Classical Guitar String Basics

Classical Guitar String Basics

Which classical guitar strings are best? Ask 10 guitarists and you'll probably get 10 different answers. But not to worry. We at Strings By Mail will walk you through the process of choosing strings that you'll love.

How Should I Choose Classical Guitar Strings?

Sound and playability are the two biggest factors in choosing classical guitar strings. Keep reading for help in narrowing down possibilities based on your personal preferences, or call us for a consultation at 800-513-8271. But there's simply no substitute for trying as many different strings as possible. Ultimately, experimenting is the best way to find the ideal strings for your needs. If you simply want to experiment with the best selling nylon strings, it's a great starting point.

What Are Classical Guitar 1/2 Sets?

Think of classical guitar strings as halves: three treble strings (higher pitch) and three bass strings (low pitch). Players refer to these as 1/2 sets and often buy them as 1/2 sets. Electric and Acoustic strings don't follow this approach. Some players, like concert level artists, change one of the 1/2 sets out in as little as 8 hours of playing time to bring back the clarity and vibrant feel new strings produce. Let's discuss each half set individually, starting with the first three treble strings e-1, b-2 and g-3.

What Are Classical Guitar Treble Strings Made Of?

Treble strings for classical and flamenco music are made from nylon, carbon fiber, or a nylon variation known as titanium. The wide variety of materials and construction methods used today give classical and flamenco players more sonic possibilities than ever before. Each of these treble materials has a distinct sonic profile. Expand the graphic below to see each character.

Classical Guitar String Types | Strings By Mail

What are the Pros and Cons of Nylon Strings?

Nylon strings, such as the Augustine Regal series, offer a warm sonic color, good sustain, and a balanced, rich sound. They also make it easier to play vibrato. Nylon strings aren't as loud or powerful as other types of strings, and on some guitars they may create a sound that goes beyond rich to muddy.

What are the Pros and Cons of Carbon Fiber Strings?

Carbon strings, more technically known as fluorocarbon, such as the Savarez 540 HT Classic series, provide a bright sonic color, great projection, and powerful sound. Their tuning is stable, and they last a long time. However, their intonation can be inconsistent, the sustain is shorter, and their sound can be thin or harsh in comparison with other strings - especially on some guitars.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Titanium Strings?

Titanium strings, such as the Galli Titanio, are essentially nylon strings with an additive agent that gives them a bluish “titanium” look and changes their sonic profile. They have a powerful high end, but less mid range. Other advantages include a good sustain and easier vibrato. Their drawbacks include that their high overtone focus can result in a ping- like or brittle quality and their tuning is sensitive to temperature changes.

What Are Classical Guitar Wound Bass Strings Made Of?

The bass strings (D-4, A-5 and E-6) typically have stranded nylon cores wound with copper wire, to which various types of plating are applied. Most of these coatings are different kinds of metals, all of which affect a string's sound. Harder materials provide a brighter sound, softer materials provide a warmer sound, and pure metals such as silver or gold offer a more “pure” fundamental and a sound that's more full and clear.

Are Historical Strings Available for Classical Guitars?

Yes. Before the invention of nylon strings, manufacturers made strings from gut and silk. Today, classical guitar players seeking to achieve a historically correct “old world” sound have a few string options available, including the Pyramid Authentic Gut and Pyramid Gut Trebles / Silk Basses.

Are There Classical Strings Designed Primarily for Flamenco Music?

Yes. Some examples include the Pro Arte Flamenco EJ25 series from D'Addario and the 2001 Flamenco and Elite Flamenco 820 series from La Bella. They tend to use harder materials that result in a bright sound with less sustain, which fits the style and helps provide clarity of sound during the rapid strumming that is common in flamenco music.

What is Classical Guitar String Tension?

Tension is important to consider when choosing strings because it affects the guitar's sound and the feel for the player. Tension refers to the amount of force you must apply to a string to bring it up to pitch. Most classical manufacturers produce strings in a variety of tensions, from extra light to extra hard or heavy. Normal tension strings fall in the middle, and are a good choice unless you determine that another specific tension works better for you.
Some players favor higher tension strings because they usually create a louder attack and may give the right hand a faster feel. However, there are drawbacks:
  • The guitar's sustain is reduced to some degree
  • Too much tension can start to choke the subtleties of a guitar's sound
  • The left hand may have to work harder to get vibrato or even to fret the instrument
  • Some guitar manufacturers recommend that players not use extra hard tension strings because they may damage the instrument
Tension is a personal choice that calls for experimentation. Once you choose a tension, you may need to have your guitar adjusted to get the best intonation for the particular tension and type of classical guitar string. Otherwise, there's a risk that not all strings will be in tune across your guitar's neck.

Can I Use Acoustic or Electric Strings on a Classical Guitar?

No. Classical strings have a lighter tension than acoustic or electric guitar strings. Using acoustic or electric strings on a classical guitar could damage your instrument.

Can I Use Classical Strings on an Acoustic or Electric Guitar?

No. Classical strings don't have enough tension to move the face of an acoustic guitar, so they'd produce very little sound. Electric guitars only pick up sound from strings with significant metal content.

Can I Mix Classical Strings From Different Manufacturers?

Absolutely. Many players mix strings to achieve a particular sound and playability that best matches their playing style and the needs of their guitar. Some players combine different bass and treble half sets, while others go further and choose individual strings from various sets and manufacturers.

At Strings By Mail, we make mixing strings easy by offering the largest stock of half sets and single strings in the world. Want to see what combinations other players have created? Check out our Custom Customer Concoctions (try saying that three times quickly). Want to create your own concoction? We'll list it on our website so you can easily reorder it and share it with other guitarists who might want to try your creation.

How Often Should I Change Classical Guitar Strings?

The answer mostly depends on how much you play, although strings do deteriorate without being played, especially in high humidly or salt air. Like all other types of guitar strings, classical and flamenco strings wear out over time through use or deterioration of the materials. Strings that are too old will sound muddy or dead. They'll also be harder to play. And since the wood in your guitar mimics the vibrations to which it's exposed, continuing use of worn strings can harm your guitar's sound temporarily or even permanently.

Some strings last longer than others. But if you're an average amateur, it's good to change your strings at least every 4 to 6 weeks. Professional players typically change their strings weekly, or even more frequently if they're playing concerts or recording.

If you need instruction in changing classical guitar strings, check out our video by John Wunsch, SBM's owner and the former Guitar Studies Director at The Interlochen Center for the Arts.

What If I'm Ready to Choose My Classical Strings?

Check out our wide selection of classical guitar strings from nearly three dozen respected manufacturers like Augustine, D'Addario, Dogal, Hannabach, La Bella, Pepe Romero, RC Strings, and Savarez.

What If I Have a Question?

Our Strings By Mail experts are available by phone or email to help you choose the perfect strings. You can call them at 800-513-8271 or email them. They're available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. EST.

What If I'd Like to Learn More?

Check out the following resources on our website:

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