Best strings for Classical Guitars
Nylon classical guitar strings are very different to strings used on steel-strung acoustic or electric guitars and with dozens of brands and types available it can be difficult choosing the best nylon strings for your classical guitar.
How often should I change my classical guitar strings?
Although they don't break too easily, nylon strings do not have a very long playing life once installed on the guitar, as their brightness and tone soon fades with age and use. The beginner learning classical guitar might change their strings every few weeks or months, while a professional
can use a new set every performance! Over time you'll begin to hear when strings go "dead" and need replacement. It is probably better to buy cheaper strings and change them more often, rather than top-of-the-range strings that you keep on for months. Usually all six strings are changed at once.
Which brands of classical strings are available?
Popular brands of classical guitar string include Augustine, D'Addario, GHS, Chorus, Martin, Savarez, Hannabach, Savarez, La Bella and many more.
Many specialist brands offer several levels of quality and type, as well as two or three tensions, usually labelled things like light, normal, hard and extra hard.
Prices can vary from $5.00 US to $25.00 US (around £4 to £10 in the UK) for a full set of six strings.
Which classical guitar strings should I choose?
There are no hard and fast rules about which strings will sound better on your nylon string guitars. And I certainly don't know what sets and brands will feel just right to you. The best classical guitar strings for you are the ones you like the best. Your selection of string will be greatly influenced by how each feels and sounds on your guitar.
Tension vs. Action
Because tension determines the amount of vibration of the string, it should be one of the main things you consider when choosing strings for your classical guitar.
If you have a low "action" (the distance between the string and frets), low (normal) tension string may produce a lot of buzz and noise, but would be fine on a guitar with higher action. Unfortunately stated tensions are not always comparable between brands, so a "Normal tension" Augustine, for example, may be a lower tension than a "Normal tension" GHS string. For the technically-minded some manufactures publish a value for each string's tension, but for most of us it will be a case of trial-and-error!
In summary - finding the best classical guitar strings for you
So, there are three things to consider when chosing classical guitar strings: string tension, string material and string quality.
1. String Tension
Classic guitar strings are made in different tensions. Generally low tension (also referred to as moderate or light), normal or medium tension, hard or high tension. Light tensions may be easier on the fingers but are more probe to buzzing.
2. String material
There are two types of treble nylon guitar strings:
Clear nylon strings are extruded and then calibrated for accuracy.
Rectified nylon strings are extruded and then ground to produce a string that will play in tune and have a slightly rough texture
Treble strings can also be made of carbon fibre and composite materials. Bass strings are primarily made of bronze wire or silver plated copper wire wound around a core of fine threads.
3. String Quality
High quality materials and good quality control lead to strings that play in tune and hold their tone. Choose a reputable brand and put them to the test!
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History of classical guitar strings
Until the 1940s, all classical guitar strings were made of gut (sometimes wrongly described as "catgut"). The three treble strings on a classical guitar were made from plain gut - usually from sheep or cow's intestines. The bass strings were made of a silk thread core wound with gut and were considerably thicker than the plain gut treble strings.
In the 1940s, guitarist and entrepreneur Albert Augustine developed classical guitar strings made of nylon and this type of string has been the mainstream in classical guitars for nearly 70 years.
When Augustine first approached the DuPont company (who manufactured the nylon) they did not think that guitarists would accept nylon strings as an alternative to gut. However, after various demonstrations and tests, nylon became preferred over gut as having the best guitar sound. The DuPont company then supported Augustine's initiative and nylon strings were born. Spanish guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia, supported Augustine's strings and they immediately became popular.
The three treble strings are one piece nylon filaments (similar to gut strings), with the three bass strings are made of a core of fine nylon threads wound with very fine bronze or silver-plated copper wire. Carbon fibre treble strings are also now available from some manufacturers, but have not become as popular as nylon strings.