While we're tackling the complicated, murky, and forboding world of guitar strings (dun dun DUN!) the next couple of weeks, and before we get into electric strings, I think it's worth a mid-week "mini-blog" to cover some ground on the subject of nylon strings. Yesterday, we covered the general territory around steel-string acoustic guitars, but something that I notice often enough in this job is a common confusion concerning the difference between steel-string acoustics and nylon acoustics (or, classical guitars). And I don't blame anyone for being confused because it can be a little tricky if you haven't committed your soul to the guitar god (yet). The differences aren't always apparent. For instance:
This is a standard dreadnought acoustic guitar, and most people are referring to this type of guitar when they say it is an "acoustic" guitar. It has steel-strings, usually a 24 1/2 to 25 1/2 inch scale length, a thinner neck, metal tuning machines, and a pickguard. It is also comparatively larger in all around size to a classical/nylon-string guitar. Oh, speak of the devil...
Notice the immediate differences: different kind of headstock, smaller body, no pickguard, thicker neck, different kind of bridge, so on and so forth. Classical guitars tend to feel lighter, sound gentler and mellower, and are somewhat more compact in the general sense. They are also a much older type of guitar, hence the name "classical". They can also be referred to as "folk", "traditional", or "Spanish" guitars.
But even still, the difference in string-type doesn't totally confirm which guitar is which. The secret? Tuning machines! Even contemporary steel-string, folk-guitars can look almost exactly like a classical. The way you can be sure of the difference is whether or not the winding-posts inside the headstock are either steel or plastic. If the posts are plastic, you can be pretty dang sure you've got a classical guitar.
Which requires...dat-da-da-DAAH...nylon strings!
From Guts to Glory...and then sometimes back to guts:
Classical guitars (and their predecessors) have been around quite a long time. It is widely accepted that this specific kind of instrument (or something inherently like it) has been around since the Renaissance and Baroque Period. And if you know something about the early 16th Century, you'll know they weren't exactly rolling around in plastics and nylon mono-filaments at the time. So, what do you use to string up an instrument? Everyone! On the count of three, scream at your computer screen what you think guitar strings were made out of back in the day. Ready? One. Two...THREE!
If you screamed "SHEEP INTESTINES" just now at your computer, congratulations on two levels: 1) you've creeped out/confused everyone within hearing distance of you, and 2) You're absolutely correct. The instestines of the sheep (or cow, or cat, or...alligator?), or sheep-gut, or just plain "gut", is the oldest known way of stringing up an instrument (that goes for harps, hurdy-gurdies, and lutes, too). But nowadays, it's pretty rare to see even the most committed of traditional guitarists use "gut" strings (though there's still a niche' market out there and there are still "string purists" that prefer the gory, sheepy violence of traditional strings). These days, most people use nylon strings or silver/gold-wrapped strings with a nylon core. They tend to sound better longer and last much longer than age-old sheep innards, plus they're more efficiently manufactured (and require at least a little less blood. Probably).
At Bigfoot, here's what we offer in the way of nylon strings, in order of fancy-pantsiness:
Darco Classic Guitar Strings (Ball and Tie End) at $6.99:
When it comes to restringing a classical guitar, you've got two options: you can either go with the traditional tie-end strings (which are plain on both ends, though occasionally tapered on the tuning-end), or ball-end strings. Difference being, tie-end are fastened to the bridge with something like a timber-hitch knot (Boy Scouts of America, do I now offically have your endorsement?), whereas ball-end simply slide through the bridge like normal ball-end strings. Basically, the choice is convenience versus traditionalism, depending on what you want. I often recommend ball-end strings to those who are just learning classical because it saves you time, effort, and a lot of curse words (if you're like me), or if you want an easy transition from contemporary guitar to classical. Darco strings tend to be excellent budget strings, excellent for people who like to experiment with their options without breaking the bank.
D'addario Pro-Arté EJ45's ($11.03):
The most common nylon string set up involves three plain clear-nylon strings (the little e, b, and g) for clarity's sake, and then the lower three strings are wound with usually something like silver-plated copper, or "gold-plated" (really, just bronze-plated) nylon winds. Think of it as being analogous to electric guitar strings which have the lower three strings often wound, and the upper strings plain. In the case ofthe EJ45's, the lower three strings are silver-plated nylon with clear nylon for the upper strings. Very pretty, very bright, very gentle. These guys are kind of our "best-bang-for-your-buck" classical strings, and our in-shop guitars are strung primarily with these.
Savarez 520 P's ($16.75):
Bigfoot offers these French-made traditional strings as our higher-end string. Why are they higher-end? They're a little more, well, fancy. This is mianly due to the general craftsmanship of the strings as well as a specific kind of manufacturing process in which the little "e" string is shorn down into a particular diameter and guage from what is usually just a stock nylon-string shape. This is known as "rectified nylon" and is, like I said, fancy! This arguably gives the string a more precise, mellow sound and keeps the general tone of the whole thing a certain way. Again, what's that certain way? The fancy way, mona mi! Silver-wound, high-tension, and about as traditional as you can get without getting your hands all...sheepy.