For electric guitar players looking to mellow out their tone or emulate the sound of a classical guitar, trying nylon strings may seem tempting. But is it a good idea to use nylon strings on an electric guitar?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at the pros and cons of using nylon strings on an electric guitar and examine different options for getting a smoother nylon-like tone from your electric axe.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While possible, using true nylon classical guitar strings on an electric solid body guitar is generally not recommended. Nylon strings have a lower tension that most electric guitars are not designed for.
However, there are options like nylon-wrapped strings and affected pedals that can mimic a nylon tone while keeping the right string tension for your electric guitar.
Challenges of Using Nylon Strings on Electric Guitars
Lower Tension Can Cause Intonation and Structural Problems
One of the main challenges of using nylon strings on electric guitars is the lower tension compared to steel strings. Nylon strings have less tension, which can cause intonation and structural problems. The lower tension can lead to a buzzing sound or improper pitch when playing certain notes.
This can be particularly noticeable when playing higher frets or bending strings. The lower tension can also put less pressure on the guitar’s neck, which may result in a warped neck or other structural issues over time.
Lack of Bite and Brightness in Tone
Nylon strings are known for producing a warm and mellow tone, which is great for classical or fingerstyle guitar playing. However, when used on an electric guitar, the lack of bite and brightness in the tone may be a disadvantage for some players.
Electric guitars are typically associated with a more aggressive and cutting sound, and nylon strings may not provide the same level of brightness and clarity as steel strings. The lack of bite can affect the overall presence and projection of the sound when playing through an amplifier or in a band setting.
Other Setup Issues
Using nylon strings on an electric guitar can also present setup issues. The wider width and different tension of nylon strings can require adjustments to the guitar’s nut, bridge, and truss rod. The nut slots may need to be filed wider to accommodate the thicker nylon strings, and the bridge saddles may need to be adjusted for proper intonation.
Additionally, the truss rod may need to be adjusted to compensate for the different string tension and prevent neck bowing or other problems. These setup adjustments may require the assistance of a professional guitar technician.
Getting a Smooth Nylon Tone from an Electric Guitar
While nylon strings are typically associated with classical or acoustic guitars, some guitarists may be interested in achieving a smooth nylon tone on their electric guitar. This can be a unique and refreshing sound that adds versatility to your playing style.
Here are a few ways to achieve a nylon-like tone on your electric guitar:
Nylon-Wrapped Electric Guitar Strings
One option is to use nylon-wrapped electric guitar strings. These strings are designed specifically for electric guitars but have a nylon outer wrap, giving them a similar feel and tonal quality to classical guitar strings.
They are typically easier on the fingers compared to traditional steel strings, making them a good choice for players who prefer a softer touch.
Pro tip: When using nylon-wrapped electric guitar strings, it’s important to note that they may have a slightly lower output compared to regular electric guitar strings. This can affect the overall volume and sustain of your instrument.
Using a Modeling Amp or Effects Pedals
Another way to achieve a smooth nylon tone on your electric guitar is by using a modeling amp or effects pedals. These devices simulate the sound of different types of guitars and can replicate the characteristics of a nylon-string guitar.
By selecting a nylon guitar model or applying specific effects, such as reverb or chorus, you can enhance the tone and make it sound more like a classical guitar.
Did you know? Many modern modeling amps and effects pedals offer a wide range of options, allowing you to experiment with different tones and textures. This gives you the flexibility to create a nylon-like sound or explore other unique sounds.
Adjusting Amp Settings and EQ
Lastly, you can try adjusting the settings on your amplifier or using EQ (equalization) to shape the tone of your electric guitar. By reducing the treble and increasing the bass frequencies, you can mimic the warmer and mellower sound of nylon strings.
Experimenting with the tone knobs on your amp or using a graphic EQ pedal can help you find the right balance and achieve a more authentic nylon tone.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations of amp settings and EQ adjustments until you find the desired nylon-like tone. Every guitar and setup is unique, so it may take some trial and error to achieve the perfect sound.
Considerations by Electric Guitar Type
Solid Body Electrics
When it comes to using nylon strings on solid body electric guitars, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, it is important to note that solid body electric guitars are typically designed to be played with steel strings.
Nylon strings have a different tension and feel, which can affect the overall sound and playability of the instrument. While some guitarists may experiment with nylon strings on solid body electrics for a unique sound, it is not the most common practice.
One of the main considerations with using nylon strings on solid body electric guitars is the potential impact on the instrument’s tone. Nylon strings tend to produce a softer, mellower sound compared to steel strings.
This can result in a loss of the characteristic brightness and sustain that solid body electric guitars are known for. However, some guitarists may prefer this softer tone for certain styles of music or specific songs.
Another factor to consider is the playability of the instrument. Nylon strings have a lower tension compared to steel strings, which can make them easier to play for some guitarists. This can be particularly beneficial for beginners or players with sensitive fingers.
However, it is worth noting that the lower tension may also result in a reduction in the overall volume and projection of the guitar.
Semi-Hollow or Hollow Body Electrics
Using nylon strings on semi-hollow or hollow body electric guitars can offer a different sonic experience compared to solid body electrics. These types of guitars are known for their warm, resonant tones, and nylon strings can further enhance this characteristic.
One advantage of using nylon strings on semi-hollow or hollow body electrics is the increased sustain and resonance. Nylon strings vibrate differently than steel strings, allowing the guitar to produce a rich, full-bodied sound with longer sustain.
This can be particularly appealing for jazz, classical, or world music styles.
However, it is important to consider the potential feedback issues that can arise when using nylon strings on semi-hollow or hollow body electrics. The hollow or semi-hollow construction of these guitars makes them more prone to feedback at high volumes.
Nylon strings, with their lower tension and softer tone, may exacerbate this feedback issue. It is recommended to experiment with different string gauges and techniques to find a balance between the desired tone and minimizing feedback.
Electric-acoustic guitars are designed to be played both acoustically and amplified. They feature built-in pickups and preamps, allowing the player to easily transition between unplugged and amplified performances.
When it comes to using nylon strings on electric-acoustic guitars, there are a few important considerations.
One advantage of using nylon strings on electric-acoustic guitars is the versatility they offer. Nylon strings can produce a warm, mellow tone when played acoustically, and they can also be amplified for live performances or recording purposes.
This versatility makes electric-acoustic guitars a great choice for guitarists who enjoy playing a wide range of musical styles.
However, it is worth noting that the built-in pickups and preamps in electric-acoustic guitars are typically designed to work best with steel strings. Nylon strings have a different tension and output, which may require adjustments to the guitar’s electronics for optimal sound quality.
It is recommended to consult a professional guitar technician or luthier to ensure your electric-acoustic guitar is properly set up for nylon strings.
While putting true nylon classical strings on a solid body electric guitar is not usually recommended, there are ways to get a smooth, mellow, nylon-like tone from your electric axe. Trying nylon-wrapped electric strings, using amp modeling and effects, and adjusting your amp settings and EQ can help you emulate a nylon tone without compromising tension and playability.
Or consider switching to a semi-hollow or hollow body electric guitar if you want the warmth of nylons for jazz or mellow tones. With some experimentation, you can find the right setup to satisfy your craving for the nylon electric sound.