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Difference Between Steel and Nylon Strings

Steel vs Nylon Strings

When it comes to guitar strings, there is definitely a significant difference between steel and nylon strings. There are two basic types of acoustic guitars. These would be the nylon stringed ones, which are also often referred to as classic, and the steel stringed guitar. The two types are pretty much general purpose musical instruments and they are well suited for use in a variety of different styles but they do have major differences when it comes to sound and feel. Of course, there is no such best choice between the two given the fact that it all falls upon the preferences of the person playing the instrument. As said earlier, both have distinct sounds to them and as such, one ought to find the type that resonates the most with them and their particular style of playing. Shall we take a closer look at their differences?

Nylon Strings
These types of strings are significantly mellower sounding when compared to steel strings.
These types of strings are often used by flamenco and classical musicians.
It is the preferred string of students who are still in the process of being taught the art.
Classical guitars have wider necks when compared to steel string acoustic guitars. This means that the neck profile is also typically larger but there might be models that have a rather flattened C shape. Despite the wider neck, these guitars are still surprisingly comfortable to play.

Steel Strings
Steel strings are louder and brighter when it comes to tone.
They also have larger bodies when compared to nylon strings.
They are typically preferred by country-western, folk, Celtic, pop and rock musicians who favor the string’s grittier sound.
Guitars that make use of this type of string have a stronger brace within its body as well as a reinforced bridge in order to accommodate the tension created by the string.

Of course, with two differing string types, there are also two different ways of playing them. These techniques are often separate from each other but if you can play a nylon string, you would be able to play a string steel guitar as well. The reverse also applies. Earlier, we have mentioned string tension, well nylon and steel strings also differ in this aspect. The overall tension for steel strings average at around 150 to 200 pounds whilst nylon strings are around 75 to 90. Remember, these strings are sold according to gauge thicknesses in order to suit the particular player’s technique and style.

In terms of playability, nylon strings are softer and easier on the player’s fingers because of the decreased tension and the quality of the material itself. However, as mentioned above, it does have a larger diameter when compared to nylon strings. On the other hand, steel strings come in a much wider range of gauges. So if a particular diameter is rougher on your fingers when playing the choosing a lighter gauge would prove to be easier to play. Why do nylon strings have less tension? Well, this is because they require less in order to produce a tone. However, they do require specially braced soundboards in order for it to vibrate in a freer manner.

Can the strings be alternated on one guitar? The answer is yes but it would cause significant damage on the guitar itself. Classic guitars would suffer expensive damages due to tension that will eventually crate a weaker bridge and soundboard on it. Therefore, it is important that you never swap strings and make your choice early on.

Nylon strings are mellower in sound when compared to steel strings.
Steel strings create more tension thus producing a louder and brighter sound.
Nylon and steel strings differ in diameter. Steel strings have a wider range of diameter options.
Swapping strings on one guitar can cause significant damage.

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  1. Not switching out the type of strings on a classical guitar makes sense.
    But could you explain why this would be a bad idea on a folk guitar. Since it was built to handle the tension of steel strings, why would using nylon on occasion be bad?

    • I would like the answer to Micheal’a question also, as I would like to sway out steel for nylon on my folk guitar.

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