Can I Put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar?

Can I Put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar? | integraudio.com

This article will talk about what can happen when trying different types of strings on your guitars. And also how it can affect not only your sound but also your guitar’s body, neck, and even your play style.

Customization is a good way to know your instrument, but please be wary; it can wear down your instrument if you are not careful enough. Always plan, and if you can, consult a luthier before doing anything risky.

Can I put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar?

Yes, you can put nylon strings on an acoustic guitar. But keep in mind this isn’t meant for beginners. It’s best done on a secondary, old guitar that you don’t use a lot since going back and forth between strings will end up harming your guitar permanently.

The most notable change you’ll be able to see is that your guitar will be under less tension. When this happens, you have to compensate with a calibration. But be careful with this, as if you start going back and forth, changing tensions, and re-calibrating, it will harm your truss rod and your guitar.

Steel strings are stronger than nylon. But there are different types of tensions, even in nylon strings, so try to buy a high-tension one when looking for a new set. Your guitar will have less of a problem stabilizing and straightening if you do this.

In the image above, you can see a set of strings I bought for my classical guitar. As you can see, it indicates that those are “medium tension.” You should look for a set that indicates “high tension.”
That being said, high tension is only the recommended option. If you are willing to spend some time and money on your instrument, you can get a medium tension set. Just keep in mind that you should let a luthier handle it.

Can I still plug and play my acoustic guitar with nylon strings?

Yes, you can, but first, you need to check your pickups. Magnetic pickups won’t work with nylon strings, they are designed to capture warps on their magnetic field, and nylon won’t do so. But on the other hand, if you have an air mic inside of your guitar, you’ll be fine. It will capture your sound perfectly.

There are many more pickups on acoustic guitars; you have lots of types that are just in contact with its wood, amplifying its vibrations. But just as a rule of thumb. If when you slap the body of your guitar while connected, and it sounds through your amp, you’ll have no problem with nylon strings.

If you see a preamp like this one on your guitar, it will surely have a contact microphone, which captures vibrations on the wood. So with this type’s, you are good to go.

Can I put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar? | integraudio.com

That being said, if you have a condenser or any microphone that can record voices, you can use that to record your nylon strings guitar. It will need an audio interface or something that gives it a phantom boost, but for a recording session, it’ll be fine.

How will nylon strings impact my style of playing?

Strings are the core of your instrument. They will affect your sound, volume, and even what tools you use. For example, on an acoustic guitar, you tend to use your pick much more than in a classical nylon string guitar. Here’s a list of things that will change with your strings.

  • Sound:
    The sound of both types of strings is completely different. Steel strings have a brighter sound, metallic, and with great power. While having nylon strings will give you a more opaque and plastic-like sound. However, this will be more notorious on the first three strings; it’s not so easily distinguishable on strings four to six.
  • Playstyle:
    If you’ve been playing acoustic for a long time, you are probably used to playing with your pick. With nylon strings, you will be able to do so, but it’s much more common to use the classical technique. If you check on professional flamenco players, you’ll see the most common style of playing nylon strings. Check out this flamenco player covering a metal song with an electro-acoustic guitar and nylon strings.
    The sound of this guitar is great, but keep in mind that it’s an electro-acoustic specially made to fit nylon strings. And not a steel-string acoustic modified to fit nylon strings.
  • Pick use:
    As discussed, picks are most commonly used on acoustic guitars. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them on classical; picks on nylon strings are fine, but they will wear them away faster, so watch out for that. If you want them to last longer, try switching to your nails.
  • Volume:
    Material and thickness are key to volume, and metal strings are louder on their own. So if you are going to use, for example, medium tension nylon strings, your guitar’s volume will drop noticeably. If you play at subway stations or on the street, consider this before doing so, as it will have a great impact.

What genres of music can I play with nylon strings?

With a nylon string acoustic guitar, you can play anything that you’d play on a classical. Try out some flamenco-like tunes, or you can learn strumming methods from South American folklore. These genres are rich in their rhythms, which will lead you to explore your instrument on a whole other level.

There is much music to explore; think of nylon as a new type of sound to explore. Argentina’s folklore and Brazil’s bossa nova have really interesting strumming techniques that you can learn. They sometimes include snapping your strings or syncopating your strums. You can also try learning some of Spain’s arpeggio techniques. After that, you can even get into classical techniques.

