April 09, 2015
Nylon vs. Steel Guitar Strings: A Comparison
Many aspiring guitar players begin their musical journey by learning on an acoustic guitar. There are so many advantages to playing an acoustic guitar, from the relatively low cost to the incredible versatility, that aspiring musicians and experienced players can appreciate. If you’re interested in learning to play the acoustic guitar, you may be wondering where you should start. One of the first decisions that you’ll need to make is whether you want to use nylon or steel guitar strings.
There is no clear choice, as steel guitar strings and nylon guitar strings each come with their own advantages and disadvantages. To help you decide which type of string to start out with, we thought it would be helpful to highlight some of these advantages and disadvantages starting with steel strings.
You may have noticed that most popular music that uses acoustic guitar features steel guitar strings. The main reason that musicians choose steel strings is for sound and their volume. Steel strings are known to produce a loud, sharp, twangy sound. If you’re interested in learning to play the guitar by learning the classics or popular songs you hear on the radio, you might be well-advised to choose a steel strings to start out with. Another advantage of the steel-string guitars is the longer neck. Having a longer neck on an acoustic guitar enables players to play higher up on the neck which allows for easier soloing and high-fret work. One more main advantage of steel-string guitars is that the strings are more resistant to the effects of heat. For this reason, you won’t have to tune your steel-string guitar as often, which is helpful for beginners.
Because steel strings are made of steel, obviously, they require more pressure from the player to produce sound. At first, this can be pretty painful for people new to the guitar. It takes time to develop the toughness in your fingers necessary to feel comfortable playing for extended amounts of time. Another disadvantage is that, although they require less tuning in general, when they’re new they actually require more! It can be frustrating for new players to tune their guitar correctly, play a few chords, and then find that it’s already not sounding right. Finally, because the bodies of steel-string guitars tend to be larger, smaller players and beginners often find them to be overly-cumbersome.
Nylon-strings may not have the twang and volume necessary to produce the next great rock song, but they’re certainly a popular choice for producing softer, more romantic music. If you prefer the gentler, more mellow sound, than the nylon-string guitar is the choice for you. Since they aren’t made out of steel, they are not as hard on your fingers, which makes playing them for extended amounts of time more enjoyable. This is particularly advantageous for new players, who should be practicing often in order to learn the fundamentals. The final main advantage of nylon-string guitars is that they tend to be smaller, and so they are naturally more comfortable for smaller people. The smaller body also means that nylon-string guitars are easier to handle and transport.
If you purchase a nylon-string acoustic guitar, don’t expect to play most songs off the radio. Unfortunately, these will be difficult to play because nylon-string guitars simply don’t have the power that most contemporary music requires. You will also be unable to practice solos, or anything else that necessitates you playing higher up on the neck of the guitar. The body of most nylon-string guitars begin at the 12th fret, as opposed to the 14th fret on steel-string guitars, which means you just won’t be able to reach the higher frets. As you might have expected, the final disadvantage of nylon-string guitars is that they require a fair amount of tuning. Nylon strings are affected by heat much more than their steel counterparts, and will come loose much more often.
If you were hoping that the price of the two different types of guitars might make the decision easier, tough luck: they basically cost the same, assuming you get models of equivalent quality. In the end, the decision will come down to what kind of music you want to play, and what feels the most comfortable to you. For more acoustic guitar advice, check out Choosing Acoustic Guitar Strings.