When I think of guitars, I think of the three different types mainly, nylon string (or they’re also called classical/Spanish guitars), electric guitars like this white Fender Telecaster from zZounds, and acoustic guitars. There are a lot of different kinds.
Consequently, it’s not uncommon for beginners to wonder if it’s better to start with one or the other. For example, some people ask whether nylon guitar strings are easier to play.
Nylon guitar strings are easier to play than an acoustic or electric guitar because nylon is much softer and easier on the hands compared to nickel or phosphor bronze-coated strings which electric and acoustic guitar strings both use, however, a nylon string’s action is usually much higher.
On the other hand, while nylon strings are much softer and lighter on the fingertips – especially for a beginner – nylon string guitars also tend to have higher actions, which means it’s not as easy to play as electric guitars which usually have lower actions. Obviously, this isn’t always the case because some high-quality nylon guitars will have a better action than other cheap electrics, but I digress.
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Why Nylon Guitar Strings Are Easier to Play
1) Nylon is a Fabric and Not a Metal
According to Sciencing, Nylon is a synthetic set of fibers that are used to create a variety of different goods including dress socks, swimwear, shorts, track pants, athletic gear, bedspreads, windbreakers, and draperies. If you’ve ever owned track pants from Adidas, for example, you’ll know that the fabric is very soft and comfortable.
Nylon was created during the start of the 20th century as a replacement for parachute material, an essential product commonly made from hemp and silk which are both by-products of naturally occurring organic materials. At that time in history, cotton and wool were used for the vast majority of textile applications, but this wasn’t sustainable, and that’s how nylon was born.
Engineers and scientists came up with this synthetic alternative which gave the military another way to produce material for their equipment. How this all relates to your guitar playing is the following: simply put, nylon is a fabric that’s used for clothing and all kinds of products that we use for our bodies, so right off the bat, it’s easy to understand how it’s much softer than steel.
The vast majority of guitar strings are essentially steel core wires that are wrapped in nickel or phosphor bronze. In other words, it’s like a long strip of steel that’s wrapped in even more metal and hard material. For a lot of people, this hard material seems like it might take forever to get used to, and rightly so because it is steel wire pressed against your fingers.
However, as I’ve written about before, it doesn’t take long for calluses to form which is the body’s response to this stress. After just a few weeks of playing, you should be well on your way to having the ability to withstand the pressure from guitar strings due to the thick skin forming on your fingertips.
The calluses – the deadened skin that has formed on the edge of one’s fingertips – will ensure you can play the instrument without any pain at all. Here’s a list of other things that players wear on their fingers, including fingertip protectors, which I think might be one of the uncoolest things I’ve ever heard of.
2) Nylon Strings are Easier to Bend
Nylon guitar strings, because they’re much softer on the hands, are also easier to bend compared to electric guitar strings not only because of the material of the strings but also because nylon string guitars are built in such a way where there is 50% less tension on the neck and on the instrument.
In other words, nylon strings pull on the neck with less force, and therefore, there isn’t as much tension as an electric or acoustic which both use steel strings. Although, how easy the strings are to bend also depends on the thickness of the strings. Electric guitar strings can be very easy to bend if the player has used light-gauge guitar strings like 8-40s or even lower.
Even 9-42 gauge strings are very easy to bend. If you are new to guitar playing, it might be wise to use strings like 9-42s just because it’ll give your fingers a chance to build up strength and calluses so you don’t have to tear your fingers up so bad in the first three weeks. Admittedly, the same thing can happen to me after not playing the guitar for around 7-8 months.
If I don’t play the instrument for nearly a year and then one day feel the urge to play it, I’ll pick up the guitar and start playing it as if I never stopped, forgetting in the process that I no longer have the calluses and my fingers aren’t used to the pressure. After about 30 minutes to an hour of playing, I wonder why my fingers are sore, and then I take a look at them and they’ve been torn apart by my heavy 10-52 strings.
The principle of string gauge and thickness also applies to nylon string guitars like this Ortega model from Amazon as well. In other words, you can actually buy nylon string guitar strings that are very thin, although, nylon strings aren’t produced in the same way nor are they designated in the same way as steel guitar strings for the acoustic and electric.
Important Things to Note About Nylon String Guitars
1) They’re Designated on Tension and Not String Gauge
Nylon strings are actually designated on tension rather than gauges or thickness which is an important distinction between nylon and steel strings. In other words, nylon strings are differentiated from each other based on three main categories, low, medium, and high, which indicate the amount of tension that the strings put on the neck.
For example, if you take a look at the classical string thicknesses below, you can see there isn’t a whole lot of difference in terms of the gauges of each individual string, and it’s because classical guitar strings are distinguished based on the overall tension that’s put on the neck, rather than the thickness of each individual string.
Classical Strings Gauges
The chart down below is a guideline that shows you how other similar companies may produce strings. If you notice the difference between electric guitar string and nylon string gauges, it’s that nylon strings appear to be crafted in such a way where there is an equal amount of force and tension being put on the neck.
For example, electric guitar string gauges are different right across the board especially if you’re going up from light to medium gauge strings. However, nylon strings are different. There isn’t a terrible amount of difference between light and hard strings, like the difference between the B-string in the Normal and Hard gauges isn’t that great.
These numbers come from D’Addario’s light, normal, and hard strings.
2) Nylon String Guitars Aren’t Always Easier to Play
On the surface, nylon string guitars are a bit easier to play for a beginner simply because you won’t have as much pain in your fingertips, however, there is a level of expertise and nuance that’s demanded by a player to get the optimal sound of the nylon string guitar. In other words, nylon string guitars are easier to play in one way but harder to play in another.
By that, I mean there is a certain technique and level of expertise required to really get the most out of the instrument. Classical guitarists tend to play the instrument in a very specific way with a very specific technique because it’s claimed that the instrument must be played in a certain way to get the best sounds out of it.
For instance, getting more volume out of a nylon string guitar is ultimately going to depend on the player’s technique, as well as the thickness of the strings too. Low-tension strings put much less tension on the neck, and therefore, require a different kind of attack from the player to get the same volume.
Contrast this to high-tension strings which are much louder on average, but harder for the player to fret, bend, and vibrato, because they’re thicker. There is an obvious compromise between how thick the strings are, the volume, and how easy it is to play as a result, and this is something the player has to get used to and adapt to via their playing technique.
Additionally, I briefly mentioned above that nylon string guitars tend to have much higher actions than electric guitars. This means there is a bigger distance between the bottom of the string and the fretboard. More distance means more pressure is needed from the player to actually fret the note and get a sound out of it.
YouTube Video Tutorial
Gear Mentioned in this Article
Both of these links take you to Amazon.
Interestingly, I find that the difference between a $500 and $1000 electric guitar isn’t that great, however, in the case of an acoustic or a nylon string, I wouldn’t say that is the case anymore. If you want to try out a relatively cheap nylon string, the Ortega one will work just fine, but if you’re more serious I would purchase a better model from your local music shop.
2) D’Addario Nylon Strings – Normal Tension
These are the ones that I use for my nylon string guitar. If you scroll through the options on Amazon, you’ll see the differences between normal, high, and medium tension. It would probably be much wiser to use normal tension when you start out, simply because the strings won’t be as tight and your guitar neck likely won’t need a set-up in this case, because most nylon strings will come fitted with normal tension strings by default.