How to Choose Classical Guitar Strings

Published Categorized as Acoustic Guitar String Selection, Buying Guides

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Choosing the right strings for your classical guitar can have a noteworthy (excuse the pun) impact on your guitar’s tone, playability and even durability.

The art of how to choose classical guitar strings comes down to 3 main factors.

  • String material
  • String Gauge
  • String Tension

This page covers choosing Nylon strings for your classical style guitar. The process is slightly different for choosing steel strings for your acoustic guitar.

Table of Contents

Who Uses Nylon Strings?

Let’s go over nylon vs steel string guitar strings question first:

  • nylon strings are used on classical guitars
  • steel string acoustic guitars are especially designed for steel strings
  • classical guitars are designed for nylon strings

Nylon strings produce far less tension (around 50% less) than steel strings so the construction of the guitars differs.

Though any style can make use of nylon classical guitar strings, typically they are used for classical, flamenco and folk (folk sometimes steel, sometimes nylon).

D'Addario Guitar Strings - Classic Nylon Guitar Strings - EJ27N Classical Guitar Strings - Silver Plated Wrap, Nylon Core, Clear Student Nylon Trebles - Normal Tension, 1-Pack
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How to Choose the Best Classical Strings for You

As always some experimentation is necessary to find the very best strings that suit your playability, tone and style preferences. However, before experimenting, it is a good idea to narrow down your options to get a good starting point.

The following 3 factors should help you narrow down a good starting point from where you can experiment to find just the right classical guitar strings for you.

CLASSICAL GUITAR STRINGS

String Material

Often the material used for the treble strings (bottom E, B & G in standard tuning) are different than that used for the base strings (top E, A & D).

Treble Strings

Most treble strings are made from the following materials – some others are used but these are the most common. Traditional gut and silk strings are also still made but are less common.

Clear Nylon: This is the most common material for treble strings. Clear nylon treble strings offer a good balance of brightness and warmth in tone. Nylon treble strings are known for their projection and sustain qualities and easy vibrato.

They aren’t as loud or as powerful as other string materials like titanium or composite string sets.

Clear nylon is the smoothest material used for nylon strings, which can feel the best when playing finger style.

Black Nylon: This produces a warmer, more mellow tone with more treble overtones than clear nylon. It is a popular choice for folk.

Titanium: Titanium produces a brighter crisper sound. Strings made with titanium are often used to brighten up a darker sounding guitar. They also have good sustain and easy vibrato.

Carbon Fiber: Strings made using carbon produce a loud sound and tend to be longer lasting. Carbon strings are characterized by a short sustain and can go beyond bright to a more “thin” or “harsh” sound. These can work well depending on the guitar.

If your classical guitar already has a bright sound, then carbon strings are likely to sound too bright but they can be good for a darker sounding guitar.

Composite: This material produces a very bright sound with strong projection. Composite is often used for G strings to make for a smoother transition in sound between the treble and bass strings.

Check out this info-graphic which illustrates some of the different tonal qualities of different classical string materials (inspired by graphic over on Strings by Mail).

classical guitar string types
Ernie Ball Ernesto Palla Black & Gold Ball-End Nylon Classical Guitar Strings, 28-42 Gauge (P02409)
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Bass Strings

The bass strings tend to have a multi-filament nylon or multi-filament composite core and are wrapped with various materials. The most common winding materials are:

Bronze: Bronze windings are typically composed of 80% copper and 20% zinc. This material is sometimes known as 80/20 bronze, brass or gold. These strings produce a bright sound with good sustain.

Silver: Silver windings are typically made of copper with a silver coating.  Silver coated windings help to produce a warmer tone.

Strings can also come coated or uncoated. Coated strings can help to prolong the life of the strings. Some people don’t like the sound of coated strings though manufacturing processes these days help to make the coated strings sound uncoated.

Nylon guitar strings normally come without ball ends on the strings and are tied onto the bridge but there are some nylon strings that have ball ends.

String Gauge

Like steel string acoustic guitar strings, nylon strings come in different gauges (thicknesses essentially).

Unlike steel strings, which tend to go up in a linear fashion from the high E to the low E (i.e. high E has the smallest diameter and then they go up progressively from there), classical strings diameters are non-linear.

The treble strings tend to be a lot thicker than steel string trebles.

Some different nylon string gauges can be seen in the table below. Note how the gauges don’t differ too much.

Classical Strings Gauges

Compare those gauges with steel strings in the table below. The gauges vary quite a lot from light to heavy and they go up in a linear fashion from high E to Low E. Also note the high strings are a lot thinner than the high classical strings and the low E’s are mostly thicker than the classical nylon strings.

Steel String Gauges

Whilst nylon strings do have gauges, they aren’t designated by gauge like steel acoustic strings (which are designated by extra-light, light, medium, heavy gauge etc).

Instead they are designated by tension which is a more important factor for nylon strings.

CLASSICAL GUITAR STRINGS

String Tension

Unlike with steel string acoustic guitar strings, nylon strings come in differing tensions.

The most common tensions are low (a.k.a light), normal (a.k.a. medium) and high (a.k.a. hard or strong).

