Can You Put Steel Strings On A Classical Guitar?

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There are many alterations and modifications that you can change on a guitar to alter and hopefully improve its overall sound quality or tone.

However, not all modifications are safe for specific types of guitars, and you should avoid them at all costs. Perhaps you are considering a few modifications and wonder, “Can you put steel strings on a classical guitar?”

Steel strings should never be put on classical guitars. Classical guitars can only hold a minimal amount of tension, which is why the lighter nylon strings are used on them. Steel strings provide more than double the tension of nylon strings and can permanently damage your classical guitar.

animated guitar strings and guitar with lightbulb in middle on grey music themed background

It is always better to ask the questions before going ahead and experimenting. In this case, you will be saving yourself a lot of money and the need to replace your guitar.

To provide more of a thorough understanding, let’s discover the differences between steel and nylon strings and the impact that putting steel strings on your classical guitar will have.

Classical Guitars Should Have Nylon Strings

From the outset, we need to mention that although modifying your guitar to achieve the desired tone can be fun and gives you a sense of adding a personal flair to your style, some things on a guitar should be left alone.

Upgrading your guitar’s hardware, frets, or bridge pins can make a massive difference to the sound of your guitar. However, one should exercise caution when changing strings. 

When purchasing a classical guitar from the store or even watching a classical guitarist on YouTube, you will notice that the guitar has nylon strings.

Now, it is essential to note that this is not merely a personal preference of the guitar manufacturer or the YouTube guitarist. The use of nylon strings is purposeful and integral to the design of classical guitars.

To be more clear, classical guitars have not been designed for use with steel strings. We will dive into more depth later on, but the reason essentially comes down to the construction of classical guitars.

They differ vastly from steel-string acoustic guitars in structure and style and, in many ways, should be considered entirely separate instruments. 

As intriguing as the thought may be to hear steel strings on a classical guitar, the result will cause far more trouble than joy, and you will undoubtedly be ruining an otherwise perfect instrument.

Indeed, steel strings are likely to cause permanent damage to classical guitars, so save yourself the pain and ditch the idea altogether. 

Differences Between Steel And Nylon Guitar Strings

For some people, being told not to do something conjures a seemingly inherent rebellious nature that desires to do that thing even more.

So, to provide a more thorough understanding, it would be beneficial to know the differences between steel and nylon guitar strings and, ultimately, why each type should never be interchanged. 

Steel Strings

First of all, steel strings are made from – you guessed it – steel. Many different kinds of steel alloy are used to get various tones from the strings. For example, electric guitar strings typically come in varieties of stainless steel, nickel-plated steel, and pure nickel. 

The strings are still made of steel for steel-string acoustic guitars but typically come plated with either brass or bronze. Each of these variations mentioned will give you a unique sound quality. 

Steel strings require a high amount of tension for a defined sound to be produced. On average, a typical set of steel strings will create roughly 170 pounds (approximately 77 kilograms) of tension. This number will, of course, go up with thicker string gauges.

Read More: How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings?

Nylon Strings

Nylon strings are made using – you guessed it again – nylon. Nylon is a much lighter material compared to steel and, as a result, requires significantly less tension for a defined sound to be produced.

Because of its lighter material and tension, nylon strings are much easier to press and lighter on your fingers compared to steel strings, even though they are typically thicker in diameter. 

The average tension created by nylon strings is only roughly 80 pounds (approximately 36 kilograms). 

Why You Shouldn’t Put Steel Strings On Classical Guitars

Now that you understand the differences between steel and nylon guitar strings, let’s go into more detail about why you should never swap nylon strings for steel strings on your classical guitar.

Increased String Tension

The tension created by steel strings compared to nylon strings is vastly different – more than double in most cases.

Classical guitars are designed to handle minimal amounts of tension. Changing to steel strings on a classical guitar will add more than double the tension that the guitar is designed to handle. 

This will ultimately cause irreversible damage to your classical guitar. The significant increase in tension will cause the neck of the guitar to warp – and in severe cases, it will even snap.

Additionally, the tension of steel strings is likely to rip the bridge off the guitar and take a chunk of the body’s wood with it.

Steel-string acoustic guitars have a metal truss rod running through the neck of the guitar that helps to counteract the tension caused by the steel strings.

Most classical guitars don’t have a truss rod, and although some do, it isn’t designed to counteract the weight of the tension caused by steel strings.

The Height Of The Strings

Because of the increase in tension caused by the steel strings, the neck will undoubtedly bow.

This will cause the action – which is the strings’ height – to significantly increase, resulting in it becoming very difficult to press down the strings adequately. 

Damage To The Guitar

Aside from the damage already mentioned, which the increased string tension will cause, the materials used on classical guitars are not designed to handle the harshness of steel strings.

Firstly, the material used for the frets on classical guitars is a much softer material than that used on steel-string acoustic guitars. 

This means that the harshness of the steel strings will cause significant wear to the frets on a classical guitar.

The same will be true for the tuning pegs on classical guitars, particularly where the string is wound. Steel strings are guaranteed to damage those materials too. Overall, you’re likely to end up with irreversible damage. 

Can You Use Lighter Steel Strings On A Classical Guitar?

So, what about lighter steel strings? Although you can get very light gauge steel strings that would provide significantly less tension than their heavier counterparts, you still shouldn’t use them on a classical guitar.

Sure, the lighter gauge won’t create as much tension on the classical guitar, but the material of the strings will still cause the same kind of significant wear and damage as previously mentioned. 

Read More: Light versus Medium Guitar Strings – The Differences Explained

Conclusion

It would be best to leave your classical guitar as a classical guitar and your steel-string guitar as a steel-string guitar. These strings have not been designed to be interchanged.

While it can be fun to experiment to get different sounds from a guitar, putting steel strings on your classical guitar will do far more damage than good. 

As always, Happy Playing,

-D

About Damien

Damien is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist from South Africa. He has performed at many events both public and corporate with top musicians in the industry. He has also been teaching guitar professionally for 8 years.