Nylon Strings about classical Guitars
Classical guitars work with nylon strings and nylon only. They are not designed to stand the pressure of other kinds of strings. To give an idea, a standard set of steel strings will apply a pressure of 150 pounds on the top, while a normal nylon set will apply only 80 pounds!
Traditional strings were made out of guts and silk, but it is not longer the case. Plastic is more compatible with mass production and today strings are generally made of nylon, Nylon allows good quality control and better reliability.
A standard six string set stands as follows:
- trebles (1st three strings) : one single plastic filament;
- bass (4th to 6th strings): one plastic filament rounded with bronze or silver platted copper wire.
Strings follow a simple rule: the higher the frequency, the thinner the string.
For classical guitars, we talk about tension. Strings come generally in three tensions: normal, hard and extra hard.
Tension affects sound and playability. The lower the tension, the easiest it is for the fretboard hand (I do not use left hand in respect to left-handed players). The major drawback comes with the simple physical issue: lower tension means higher amplitude in the strings’ vibration, with a risk that the strings touch the frets while vibrating and make a buzz sound.
Buzzing issue comes also with your style: when you play flamenco or blue-funk, you may have unfriendly buzzing if you are not using hard to extra hard strings.
As in all area, the best is always to try. You may find the sound of a normal string better for your style and for your ears. If you still experience some buzz, you may ask your guitar shop to work on the action. Yet, high action may prove to be difficult to play and one alternative is to adjust plucking strength on some notes.
Treble strings can be found in the following materials:
- Clear nylon; offers a traditional sound;
- Black/red nylon; gives higher overtones;
- Rectified nylon; relates to a production process that gives consistent diameter on the full length of the string; The result is a warmer sound;
- Carbon fiber; thinner than nylon; gives a brighter sound.
Bass strings can be found in the following materials:
- bronze wound; warmer sound; lower lifetime
- silver platted wound; traditional lighter and brighter sound; longer lifetime; hypoallergenic.
How to choose ?
Choosing strings largely depends on your own taste and playing style. The best way to choose is generally to try. You may find a 5$ set the best solution for you, but how to know it if marketing process lead you to a 20$ set on behalf of their promises?
First selection should go with the tension: you may try a standard set, no need to be pricey, for each tension. You’ll see what fits you better.
Once your tension is defined, you can try the different materials. Don’t hesitate to negotiate a testing package in your local store! One good way to keep the process clear is to record yourself. Strings are not sounding the same after a week. Your test should take some time.
Another solution is to check with your local store if they have different settings for their guitars. It won’t give you the sound of your guitar but will give some hints.
Why paying more?
As everybody, I do not like to pay an extra when the benefit is not very obvious. It is clear that some strings cost more because of brand notoriety. It is part of modern economy. Notoriety can come from strong marketing policy and you may pay indirectly for advertising costs. Some strings are very well know because of heavy advertising or simply because a majority of guitars are stringed with those brands when you buy them at first. I would say that the best thing is to find a low cost solution to try a maximum of strings and then pick the ones you prefer. Good news: those may be cheap.
If you don’t have time, let’s understand what can be valuable reason to pay extra:
- Quality and production process: strings sounds better when they are evenly calibrated; rectified strings is a good example;
- Material: black/red nylon or carbon fiber will cost more to produce, because of lower quantities and cost of material; silver platted are more expensive than bronze;
- Patents: some exclusive patents have a cost (royalties or development costs); you may pay more for ball-end strings, with which you do not need to tie your strings to the bridge (similar to electric guitars)
Next question: does the improvement or variation in sound, extended life or playability deserve to spend an extra? It is you to answer.