Can You Put Nylon Strings On A Steel String Guitar?

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There are various types of guitars, and each of them has particular strings that are designed for that type of guitar.

Electric guitars use electric guitar strings, classical guitars use classical strings, and acoustic guitars use acoustic strings.

What happens if you use strings for a type of guitar that they are not designed for? Can you use nylon strings on a steel-string guitar?

animated orange classical guitar beside yellow lightbulb and head of guitar on grey music themed background.

It is possible to put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar but installing the strings and keeping the strings in tune is challenging. The strings do not harm the guitar but will sound very muted and dull. Nylon strings may be ideal for certain genres, but they are not ideal for this instrument. 

Classical guitars are designed to be used with nylon strings, and acoustic guitars are designed for steel strings.

These string types are ideal for each instrument, but is it possible to use the thinner, lighter nylon strings from a classical guitar on a guitar designed for steel strings? Well, let’s find out!

Can You Use Nylon Strings On A Steel-String Guitar?

The type of strings used on a guitar is vital for producing a good tone from the instrument and for the overall function of the instrument. If a guitar is used with strings that are not intended for it, it may cause serious issues regarding the tone and the setup of the instrument.

It is well known that putting steel strings on a classical guitar will ruin it due to the high tension of steel strings, but what happens if you put low-tension nylon strings on a guitar meant for steel strings?

Well, the truth is that it is possible to put nylon strings onto a guitar that is meant for steel strings, but the process is very challenging, and the experienced outcome may not be as good as you hope it to be.

Putting classical guitar strings onto a steel-string acoustic guitar is only possible if you use a set of nylon strings that are equipped with ball-ends.

Standard classical strings do have a ball end and are typically tied onto the bridge with a specialized knot to keep the strings from slipping.

Steel-string acoustic guitars are designed for strings with ball ends, as the strings are held into the bridge with bridge pins that rely on ball ends to anchor the strings in place.

If you do use nylon strings with ball ends, it is possible to securely install them onto a steel-string guitar.

However, using these strings on this type of guitar will produce some potentially unexpected results, and they may be very difficult to wind at the headstock and use.

How Do Nylon Strings Perform On A Steel-String Guitar?

Nylon strings are made for use with classical guitars, and they have a much lower tension than steel guitar strings. These strings work very well on classical guitars, but how well do they perform on steel string guitars?

Let’s begin with how well nylon strings install onto steel strings guitars. The machine heads on steel-string guitars are designed for much higher tensions and do not hold stability well under lower tension.

This means that the strings must be heavily overwound onto the machine heads for the guitar to hold the strings without slipping.

The ball ends of the strings should be sufficient to hold the strings in, but the strings will have to be stretched significantly during installation to be stable and hold tuning well.

If you manage to install nylon strings properly, the next step will be tuning. These strings will go out of tune very quickly on a guitar designed for higher tensions. Tuning will take time, and the strings will never stay in tune for very long.

After managing to tune the guitar, nylon strings on a steel-string guitar will sound very muted and dull. These strings do not hold enough tension to cause the top of the guitar to resonate well when played and therefore do not draw the best tone from the instrument.

Nylon strings on a steel-string acoustic guitar do make a sound, and they can sound pleasing in a gentle way, but they often sound dull, lackluster, and very quiet.

To summarize, nylon strings do function on a steel-string acoustic guitar, but they are very difficult to install, they will not hold tuning well, and they do not sound very good when used on this type of guitar.

The good news is that these strings will not cause any damage to the instrument overall, and they are safe to use if you do end up having to put nylon strings on your steel-string acoustic guitar.

One thing you might want to watch for, however, is slight warping in the guitar neck if you manage to keep the nylon strings on for long.

This is because steel-string guitar necks are designed to work in a balance of tension between the steel strings and the truss rod inside the neck. Little to no tension from the usual steel strings might make the neck warp or bow in one direction or the other.

Is Putting Nylon Strings On A Steel-String Guitar Worthwhile?

Nylon strings are not ideal for steel-string acoustic guitars, but if you are looking for a new sound or a new creative avenue, is it worthwhile putting nylon strings on this type of guitar?

The truth is that if you are willing to go through all of the trouble of installing these strings onto a guitar that is meant to use steel strings, and if you can find a way to keep the guitar in tune, then it may be worthwhile in certain circumstances to put these strings onto this type of guitar.

The sound that these produce is unique, and it can be used to great effect in the right hands.

The overall tone of the instrument with nylon strings sounds very muted and lackluster, but if you use it in the right way, it may produce some beautiful sounds that are ideal for particular genres and styles of playing.

No other guitar setup sounds the way this one does, so if you are creative enough and if you know how to get a good sound from a guitar, then this may be worthwhile for you.

However, if you are not looking for that specific muted tone, then it may be better to use a classical guitar or just use steel strings on your steel-string acoustic.

Conclusion

At the end of it all, we can conclude that using nylon strings on a steel-string acoustic guitar is possible, but the process of installing them and using them is a challenge, and the sound of the strings in this context is only ideal for a very specific style of music.

If you are looking for a more gentle, muted sound, then simply use a classical guitar without a pick. If you have no other choice but to put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar, then it will work if there is no other option.

Overall, it is best to use the intended strings for each type of guitar, and you will get much better results using nylon strings on classical guitars and steel strings on steel-string guitars.

As always, Happy Playing,

-M

About Matt P.

Matt has been playing instruments since he was 11 years old and has done nothing but work in the music industry for his whole life. Matt studied music and sound engineering at The South African Music Institute and has played for numerous bands over the years.