Nylon has been the material of choice for flamenco, classical, and many fingerstyle guitarists for decades. First introduced as an alternative to the gut strings used prior to the material’s introduction, nylon has proven itself to be a valuable option due to its affordability and resilience.
- The Best Nylon / Classical Guitar Strings
- Things To Consider When Buying Nylon Guitar Strings
Just like steel strings, nylon guitar strings are available in a wide variety of different options. However, the materials used in the strings, their composition, and their tension aren’t as well documented as the variables that create the tone of a steel string.
Because nylon strings aren’t as widely discussed as steel strings, it can be hard for beginning musicians to find the best nylon strings for their skill level, preferences, and desired tone. The information is definitely out there, you just need to dig a bit harder to find it.
So rather than wasting precious time trying to figure out the best options for your situation, check out the info we’ve laid out for you. We’re going to give you an in-depth look at the materials used and the differences between them, give you the low-down on ball end nylon strings, teach you about string tension, and point you towards a quick tutorial on how to change nylon guitar strings.
The Best Nylon / Classical Guitar Strings
The strings below are all viable options for the average musician. We’ve omitted more expensive strings because their benefits don’t become apparent until you’ve reached a high level of technical skill. Budget strings can also sound great when the player is proficient, so don’t assume that cheaper strings are going to hold you back at all.
Before we get started, the listings below are for the series of string rather than a specific model. They cover each tension as well as the different configurations they come in (some strings are available in sets of three, either the non-wound trebles or the wound bass strings).
Savarez 540R Alliance Classical Guitar Strings
The most important thing to know about the Savrez 540 series is that the sets are a combination of nylon and fluorocarbon, with nylon being used on the basses and fluorocarbon on the trebles. This results in a very well-rounded tone, with clear and articulate high-end representation as well as a rich bass response. These strings would be a very good fit for fast paced and intricate fingerstyle arrangements, though because the treble strings aren’t as rich as those made from nylon they may lack the lyrical quality you find in good nylon treble strings.
Savarez has a good track record for quality control, and judging by the user reception there doesn’t seem to be anything that suggests that these strings won’t be a viable option for average musicians or those who perform at a hobbyist level. There are a few reports that the fluorocarbon trebles are a bit slippery when compared to nylon, which means you may end up having to take more care when stringing an instrument with this set. This will be an inconvenience to beginners, but if you’ve been playing nylon strings for a while you shouldn’t have any problems with these strings.
D’Addario Pro-Arte EJ45 Classical Guitar Strings
D’Addario EJ45s are a standard among entry and mid-level classical guitar players, and for good reason. These strings are considered to be one of the most consistent sets available, with reports of quality concerns being few and far between. And while they may not compare to high-end nylon strings they are widely considered to be a very good value.
These strings are made from nylon. The winding on the bass strings are silver-plated copper, a combination which offers a balanced combination of clarity and warmth. Because of their composition, these strings are a great fit for classical guitar pieces of all styles and levels. The silver-plated copper winding helps to tighten up the bass response, though darkly voiced instruments may lack the high-end response necessary to give the treble strings an articulate tone.
Augustine 525A Classic Blue Classical Guitar Strings
The first thing to know about these strings is that they’re intended to replicate the tone of gut. Looking at the model name they appear like they’d be make from gut, but these strings are actually made from nylon. As a result of this, the set has more warmth than one would expect for the tension. Though this may be an asset in many situations, the greatest strength of these strings is also their greatest weakness. The warmth they have can give the strings a warm and lyrical quality that they wouldn’t otherwise have, but when used with a darker voiced instrument they may sound a bit dull. These strings are also reported to lack the volume of other nylon strings, though considering that the vast majority of ensembles are amplified anyway this won’t have much of an impact during a live performance.
An interesting thing about these strings is that they’re one of the few nylon strings available which are able to approximate the tone of the lute. With these strings you can come close to getting an authentic tone for Baroque arrangements. While Baroque and other arrangements from antiquity aren’t widely played, these strings are the best option for musicians looking to play these genres of music without having to use fragile and expensive gut strings.
La Bella 830 Folksinger Black Nylon Guitar Strings
La Bella’s 830 Folksinger Black Nylon guitar strings are one of the more unique strings on this list. The set features ball-end strings, which makes restringing your instrument significantly easier. The set also uses black nylon, which while similar in appearance to fluorocarbon has the tonal characteristics of any other nylon string.
The basses in this set are plated with 80/20 brass, which gives them a very bright and focused voice. They’re a good middle ground between the tone of a nylon string and a steel string instrument, featuring the warmth of the former and the projection of the latter. Unlike the Ernie Ball strings below, these strings don’t appear to suffer from the same lack of projection that other 80/20 plated nylon strings seem to have. However, depending on the quality of the guitar the benefits of this may not be readily apparent.
These strings are intended to be used for folk music, so to get a good idea of how they’ll perform check out Leonard Cohen and Jose Feliciano (both of whom have used nylon stringed instruments at various points in their career).
The only possible flaw with these strings is that they aren’t as widely available as others on this list. So if these become your string of choice the potential exists that you may have to order them online exclusively. With the widespread adoption of online shopping services this isn’t a huge issue, but it will be inconvenient if you happen to break a string. However, you can easily make do with more widely available strings for a time should this happen.
This is where we sometimes present additional items that didn't quite fit into our main set of recommendations but which some people will find helpful. In this case it's a popular set of nylon strings with ball-ends.
Ernie Ball 2069 Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Folk Ball End Nylon Guitar Strings
Like the La Bella strings above, Ernie Balls 2069 Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Folk nylon guitar strings are plated with 80/20 bronze. The tone they produce is similar to La Bella strings, though they’re our Editor’s Pick for this article due to their widespread availability. Ernie Ball strings are available in just about any guitar store in the country, so you’ll be able to find these strings just about anywhere.
