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What Should I Know About Classical Guitar Strings?

Silk cocoons. Some guitar strings are made with silk.
Using steel-cored guitar strings can damage a classical guitar.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2014
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Classical guitars are wide-necked, acoustic, hollow-bodied guitars used for playing classical music, flamenco, Spanish, Mariachi, jazz and ballads. They can also be used for fill-work to add flavor to songs created in other genres. One example is Madonna’s La Isla Bonita, a dance tune featuring Spanish guitar runs throughout.

Most classical guitar strings today are made from nylon for a warm, full, melodic sound. Bass strings utilize either a silver-plated or bronze wrap surrounding a multi-threaded nylon core. Silver strings have a tendency to tarnish and should be wiped with a cotton cloth after playing. Preference as to silver or bronze bass strings is subjective, with silver creating a brilliant tone, and bronze a warmer timbre.

Classical guitar strings include either clear treble strings, black trebles (sometimes red) or rectified trebles. Clear treble strings produce a traditional classical sound, while black/red trebles produce higher overtones and are more distinctive. Rectified trebles are engineered to have a highly consistent diameter along the length of the entire string and are generally considered to be warmer sounding.

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Classical guitar strings come in different tensions to suit different playing styles. Tensions range from super light tension (SLT), to light tension (LT), medium tension (MT), high tension (HT) and super high tension (SHT). The greater the tension the greater force on the neck of the guitar. Higher tension strings are louder, fuller sounding, stiffer, and require more finger strength, comparatively speaking. Experiment to find the correct tension for your playing style.

Originally, classical guitar strings were made of catgut (commonly sheep’s intestines), but few string makers sell catgut strings today. Catgut does not hold its pitch long and has a tendency to break. Because of these problems some retailers will not guarantee catgut strings.

Sometimes it happens that a hobbyist with a classical guitar wants to play rock-style music and hopes to get a rockier sound by replacing classical guitar strings with steel-core strings, saving the expense of buying a different guitar. A classical guitar does not have a supporting truss rod in the neck because the tension exerted from nylon strings is not great enough to require one. Guitar strings made with a steel core, as used on steel-stringed acoustic guitars, should not be used on a classical guitar because they will warp or break the neck. Classical tuning keys are also not engineered for the extra tension required for steel-core strings, and may not be able to pull the strings to pitch.

A compromise can be light-tension silk and steel guitar strings. These are steel core strings with silk fibers wrapped around them, which are then covered by silver-coated copper. While they exert more tension on the neck than classical guitar strings, it is considerably less than that required by steel-core strings. Bear in mind however, these strings might still cause the neck to bow, depending on the instrument, and over time they can cut into nuts and saddles designed to support less abrasive nylon strings. Furthermore, the neck of a classical guitar is wider than its acoustic cousin, making it less than ideal for playing genres outside those it was designed for.

Classical guitars produce uncompromising sound from invigorating staccato rhythms of classical pieces to irresistible, romantic riffs that bring to mind rich, blue Mediterranean seas and passionate love shared between dark-haired lovers. If you haven’t treated your classical guitar to new strings lately, maybe it’s time to rekindle your love of this beautiful, traditional guitar. Some excellent manufacturers of classical guitar strings include LaBella, Augustine, Aranjuez, Martin, D’Addario and Hannabach, among many others.

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anon289154
Post 5

@anon104472: Putting nylons on a steel string instrument would be so wrong. Extra light folk strings won't compensate for the wider classical neck, but they might provide ease and tension you need. I am switching to classical to adopt fingerstyle because steels have been too rough on my hands. I just replaced them with Martin Silk and Steel Folk strings. I will adapt to the wider neck later.

anon133370
Post 3

Yes, you can, but it will affect the sound and playability of your instrument and you will need to readjust the truss-rod for the new nylon set. Good luck!

anon104472
Post 1

I have a steel string guitar and want to start playing classical guitar, but I'd like to get started without investing in a new guitar. Can I put on nylon strings? And will the strings stay tensioned on a rock acoustic guitar?

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