Can you put nylon strings on a steel string guitar? Technically, yes, you can use nylon strings on your steel-string guitar. It would still produce the same notes and use the same chord shapes. There would just be a few very noticeable differences ranging from the feel of the strings to installation and stability.
Steel and nylon string guitars are unique and distinctive on their own. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s usually a matter of personal preference which you one you purchase or play.
One of the most notable differences between these two is the type of strings they use, which is what their names suggest. So, if you ever decide that you want a steel string guitar but you also want to experience nylon strings, could you replace them accordingly?
We’re here to show you what difference it would make if you use nylon strings on a steel string guitar.
Steel vs. Nylon String Guitar
Basically, the term “steel string” refers to a wide array of acoustic guitars that use strings made out of either bronze, aluminum, or phosphor material. The ratio of the raw materials used in the production of these strings significantly affects their lifespan, sound, and stability. Additionally, steel string guitars often have a narrower fretboard than a nylon string guitar.
On the other hand, nylon strings are a special kind of string that has a lower tension and action on the bridge and fretboard. Its tone is softer, lower, and less bright than the steel string guitar. Nylon string guitars, otherwise known as classical guitars, also tend to have a wider fretboard, as they are often used for fingerstyle playing.
What Happens When You Use Nylon Strings on Steel String Guitars?
Despite their differences, it is, in principle, possible to use nylon strings on a steel string guitar. However, you must be aware of the risks and major concerns you might have to face when doing so. Here’s what happens when you replace your steel string guitar with nylon strings.
There are numerous factors that contribute to the instability of a nylon string guitar’s tune. Nylon is a rather soft and sensitive material, which is why temperature and humidity can significantly affect its tension on your guitar. That’s not just the case for nylon strings on a steel string guitar. Even nylon string guitars have this problem.
Ergo, as the tension on the strings reduces, the tone of each string changes. Because of this, you might find yourself having to retune your steel string guitar rather frequently if you use nylon strings. You must constantly tighten them and adjust the tension to maintain their tuning.
Varied Neck Tension
An acoustic guitar without strings is fine unless you have already placed steel strings on it and removed it. The string tension that has once pulled the neck is suddenly removed, causing the neck to bend in the other direction. What does this have to do with using nylon strings?
Well, nylon strings, as we’ve said, are soft. Therefore, they often don’t provide the same tension as steel strings. Because of this, your acoustic guitar might suffer the same fate as not having strings on it.
Using a combination of nylon and steel strings on the guitar would also not do it any good. The uneven tension in the strings will eventually damage the neck. Aside from creating fret buzz, it might also have a weaker structure altogether after some time.
Abandon Guitar Picks
If you’re used to playing your guitar with a guitar pick, that’s another thing you might have to worry about with nylon strings. You see, nylon strings are often meant to be plucked or at least strummed. Their soft nature makes them prone to damages caused by the hard guitar pick. That’s why you don’t see pickguards on classical guitars.
If you use guitar picks to play nylon strings, it’s only a matter of time before the strings snap because of the gradual yet continuous wear and tear. Aside from having to replace them frequently, you might also get injured if the nylon string snaps while you’re playing the guitar.
Steel strings feature a ball-end. This is what you place in the holes on the bridge and pin down using pegs. Nylon strings don’t have this. Basically, a nylon string is the same on both ends. Instead of ball-ends and pegs to hold them in place, nylon strings need to be tied to the bridge with a knot. So, if your guitar uses pegs to pin down the ball-ends, it’s almost impossible to use nylon strings on it.
Nonetheless, Is it Possible to Use Nylon Strings on a Steel-String Guitar?
As we have mentioned, it is technically possible. In fact, many people have done so, especially in the 50s and 60s. However, you need to make sure that you can address the risks we’ve mentioned above.
First, you need to be rather disciplined in retuning your guitar. This ensures that there is enough tension in the neck to sustain its supposed shape. Additionally, try learning how to play in the fingerstyle technique so that you can abandon using guitar picks that damage the nylon strings.
Lastly, you need to do something about the restringing concern. Pegs aren’t wouldn’t do much in holding the strings down. However, there are steel-string guitars that don’t use pegs. Instead, they have an extended hole that runs from the back to the front of the bridge.
The little hole prevents the ball-end from sliding through the bridge, allowing the strings to gain enough tension for standard tuning. This type of steel-string guitar is much easier to restring with nylon.
First, run the string through the hole, leaving about three to four inches of string at the back of the bridge. Grab the end of the string and tie a knot with the rest of its body near the bridge. This should hold the strings down just enough to prevent them from sliding through the holes.
There are lots of advantages you could get from playing with nylon strings. We can see why you would want to use them on your steel-string guitar. However, before you make the switch, make sure that you keep the aforementioned things in mind, so you don’t encounter major problems.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.