I only own a classical and an electric guitar and because I always wanted to play more rock, country songs etc on the classical one, I decided a while back that I will put steel strings on it. Ones that are of course meant to be put on classical ones. But I found that it is pretty hard to play barre-chords cleanly. At first i thought that it is because I didn't play for a long time but now i regularly play for at least 2 month and I believe to have the technique and finger strength again to play them cleanly but it is really really hard and needs an immense amount of finger push which tires me easily. Otherwise it sounds a bit sloppy.

Is there a fundamental difference between a classical and a western guitar that makes the classical one harder to play cleanly with steel strings. Because I found that on my girlfriends classical one with regular nylon strings those barre-chords are WAY easier to play.

TL;DR: Is it harder to play clean barre-chords on a classical guitar with steel strings than on a western one, and if yes, why is that?

3 Answers 3


You're breaking it!

Acoustic steel strings are not meant for classical guitars. So what is happening is that you've used a standard set of steel strings, but the increased tension is bending the neck of your guitar forward - to the extent that the string height is increasing. This is not good for your playing style, and not good for your guitar. Eventually (and quickly) you'll do permanent damage to the neck of the classical guitar, which doesn't have a truss rod in it. You may even end up pulling the bridge off the guitar due to the increased tension of the strings.

My recommendation would be to put the correct classical strings on the classical guitar, and then look around for a second-hand acoustic guitar which is built for steel strings.

  • This is a common misconception from guitarists from anglo countries. Lower tension steel strings designed for classical guitars exist, and they're fine (and relatively common in parts of the world where classical guitars are dominant)
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 16, 2018 at 22:35

I've been playing both on a folk steel-string guitar and on a classical nylon-string guitar for several years, and I can definetely relate what you said : steel strings are harder to play than nylon strings (at least for the ones intended for acoustic guitars).

In my experience, steel string are harder to play for both bar-chords and fingerstyle playing. However, my guitar education was mainly classical guitar. I've only been playing folk steel-string guitar for a year or two now, so maybe I'm biased toward nylon strings because I'm more used to it.

On a side note, if you feel like you need to put a lot of strength into your fingers in order to play bar chords, try to adjust your finger position. Often time, you can reduce the needed strength to play a chord by adjusting your position. Try to have the finger straight across the neck, it should make it easier.

(Sorry, I probably would've commented instead of answering, but I don't have the needed rep. Hope this helps)


Please, please, please, take the steel string off the classical. You will destroy it quickly. Classical guitars usually have a soft wood top and different bracing pattern inside. Steel string acoustics have a hard wood top and stronger bracings. I have personally seen this at a middle school in Chicago where someone decided to put steel strings on a their entire supply of classical guitars used for a kids after school music class. All of the guitars had the top peeling away from the body at the end near the tail piece/bridge. This is not good for the guitar.

By the way, that is why it's so hard to play. In addition to the difference in top wood and bracing steel string acoustics have truss rods in the neck so you can adjust the tension in the neck to overcome the stress caused by the strings and give the guitar a good action. classical guitars do not have this. If the neck of a classical warps it needs to be removed, moistened (like, soaked in water), placed in bracings and re-dried. Your guitar is likely becoming warped and the action very high.

  • Repeating myself here, but low tension steel strings designed to be put on classical/Spanish style guitars absolutely do exist, and in countries where the classical guitar is king, they're pretty readily available. They sound pretty good too, it's a shame they're so absent from Anglo countries. You can literally just put a set of nickel 9s (or even 10s, depending on the guitar) on a classical guitar though, and it'll be fine (and hit a pretty interesting sweet spot between the tonal advantages of the 2 instruments), not as good as the real deal, but still worth doing some time.
    – Some_Guy
    Dec 1, 2018 at 1:39
  • It surprised me a lot when I first saw people doing this in parts of Portugal and in South America, but yeah, it works. And why not; light gauge metal strings aren't actually necessarily high tension, in fact a set of nickel/steel 9s will give you a lower overall tension than most nylon sets
    – Some_Guy
    Dec 1, 2018 at 1:43
  • Well, you've taught me something then. I've never seen it work. And I've never done the math of gauge 9 nickle versus high tension nylon but I will this weekend. I assume that they are not tuned down to a lower pitch to reduce tension either?
    – user50691
    Dec 1, 2018 at 1:48
  • @Some_Guy, are you talking about an entire set of steel or nickle strings, wound too? Or just the two high strings. I came across some mention of steel mixed with nylon. I have to say based on all accounts this is a bad idea, the tension is much higher (unless tuned down), and even high tension nylons are recommended to be kept loose. Can you cite more info?
    – user50691
    Dec 2, 2018 at 2:21
  • I unfortunately lost the name of the company who made light gauge round wound steel strings for classical guitars, I think it was something Italian sounding but that's not helpful. I was told it by a guy in Portugal. Thomastik infeld do a couple of weird creative square the circle sets for classical guitars, one of which has flatwound steel bass strings and is very interesting indeed, I'd recommend it.
    – Some_Guy
    Dec 2, 2018 at 3:05

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