Should I choose a nylon or steel string guitar?

 

A common misconception:

You should start with a nylon string classical guitar because it will be easier on your fingertips than a steel string acoustic guitar.

Overview

  • Select the Guitar That Reflects Your Musical Interest
  • Nylon String Guitars Are Typically Used for Classical and Folk Music; Steel String Guitars for Rock, Country and Most Other Styles
  • No Matter What You Choose, Every New Guitar Needs To Be Adjusted
  • With Either Type of String, Fingers Will Initially Become A Little Tender And Sore
  • Strings Are Not Interchangeable Between Nylon and Steel String Guitars
  • Nylon Strings May Need To Be Tuned More Frequently
  • The Misconception

Ideally, your choice of a nylon or steel string guitar will be based on your musical preference. In order to help you determine that preference, we have provided the following information about the differences between nylon and steel strings, and the characteristics of each.

Select the Guitar That Reflects Your Musical Interest
Select the type of guitar that is commonly used in the music you are interested in learning, as this will greatly increase your motivation to play and practice.

Nylon String Guitars Are Typically Used for Classical and Folk Music; Steel String Guitars for Rock, Country and Most Other Styles
Nylon string, or classical guitars, are traditionally used for classical music; however, the mellow tone and responsiveness of the nylon strings can be enjoyed for folk or any other style of music (Willie Nelson performs on a nylon string guitar). Steel string guitars are used for rock, country and many other styles of music, but it is a matter of personal choice. They have a crisp, bright tone as compared to nylon string guitars. Listen to different recording artist that perform on nylon and steel string guitars to help you find the sound that is the most appealing to you.

No Matter What You Choose, Every New Guitar Needs To Be Adjusted
This is a good area in which to exercise caution. Most new guitars are sold right out of the box and are not properly adjusted for easy playability. They may have a basic factory set-up, but the entry level to intermediate selling price point prohibits extended manufacturing and adjustment time on the instruments. They are generally considered acceptable by the music industry, but as a music teacher I have found it difficult for most adults and almost impossible for young students to play these guitars (this is also true for other entry and intermediate level instruments as well). Above all else, make sure your guitar is properly adjusted, as this will greatly insure your interest and success on the guitar.

With Either Type of String, Fingers Will Initially Become A Little Tender And Sore
Initially, playing on either nylon or steel strings will make the fingertips a little tender and sore, but with a little time and practice will go away. Nylon strings are made of a softer, less dense material and are under less tension than steel strings. As a result, they are slightly easier to push down, provided the instrument is properly adjusted. Steel string guitars are under a higher amount of tension and therefore the strings are somewhat harder to push down than nylon strings, but the difference is not great as long as the guitars are correctly adjusted for easy playability.

Strings Are Not Interchangeable Between Nylon and Steel String Guitars
Whatever decision you make, remember that the two types of strings are not interchangeable on one guitar. Steel string guitars are designed and manufactured for steel strings and will provide the most playability, intonation and sound when used with steel strings. Steel strings on a nylon string guitar will damage the instrument because it is not designed or braced for higher tension strings.

Nylon Strings May Need To Be Tuned More Frequently
Nylon strings tend to go out of tune more easily due to temperature and humidity changes because they are made of a softer material. Steel is a little more stable. Regardless, an instrument should be tuned before and sometimes during each practice session.

The Misconception
Whether you start with a nylon or steel string guitar, your fingers tips will initially become a little tender and sore. Fortunately it is usually not enough to cause you to stop playing as the slight discomfort quickly goes away. The misconception is generally the result of too many people playing on unadjusted instruments and/or music instructors not being aware that instruments need or can be adjusted. When playing an unadjusted nylon and steel string guitar, the nylon strings will certainly feel softer. However, the unadjusted nylon string guitar will cause more discomfort than a well- adjusted steel string guitar. Overall, you choice between a nylon string classical guitar and a steel string guitar should be based on your musical preferences and not on the preconceived idea of one being easier to play than the other.