Each tension has different qualities and what you choose will depend on your playing style, sound preference & your guitar.

Let’s take a look at some of the qualities of each type.

Low Tension

  • Low Tension strings will produce the quietest volume of all the tensions
  • They will also be the easiest on your guitar so are great for prolonging the life of your instrument and great for older/antique guitars.
  • Easier to play – particularly when playing a guitar with a higher action
  • Tone emphasizes the body of the note
  • More prone to fret buzz

Medium Tension

  • Medium Tension strings are a great place to start. If you start with these then you can go higher or lower and make a call as to which ones you prefer
  • They strike a great balance between the pluses and minuses of low and high tension strings

High Tension

  • More difficult to play (particularly on a guitar with a higher action)
  • Produces more volume than lower tensions
  • Less emphasis on the note of the body and more emphasis on the attack into the note when compared with lower tensions
  • High tensions are popular with guitarists who often use their classical guitar for strumming ( a better sound & playability for strumming)
  • Be careful with putting these on your guitar. They may have the sound and playability that you are looking for but may be causing damage to your neck & bridge if your guitar is not designed to take high tension strings.

The best way to know for sure is to check with the manufacturer of the guitar to see if it is able to handle high tension strings.

A good practice if you have high tension strings is to detune (loosen off the strings) after every playing session.

D'Addario XT Coated Classical Guitar Strings - XTC45 - Extended String Life with Natural Tone & Feel - Normal Tension
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What Next?

As with anything you choose for your guitar, choosing the right classical guitar strings comes down to your personal taste, and what you like to do with your instrument.

The best way to find out your preference is to experiment. Try to find your preference for one of the factors above to begin with then that can be your constant as you experiment with the other factors.

Hopefully this post has helped you to narrow down your choice so that you can find your ideal strings quicker.

Thanks for reading and if you have anything to add, any questions or comments they are very welcome in the comments section below.

To learn how to choose acoustic steel strings check out the page at the link below.

FAQs

What type of string is best for classical guitar?

For classical guitars, nylon guitar strings are the most commonly used and widely recommended. Nylon strings offer a warm and mellow tone that is well-suited for classical music styles. They also provide a comfortable playing experience and are generally easier on the fingers compared to steel strings.

What is the name of the strings on a classical guitar?

The strings on a classical guitar are typically referred to by their respective names, which correspond to the pitch of the string when played open (i.e., not fretted).

Are classical strings all nylon?

Classical guitar strings are commonly associated with nylon strings, but it’s important to note that not all classical guitar strings are made entirely of nylon. While the treble strings (the higher-pitched strings) are typically made of nylon, the bass strings (the lower-pitched strings) often incorporate additional materials.

What happens if you put steel strings on a classical guitar?

Putting steel strings on a classical guitar designed for nylon strings can have detrimental effects. It is generally not recommended. Classical guitars are specifically designed to accommodate the tension and characteristics of nylon guitar strings, and they are not built to withstand the higher tension produced by steel strings. Physical damage caused can include warping the neck, or detaching and lifting the from the guitar top. Only use classical guitar strings for classical guitar.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

10 comments

  1. Great resource! I thought all guitar strings were the same before I read this post. Thanks, Nate!

    1. Hey Matthew

      Thanks for visiting. I also used to think all guitar strings were the same or at least very similar until I started experimenting and its amazing what the difference in sound and playability can be between two different sets of strings.

  2. Excellent post, I enjoyed hearing about the different types of strings. Next time I buy myself a guitar, I will be taking that into consideration.

    1. Hey Nathan – glad you enjoyed the post. Yeah definitely worth thinking about what strings you should get for your guitar and experiment to find the perfect match for you and your guitar. Thanks for visiting.

  3. My son and I are classical guitar players we love to change the strings from time to time and lately we bought D’Addario Pro-Arte’ EJ45 which were made in USA. This silverplated wound and clear nylon sound great for around four months and it will gradually lost their soronous in base and treble including a good volume of sound. I did not opt to coated strings as the price is 30 percent higher than uncoated strings against the sales point that it will last longer. The point is there are no clear indication of how longer it is in comparison to uncoated string furthermore the last longer of the good sound is much more appreciated than the physical strength of the string which is, in this case, so obscure.

    1. Hey Tinnakon

      Thanks for your input. It sounds like you have certainly thought about what strings to go with. Your right it is a bit unclear how much longer coated strings actually last but I guess it’s hard to give a clear indication as it will differ depending on the humidity of your environment, your playing style and how often you play amongst other things.

    1. Hi Abel

      Thanks for your message. Sorry, unfortunately, I have no idea what strings Joao Gilberto uses. Hope you find the answer

  4. I am a beginner playing a angel lopez model c1148s-ced, the base strings are nice and mello, but upper strings are too bright or tinny, what strings would you recommend to make this guitar more rich, warm and mello?

  5. I have ? size classic/parlour guitar, with 3 nylon treble strings and 3 steel bass strings.

    Can you recommend a cheap light string pack of strings, the make and the price??

    Also, do all classic/parlour, Bass metal stings have a Nylon core?
    Thank you

    Ian

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