Helpful Tips: Can I restring a classical guitar with steel strings?

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Helpful Tips: Can I restring a classical guitar with steel strings?

Whether a family member has dug up a guitar in grandpa’s attic or a parent would like their child to have a go at playing a steel string guitar, we often are asked the same question:

Can I restring a classical nylon string guitar with steel strings?

In short, our answer is always a resounding NO! Read on to find out why.

String tension on the neck

Steel string acoustic guitars and nylon string classical guitars are designed and built specifically to suit different types of strings.

Guitars designed for steel strings have stiff, strong necks with a metal truss rod inside the neck to counteract the tension from the strings. Steel strings put up to double the amount of tension on the neck of a guitar compared to nylon strings.

By comparison, many classical nylon string guitars do not have a truss rod at all as they are designed to withstand only lower tension strings. If you go ahead and string your classical guitar with steel strings, your guitar neck will bow and, in the worst case scenario, snap in half!

Bracing and bridges

All classical and acoustic guitars have what is called “bracing” on the underside of the soundboard. Acoustic and classical guitars are braced differently to account for different tensions of the strings on the bridge.

Example diagrams of typical X-Style Acoustic Guitar Bracing (L) and typical Fan Style Classical Guitar Bracing (R)

 

 

 

A classical guitar is braced lightly to allow the soundboard to resonate as freely as possible; most of the guitar’s volume comes from its resonance. A steel string guitar is braced much more heavily to handle much higher tension, as steel strings put out more volume.

If steel strings are put on to a guitar that doesn’t have a suitable bridge and bracing, the soundboard can form a “belly” and warp upwards, which eventually (or in some cases – very suddenly) causes the bridge to become detached from the body. If this happens, it often rips away large parts of the soundboard wood, which is very costly (or sometimes impossible!) to repair.

In conclusion, we always recommend sticking with strings your guitar is designed and built to handle. As always, you’re welcome to contact us if you have any questions!

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