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Last Updated: May 20, 2019
“Hi Bobby, this may be a stupid question, but can I use nylon strings (for classical guitar) on an acoustic (normally fitted with steel strings)?”
This isn’t a stupid question at all! There are a lot of guitarists out there that’ll be glad you asked it.
In fact, yes, you can… but you can’t use “traditional” Classical/nylon guitar strings if your steel-string acoustic is like most–where your ball-end acoustic strings are held in place with bridge pins. I’ll assume that this is why you’re asking: Classical guitar strings don’t have these ball ends, and have to be tied onto the bridge:
So, what can you do?
Some may think their only choice is to affix some sort of object to the end of the string–something that can be held in place by the bridge pin. Or, some might even attempt to remove the ball-ends from steel strings and tie them onto the ends of nylon strings.
None of that is necessary.
Ball End Nylon Strings to the Rescue!
There are actually ball end Classical guitar strings available. They’re popular with a lot of Folk guitarists, or anyone simply wanting to get the the smooth, mellow sound of nylon strings on their steel-string acoustic guitar. And yes, they are used by some Classical guitarists too, who like the fact that they’re so quick and easy to install.
Below, I’ve gathered together a partial listing of nylon ball end guitar strings to get you started, but if you just search google with phrases like “ball end Classical guitar strings” you’ll probably find many more.
Ball-End Classical (Nylon) Guitar Strings
A Quick Note for Classical Guitarists
For any Classical guitarists out there who might be reading this post:
You too can use ball-end nylon strings on your Classical guitar. There’s no law that says you have to use traditional tie-on nylon strings, even if you play an expensive, high-end Classical guitar. Some Classical guitarists prefer the ease-of-use of ball-end strings, so if you’re not a purist and are open to ball end strings, give ’em a try.
Just be sure there’s enough clearance behind the bridge for the ball-end, and that it doesn’t dig into your guitar’s soundboard back there.
How Nylon Strings Will Effect Your Guitar’s Setup
I should point out to everyone that nylon strings behave differently and exert different forces on a guitar than steel strings. This means:
If you put nylon strings on your steel string acoustic guitar, you’ll probably need to make adjustments or even do a full setup.
When you put nylon strings on a steel string acoustic guitar you may experience some weirdness including:
- The strings buzz excessively.
- The action feels too low (usually goes hand-in-hand with buzzing).
- The outer E strings sometimes slip off the edges of the fretboard when you’re fretting notes or chords.
- The strings may bind (stick) in the nut slots, because nylon treble strings tend to be thicker than steel.
If you’re lucky, simply loosening your truss rod a bit may be all that’s needed to fix #1 and #2 above. However, it’s more likely that you’ll need to have a full setup performed to truly eliminate them. If you’re experiencing #3 or #4, you will most definitely need your guitar setup (modified, in fact) to play properly with nylon strings.
If this foray into nylon strings is just a temporary thing (say, to record only a song or two) and you plan to switch back to steel strings, then you may be willing to tolerate these things and leave your guitar’s setup alone. On the other hand, if this is a more long-term (or permanent) switch, then you may need to have your guitar set up or modified to accommodate the nylon strings. This could mean having the nut and bridge modified specifically for nylon strings. If you do, ask your guitar tech to save your old nut and bridge saddle, so that you can easily switch back one day.
IMPORTANT: Don’t Put Steel Strings on a Classical Guitar
Lastly, don’t ever go the other way: don’t put steel strings on a Classical guitar or a guitar that was designed to use only nylon strings. Without going into specifics, suffice to say you will permanently damage the guitar if you do this.
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