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Learning and playing the guitar can be a gratifying experience. Whether you are working towards becoming a world-touring musician, want to play here and there as a hobby, or anything in between, the guitar is a fun and challenging instrument to learn.
While very rewarding, learning and playing an instrument can have some downsides, most notably the potential for aches and pains from repetitive movements over time. The wrists and fingertips are two of the most common areas susceptible to these aches and pains.
The fingertips, particularly those on the hand pressing down the strings (unless you are a fingerstyle player), can become sore and even develop blisters with a lot of playing.
Eventually, with enough playing, you will develop calluses on your fingertips, which help prevent or reduce the soreness you might experience while playing. However, if you are just starting or are returning to playing after a long break, there is a good chance you won’t have those calluses.
One way to ease your way into playing is by choosing strings that are easier on the fingers and are less likely to hurt.
So, which strings are easiest on the fingers?
Overall, nylon strings are the strings that are easiest on the fingers. Nylon strings are made primarily with nylon, while other guitar strings are often steel or nickel. Another option includes opting for strings that are specifically designed to be extra soft on the fingers. Lighter gauged strings will also be easier on the fingers than heavier gauged options.
Let’s take a closer look at some string options that are the easiest on the fingers.
The strings that are the easiest on the fingers are nylon strings. There is quite a substantial difference between the feel of nylon versus regular guitar strings and what they are made of. The material of the strings is, of course, what makes nylon strings much easier on the fingers.
Traditionally (before 1948), according to the Maestros of the Guitar website, classical guitar strings were made largely from the intestines of sheep or cows. However, since the development of nylon strings, gut guitar strings have fallen out of favor, and not many companies are still producing them.
Nylon strings feel much softer than steel or nickel strings, which is excellent for beginners as it allows you to play longer without hurting your fingertips. Over time, guitar players will build up callouses on the fingertips, which helps the strings not hurt as much, but until that happens, softer strings are a great way to keep practicing.
Nylon strings differ from other guitar strings in that the three bass strings are typically made differently than the three treble strings. The three bass strings are the lower three strings (E-A-D if using standard tuning), and the three treble strings are the three higher strings (G-B-E).
The modern classical guitar strings now feature nylon on the three treble strings and a nylon core wrapped in silver-plated bronze or copper wire for the three lower strings.
The three lower strings sometimes get mistaken as steel or nickel string. As you can see on my classical guitar, the lower three strings look quite different from the three higher strings.
Unfortunately, nylon strings are typically only found on classical guitars, which means that for many players, nylon strings might not be an option.
Theoretically, putting nylon strings on a traditional (steel string) acoustic guitar may be possible. Still, several issues arise, making doing this difficult and sometimes even impossible.
One of the biggest issues is that nylon strings are often tied onto the bridge of classical guitars, according to Taylor Guitars, as opposed to the method on most other acoustic guitars, where the strings are held in place by pins on the bridge. These strings have a ball end that helps to anchor them to the bridge underneath the pins.
There are also issues with nylon strings staying in tune when they are not in the correct setup they are intended for.
However, the good news is that there are nylon strings that are made with the ball end so that they can be played on regular acoustic guitars. These are known as nylon ball end strings.
Nylon Ball End Strings
Nylon Ball End Strings, also often referred to and marketed as folk strings, get their name because they are often associated with guitar players that play folk-style music. In this case, it is usually referring to as American folk music, but that is just a small section of folk music worldwide.
Nylon Ball End Strings are virtually the same as regular nylon strings found on classical guitars. The only real difference is that they come with a ball end, which allows them to be easily put on standard acoustic guitars that use pins to keep the strings in place on the bridge.
These are great options for players who own a standard acoustic guitar but are looking for strings that are easier on the fingers. When I first started playing, I wish I had known about these strings, as I often struggled with my fingertips getting sore and having to take a few days off from playing.
Another benefit of these strings is that they provide a unique tone you won’t get with steel or nickel strings. (Check out the video I made in the section below comparing nylon ball end strings with steel strings).
Strings With Lighter Gauges
Whether you play acoustic or electric guitar or bass, if the strings you are using hurt your fingers, opting for strings with a lighter gauge is a safe bet. String gauge is simply the thickness of the strings, but they do more than just make it easier or more difficult to play. String gauge can have all sorts of impacts on playability, how well they stay in tune, overall tone, and more.
If you are a fan of guitar playing, you are probably a fan of guitarists who can do all sorts of impressive bending when they play. One way to bend easier is to have lighter gauged strings. Becoming good at bending takes more work than just a simple string change, but it is an excellent place to start.
