Newly fixed classical guitar strings don’t settle in immediately. They take time. How long? Depending on the player, it could take a few days, a week or a couple of weeks for the strings to stabilize and stay in tune. The frequent answer is it takes a week for classical guitar strings to settle in.
This can be annoying, especially if you’re coming over from the acoustic/electric world.
Steel strings on acoustic guitars settle in faster. Nylon strings take time to stretch out before becoming stable at the correct pitch. Besides stretching, nylon strings also have a marked tendency to slip, especially if not tied correctly at either end. That again makes the guitar go out of tune.
It’s possible to speed up the settling in period of nylon classical guitar strings by:
- Winding the strings correctly at the roller end
- Retuning frequently
- Tuning higher by a semitone or more
- Pulling strings away from the fretboard manually
- Trying out new strings with a reputation for settling in faster
My own experience used to be like this: On the day of changing into fresh new strings, my guitar would lose its tuning rapidly – even within minutes. With constant retuning, the strings stayed in tune for longer and longer periods until after about four or five days, they ‘settled in’.
In all my years of playing the classical guitar, no matter which brand of strings I was putting on, this was my basic experience: I needed a full week for stretching out the new set. Since those days, I have speeded up the process of settling in new strings with some tricks picked up along the way. I can now get a new set of strings into good shape in about two days. And I share these tricks below.
Keep in mind that bass strings are rarely a problem when it comes to stretching, once you go past the first couple of hours. It’s the trebles where the problem persists.
For faster results, wind nylon strings correctly
This is a simple and effective hack. Minimize the amount of string you wind round the tuner end of the guitar. Because of the friction between the string and the roller, it takes time for a string to stretch all the way through its windings. Fewer the windings the better it is.
You can also prevent slippage by passing a string through the roller hole, pulling it back and wrapping the end twice over the string. By holding the end in position and turning the tuner, the twists get locked in around the roller. Basically, there should be no slack in the windings. When you wrap the strings around the peg-head rollers, pull them tight and make sure you leave zero slack. Remember, the entire length of the string stretches including the portion of the string that is wrapped around the roller.
Minimizing the number of loops on the rollers makes the biggest difference. Keep in mind that the whole length of a string stretches including the bits wound on the rollers. So if you minimize the loops, you cut on the time it takes for initial stretching.
Keep as few wraps as you can get away with on the roller. You should be able to get them to stay in tune pretty well by the second day itself.
As with everything about the classical guitar, it’s a question of balance. If you don’t have enough wraps or windings, the strings are likely to slip. Too few wraps and you cause slippage. Too many wraps and you increase the time needed for stretching.
For most people who think it’s normal for nylon strings to take a week or two to settle in, this can be the single most effective hack to try out first.
Retune frequently to settle in strings faster
The more frequently you retune, the quicker the strings will stabilize. The moment you put on a new set of strings, it’s time to brace yourself for frequent tuning adjustments during the day. If you just tune up once or twice a day, it will take much longer than if you retune every hour or so.
Have the guitar within handy reach so you can tighten the strings often during the day while watching TV perhaps. What works for me is this: Once I replace all the strings, I play the guitar and tune it repeatedly until it stays in tune for a short period. The next day I pick up the guitar and bring it up to pitch and repeat many times over a few hours. I’ll go through a practice session or two and by the end of it, I usually find I need to make fewer and fewer adjustments to the tuning.
By the third day, the strings are slightly flat when I pick up the guitar in the morning, but they get into tune with small adjustments. And it’s more or less that way from then on. A little bit of adjustment during the day and I’m well on my way. A classical guitar’s nylon strings (in my experience) never stay fully fixed in tune for days on end; they always require some tweaking.
Having said that, it’s possible to get your guitar into shape in two days rather than a week or more. Frequent tuning really helps to stretch out the strings faster.
You will also find that the basses are more amenable and stabilize faster. The trebles are the ones that keep going flat and need frequent stretching.
