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Thread: Steel strings for casual player

  1. #1
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    Default Steel strings for casual player

    Hi all

    yes, sorry this is another steel vs nylon strings on guitar thread. I wanted to focus on the particular question of finger tip pain and calluses.

    I have been looking at nylon and steel string guitars, for folk/country/pop/rock. I find steel string technically harder to play and more painful. Due to first learning on ukulele I am more confident on nylon strings but getting there with steel.

    Specifically, i took a break for a month and lost all my calluses, which took a month to rebuild. Currently i am trying to play a little every day, largely out of fear. My sessions are short and i am going over the same 4 songs. Due to a sore shoulder i have completely changed my grip from classical to modern and stopped playing barre chords so I have had to re-learn finger agility. Although, i feel i am not making progress i probably am.

    My question really is, practically speaking are steel strings only for regular players? If i am going to play 1-2 times per week should i be playing a nylon string guitar? A close friend who is a very competent performer now play intermittently due to family and his day job. He tells me pain is just part of playing steel string guitar, seems unnecessary to me.

    PS - i do have a poorly set up steel string guitar but i am looking at purchasing a much better playing instrument, steel string or nylon, and i only want one guitar. I am playing 10-47 non- coated bronze strings.
    Last edited by Davoravo; 03-11-2020 at 09:21 AM.

  2. #2
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    With a steel string, it's all about setup and string gauge. I play a couple different guitars in a blue grass band. One is an 1895 00 Bruno made by Oscar Schmidt or Bay State back in the day. I use John Pearse 80/20 xtra light strings on it. My other is a custom George Thomas 00 with med/light(bluegrass) 80/20 John Pearse. I find a big difference in flat picking between the two. Both are setup really nice so just takes a minute to get used to the difference.

    Setup is really important with a steel string otherwise it feels more like a cheese cutter than a guitar. I think nylon may be a bit more forgiving. I like a 1 3/4 nut with a 2 1/4" at the saddle and a low fast action fretboard. The 1895 has a V neck vs. the Thomas with a assymetrical shaped neck. Neck shape plays a role in ability to play also.

    I personally like a steel string better but more due I'm a bluegrass flat picker. I also enjoy my nylon strung guitars but normally play a baritone or tenor uke instead.

    If you're new and not going to play a lot of guitar, a nylon may be more easy on the fingertips or use xtra lights for a steel string. Most important thing is a good setup by a good luthier.
    Last edited by Patrick Madsen; 03-11-2020 at 10:52 AM.

  3. #3
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    I believe you are right that unless you commit to playing the steel string often, it will always be more painful than a nylon. I have both, and sometimes work on my fingertips (pressing my fingertips on the edge of a credit card) when I know I won't be able to play the steel string for a while. Playing a classical guitar is not fun for me, with the floppy strings, and the lack of jangling. I believe you can get a nylon string folk guitar, but these seem rare to me.
    Last edited by Neil_O; 03-11-2020 at 01:20 PM.

  4. #4

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    Agree about setup. Proper setup will make any plucked instrument easier to play.
    It's true that it'll be easier on your fingers with nylon. I first learned to play acoustic guitar, rather than ukulele, and went through a period of trying a lot of different types of strings. If you're not playing a dreadnought, you might consider trying silk & steel strings, which will be a softer, more comfortable feel because there is a layer of silk wrapped around the core, between it and the outer wrap. Of course this only applies to the wound strings. I personally think you will sacrifice some projection and longevity of string life, but these would be more like soft vs. hard tension. If you're interested, Ernie Ball has an Earthwood line that gets pretty good reviews, and I've tried Martin's version and found them to be comfortable, though not particularly long-lasting.
    If you're not playing at least 15 minutes a day, you're likely to lose callous buildup. Steel strings are pretty much always going to be more irritating if you don't have callouses. Nylons are more appropriate for classical guitar, but you'll be likely to deal with different (wider) neck dimensions than what you see on the steel string guitars.
    Ohana BK-70 | KoAloha KSO-02 | KoAloha Silver Tenor
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  5. #5
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    This is actually a very good question that requires thought on both fronts.

    I play steel string and nylon string, although I enjoy the sound of steel string more. But I love to strum and sing and to me the steel string just seems to suit that better. Although I do strum and sing with the nylon string, sometimes using a pick.......oh the blasphemy of it all.

    First off..........what sound do you REALLY like??? If it is steel are you willing to put up with some pain. As others have said a proper set up goes a long way. I have spent the money and had all my guitars set up by a real pro, huge difference. You are using X-light strings so you are doing that right.

    Ok nylon string guitars, same pro level set up is a must as well. This is something you need to hear, scale length, string type and gauge are Uber important. I have a full size classical, 26” scale length with high tension florocarbon strings and it is not much easier then my steel string with light gauge.

    But the Cordoba Cadet which is 3/4 size having a 24” scale length is as easy as playing a soprano, seriously. Again it has a proper set up with low action and medium gauge strings. When I play steel string then switch to this instrument there is a huge difference in string tension, not so much with the full size classical. Hope this helps
    Currently enjoying these ukuleles : *LdfM tenor, *LfdM 19" super tenor. *LfdM baritone, *I'iwi tenor , *Koolau tenor, *Webber tenor, *Kimo tenor, *Kimo super concert, *Mya Moe baritone, *Kamaka baritone, *Gianinni baritone, *Fred Shields walnut pineapple super soprano, *Kala super soprano, *Loprinzi super soprano, *Black bear ULO concert , *Enya X1 concert, *Enya X1 pineapple soprano, *Enya Nova *Gretsch tenor, *Korala plastic concert

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the great answers. I guess it comes down to how much I REALLY like the sound of steel strings. I like nylon strings almost as much and don’t have a problem with the sound of strumming them. Starting out it is hard to know what I will like or regret in a year or two.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Davoravo View Post
    Thanks for the great answers. I guess it comes down to how much I REALLY like the sound of steel strings. I like nylon strings almost as much and don’t have a problem with the sound of strumming them. Starting out it is hard to know what I will like or regret in a year or two.
    This is a very good point, starting out we can change our minds and we progress and are exposed to different instruments. It’s all part of the musical journey.
    Currently enjoying these ukuleles : *LdfM tenor, *LfdM 19" super tenor. *LfdM baritone, *I'iwi tenor , *Koolau tenor, *Webber tenor, *Kimo tenor, *Kimo super concert, *Mya Moe baritone, *Kamaka baritone, *Gianinni baritone, *Fred Shields walnut pineapple super soprano, *Kala super soprano, *Loprinzi super soprano, *Black bear ULO concert , *Enya X1 concert, *Enya X1 pineapple soprano, *Enya Nova *Gretsch tenor, *Korala plastic concert

  8. #8
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    Also neck is usually wider,2"plus, on nylon style guitars. My old Bruno has a neck width of 2" with 1 7/8th" E to E string width. Using the xtra lights on it. not a big deal. Med/lights would be tougher. I want to give the old girl a break anyway with xtra lights it can handle with ease.

  9. #9
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    Yes thanks, i am deliberately looking at 3/4 size classical guitars and they tend to come with a nut width of 45 - 48 mm (1.77 - 1.8 inch) which is better for strumming although the string tension tends to be lower.

    I think i do prefer the sound of steel string but if i was not able practice regularly i would happily switch.

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