Are acoustic and classic guitars really different?

Even though they work behind the same principles, they are different; we will talk about some tiny differences in the body or the nut that will vary between them. However, their nuts’ are interchangeable. So, while changing strings, you will be able to change those too.

You’ll notice first that typical classical guitars have a wider nut. If you buy one for classical, it won’t perfectly fit acoustic guitars, but you can file off the excess, and you are good to go. But if you are using your acoustics nut, you will have to file deeper cavities for your strings. As the nylon string’s diameter is bigger, you’ll need a deeper hole.

There are also some differences in their body. For example, classical guitars have a longer scale, while acoustics have a bigger body. Longer necks help reinforce sustain, while bigger bodies do a better job at highlighting low frequencies.

Does Size Matter? Acoustic Guitar Body Comparison!

In this video, you can see a nice comparison between acoustic guitars with different body sizes. Try to hear the difference; using headphones will make it easier.

Lastly, your guitar’s bridge and body are made to function under a certain amount of tension. Suppose it’s much lower than what it’s made for. In that case, it will prevent vibrations from correctly traveling from the bridge to the body and soundhole. If the tension isn’t as needed, it will affect your tone. So try to keep those high tension strings when switching to nylon.

What are the main benefits of switching to nylon strings?

Nylon string tension is weaker, so when you play them, you have to use less pressure to do so. If you are going to play for a while, it won’t change much; but this will make you less tired for extended sessions. It can be especially good to have a practicing guitar with them.

Sometimes, when playing on steel strings, you can get hurt, especially when learning. So, having or starting with a nylon string guitar will help you not only play longer but also avoid cuts or blisters.

As your strings get thicker, the more profound the low frequencies get. Your low E will get a round and deep sound that you won’t get with other strings. This can be especially useful with duets, where you have a much wider spectrum of frequencies to cover.

Classical guitars usually don’t have a cutaway; this makes it pretty hard to play above fret twelve. If your acoustic has one, you’ll be able to play those really difficult high notes, giving you room to explore even more the nylon sound. And even if your guitar doesn’t have a cutaway, its body will join the neck on fret 14, making it easier to reach higher frets.

And as the last benefit, Nylon strings tend to last longer. They won’t get rusty, and since they are made of plastic, they are stretchy and durable.

What are the main drawbacks of using nylon strings?

Nylon strings radius is bigger, and you’ll find them harder to bend. So some techniques can be trickier. Also, if you changed your guitar’s nut to a classical one to correctly fit the strings, you’ll feel that the strings are farther away from each other.

If you are a muscle memory player, you might be able to feel that difference, even though it’s not a big one; it might take some time to get used to it, but you’ll manage to do so.

Can I put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar? | integraudio.com

Here you can see the tiny difference we just talked about. The left is the acoustic nut, and the right is the classical one. Even with this small difference, for an instrument as precise as a guitar, going back and forth between them can be bothersome.

Even though nylon strings last longer than steel, they tend to lose their tone faster. It will be no problem when you use this guitar only for practice or rehearsal purposes. But if you want to play live, you might need to change them pretty often.

Can I put steel strings on my classic guitar?

Yes, you can, but I would strongly recommend you not to. It may be possible, and you will have to get the thinnest strings you can (try getting some 0,09mm). But you need to be careful and talk about it with a luthier. Your guitar must be made of denser woods; it won’t work on cedar.

If your guitar is made out of woods like maple or ebony, denser and firmer, you may be able to pull it off. However, try not to do so for extended periods; Check your bridge and neck. If any of those show signs of bending, you should go back to nylon.

That being said, if you still pretend to try this out, when you get your low tension strings take out the ball end. You’ll have to tie them to the bridge like it’s usually done with nylon. When doing so, don’t let the string touch the body itself. If you do so, it will vibrate and ruin your sound, cut the ends off to preserve it.

But please remember to be careful; don’t let the tension bend your guitar too much, as it can rapidly give it a “belly,” just like this one below.

Can I put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar? | integraudio.com

As you can see, the tension on this guitar has formed a belly on its body and lifted the bridge. Keep this image in mind when putting steel strings on a classical. This is what high tension (and lots of years) did to the instrument. If you are not careful, it can end poorly.

What type of strings should I use when switching to nylon?

