4 reasons why you can't swap nylon and steel strings
Author: Ian Bush Date Posted:15 July 2020
So a lot of people think that you can change the strings on your classical guitar from nylon to steel, and the strings on your steel-string guitar from steel to nylon. But today I'm going to explain to you the 4 reasons why you shouldn't do this.
1. String Tension
The first reason is string tension. On your typical classical guitar, you have a string tension of about 80 lbs; whereas on a steel-string guitar, you have a tension of about 160 lbs. So what this means is, if you were to put steel strings on a classical guitar, it's a lot of extra string tension. That will cause the guitar to bend more than it should, which will cause problems with your guitar and make it very uncomfortable to play.
2. Truss Rod
The second issue is the truss rod. Most steel string guitars have a truss rod which runs down the centre of the neck. The truss rod's main job is to counterbalance the tension of the strings. In doing so, it helps to keep your guitar neck straight. But most classical (nylon-string) guitars don't have a truss rod. Now a lot of our classical guitars do have a truss rod in them, but a trust rod by itself is not enough to counterbalance that extra pressure caused by the increased string tension of steel strings.
3. Action height
The third issue is the action height. So the action height is the difference between the top of the fret, and the bottom of the string. You can also think of it as the clearance of the string above the frets. On a typical nylon string guitar, that action height is about 3-4 mm. On a steel-string guitar, a good action is about 2.5 mm. So if a classical guitar were to have steel strings on it, but a 3 mm or 3.5 mm action, the action would be too high and this would make it uncomfortable to play.
4. The Nut
The fourth issue is the nut. The nut is the white block at the end of the fingerboard, close to the headstock, that the strings run over. On a nylon string guitar, the nut is a little higher and the slots are wider because nylon strings are actually wider than steel strings. So if you were to put steel strings on a classical guitar, you'll have problems with it not playing in tune, and the strings will be higher that they should be. If you try to put nylon strings into a steel-string nut, the slots in the nut won't be wide enough and the strings won't sit in them properly, so you'll also have problems on that guitar.
So that's the 4 reasons you shouldn't change your strings from nylon to steel. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments section below.