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Classical guitar strings

Impressions and reviews of strings for the classical guitar.

By Steven Rosenberg
classical_guitar@passthejoe.net

I've been playing the guitar for a long time. Since I was very young. I guess you can say I've come full circle, since I now play the same classical guitar I started out with at age 7 or so.

That means all strings I play and review are installed (tied?) on a 1962-ish Goya G-10 classical guitar that's roughly 7/8-size with a 630 mm scale. The traditional classical scale is 650 mm. A difference of 20 mm isn't that much. It's about the same as going from a Fender scale (25.5 inches) to Gibson (24.75 inches). The same string tuned to the same pitch will have less tension at 630 mm than it does at 650 mm. The temptation is to use heavier strings on the slightly-smaller guitar to increase the string tension, which should quicken the response and increase the volume. It's also harder on the instrument. But with the scale length getting shorter and the strings getting thicker, the law of diminishing returns factors in.

I picked up the classical guitar about six or so months ago after a long layoff. I used D'Addario Pro Arté EJ46 High Tension strings for years and years before that. I had a set of D'Aquisto High Tension classical strings lying around, and I put those on the Goya.

The difference between playing the classical guitar (or doing anything, really) now and 20+ years ago is the internet. Information of any kind, in any quantity was harder to come by. I started out in the 1980s using Augustine Black strings because that was what was out front at the music store. I can't remember when or why I switched to D'Addario, but once I started using them, that was it. I didn't change strings very often. Nylon trebles last a long time. It's the wound bass strings that wear out, deaden and waver in pitch.

When I began playing the classical guitar again last year (2019), there was so much more information than when I was in the thick of learning technique and repertore. The Delcamp forum. The Strings by Mail and Just Strings web sites. The string-makers' web sites. Magazines, blogs, instructional sites. There is a lot of information out there.

But it all comes down to what you as a player and your guitar as an instrument (or hunk of wood) "likes."

I suspected that my 58-year-old Goya would "like" normal tension strings better than high tension. I was right. I still have the original tuning machines, and they are much smoother with normal tension strings. The guitar has a lot of dynamic range with the Augustine sets I've been using, and they seem to "fit" me and the guitar.

After a Strings by Mail order, I have a lot of strings, but I'm still not changing them all that often.

I have:

  • Augustine Classic/Gold (tried)
  • Augustine Classic/Red (trying)
  • D'Addario Pro Arté EJ45 Normal Tension
  • Strings by Mail Classical Guitar Strings Medium Tension Tie End
  • Ernie Ball 2403 Ernesto Palla Clear & Silver Nylon Strings

I want to try:

  • Aquila Alabastro
  • Aquila Ambra
  • D'Addario Pro Arté EJ30 Normal Tension Rectified Nylon

June 30, 2022

I wasn't very impressed with the D'Addario Pro Arté EJ45 or Ernie Ball 2403 Ernesto Palla strings. As always, the trebles were fine, but the basses didn't have the crispness I'm used to.

Sept. 6, 2020

Augustine Classic/Gold and Classic/Red — Medium Tension

Image of Augustine Classic Gold and Classic Red string packages

The things anybody likes to see in a string — or at least those I like to see — are that they "fit" the guitar, have good intonation, and feel and sound good.

The Augustine Classic/Gold set checked all of these boxes. My 1962 Goya's aging tuners stopped sticking when I went from high-tension D'Addario to normal-tension Augustine strings.

I thought the Gold basses might be a little more "mellow" sounding, which for me means less-pronounced higher partials in the notes. I didn't do an A/B comparison with the Augustine silver basses, but these strings met my expectations in that regard. Looking at the string thicknesses on the back of the packages, the basses in the Gold set are slightly thicker than those in the Red set. Since then, I've stuck with the same trebles but changed the basses from the Gold to the Red.

I am very happy with the trebles. They are smooth, intonation is excellent, and they have lasted a long time. They sound great, and the tension matches what this particular guitar "wants" from a string.

The basses (both the Gold and Red) are also well-suited to the guitar. The intonation is excellent, and they sound well-balanced. Right now I'm using my right-hand thumb without a nail, and the sound is more mellow than with the nail. I was having a lot of technique issues, and that led me to trim the thumbnail. When I play the basses with my i and m fingers (with nails), it can get a little raspy due to the string windings, but that would happen with just about any strings. I'm aiming to improve this with practice.

Since my guitar's scale length is 630 mm, which is 20 mm smaller than the standard 650 mm, I am surprised there's not a whole lot of "extra" length on the strings. I don't think I trimmed anything. I can't remember the exact period when Ramirez was making guitars with a 660-664 mm scale (maybe the 1960s-80s?), but those would have even more potential problems. For my guitar, anyway, I didn't need more string, but I didn't need to trim them very much either. I'm pretty sure an extra 20 mm wouldn't make it so you couldn't use these strings, but they could make them just a bit longer to make it easier to put the strings on the guitar.

The strings I was using just before these Augustines were an old pack of D'Aquisto hard-tension nylons that I bought many years ago. Hard-tension strings are certainly louder, but they are harder to play than the Augustine mediums. As I say above, I think some guitars respond better to hard-tension strings, but my 630 mm scale Goya isn't one of them. I think it's easier to get different dynamics (i.e. sound levels) from these medium-tension strings.

I have some other sets to try out. I haven't used D'Addario Pro Arté strings in a long time — and probably never used D'Addario medium tension. I also want to try some of those funky Aquila Nylgut strings. Still, I could see using these Augustine strings on a regular basis.

Update on Dec. 6, 2020: The Augustine Red set is still going strong. I still am using the treble strings from the Gold set. The Red basses are still holding their intonation, and they sound appreciably bright. They don't look worn.

I cut off my right-hand nails and am working on my no-nails technique for classical guitar with these strings. Using the sound of Emilio Pujol on the few recordings I have access to, the attack seems much harder, yet more precise.

Update on Feb. 22, 2020: I grew and subsequently cut my nails again. The bare-fingers technique can be much harder than the nails technique. According to some players, you really need to move the strings — in the literal sense — to get the right tone and volume. I have been playing less classical and more steel-string lately, so it's not much of an issue. I did pick up the classical a few times in the past couple of weeks, and the strings sound pretty good. The initial brightness is pretty much gone, but the strings sound OK, don't look worn, and intonate well. The trebles are great, and I probably don't have to change them if I don't want to.

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