Yes, it is possible to put nylon strings on a Martin Backpacker, but there are some consequences you should be aware of before you do it.
I recommend you try and find a second hand Martin Classical Backpacker if you can. But if you cannot find one we outlay the differences between the models and what you need to be aware of here.
Steel-string guitars are structurally different, so when you use different strings you need to make some adjustments to your guitar to accommodate this.
Throughout this article, we will explore the difference between the two string types, and what you need to keep in mind if you are contemplating putting nylon strings on your Martin Backpacker.
Table Of Contents
Can you still get a Nylon String Martin Backpacker?
At the time of the publication of this article, the Martin Classical Backpacker was not available for purchase.
The only current model available is the steel-string Martin BackPacker (https://www.martinguitar.com/guitars/backpacker-series/Backpacker-Steel-String.html).
So for those wanting the nylon stringer version, you need to either find the classical model second hand or look to put nylon strings on the steel-string model.
What is different between nylon string guitars and steel string guitars?
There is a range of practical differences between guitars made for nylon strings and guitars.
The way the nylon strings are affixed at the bridge is different.
Most steel string guitars have holes in the bridge that goes through the guitar body that you insert the steel-string ends into, then hold the strings in places with pins inserted into those holes.
Wheres on a nylon strings guitar they are usually tied off at the bridge differently.
The tuning mechanism on a nylon string guitar is structured in a different way to that of a steel-string guitar.
Nylon strings go out of tune much more than steel strings as they are more affected by weather and other environmental conditions, so the tuning mechanism is structured differently to support that.
The nut is the saddle the strings sit on at the head end of the guitar neck.
The nut has little slots that the strings sit in. These slots are typically thinned for steel strings (as they are thinner) than the slots you find in a bridge for an acoustic guitar.
Steel-string required more tension to make a similar note than do nylon strings and as such, they have a truss rod set in the neck to support the neck against this pressure.
Nylon string guitar necks are not subjected to the same pressure and don’t have the same structure to support them.
Of these differences, the bridge, tuning pegs and nut are just simple practical issues that can be worked around with simple modifications or adaptions.
But the most important difference is the different neck structures and the presence of a truss rod in steel-string guitars.
Will I Damage My Martin Backpacker If I put Nylon Strings on it?
The difference in guitar neck structure between the Martin BackPacker, and Martin Classical Backpacker is main cause of potential damage when putting nylon string on your Martin Backpacker.
Given the steel model is designed to have a lot more tension on the neck (from the steel strings), there is a truss rod in the neck, countering the pressure the steel strings place on it.
If you put nylon strings on it, they will not require the same tension to be tuned, and the truss rod will be overcompensating, s the amount of tension being placed on the neck is reduced.
As a result of this, the neck can warp, causing irreversible damage, making it unsuitable for both steel and nylon strings.
To avoid the risk of a warped neck on your Martin Backpacker, if you do place nylon strings, it is important to have the tension of the neck adjusted as well, to be set up for the tension that will be exerted from nylon strings, not the tension they have been set up for.
Will My Martin Backpacker Sound Good With Nylon Strings?
It is likely that you will need to adjust the ‘action’ (how high your strings sit away from the neck) of your guitar if you place nylon strings on your Martin Backpacker.
Steel strings are usually set up for quite a low action, whereas nylon strings guitars tend to have a higher action.
Part of this is that due to the different string tensions, nylon strings vibrate more.
So if they are as close to the neck as steel strings, then these vibrations tend to create buzz on the frets. To get rid of this buzz you need to increase the action.