of the magazine itself, that’s why they insist you should pay a little more than you would for factory mags in some cases.
Ask the 1911 guys. We’ll tell you all about how bad factory magazines can be and how much we love those Wilson Combat mags, as an example. Granted, MecGar has some great deals and a lot of their magazines use music wire springs as well, so whether or not you’ll actually pay more than you would for factory magazines, YMMV.
As we’re all aware, the magazine is the Achilles’ heel of semi-automatic pistols. The three areas where a magazine goes bad are the feed lips, the follower and the spring. When feeding issues occur, the latter is the usual suspect. And if you’re going to bother carrying a gun in a concealed carry holster, you really should be able to rely on it.
So, what is this music wire?
Music wire is a cold-drawn spring steel wire that’s known for its high tensile strength. The process starts by making high-carbon steel, as high-carbon steels are harder and more resistant to strain than softer steels with a lower carbon content. Once the proper steel alloy has been made (steel, after all, is an alloy) it’s drawn through a die of the desired gauge at room temperature, making a wire.
It’s also frequently called “piano wire” because it’s used to make piano strings. For those unaware, a piano has a bunch of strings that are stretched over a soundboard; pressing a key hits one of those strings with a hammer. For those strings to hold up, they have to be strong enough to be stretched, then loosened and tightened during tuning to reach the correct pitch. Then they stay under tension until they get replaced, which may be several years. In some cases, decades.
Music wire therefore has to endure a lot of tension and stress without losing strength and without deforming plastically or in other words losing it’s shape or structural integrity. There are more applications, of course. Besides strings for other instruments such as violins, violas, mandolins, banjos, guitars and so on (though most guitar strings are wound these days) other uses include surgical tools, fishing lures, spring-loaded windows and, of course, pistol magazine springs.
Why is it preferable over other materials?
It isn’t so much that music wire is the only material that a magazine spring can be made from or at that, a good magazine spring. A magazine spring needs to have a high tensile strength in order to endure both being under load when a full complement of rounds are inserted, but also the unloading and reloading. Other types of spring steel can also be used for this purpose, of course, and can and do work just as well. It’s just that music wire is one of the best-known spring steels with a high enough tensile strength for this use, which is why magazine makers use it.
Granted, just because a magazine uses music wire doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be better than one that doesn’t; that comes down to the quality of the spring to begin with. However, since music wire is so well-suited to the purpose, it might be worth an extra few dollars to, well, spring for a magazine that does.