Photos 1 (left) and 2 (right). Images courtesy of singlecoil.com.
Hello, and welcome to the first Mod Garage column that doesn’t deal with electric guitars.
Many guitar players have at least one classical guitar in their arsenal, and a lot of us strummed our first chords on a nylon-stringed guitar. But changing strings on a classical guitar isn’t easy, and it takes time to develop a solid technique. When you have to change strings often, this can be an annoying, time-consuming procedure. (Flamenco players know what I’m talking about!)
I often receive classical guitars with “tuning issues,” though few have actual problems with their tuning machines. In most cases the owners simply put the strings on wrong, especially the plain nylon treble strings. But don’t worry—I won’t torment you with a lecture on nylon string installation—the web is already full of them. Instead, I’ll show you some alternatives and mods to speed up the process while improving tuning stability.
Beginning at the Bridge
The bridge of a classical guitar properly strung in the traditional manner should look something like Photo 1 and Photo 2.
Now let’s consider some alternatives.
Photo 3. Image courtesy of Rosette Guitar.
Bridge grips are short tubes of polymer material that you slide onto each string before fastening it. They won’t spare you from learning the traditional method, but they reduce the chance of slippage. The grips hold everything in place while securing the strings, speeding up the process. Bridge grips are reusable, so no need to buy new ones with each set of strings. The only downside is their unusual look [Photo 3].
Strings with Ball Ends
Some companies offer classical strings with ball ends, much like typical steel strings for acoustic guitar. These strings aren’t made primarily for tie-block bridges, though some older classical guitars, like Viennese and Munich models, have bridges similar to those on steel-string guitars with bridge pins. But you can use this string type with tie-block bridges. Simply protect the soundboard around the bridge with a piece of cardboard, wood veneer, plastic, or such.
The downsides? Steel ball-ends can damage the tie block over time, leaving unsightly dents. Also, you’re limited to the relatively small number of string companies that manufacture sets of this type.
WARNING: Never put standard steel strings on a classical guitar! Their high tension will quickly ruin your instrument.
Many players don’t like the look of ball-end strings on a tie-block bridge. A good way to spruce up the optics is to countersink the holes in the tie block, so the ball ends no longer reside outside the block. But leave this mod to a professional luthier, because it requires specialized tools, and you must work dangerously close to the soundboard.
Bridge Beads (AKA String Ties)
This is a great solution if you want to try the ball-end method but can't live without your favorite non-ball-end strings. Using bridge beads converts your regular strings into ball-end ones. Bridge beads are available in bone, wood, nylon, and other materials. They come in several shapes and colors. It’s easy to fasten them to strings with a self-securing technique you may know from sailor’s or mountaineer’s knots. The beads are reusable, and they’re real time-savers.
Photo 4. Image courtesy of Rosette Guitar.
Downsides? Depending on their shape and material, bridge beads can leave dents in the tie block. As when using ball ends, you should protect the soundboard area around the bridge when changing strings. Also, the appearance is untraditional [Photo 4].