Is it possible to play a steel string guitar with nylon strings? On the other hand, can you play a nylon string (classical) guitar with steel strings? It is certainly possible to swap strings and play whatever you want. But is it good for the guitar itself to be played with the different type of strings?
It is not advisable to put nylon strings on a steel string guitar. The same goes the other way around.
It’s simple. Classical guitar is meant to have nylon strings, and acoustic guitar is meant to have steel strings on.
Puting a different type of strings on guitar, nylon on acoustic or steel on classical, will hurt your guitar in a long run. There are many reasons for this, from action height change to the tension change caused by different strings.
Strings are creating a tension for a guitar neck. Tension created by steel strings is much higher than the one created with nylon strings. That’s why it is not advisable to put steel strings on a classical guitar.
String Tension Pro is the great site for tension calculation. Here you can select what type of guitar you have, string gauges, tuning and so on. It will calculate the total tension on your guitar neck.
Usually, an average classical guitar have its string tension of around 80 pounds. Acoustic, steel string guitar have its average string tension of around 160 pounds.
If you put steel strings on a classical guitar, the guitar will suffer from the twice harder tension. That is bad for a guitar neck.
Especially because most of the classical guitars don’t have a truss rods built in. Acoustic guitars have truss rods, in order to balance the tension applied on the guitar neck. There’s no need for a truss rod on a classical guitar, since nylon strings do not create strong tension.
Not only it is bad to put steel strings on a classical guitar, but it is also dangerous to do so. There have been reports of people saying that they put steel strings on a classical guitar.
Soon after, the bridge was pulled off the guitar, leaving holes. In other words, the guitar was ruined. You definitely don’t want that!
Swapping guitar strings will affect the playability of the guitar. That’s because both acoustic and classical guitars have different action heights. Action heights is the space between bottom of the string and top of the fret.
Average action height is a bit higher in classical guitars. There’s no exact action height for every classical or acoustic guitar. Still, on average, acoustic guitars have their action heights around 2.5 to 3 mm. On the other hand, classical guitars have their ideal action heights around 4 mm.
That’s why a classical guitar with steel strings will be much harder to play. Steel strings are not as soft as nylon strings are. It is rather uncomfortable to press the steel string when it’s on a higher action than usual.
The same goes the other way around. Nylon strings on an acoustic guitars will be on lower action height. Since they are much softer than steel strings, it would be somehow strange to press them on the fretboard.
Also, they are wider than steel strings. When you put wider strings on a lower action height than usual, you’ll get a buzzing noise.
Nut Height And Width
Classical and acoustic guitars have different nut widths and heights. Usually, classical guitars have a higher nut. Also, there’s a difference between the width of nut slots.
Higher nut is causing a higher action height. That’s one of the reasons classical and acoustic guitars have different action heights.
Since nylon strings are wider than steel strings, slots on the classical guitar nut will be wider. Steel strings put on a classical guitar will be put on a nut slot that’s too wide for them.
Nylon strings put on an acoustic guitar will be put on a nut slot that’s too narrow.
In both of these cases the nut won’t be suitable for strings. That will result in a bad playability. Also, you’ll have much more tuning problems.
There’s also a problem with different string ends nylon and steel strings have. Usually, steel strings have a ball ends. When you put those strings on an acoustic guitar, there are bridge pins that hold them in place.
Nylon strings don’t have string ends. They are usually tied on the bridge. If you were to put a steel strings on a classical guitar, you’d need to cut the ball end they have.
If you were to put nylon strings on an acoustic guitar, you’d need to find ones with ball ends. Yes, there are nylon strings with ball ends, but are harder to find. Most of the nylon strings don’t have those at the end.
It’s simply too complicated to waste your time on this.
E String Slip
There’s one more potential problem to this. As it’s been stated, nylon strings are usually wider. It’s been also stated that nylon strings on classical guitar have higher action than steel on an acoustic guitar.
Now, let’s say you put nylon E strings, both high and low on an acoustic guitar. They are wider than their steel cousins, and they are low. What’s the problem?
It is highly probable that both of these nylon E strings will slip off the fretboard. That will often happen during play. They are lower than usual, and they are too wide for an acoustic fretboard.
To fix this problem, you’ll have to change an action height. But is it worth the time? Isn’t it more convenient to just play the steel strings on an acoustic, and nylon on classical guitar?
You may want to change strings to make your acoustic guitar sound like a classical one. That won’t work. Here’s why.
Let’s say you put nylon strings on a steel string acoustic guitar. You adjusted the nut height, slot width and action height. You can now play easily. Will the sound be good as it is with steel strings on? Definitely no.
Remember, acoustic guitars have truss rods built in to balance the tension steel strings apply on the neck. With nylon strings, string tension will be twice as lower as it’s with steel strings.
The sound won’t be good. There will be not enough “energy“ in the guitar itself to produce a loud string ring. Also, the buzzing issues will probably occur, but that has been already described above.
Classical Vs. Acoustic Guitar, Nylon Strings Vs. Steel Strings – Which Are Better For Beginners?
All of these arguments should convince you to not swap strings on your guitars. There are differences in sounds nylon and steel strings create. You may like the nylon string sound better than steel string sound. Or vice versa.
Nylon strings have softer, warmer sound. Steel strings have sharper and brighter sound. Steel strings are louder than nylon strings.
Also, they are harder to press on a fretboard. You’re more likely to have sore fingers when playing a steel string acoustic guitar.
There’s no answer to a question of which ones are better for anyone? Both of these have their authenticity and different uses. Nylon strings are more suitable for playing classical music. Steel strings are better for loud, pop rock music.
It really depends on what do you like. I like both nylon and steel strings. That means I like (and use) both classical and acoustic guitars.
Whether you start to play with a classical or an acoustic guitar, it won’t matter in the future. You can easily go for an acoustic guitar after learning to play on a classical. Or vice versa.
It won’t affect your playing level whatsoever. Classical and acoustic guitars are different. They are different in structure and in sound.
Changing strings from one guitar to another won’t your guitar better. It will only make your guitar worse. Especially when you put steel strings on a classical guitar.
Anyway, if you find these information valuable, I’m more than glad about it.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles I wrote on this site!
Cheers, and rock on!