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I have a hollowbody electric guitar on which I put some ball-end nylon strings as an experiment and tuned to by preferred tuning (G-D-d-f-g#-b). I really liked the distinction in sound between the "boomy" wound strings and the "harp-like" unwound strings, but would like to have the fourth string sound match the upper four rather than the bottom two.

I've purchased a second set of ball-end strings and put the third string from that second set onto the guitar's fourth string (tuned down a minor third from its designed pitch) and it sounds good, but since it's tension is only about 2/3 that of the third string it's a bit "floppy".

Steel string sets publish the gauges of the strings included, and within a category of strings one can usually figure that tension is roughly proportional to the square of the gauge (wound strings of a given gauge are looser than unwound); I've not seen such figures published for nylon strings.

Are there any recommended approaches when selecting nylon strings for alternate tunings? I would guess that combining strings from a few different sets (my guitar seems amenable to either ball-end or loop-end) would be the best approach, but I don't know different strings in different sets would compare, or whether the strings from different sets would have similar sounds.

Even though nylon strings aren't terribly expensive, they do have a significant break-in period, so it would be helpful to figure out a good combination of strings without having to try too many different ones.

I don't have a huge desire to file the nut or the bridge on my guitar, but even with a stock set of nylon strings I'm happier with the way it plays than I ever was with any other strings I tried it (for either standard tuning or my alternative one) so I don't particularly expect to go back to steel strings with it. If the best unwound string for the fourth spot would be larger than an ordinary steel 4th string, I wouldn't mind committing the guitar to such usage.

  • What kind of pickups does the guitar have? Normal electric guitar pickups won't pick up the sound of nylon strings. – Bob Broadley Dec 26 '14 at 19:51
  • @BobBroadley: Like many hollowbody electrics, it has acoustical pickups. The nylon strings are quieter than steel strings, but when using amplification it's not necessary that the guitar itself be very loud. – supercat Dec 26 '14 at 20:00
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You should consult the D'Addario string company's extensive charts on different string gauges for alternate tunings. It covers steel strings and nylon strings, for guitar and more. Check it out.

D'Addario Catalog Supplement/ String Tension Specifications/ A complete technical reference for fretted instrument string tensions

  • Thanks. I'd seen the chart, but for whatever reason not noticed the nylon strings. The ball-end strings are given part numbers that look like steel-string gauges, but most nylon strings are given part numbers that look like a set designator plus the "normal" position (1-3 for unwound; 4-6 for wound) except that the "Rectified clear nylon" part of the chart has strings numbered consecutively (but I have no idea of the diameter). – supercat Dec 29 '14 at 17:54
  • None of the charts for unwound nylon go down to "d"; should I figure it will be a quarter the tension of "d'"? The largest unit weight I see for unwound is .00004795 which is not hugely bigger than their ball-end sets, but might help a little. Do you have any idea how black nylon compares in density with clear? – supercat Dec 29 '14 at 18:07
  • If there are no unwound nylon strings that go down to "d", then it's because the manufacturers have not found a satisfactory way to make one, and the "d" strings need to be wound. – user1044 Dec 29 '14 at 20:38
  • I like the sound of the string I'm using for the "D" better than I like the sound of a wound fourth string; I would estimate that a J3103 would require a tension of about 7.2, which would be far less excessively loose than some other tensions the table gives. If there aren't any unwound strings that are much heavier than what I'm using, I'd rather use what I have than use a wound string, but if I could find an unwound string that would be nice. Normal tuning uses a 3+3 split I think to ensure that even a "D" chord will have a boomy-sounding bass, but... – supercat Dec 29 '14 at 21:00
  • ...my chords always combine one or both of the bottom two strings with the top four. I wonder if there are any other instruments which use unwound nylon strings of a heavier gauge and suitable length which could be adapted to a guitar? I doubt fishing line would be sufficiently uniform to really work well, but it would seem possible; not sure how I'd select one, though. – supercat Dec 29 '14 at 21:07

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