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String recommendations for classical, balance wound/unwound sound?

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by bluesholyman, Oct 26, 2020.

  1. bluesholyman

    bluesholyman Friend of Leo's

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    Recently picked up an '64 España classical which is all solid wood. The low end is wonderfully big but the high end doesn't match, sounds reserved comparatively.

    I have tried:

    Ernie Ball Earthwounds (came on guitar, sounded good, but unbalanced, unwound not as loud)
    Martin M160 - similar to earthwoods in sound
    LaBella Folk Singer (830) - unwounds were finally more balanced but thinner/tinnier sounding - did not care for as much

    Ernie Ball Ernesto Palla - best sound so far, but the unwounds are still a hair "muffled" sounding although the strings seem far more even now.

    Perhaps its the guitar and the top end is just darker. If that is the case, would like to compensate as much as possible for it, without thinning out the top-end sound.

    Would appreciate suggestions as I am new to this classical thing. Thanks.
     
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  2. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    I am not a classical expert but on my personal guitar I have used both Savarez normal tension and their hard tension strings. I believe the normals are 540R but I would have to go out to the garaged and check. This is also the string I put on any instrument that crosses my workbench unless the owner has a specific request.

    Unfortunately nylon strings are expensive and they last for a fairly long time, plus the hassle of constantly tuning for the first couple of weeks makes experimenting kind of hard to do.

    It is, however, entirely possible that you are hearing the guitar more than the strings. A cedar topped guitar might be a lot more darker sounding than a spruce top. It might be that you find that hard tension strings will push the top a bit more and you will get a brighter sound.

    It might also be your technique, particularly if you are new to classical playing. I find that I don't have quite as much drive with my middle and ring fingers when I am playing on the top two strings, you might want to experiment with your nail shape and attack.

    Lastly, setup can make a small difference - the higher your action the more it drives the top. Its a compromise, of course, but again, for someone coming from a steel string world the higher action will take some getting used to.
     
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  3. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    There is one other thing to consider. Depending on the material your saddle and nut are made from you might notice a change if you change materials. I recently switched the nut and saddle in a nice mid grade classical guitar from a man made material to cow bone at the request of the owner. I did not not replace the strings so the only change is the saddle and nut, I recorded it before and after and did some fancy spectrum analysis. The owner thinks she can hear a difference (and that it is "better"), I'm not sure I do. However it is not at all invasive and relatively cheap, might be something to experiment with

    https://www.tdpri.com/threads/boning-a-alhambra.1050679/

    I do, however, highly recommend making just one change at a time so you have a better idea of whether it improved, got worse, stayed the same.
     
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  4. bluesholyman

    bluesholyman Friend of Leo's

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    Will do - engineer by trade, so kinda how I do it naturally. The wife likes "change soup" and then asks me what didn't work....uhm.....

    I listened to that recording and while it seemed like there was "some" difference but hard to tell much with such a small sample.

    I think I am going to take mine to a luthier in town and get his opinion on it, just to make sure there is nothing wrong with it, even though I don't hear braces moving around.
     
  5. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    Blues, make sure your tech or luthier is familiar with nylon string guitars. They are very different from steel strings and unless you work with them you may not be aware of differences. They rarely need neck resets altho it can look like they do, frets don't wear very fast. Bridges do come loose but are straight forward to reglue. The do suffer the same issues if they are dehydrated. Action is very different.

    A very serious problem is if at some point in their life they had steel or even silk and steel strings on them. If that was the case bridge and structural issues are a very real possibility.

    I agree about the recording - I only did open strings because I wanted both the nut and saddle in the picture (and I was in a hurry). I'm pretty much of the belief that the effects are very small, but it wanted to mention because it frequently comes up.
     
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  6. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Holic

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    I've been away for most of the last day or two (with apologies..) so I am responding albeit a bit late.

    re: Nylon strings/classical style guitars

    I wrote quite a lot recently on another thread, if I can go chase that down I'll include a link somewhere following my comments here.

    First thing: know the 'major' string manufacturers (not necessarily in any order):
    D'addario, Savarez, Labella
    Generally speaking, the more you pay, the better the set.
    I have used different sets of each of the above at different times, but lately have tended to use either LaBella (either 2001 'nylon', or their carbon treble set) OR D'addario EJ46TT

    If you're playing folk/country traditional 'fingerpicking' type tunes with the right [plucking] hand, the type of string probably won't make much of a difference to you. (We long time classical type players tend to be very picky and look for very specific things/sounds from strings, and seem to test/change often for the very best sound possible).

    As Freeman said, do be careful to make sure the basic structure of the guitar is intact. Go with even greater caution to a high tension type set (not all tension specs are equivalent and some 'high tension' can have surprisingly great tension (up to about 110lbs total) -- not all guitars (especially older ones) are built to accommodate that.

    For volume, always double-check your saddle for proper fit in the bridge slot. It needs to be perfectly flat on bottom edge with only enough front-back play to slide in/out of the bridge slot. Ideally, it should not be loose enough to drop out if the guitar is flipped upside down.
    Second, for maximum volume from the strings themselves, higher tension will help as well as treble strings made of carbon (+nylon) or titanium (+nylon). Raw, plain nylon scores the least in the volume realm.

    FWIW, YMMV.

    If I can help answer any related questions, feel free to fire them at me..