The set is a bit controversial, with some reviewers stating that when compared to more traditional nylon strings this set doesn’t have the projection required for classical guitar. This very well may be the case, but at the same time they do offer a good value to beginners looking for widely available strings that they can easily change. Like the La Bella’s these strings do produce a unique tone. They’re a great choice for folk guitar, and their (relative) lack of projection pairs very well with singers.
Things to Consider When Buying Nylon Guitar Strings
Every term you’re going to need to know to make an informed purchase is explained below, and we would encourage you to refer back to this section before you make a final purchase. This way you can be sure you’ve got a good idea of how your strings will perform.
Nylon vs. Classical Strings: Is There a Difference?
Nylon and classical guitar strings are actually one and the same. There’s not a type of string which is considered to be the classical guitar string. Rather, players use a variety of different types (we’ll go into these different types in more depth below) based on their preferences and what works well with their instrument.
However, there are strings which are marketed for flamenco guitar exclusively. Flamenco guitar is characterized by its bright and percussive tone, and strings intended for flamenco are meant to emphasize these elements. These strings may pair well with a darkly voiced instrument, but they’ll offer less of the overtone-ridden and gentle sound that defines the classical guitar. They also tend to sustain less than other nylon strings, making them a good fit for flamenco and some fingerstyle arrangements but a poor fit for classical guitar.
With that being said, even flamenco players use a variety of different strings. If you’re looking to play flamenco guitar strings designed for the genre are a good place to start, but they aren’t your only option.
There are three main types of nylon string: genuine nylon, fluorocarbon (technically not nylon, but deserves to be included due to its popularity) and titanium nylon. To avoid repeating ourselves, we would like to state that the differences inherent to each type of string are going to vary based on your technique, the instrument you use, and the proficiency/intent of the manufacturer. Consider the information below a rough guide as to what you should expect from these strings, not a definitive guide as to how they sound.
Tension and Gauge
The playability and tone of steel strings is largely decided by their gauge. Gauge is the thickness of the string, with thicker strings have a higher representation of low to low-mid frequencies and thinner strings having more high-mid and treble frequencies.
Nylon guitar strings are generally divided by tension. Tension is the tension the strings are under, with low tension strings feeling easier to play and high tension strings feeling stiffer. Compared to steel strings, the difference between low and high tension strings isn’t quite as dramatic, but tension has a huge impact on tone. Gauge has the same impact on the tone of nylon strings that it has on steel strings, but the main variable is tension.
Tension influences the following variables: volume, playability, and frequency representation. Low strings have the least volume and are easier to play, with high tension strings being the opposite. Medium tension strings are a middle-ground between the two.
Low tension strings have more “body” and a higher representation of low and low-mid frequencies. Body is the presence of overtones, so a low tension string will generally have a more complex and musical tone. High tension strings have more high-end representation and more “attack.” Attack is the immediacy with which you hear a note, so the more attack a string has the more notes seem to leap out of your guitar.
Another thing to note about tension is that some instruments may not be able to hold up to the strain of high tension strings. Older instruments in particular aren’t designed to hold up to the strain, so before you slap on a set of high tension strings research the specifications of your instrument. If you can’t find them, take your guitar to a luthier and get their opinion on the issue before you commit to high tension strings.
If you’d like a bit more info, check out this video. It’s a bit long, but it goes into the topic in way more depth.
The bass strings (the thickest three) are always plated, almost always with a metal. Different manufacturers use different metals and alloys, all of which have their own pros and cons. The general rule of thumb with platings is that denser materials offers more clarity, while less dense materials create more warmth.
Pairing Your Strings with Your Guitar
The two biggest variables on how your strings are going to perform is the tonewood the instrument is made from as well as your technique. For the sake of brevity we’re not going to go into much depth here, but as a general rule you should look for strings that balance out the tone of your guitar. If you have a darkly voiced instrument (cedar topped guitars are a perfect example of this) you’d likely get great results from a brightly voiced string. The inverse is true with spruce topped instruments, which are considered to have a brighter and more lively voice.
What About Ball-End Nylon Strings?
Nylon strings are a bit of a hassle for beginners because you have to learn how to tie them, which takes some practice. So rather than learning how to properly tie nylon strings many beginning musicians prefer ball-end strings. Ball-end nylon strings have a ball end just like steel strings. You just feed one end of the string through the bridge, wind it around the peg, tune it up, and you’re good to go.
Nylon strings also come in more price tiers than steel strings, with some strings being aimed at beginners and others at more advanced musicians. Because they’re more convenient for beginners, ball-end strings get a reputation of being beginner-tier strings. Companies don’t launch professional quality ball end nylon strings because professional won’t buy them due to their reputation.
With that being said, ball-end strings aren’t any better or worse than other strings in the same price tier. However, you do limit your options by not knowing how to tie plain end nylon strings.
How to Change Plain End Nylon Strings
Once you purchase a set of plain end nylon strings, refer to this video (or follow the link and bookmark it). It’s a solid tutorial on how to change a nylon string, and once you watch it through a couple of times you’ll be able to get handle on how to tie the necessary knot (generally the same knot, tied two or three times).
Best Classical Guitar Strings Selection Methodology
We looked at all the ranges of nylon strings available from major online retailers for less than $25, and selected the most popular options to take a closer look at. We collected user comments and reviews from major retailers, magazines and forums and analyzed them with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the scores out of 100 you see above. Finally, we selected a representative string set from each of the highest rated series to recommend above. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.