When switching to nylon, you will need special strings with ball ends. Classical guitars tie knots around the bridge, so to use them on acoustics, you’ll need the ball bearing to fit them correctly. This Martin M160 Silverplated Ball End will do the trick.

Of course, there are lots of suitable strings that you can use, keep in mind to search for high tension and ball ends, and you are good to go. You will find a lot of strings, and you’ll be able to experiment a lot. That being said, you can probably tie a normal classical string around a ball end, but that won’t make your job easier.

Strings are the core of your instrument, so the more you try and search, the better you’ll understand it. If you’ve been searching a bit, you might have found out about transpositor strings; these are strings meant to be tuned on other tones, and you might find some which tension better suits your acoustic. And if you take a look around, you’ll even see that you can use them to turn your guitar into a bass.

What are the best strings to choose from?

Here you have a table to analyze string types from various brands and compare prices.

 
Gauge
Tension
Ball end
Price
Martin M160
.028 – .043
Hard
Yes
6 dollars
Ernie Ball Ernesto
.028 – .042
Medium
Yes
8 dollars
D’Addario Pro-Arte
.0285 – .044
Hard
Yes
11 dollars
GHS Strings 2050W 
.028 – .043 
Hard
Yes
13 dollars
Augustine Regal Blue 
.0295 – .045   
Hard
No
12 dollars

In the table, you can see various types of string brands. There is only one medium tension and one without a ball end. And this is because sometimes you’ll be able to utilize them. If this is your case, and they can suit your guitar, you might as well check them out. The ball end is easier to skip; If you change strings, you can take off the end and attach it to your new string. However, if your guitar is made up of really heavy woods, don’t try medium strings. They will sound poorly.

How can I change my guitar strings?

Changing strings on your acoustic guitar will be pretty easy. But before we get to it, keep in mind not to change them all at once, as that will unstress your guitar; it’s better to keep it under a certain amount of stress. That being said, here are the steps to properly change your strings:

  • Loosen up the desired string
    You need to loosen it up from the headstock. Keep in mind that being organized is important. Try to follow an order. I like to start from the low-end strings and gradually move to the high ones. If you are new to changing strings, try to do one at a time. Once you get the hang of it, you can do two at a time. Now cut the string and remove it.
  • Replace the string
    Once you get rid of the old string, take out the pin at the bridge and place the ball end there. Once you’ve done so, press the pin onto the bridge and ensure it’s tightly locked. After that, place the string on the headstock and start adjusting. You don’t need to get it to the exact pitch, just close. If you don’t know where the pins are, look at the image below.
    Can I put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar? | integraudio.com
    Those white dots at the end of each string are the pins.
  • Repeat with the other strings
    Now you have to repeat the previous steps, keep in mind to not get them exactly to the right note, as they will detune as you continue.
  • Final tuning
    Once you are done with all strings, it’s time to start tuning; you have to tune and play. You’ll notice that the strings detune pretty quickly because they are getting used to the tension. At this point, I like to bend them a little bit, not a lot, just enough to detune them. And after doing so, tune it again. Now repeat until you’re done.

Acoustic vs. Classic guitar.

As we’ve talked about, strings are the core of your instrument; and even though classical guitars are meant to have nylon strings, you can have them on acoustic. So it’s safe to say that acoustic is more versatile since it’s the one where you’ll have less trouble changing strings.

Classical guitar isn’t bad in any way, but acoustic takes the lead when thinking about string variety. And if you are not sure which one to get, because you like the sound of both of them, think about getting an acoustic one. Just remember to not change between nylon and steel too fast, as that could harm your guitar.

Conclusion

The main ingredient to sound are strings, and being able to change them is great. Keep in mind the safest way is to put nylon on the acoustic. It’s the easy path to changing your sound and play style drastically. But be sure to talk with a luthier first. You’ll need to calibrate your instrument; the changes in the overall tension will need to be compensated with the truss rod.

Also, watch out for the microphone setup you have, as it wouldn’t be great if your acoustic had a magnetic pickup and you couldn’t use it. Also, if you have an old guitar, you might as well use it for this. Sometimes old guitars don’t handle tension too well, and they can use lower tension strings.

Once you’ve switched strings, try out some new techniques and new music, that’s the best way to explore their sound. Always remember to check your guitar and take care of it. Too much stress can harm it, and we want them to last long.

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