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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.

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters and Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also contributes regularly to Ammoland, Daily Caller and USA Carry.

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  1. so this basically only matters to 1911 shooters. got it. just another reason not to own a 1911.

  2. That’s a lotta prevarication at the bottom there.

    “This steel is better! But it doesn’t mean the mags are better if they use it. But it might!”

    • Worse than that, a “piano wire” spring cannot cost but a few cents more than some generic spring steel. Why that should cost an extra few dollars is beyond me.

    • Magazines have followers and bodies that also need to perform. Music coil springs are great, but they are just one component. A mag that uses high quality springs will probably also have a good follower and a good magazine body.

      Take for instance, the .338 Lapua. There are 3.715″, 3.775″, and 3.850″ AICS mags. The round is factory loaded to different lengths. A long cartridge, even within SAAMI overall spec, won’t fit into a short magazine body. A 3.76″ load won’t fit into a 3.715″ mag. You’ll probably be safe with any 3.68″ load, though.

      The bottom line is that you need to test your mags, but it’s completely reasonable to expect the music coil spring mags to last longer.

  3. I have at least 40 magazines for various pistols and rifles, most are loaded all the time and used at least a couple of times per month, none have ever failed due to a bad spring. Let me rephrase that, none have ever failed, period. So I guess I won’t worry about the springs until I get to Jerry Miculek status.

  4. Most magazine should have unicorn wire for the prices charged.

    At 35 to 40 bucks, I should at least get dinner with them.

  5. all of my magazine springs are tone deaf.

    this is why i don’t own a 1911 in .45, killing a man’s soul with music wire is far too conflicting.

    once, when i dropped a 30rd ak mag, i could have sworn i heard “peace and taps.”

  6. Guitar strings are wound but they have a steel core. The windings can be bronze or other stuff. The high (skinny) strings are plain steel.

  7. I know modern music wire magazine springs are better than what many of my original mags use; Slavic steel with nearly century’s worth of hard use, mystery, war, & neglect on them….. although anything I have that’s Polish is still going strong.

    Still, I’ve encountered many vintage semiautos over the years that actually functioned better with softer OEM magazine springs. Even a little too stiff makes loading them agonizingly slow without a tool, along with causing jams from too much pressure on the bolt/slide/etc. Cutting loops out, heating them, stretching, might work in the short term as a field-expedient fix, but ruins springs and causes headaches later. So original magazines may cost several times more than reman/repros, but unless they are exact replicas, new mags suck.

    I’ve rescued several pre-War (Great and Second) pistols that were condemned as jam-o-matic junk (“Austro-Hungary Handguns Suck!”™) after new magazines wouldn’t run any better than old rusty ones. But what they really needed was a NOS or exact replica spring…. which often is more difficult than just finding another pistol with magazines in better condition.

  8. I have at least 40 magazines for various pistols and rifles, most are loaded all the time and used at least a couple of times per month, none have ever failed due to a bad spring. Let me rephrase that, none have ever failed, period. So I guess I won’t worry about the springs until I get to Jerry Miculek status.

  9. I’d love to comment , but your site says my comment is spam, even though it does not mention any product or contain any links.

  10. I have at least 40 magazines that are used on a regular basis and most are left loaded and none have ever failed for any reason let alone because of the spring. I guess I’ll just not worry about that until I’m shooting a couple thousand rounds a week.

  11. There sure are a lot of dumb people posting responses here. Anyone who goes cheap on magazines is a fool. They probably also buy the cheapest tires for their car. Darwin will weed them out…

  12. This seems like a great time to hijack a post. So what about fully loading magazines, all the time? Do you keep them half full, all full, or minus 1? When is the mag spring most likely to cause failure; at the first of a fully loaded magazine or the last when the spring is weakest? Do magazine springs really need to be cleaned, ever? Why are some springs silver and others black? And last but not least; WTF is up with those darn Glock base plate locks?

  13. I wonder if this is a solution looking for a problem. I have never had a problem with a magazine spring ever and only 1 small magazine problem due to a little plastic part that kept it from locking back on the last shot.

  14. After My Dad died in 1985 i found in his army trunk a leather USA belt pouch that takes 2 1911 magazines; both were fully loaded with FA 1944 .45 ACP ammo and they were the kind of magazine that has a lanyard loop on the bottom ( at a guess these were intended for use by mounted troops in scribed inside the flap are his details name, rank and serial number as of 1938 when he was just commissioned (he retired in 1958 With his Bird as a retirement/reserves rank) these magazines had been loaded full as early as 1944 and as late as 1958 I would guess. they functioned perfectly and have been loaded and emptied hundreds of times since. and in fact I keep them loaded with Modern hollow point ammo an in or with the gun to this day… I have never had a Failure to feed and aside from a few smoke stack jam when trying a new fancy modern load of the +p sort. The 1911 that both he and his father(in WW1) carried has bee a supremely reliable gun.

  15. “As we’re all aware, the magazine is the Achilles’ heel of semi-automatic pistols.”

    I hear this all the time. I have NEVER experienced a magazine failure, ever. From my experience, the number one failure of magazines seems to be holding the slide open at empty, which could be, from a tactical perspective, not a failure but an asset.

    Now I will qualify failure here, and that is a properly designed magazine failing to do as intended. Not a badly designed or constructed one like the POS’s that come with a Ruger 1911. Straight to the trash and replaced with Wilson Combats.

  16. I recently came across a fully loaded 1911 magazine in an old range bag that was stuffed under the seat of my pickup. It has been there since at least 1981. Works perfectly. It is a cheap auto-ordnance mag that was used many many times as part of IPSC practice for several years in the late 1970s. The author is full of prunes.

  17. I think you should have a quality spring, I don’t know if that’s piano wire or [?] but it can’t be hard to find to replace, and change them out/ replace them every so often. I think you should use no-tilt followers, even if you lose a round to it. And. . .

    I think you should buff the living hell out of the inside of your mags. Many times they come with small short spikes from the finish application. I try to knock them all down and polish the insides of my mags.’They’ say you shouldn’t lube your mags, but I like Teflon dry spray lube for the inside of the mag before reassembly.

  18. I leave all my magazines fully loaded
    I never take them apart or clean them
    Some have developed feeding problems after many years of use
    Then I replace them
    As discused on many other forums, and told in anecdotes here, springs can be left fully compressed for years
    It is after many cycles of compression and decompression that they wear out

  19. Tripp Reserach mags are better for 1911s than any other mag – EXCEPT for Checkmate mags – which are the very best.

    Don’t believe? Then do the research. I think you will like the results.

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