Silk and steel strings are a specialty type of guitar string. They are made with “silk-like” nylon or poly strands wound within the core of the guitar string. These types of strings are usually easier for beginners, as they are softer on your fingers. The drawback of silk and steel is that some argue you lose tone and brightness while playing.
What are silk and steel strings?
Overall, silk and steel guitar strings are not common. Most guitarists opt for standard steel, bronze or phosphorus style strings, rather than poly blended strings. Originally made with real silk from silkworms, string manufacturers now use a synthetic nylon or poly-blend to create a more stable silk and steel string.
How are silk and steel strings made?
Guitar strings are typically one or more strands of metal to create a core. This core is then wound with another strand to create windings along the entire core. The thickness of the strands and core reflects the tone and notes that particular string can achieve.
Silk and steel strings take the same age old style of guitar string making, but is able to weave a silk-like nylon or poly-blend into the core or outer windings of the string.
How long do silk and steel strings last?
Due to the addition of non-metallic materials inserted into the composition of the string, silk and steel strings typically last longer than standard guitar strings. This is largely to do with the silk-like materials inability to corrode in the same way metal alloys might.
The life span of guitar strings depends on the amount it is played, the environment it is kept in, and the material it is made from. Corrosion from the oil from fingers, humidity and moisture are leading cause of a short life span for guitar strings.
With less metal that can be corroded, and synthetic material that maintains its elasticity better, silk and steel guitar strings will typically last between 20%-40% than your average standard pack of guitar strings.
Silk and steel strings cost
Specialty guitar strings such as silk and steel will typically cost a few dollars more than a standard pack of strings. Expect to pay about 5$ more than your typical pack of guitar strings, if you want that silky feel.
This is due to higher manufacturing costs, but also lower demand for the product. This means silk and steel strings can be a little more difficult to find in store, and you may have to purchase them via an online retailer.
Who uses silk and steel strings?
While anyone can use silk and steel strings, there are not many known performers that strictly use this one type of string. Some professionals have mentioned using them.
There is a wide speculation that these types of strings are “tone thief’s” and make for a more mellow tone. While a mellower tone may be desirable in some instances, recording musicians typically aim for a warm, balanced tone when recording.
This leaves beginners, guitar teachers and guitar string enthusiasts as the main demographics of silk and steel string guitar players.
Are silk and steel strings easier to play?
Yes, silk and steel strings offer a softer string that does not bother or hurt your fingers as much as standard guitar string might.
This means that those who do not yet have finger calluses built up may not have as much difficulty fretting the strings on the neck of the guitar.
Silk and steel strings strumming
For the same reasons, strumming silk and steel guitar strings is easier, less abrasive on your fingers. This makes them particularly attractive to fingerstyle players, finger strummers or any guitarist that plays the strings with the flesh of their fingers on their strumming hand, as opposed to a pick.
Are silk and steel guitar strings ideal for beginners?
Yes, beginners will likely be drawn to the idea of a softer string that silk and steel provides.
The advantage for players just starting out is that you will be able to play much longer sessions early, as your fingers will not be as affected during your practice session.
Personally, I would encourage beginners not to go with silk and steel strings, solely for this reason. Beginners do need to develop the calluses on their fingers, and “softer” strings may put them at a disadvantage later on down the road.
You’re still going to need to develop finger calluses. You’ll have finger soreness, it just depends on if you want to get it over and out of the way earlier than later.
If you think you might be able to develop a “light callus” with silk and steel and then move to a standard string, don’t. After a year of guitar playing you’ll look back and laugh at yourself for thinking about finger calluses so much.
With regular practice calluses come, and finger soreness goes away.
Silk and steel for kids learning guitar
This is where I take back what I said about not using softer strings for beginners. Children have a particularly difficult time with fretting the strings on the neck.
They simply don’t have the finger strength and coordination adults do. This means that kids learning guitar often have to push harder on the strings to fret it.
Having taught guitar lessons to kids, the sore fingers part of guitar is a big factor early on. If it isn’t addressed early, they might lose interest in the instrument due to never having done anything like it before.
“No pain, no gain” is a hard sell to kids, and that’s just one part of learning guitar. For kids, learning guitar can be especially difficult as they develop the coordination of strumming while changing chords.
If a child is struggling or becoming frustrated with changing chords, imagine how much more difficult it will be for them if their fingers as also hurting.
It isn’t the biggest deal for adults, but music lessons, for a lot of kids, will be the first time they’re developing a difficult skill that involves fine and gross motor skills.
So, if there’s something we can do to alleviate their fingers from hurting or getting sore, and it lets them focus on practicing, get silk and steel strings for your kid.
Silk and steel strings vs extra light strings
Extra light strings can have the same “softness” effect on fingers as silk and steel strings. However, silk and steel will be able to offer the same softness at higher gauges of string.
Just like with silk and steel, extra light guitar strings might not have the ideal guitar sound for you. Both types of strings have a more mellow sound, than the sound you might get from standard strings.
Just know that extra light guitar strings do play differently than more standard gauges of string. this means that you may accidentally bend strings out of the correct tune without knowing.
Can you put silk and steel strings on an acoustic guitar
Yes, silk and steel guitar strings will be able to be put on most guitars. The main consideration would be that the tension works for your guitar. silk and steel strings tune up at lower tension than their metal counterparts.
Can you put silk and steel strings on a classical guitar
Yes, classical guitars will be able to be strung with silk and steel strings, provided the classical bridge accepts them.
You’ll likely need to ensure that your classical guitar can take “ball-end” style strings. If your classical guitar bridge cannot take ball-end strings then you will likely be unable to string them to your guitar.
You will not be able to tie silk and steel guitar strings to your bridge like traditional classical guitar strings, made of nylon.
Silk and steel strings for 12 string guitar
Silk and steel strings shine on 12 string guitars. The perceived loss in tone is hidden by the complexity of all 12 strings offering a brighter less mellow sound.
The ease of fretting and strumming offered by these strings is much appreciated at the 12 string guitar level. Silk and steel guitar strings are great for 12 string guitars.
What are the best silk and steel strings
There is no right answer, however, I recommend trying a few sets from a variety of top manufacturers.
Just like with any type of strings, or even guitars, there is no “best”, just personal preferences. So, try out as many different types as you can and if you don’t enjoy them, opt for something else!
Heavy gauge silk and steel strings
Heavy gauge strings are notorious for being harder on your fingers. Silk and steel strings might help curb that.
If I were looking to put silk and steel strings on one of my own guitars, I would look for a medium to heavy gauge. This will help keep the loss in tone down to a minimum and offer a better playing experience for myself, your mileage may differ.
Light and extra light gauge strings
I personally would avoid light and especially extra light silk and steel strings. You’ll lose more tone and not receive much more benefit than if you had traditional light strings.
As I mentioned above, silk and steel offers a lot of the same benefits of an easier feel of playing, just like with light or extra light gauge strings.
Adding the two together does not offer compounding benefits, but does yield compounding negatives, like lose of tone.
Try them out and see for yourself, however, when it comes to your guitar, your preferences outweigh mine.