I want to ask acoustic guitar experts, what strings can be suitable for fingerstyle playing on steel string acoustic if I play with my fingers - no nails or fingerpicks. Currently I'm using GHS infinity bronze, but they are very hard and give me a pain in the fingers.

What type of steel strings are more close to nylon feel, which are softer?

  • Growing finger nails may also take some pressure of your fingertips.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 11, 2015 at 11:05

6 Answers 6


Steel strings are under higher tension than nylon, so, whether they are round-wound, flat-wound or taped, they will still require greater pressure to fret and pick.

You can go to a lighter gauge, which will reduce the pressure needed, but your sound will become brighter, and the bass response of the guitar will be reduced; you're moving less metal, which means the vibrations transmitted to the guitar top via the bridge and nut will be less. It also could cause fret buzz because the lighter strings won't pull on the neck as hard. If you have an adjustable truss rod you might need to reduce its tension a bit.

An option I used to use on a 12-string was to go with silk and steel strings. They're lower tension and kind of a hybrid between nylon and steel. Again, you might need to have your guitar neck adjusted with them. And, again, they will affect the sound of the guitar.

I'd recommend going to talk to a good guitar technician and let him look at your guitar. It might be that your current string gauge is unnecessarily high and you could drop to a bit lighter string, change to a different type, such as using a bronze-string, and keep a pleasing tone while reducing some pressure on your pickin' fingers.

Finally, your fingers will adjust and eventually you won't notice. You might want to pick a bit lighter and look into miking your guitar or using a pickup when you need to be heard by an audience. There's a happy balance between getting lots of volume and retaining skin on your fingertips, and electronics can play a good part.

  • I remember reading somewhere that Tommy Emmanuel used 13! :O
    – elias
    Aug 4, 2012 at 23:00

There are no steel strings "close" to nylon. You cannot use nylon on an acoustic guitar designed for steel strings(you can but eventually you'll be sorry).

Acoustic steel strings are heavy and as a result more stiff. There are special techniques when creating strings to make them more flexible such as using a hex core or double wrapping(this is more for bass guitar strings).

Your fingers are going to hurt until you build callouses on them. The same thing applies to electric guitars. Our fingers weren't designed to be scraping and pulling against small still wire.

Either change styles and get a classical style guitar, use fake fingernails, or get used some callouses. You can change the string size a little but you'll still have that problem until you get callouses.

How long have you been playing? If it's a short time then just keep playing. If it's a long time and no callouses then either you do not have callouses or something odd is happening(such as picking way to hard but even then callouses should take care of it).

I have had tingling/pain in my fingers before but it usually happens when I do not play for a while then come back and play a lot. It goes away after a while but I usually slow down playing when it "hurts" to give my fingers a rest. Eventually they toughen up and it's all ok.


Martin makes steel strings expressly for fingerpicking called the FX series (flexible core) The FX640 light is 80/20 bronze, and the FX740 light is phosphor bronze which will last a bit longer


I play fingerstyle on steel strings, have for many years. I keep my nails about the same as would a classical guitarist; just long enough to break across the string as the stroke is made. It's a combination of nail and flesh that classical players find produces the best tone, and I find it works very well for steel string as well. No nail at all results in a rather dull tone that might improve as you develop a little callous... Long nails, long enough so that no flesh contacts the string, are very fragile and likely to split or crack or chip... Some folks have sturdier nails than others, of course.


I have been using the Martin FX 740 Light, phosphorous bronze for close to a year, fingerpicking on an Epiphone (Expedition) and it has, and continues to be an absolute pleasure. I play daily, and last thing at night.


Mandy Rice [email protected]


I play on martin acoustic extra light (the purple package). I play fingerstyle a lot. I advise you to actually try out different gauges / brands and materials. I find phosphore bronze less interesting soundwise. I feel the sound is flat. I always go for 80/20, extra light. It is true that it buzzes a little on the frets but I like it that way. If you play fingerstyle you want flexible strings. I have tryed heaps of strings. Everyone is different so yep, hope this is helpfull

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