    Edit: Freeman included the link:
    https://www.tdpri.com/threads/boning-a-alhambra.1050679/
    There is a lot of info about related things there.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020
  7. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Holic

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    This is the most typical observation (or complaint!) about nylon / classical guitars. In the classical guitar world, you'll often hear the phrase 'punch the trebles' -- that is in response to anemic trebles.

    Also, before I write more here, do go and check out the thread Freeman included above. I would also recommend giving his Classical Build thread a good look as well. There are lots of related things in it to critique/analyze/compare your guitar based on a lot of things talked about there. He did a great job there FWIW too:
    https://www.tdpri.com/threads/my-classical-challenge.1036434/


    An older spruce-topped guitar *should* be a good sounding guitar with a decent high-end response.
    It might not hurt (when opportunity presents itself) to check interior braces to make sure all are glued down properly and nothing is cracked or loose. As I said in the thread about Freeman's recent nylon string build, perhaps the single best test of a guitar is sound produced from plucking the high E string. That will tell a lot about how efficiently the top responds to higher strings. Generally speaking, a loud, sustaining high e is a very good indicator that the guitar is a good one (at least as far as sound and responsiveness goes).
    As a reminder, parts need to fit well and be properly seated for vibrations to efficiently propagate. So, always check the most obvious and basic stuff first. Don't take for granted that anything on it is shaped/seated/fitted optimally -- you have to check to be sure.


    If it turns out, the high-end is lacking, there are 'countermeasures' available. I have tested a number of things from the obvious and basic to the experimental and borderline 'goofy'. I wont' include the most experimental (and risky), but just give the basic and most obvious ones. In approximate order --


    1. Change to a higher tension string set (eg; Normal tension -> High tension). Proceed with caution as not all guitars are designed/built to withstand the very high tension ratings that some sets produce (two of the highest are D'addario High Tension (carbon trebles) and Savarez High Tension (carbon trebles).


    2. Change to a different [treble] string composition. Carbon nylon trebles have more mass and are slightly 'stiffer', and produce a brighter snappier tone. Generally, these are slightly smaller in diameter than traditional nylon treble strings. D'addario, Savarez and LaBella all make carbon treble sets and in varying tension grades. Currently, I use LaBella Normal Tension carbon trebles on my guitar. Previously, I used D'addario EJ46TT and like those a lot as well -- the trebles are not as bright as the carbon LaBella, but the balance between all the strings is quite good.


    3. Check and double-check the saddle. To properly 'drive' the top there needs to be a sufficient tension when tuned to pitch. A top that lacks the 'drive' or tension can never respond well -- especially to vibrations of the smaller treble strings (their mass is so much less than the larger and heavier bass strings).

    The fit and shape (height especially) must be done precisely to get optimal sound from the guitar. If the neck of the guitar is basically correct in terms of geometry, it is not uncommon for the saddle to be as high as 1/2" inch or slightly more from the guitar top. Of course, a higher saddle introduces higher tension -- independent of string type/composition -- so, one must always keep the geometry / absolute string path length in mind when doing a new saddle (or nut, for that matter).

    If you DIY, just be prepared to do several iterations and test small changes one step at a time. Your saddle should always be BONE. Synthetic (plastic) materials are terrific absorbers of vibrations (especially of the smaller, lighter strings -- eg; high E). Although Tusq or Nubone, etc. *can* be ok, some players find them to be tinny or even shrill sounding on the treble strings on some guitars. If you don't have a bone saddle in there, get one fit and then try your sound test again. The problem could be as simple as having a plastic saddle instead of bone.

    If you're tweaking/adjusting the saddle, a note about action: 'normal' action on a classical guitar is about 2.8mm-3.2mm on the high E at the 12th fret. 3.5-4.0mm on the low E at 12th fret is considered standard.
    Extrapolating, that means the height of the saddle (off the top, not from bridge) at the high E string will be about 6mm and about 7-8mm at the low E. Bottom line: it's going to look and feel unusually high to you most likely, if you've haven't played or owned a classical before. The neck on a classical guitar is normally dead flat straight (newer ones often have truss rods, but if a guitar is built correctly a truss rod is not necessary). If your neck has any relief of bow at all, then one must suspect that it has suffered damage as a result of being strung with steel strings.

    When shaping/filing the top of the saddle, a good baseline shape to aim for is a semi-rounded profile--much like a fret would appear. That will work well sound-wise. Some people tweak and alter that basic approach, but sticking to a fret-like profile will work well for most people most of the time.


    4. Proper shape/fit of the nut *can* also play into the mix as far as sound response goes, but I would not go looking nor adjusting until you're sure the saddle situation is satisfactorily. If it appears *ok*, just make sure the strings don't bind in each's slot.


    5. Polish those frets. The plain treble strings will sound clearer when fretted against a super smooth polished surface. If they aren't bright, smooth and shiny, they need to be polished. While you're giving the frets a once-over, it might not hurt to spot check for high frets -- just to eliminate such thing as a potential note-killer or dampener.


    Bottom line: little things matter a LOT on an acoustic guitar, and they matter even more on a classical guitar. The 'signal chain' is: string>saddle>bridge>top -- that's basically it. The lesser mass of the strings combined with a lesser overall tension, means that wooden box has to be an extremely efficient transmitter of vibrations of the strings. A really great classical guitar is not easy to build. Conversely, a bad classical guitar is all too easy to produce -- the world is filled with them... /ugh!
     
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