Nylon strings are usually applied to classical guitars, and are built differently than steel string acoustic guitar that use steel strings. Nylon strings have far less tension - 50% less - compared to steel strings.
Although any style can utilize classical guitars or nylon strings, these are more commonly used for classical, folk, and flamenco. Selecting the right strings for a classical guitar will influence the tone of the guitar, its playability, as well as durability.
The approach to choosing classical guitar strings boils down to three key factors:
- String Gauge
- String Tension
- String Material
This post looks at how to chose nylon strings for a classical style guitars. The process is very different from selecting steel strings for an acoustic guitar.
How to select the best strings for your classical guitar
As you’d expect, a bit of experimentation will be necessary if you are to come across the strings that will be most suited for your tone, playability, and style preferences. Nevertheless, before you start experimenting, it is always wise to cut down your options so that you have a great starting point. These 3 factors will help you to reduce your options to a nice starting point from which you can easily begin to experiment:
The materials applied to treble strings- bottom B, E, and G in standard tuning- are normally different from those used for base strings- top A, E, and D.
The majority of treble strings feature the following materials in their construction:
The most commonly used material when it comes to treble nylon strings. This offers a great balance between warmth in tone and brightness; they are known for their sustain and projection qualities, as well as easy vibrato.
They may not be as loud as other string materials such as composite or titanium, but they are the smoothest choice for nylon strings. They also offer the best feeling for playing fingerstyle.
This produces a crisper and brighter sound. Titanium strings are normally used to brighten a dark-sounding guitar. They have easy vibrato and good sustain as well.
This offers a more mellow tone with greater treble overtones compared to clear nylon. It is a preferred choice for folk.
Carbon-made strings produce a louder sound that tends to be longer-lasting. These are highlighted by a short sustain and may go beyond bright to more of a “harsh” or “thin” sound. Depending on the guitar you are using, these can relatively work well. If you have a guitar that already has a bright sound, carbon strings may as well sound too bright although they can be great for a darker sounding instrument.
The sound composite produces is very bright and has a strong projection. This material is usually applied to G strings to allow for smoother sound transition between bass and treble strings.
These tend to feature a multi-filament composite or multi-filament nylon core and have been wrapped with different materials. The most commonly used winding materials include:
These typically consist of 20% zinc and 80% copper. This is sometimes referred to as 80/20 bronze, gold, or brass, and the strings offer a bright sound that features good sustain.
Silver windings are usually made using copper with a coating of silver. These windings aid in the production of a warmer tone. They can be uncoated or coated; coated ones aid in increasing the life-shelf of strings. Some guitarists don’t fancy the sound from coated strings, even though contemporary manufacturing procedures can make coated strings sound like uncoated strings.
Normally, nylon strings don’t come with ball ends and the strings are tied to the bridge, although some nylon strings have ball ends.
Just like steel strings on acoustic guitars, nylon strings are available in different thicknesses. But unlike steel strings that tend to go up linearly from the high E to low E, classical strings have non-linear diameters. The treble strings are a lot thicker compared to steel string trebles. The table below shoes various nylon string gauges.
Even though nylon strings have gauges, these are not designated by gauge as is the case in steel acoustic strings- designated by light, extra-light, medium, and heavy gauge.
Rather, nylon strings are designated by tension, a more crucial factor when it comes to nylon strings.
Nylon strings come in varying tensions unlike steel strings on acoustic guitars. Tension is expressed in pounds/inch, but more typically, as: low/light, normal/medium, high/strong/hard.
Each tension features unique qualities and your choice will eventually depend on your sound preference, playing style, and the guitar you are using.
High Tension - These are more challenging to play, especially on guitars with higher actions. They produce more volume compared to lower tension strings and offer less emphasis on the body’s note. The emphasis is more on the attack into the note, unlike lower tensions.
Medium Tension - These strings can be a nice place to start. This is because when you start with these, you can go lower or higher and make a decision as to the ones you prefer. These do a good job of balancing between minuses and pluses of high- and low-tension strings.
Low Tension - These strings produce the lowest sound of all tensions. They are also easiest on your guitar and are great a choice if you want to extend the life of your guitar. Low tensions are easier to play, especially when using a guitar with a higher action. The tone emphasizes the note’s body and is more predisposed to fret buzz.
The high tensions are preferred by guitarists who frequently utilize their classical guitars for strumming, although they may gradually damage your guitar’s neck and bridge if the instrument is not designed to cope with high tensions.
If you have high-tension strings, a good thing to do would be to loosen the strings (detune) after every session you get to play.
How to change strings on a classical guitar
Learning the correct method of restringing your classical guitar may seem daunting at first, but it's not all that bad. Here is a great video explaining the process, step by step