Can You Put Nylon Strings On a Steel-String Guitar?

There are many reasons why one would want to put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar. Perhaps you like the sound of them but don’t want a classical guitar. Maybe you just have a guitar lying around that you want to repurpose. Can you put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar?

Yes, you can put nylon strings on a steel-string acoustic guitar. But getting them to sound and play well might not be easy. There is a tension difference between these string types. This can affect your steel-string guitar poorly. It will also be hard to mount nylon strings to a guitar made for steel.

There are things that need to be considered before putting nylon on a guitar. Most string sets need to be tied to the bridge of a classical guitar, where steel is not fastened this way. But with a bit of tweaking and the right string selection, you can be well on your way to a warmer tone in no time.

Can You Put Nylon Strings On a Steel-String Guitar?

Yes, it’s possible to put nylon string on an acoustic made for steel strings. Yet, you might experience issues with neck warping. The tension is much different with nylon strings. Tuning and intonation issues might arise as well. But this isn’t the same with every acoustic guitar.

There are many players who like the sound of nylon strings but don’t care much for the width of a classical guitar neck. The action on the neck and width need some getting used to. But not every player wants to have to relearn the neck just to get the warmer sound that they can give.

And so repurposing a steel-string acoustic guitar is usually easier to do. But these materials don’t behave the same way. Most players see the first challenge immediately. Most nylon strings tie to the bridge of a classical guitar!

This presents a big problem as the ball ends on steel strings are crucial to having them tense properly. Without them, they will slip right off. And not only that, but it’s not possible to tie nylon to some bridges that are made for steel. But don’t lose hope yet, we have some good news for you!

Can You Put Nylon Strings On a Steel-String Guitar?

Benefits Of Using Nylon Strings

If you have decided that you want to use nylon strings on your acoustic guitar, there are some benefits. Here are a few things you can expect when using them:

  • Less String tension will make them easier to press.
  • Nylon is softer and easier on your fingers.
  • They sound warmer than steel.
  • They don’t rust or oxidize.
  • Classical music will sound better using nylon.

If your guitar has a cutaway, this is also a rather large benefit, as most classical models do not. So nylon strings on a guitar made for steel can work out good once you deal with any installation issues.

Using Ball-End Nylon Strings

The good news is that there are nylon strings available with ball ends that solve this dilemma! These are made for the convenience of not having to tie them around the bridge. They are popular with those who prefer them in place of steel. Even classical players looking for hassle-free installation. 

There are many different types available and brands that make them. There are only so many music stores that carry them. Buying online would be the way to go if you cannot find them locally.

And while they are an easy installation on a classical guitar, there are still a few challenges. If you are putting them in place of steel.

How To Put Nylon Strings On An Acoustic Guitar

The easiest way is to use ball-end nylon strings. Just like we mentioned earlier, this makes it similar to installing steel strings.

If your guitar had steel strings on it before installing nylon, you will experience a few things. They will need to be addressed before they will play well. The same tension is now not required to tune to the same pitch.

So the guitar will potentially need some adjustments. Installing the strings might not be quite as easy. So learning how to put them on could take a bit of time as well. Here are a few things to consider before getting started.

Wrapping Nylon String Around Tuners

With steel strings, installing them to the tuners can be pretty easy. The steel will mold and form itself as they get tight. This has the benefit of fewer wraps and makes it easy to install. With nylon, depending on the tuner, they might slip out when wrapping them. 

Some nylon strings might require more wraps or some overlap to hold them onto the tuner. Once you can get them tightened up, this usually goes away. But finding the right amount of wraps and technique could take a few tries. This isn’t a reason to avoid it, but it’s something to consider.

Nut Groove Size

Another thing to consider is the groove sizes on the nut. If you move to a different string gauge with the nylon, it might be too big. It will be a good idea to make sure your nut is in good shape and can handle the new strings.

If the grooves are too small, this can be remedied by opening them up. If the material is too hard, on the other hand, then you might have to inquire with a technician. Again, not a dealbreaker, but something to look out for.

Tuning Nylon Strings 

If you have not tuned nylon strings before, you will need to know what to expect. With steel, after you put on a new set and adjust the tension, it is quite easy to get it close quickly. They will stretch for a bit, but it’s not a big deal.

With this new material, it will stretch a great deal before even coming close to the right pitch. It could take a few days and 8 to 10 adjustments before they begin to hold proper tuning.

You might think that they are slipping at first, but it could just be that they are stretching to the new tension. And while it could very well be slipping, as we touched on above, you will need to monitor that as well.

If this is the first time you put nylon strings on. Especially a steel-string guitar, just be aware of this rather large difference.

Some players have also tuned down a bit lower from standard with nylon strings. If you find the guitar setup just doesn’t feel right, you might also want to try this.

One would assume that the lower, warmer sound would be what you are expecting. And so to also get the proper feel, tuning down slightly should also help.

Truss Rod Adjustment

With steel-string guitars, the tension is much greater than that of a classical. Nylon strings don’t require as much tension, so your guitar might need an adjustment to the neck.

If you find that there is considerable fret buzz, then you need a change in accuracy.

The steel strings bow the neck differently than nylon would. And so a proper setup of the truss rod will be needed to fix the issue. Planning to have this guitar remain with strings of this new material? Then a trip to see a technician for a full setup is well worth it.

guitar bridge pins

Nylon Strings and Bridge Pins

In order to use nylon strings on an acoustic made for steel, you must select and use the right ones. Not all nylon strings can be used on a guitar with bridge pins, so you must get a certain type.

There are some manufacturers that make nylon strings with ball ends. The same type of configuration you would find with regular steel strings. This allows you to string a guitar easier as well as use different bridge types.

Not everyone can tie nylon strings on a bridge, and without ball ends, you are limited in how you can use them. But because string makers have been listening, you can now get them and install them where you need them.

D’addario makes a great set that can be used on many acoustic guitar types. They are EJ34 folk nylon strings and a great option. Not only can you use them on guitars made for steel strings, they are also super easy to put on!

FAQs

Can You Put Steel Strings on a Classical Guitar?

No, putting steel strings on a classical guitar will ruin it. This material requires far more tension than nylon does to tune properly to pitch. If you were to put steel on a classical guitar, the neck would break away from the body.

This is because classical guitars are not reinforced to handle the tension. With nylon, there is less tension. So classical guitars are only reinforced enough to handle them. You are better off-putting bass strings on an electric than steel on a flamenco!

Is it Easier to Play Guitar with Nylon Strings?

Playing nylon strings is much easier on your fingers than steel! They are more forgiving if you don’t have calluses. They are also less tense, so using them is much different. For a beginner, they are great. Especially while they begin to strengthen their fingers and develop calluses.

But no player should ever play this material if their music is not classically based. Always select the guitar and string type that matches your favorite music. You want to be inspired to play, and using the right tools will do that.

Don’t use nylon strings because it is easier on your fingers but will not be the sound you want. You will get bored and quit!

Can I Use a Pick on Nylon Strings?

Using a pick with nylon strings is perfectly fine. But keep in mind that they will wear more quickly. This of course depends on how aggressively you strum and the choice of music. The pick will create some friction on them and the nylon will eventually wear away.

But like all strings, this is inevitable anyway and should not be the reason to choose something else. With guitar, always choose what sounds good to your ear.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!