Do Small Guitars Need Special Strings? (Solved)

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Written By Musical Scoop

Chief Music Officer

There is no need for special strings to fit and play on small guitars. Small guitars can be fitted and played with strings sold for full-size guitars, but of course, they will be longer and need trimming down to size.

It is possible to buy strings that are marketed for small guitars (1/2 and 3/4 size) but this is largely a marketing tactic to package the same product in different ways.

There are different types of strings that might make a difference to how a smaller guitar feels to play, and how it sounds, but these same differences apply to larger guitars as well.

Throughout this article, we will explore the different strings and what to keep in mind when looking to buy strings for a small guitar.

The major difference, that will impact string choice is whether the guitar is made for nylon or steel strings, and the scale of the guitar.

Why Guitar ‘Scale’ Matters For Guitar String Choice

The main difference to understand about a smaller guitar is the shorter scale. Scale refers to the length between a guitars bridge, and the nut of the guitar. Obviously, on a shorter guitar, this distance is shorter, compared to that of a larger guitar. As this distance grows the tension a string needs to be, in order to hit the same note increases. Therefore on a small guitar, there is less tension applied to the strings to achieve a certain note.

Some people find that this difference in tension doesn’t have the same sound quality, is not as loud, and can lead to issues of fret buzz and other playability implications.

As a result many people prefer thicker strings on a small guitar, to try and eliminate the difference made by the shorter scale. But keep in mind that many do not notice the difference caused by the shorter scale.

Choosing Strings for a Small Steel String Guitar

Sets of steel guitars string are classified in thickness by the term ‘gauge’. And each string packet lists how many millimetres the difference strings are. Strings are often referred to by the thickness of the high E string. So if you were to walk into a guitar shop and ask for a set of “10’s”, you are saying that you would like a set of strings where the thickness of the highest E string is 0.010mm thick. These different sets also have terminology connected to them such as light, medium, heavy etc.

The most common steel guitar string set sizes are:

  • extra light: .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047
  • custom light: .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052
  • light: .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054
  • medium: .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056
  • heavy: .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059

In general, the lighter the strings, the more they can bend, the easier they break, the quieter they are and have less impact on your fingers (due to size..).

If you have a small guitar, and it is fitter with light strings, and you feel like the smaller scale is having an impact on the sound and playability of the guitar (vibrating too much, fret buzz etc), then you could try a set of heavier string, (e.g. Mediums), and keep experimenting with different thickness until you find the one that works best with your guitar.

However keep in mind that strings can vary between manufacturers and brands, so make sure you are experimenting within the same brand, otherwise, some of the variations could be due to the brand differences, not just the gauge.

Choosing Strings for a Small Nylon String Guitar

Guitar string sets for nylon string guitars also vary in thickness, but they are classified in a different ways. Nylon strings are compared in terms of the ‘tension’, usually with an option for low, medium or high tension strings (or light, normal, hard). There are corresponding millimetre measurements that go along with these tensions, but when buying a pack of nylon strings, you are more likely to be asked what tension you would like, rather than what gauge you would like.

Most nylon string guitars are likely to be fitted with medium tension strings initially, so if you find that you don’t like how your small guitar plays and sounds on medium tension strings, then try a set of hard (or ‘high’) tension strings and see if that feels and sounds better.

As we mentioned with reference to steel strings, make sure you experiment with the same brand to eliminate the possible differences that are associated with the brand itself, as they do vary if you have the ear for it.

It will be possible to buy strings classified as made for 3/4 or 1/2 size guitars, but remember these are just the same as the strings you would buy for a full-size guitar, just a bit shorter in length and sometimes even more expensive!

FAQ’s

Can You Use Regular Guitar Strings on a Small Guitar?

Yes, absolutely you can use regular strings on a small guitar. You might find that they feel and play a bit different given the shorter guitar scale as less string tension is required to achieve the equivalent note on a smaller guitar.

You can experiment with a thicker gauge (steel strings) or higher tension (nylon strings) strings if you want to experiment with the feel and sound of a small guitar, but you can safely and effectively use regular guitar strings, they will just need to be trimmed a bit due to their length.

Do Half Size Guitars Need Special Strings?

No, you can use regular strings on half-size guitars. They might sound different due to the short scale. When the guitar is shorter it takes less string tension to achieve a similar note, so shorter guitars can sound a bit different because of that. But much of this difference can be alleviated with thicker strings. If you have a steel-string guitar you will need to try a thicker gauge, or play a nylon string guitar you will need to try a higher tension set of strings, as the strings for nylon and steel strings guitars have different terminology associated with thickness.

Does Guitar Size Matter for Strings?

No, guitar size does not matter for strings. You can use regular guitar strings on all guitar sizes but of course, you will need to trim the excess length. However, you might find that the string sound and play different on a smaller guitar, so you can experiment with different string thicknesses to see which set sounds and plays the best on the guitar that you have.