Many players wonder if they can use nylon strings on a steel string guitar. The short answer is “Yes!”. However…
Switching from steel strings to nylon strings on an acoustic guitar may lead to certain challenges related to their installation, the sound quality, and the tension placed on the guitar.
In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about replacing steel strings with nylon strings.
What are the strengths of nylon strings?
The increasing popularity of nylon strings as an alternative to steel strings is no accident. Nylon strings offer several advantages:
- they are more affordable and durable than traditional steel strings
- the string tension is lower
- they are softer, making them gentler on your fingers
- they are suitable for beginner guitarists
- nylon strings produce a mellow warm sound
- they do not oxidize or rust
- nylon strings are ideal for Classical music, Jazz, Flamenco, and Folk
The risks and issues of using nylon strings on a steel-string guitar
Before you proceed with installing nylon strings on your steel-string guitar, it’s important to consider a few factors:
Nylon strings can damage your guitar neck
Nylon strings don’t generate as much tension as steel strings, which can potentially damage the guitar neck.
Nylon strings have a hard time staying in tune
Nylon strings are sensitive and require frequent tuning, especially when they’re new. Once they’ve settled in, they become more stable.
Temperature changes and humidity also affect nylon strings’ tuning stability.
You can’t use a guitar pick with nylon strings
Nylon strings are classical guitar strings designed for fingerpicking with long fingernails. Using a guitar pick with nylon strings is not advisable, as it will wear them down quickly.
You may explore strumming techniques specific to classical guitars, but remember that the sound produced will be different.
Classical guitars have bridges with holes through which strings pass and are secured with a knot. Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, use a different method.
A steel string has a ball end that goes into the guitar’s bridge and is held in place with a peg.
Nylon strings, however, have flat ends without a ball end. This makes installing them on a steel-string guitar difficult.
Fortunately, ball-end nylon strings are now available, simplifying the installation process.
What to consider when applying nylon strings
Now that you know the characteristics of nylon strings and potential installation challenges, there are a few more things to keep in mind:
Winding the nylon strings around the tuner
When installing the nylon strings onto the tuner, you may need to wind them several times until they are tight enough to hold. This may take you a little longer, and a few failed attempts, but it’s nothing to worry about.
Nut size and the nylon string gauge
Pay attention to the nut size.
If the nylon strings you have selected have a different gauge than the nut, you may need to seek the help of a technician.
Tuning nylon strings on steel-string guitars
We must warn you that this step can be quite complicated and time-consuming. It may even take you days to get it right. Especially if you are tuning nylon strings for the first time, you should be prepared for a significant difference from traditional steel strings.
We recommend that you try tuning the guitar a little lower than standard.
Adjusting the truss rod
Nylon strings require less tension than steel strings. For this reason, when using them on a steel-string guitar, you need to make an additional adjustment to the truss rod.
Acoustic and classical guitars are two different instruments, with different parts and construction, hence it is recommended to use the proper strings for each one of them. Learn more about the differences between acoustic and classical guitars.
Can you combine steel and nylon strings on a guitar?
Yes, but we want to point out that using a combination of steel and nylon strings will result in uneven tension distribution. Nylon strings are more flexible and loose, while steel strings should be wound more tightly to be tuned.
Can you put steel strings on a classical guitar?
Short answer – No. Long answer – check this article where we explain why it is not a good idea to put steel strings on a nylon string guitar.
Should I start with a guitar with nylon strings?
It depends on your musical preferences and the style you will play. But in general, nylon strings are more suitable for beginners because they are easier on the fingers.
Do nylon strings sound better than steel?
It’s very personal and depends on individual taste.
The sound of nylon strings is soft and warm and is well-suited for playing classical music, jazz, folk, and flamenco.
Steel strings, on the other hand, produce a strong and clear tone, making them ideal for playing rock, country, and bluegrass.
What is a Nylon string crossover guitar?
This relatively new model of nylon-string guitar brings the feel of a steel-string acoustic guitar but sounds like a classical guitar.
By experimenting with different strings, you can discover your preferred style and enhance your playing experience. Feel free to experiment to keep your passion for playing alive.
We advise that if you decide to use nylon strings for a steel-string guitar for an extended period, you should visit a guitar tech to do a complete tune-up of your instrument.