If you want to learn more about string bending, check out this article, which we dedicated solely to the best guitar strings for bending.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Stevie Ray Vaughan famously used very heavy gauged strings and was still incredible at bending. However, he did suffer some injuries to his fingertips from a combination of his playing style and the thickness of the strings.
Staying in tune is a critical piece of the guitar-playing puzzle. If you are not in tune, your playing will suffer. Many factors contribute to your guitar staying in tune, such as how old the strings are, playing style, and weather conditions. However, string gauge can also impact tuning stability, especially when playing in lower tunings.
Generally, the heavier the string gauge, the more stable you can expect the strings to be when playing in lower tunings. You can see the picture below of two different packs of electric guitar strings that I frequently use. Both sets are heavier gauges than many other sets, which often run from 10s to 46s or 9s to 42s.
On the right, the Mammoth Slinky has a small message stating they are “optimal for detuning.” I play a lot of drop tuning, and I have found these strings to do a much better job of holding those lower tunings. I am also much more of a rhythm player, so I don’t do a lot of soloing and bending, so I don’t need super light strings.
What about tone? Do heavier-gauged, thicker strings sound better? “Better” is subjective, but thicker strings will often sound louder, whereas lighter gauged strings might have a thinner sound.
Check out the video below to determine for yourself whether or not string gauge makes a difference.
Three String Options We Recommend
Now that you have a good idea of the different types of strings that are easiest on the fingers, here are our three recommendations on which strings would work well for you in each category.
There are many more options than just these, and we encourage you to experiment with many different strings until you find what works best for you.
1. Nylon Strings: D’Addario Pro Arte EJ45 Nylon Core
Our first recommendation for regular nylon strings on a classical-style guitar is the D’Addario Pro Arte EJ45 Nylon Core strings (Amazon link). While their history goes back a bit further, the present-day D’Addario company was founded in the early 1970s and has become well-known for producing high-quality guitar strings.
Although any nylon string will be easier on the fingers than steel or nickel strings, the D’Addario Pro Arte line is my go-to classical guitar string.
I opt for this particular string because it is affordable at $10.99, very durable, and the tone is fantastic. The Pro Arte EJ45s are not the top-of-line classical strings from D’Addario, but they fit my needs perfectly. They have a traditional bass with a warmer treble, which I like over some other strings that are too bright for my liking.
The EJ45s are normal tension, and the gauge runs from 28 to 43. They have over 20,000 ratings five-star ratings on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.5 stars, so they’re a pretty safe bet. You can check today’s price and read some of those reviews on Amazon by clicking here.
2. Nylon Ball End Strings: Ernie Ball Ernesto Palla Nylon Ball End Strings
Next up are the Ernie Ball Ernesto Pall Nylon Ball End Strings (Amazon link). Ernie Ball is often my go-to string brand, and these did not disappoint. The gauge on these run 28 through 42, which is about the same as the D’Addario Pro Arte, and they also have thousands of 5 star reviews on Amazon.
This was the first time I had used these types of strings on a regular acoustic guitar, and I was blown away by the sound quality. Check out the short video below comparing the strings I had on my guitar versus the Ernie Ball Ball End Strings.
If you interested in picking these up for your guitar, you can check out the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.
3. Lighter Gauge Strings: Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel Extra-Soft Strings
Lastly, if you own an acoustic and don’t want to switch to nylon ball end strings, you can opt for extra-soft guitar strings.
In this case, we recommend the Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel Extra-Soft Strings (Amazon link).
These strings are in the same price range as the other strings in this article and have over 2,700 reviews on Amazon with an overall rating of 4.5 stars. Again, I am partial to Ernie Ball, so I encourage you to try different brands as well until you find the strings that work best for you, but this is a great starting point.
These Earthwood Silk and Steel strings have a layer of silk wrap between the steel core and bronze outer layer, making it easier on the fingers and softening the tone with the sound falling somewhere between nylon and regular steel strings.
The gauge on these runs from 10s to 50s, which is a little bit lighter than traditional acoustic guitar strings.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out today’s price on Amazon and read more reviews by clicking here.
The guitar is a wonderful instrument to play, but it is a bummer if your fingers are too sore to truly enjoy the playing experience, which is why we wrote this article so that you can still practice without worrying as much about hurting your fingers.
Any of the options above will be excellent choices, and we wish you the best of luck on your guitar-playing journey.
Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.