Tuning above by a semitone or more
You can speed up the process of settling in new guitar strings by not only tuning them more frequently but also by taking them slightly above standard pitch (a semi-tone at most is a good idea).
On the first day of getting new strings in place, I expect them to go out of tune quickly. This is something that just happens with nylon strings. I tune up the strings, especially the trebles, a bit sharper than concert pitch. By a semi-tone at the most, but usually a little less. Before going to bed, I turn the tuning machines about half a turn more.
Also, on day two, when the guitar is not being played, I keep the treble strings a half semitone up. Tuning it way above concert pitch, like one and a half semitones or two semitones or more is almost certainly asking for trouble. Your guitar is built to take on a certain amount of string tension. Be careful you don’t go past the limit.
Tuning way above a semitone may lead to a ‘creep up’ in pitch. The extra stretching makes the string(s) to go up towards the higher pitch even after you’ve tuned them correctly. Moral: Go no higher than a semitone to be safe.
A more conservative approach is to tune the strings a semitone higher, but only one string at a time. Tune a single string to the higher pitch and over the next 15 minutes or so, retune often till it holds its pitch more or less. Go to the next string, repeat.
Once they are all worked in, you can rest the guitar for a few hours or leave it overnight. The strings will be a bit flat when you pick up the guitar again, but not by too much. Tune them up and they will hold pitch far better than strings that were never tuned higher.
Is pulling the strings to stretch them a good idea?
Players from the electric/acoustic world routinely stretch new steel strings by taking hold of them, one by one, at the twelfth fret or so and pulling them up to stretch them. Videos on YouTube show even famous players doing this and recommending the practice for settling in new strings quickly. How much they pull up and away from the fingerboard is a matter of opinion but the practice of pulling itself is well entrenched.
With the nylon string being a different kind of animal as we’ve repeatedly seen, this practice or its efficacy is debatable. Some folks have tried the pulling technique on nylon strings and are convinced the technique works with classical guitars too.
Others use a gentler variation that they claim works for them. Here, you press the string down onto the fretboard and with the other hand, you lift and pull the string with forefinger and thumb a few inches away from the fret where it is pinned down. Repeat on the other side of the finger. Repeat over a few of the higher frets. This looks and feels less ‘dangerous’ and more gentle but it still involves tugging at the strings in some way.
By and large, folks who mostly play the classical guitar and not the other variants so much tend to see it differently. Since nylon is more ‘stretchy’ than steel, they say, this sort of artificial stretching changes the diameter of the string unevenly. The worst side-effect that is caused by unevenly thick nylon strings is the problem of intonation. So by solving the issue of faster settling in of strings, you now have to deal with intonation issues, which is a whole other headache to handle.
Incidentally, intonation issues are a common problem with some classical guitars. If you face them – not because you were yanking new strings but for a whole host of other reasons – see my article on Guide to Intonation Issues on Classical Guitars for help and solutions.
Coming mostly from a classical guitar background myself and with no ingrained habit of pulling to overcome, I have stayed away from this practice because of its debatable nature. I certainly don’t need intonation problems sitting on my hands where there were none before. Your mileage may vary.
Try a new brand of classical guitar strings
I use the LaBella 500P strings used for studio recordings and they usually settle in about 2 days.
Titanium trebles come up to pitch much more quickly than nylon or carbon trebles.
I use Augustine Regal Blue and minimize the loops on the rollers. The fastest settling in set known to me. I usually change them a day or two before the gig and no extra tuning is needed during the concert.
Knobloch Actives full set and Pyramid Sterling Silver basses/nylon trebles are my other easy and quick choices for stay in tune strings.
Savarez 520 trebles (nylon) have always held their pitch well for me after just a few hours on the guitar.
Aquila Alabastro strings. I’m constantly amazed at how quickly they settle in.
These and other voices from the interwebs make clear that not all string sets settle in in the same manner. Some brand variants settle in faster than others evidently. It’s a world of experimentation you have to decide to explore and figure out what makes sense for you and your guitar.
Our very own reviewer and classical guitarist Mark Cohen recently did a string review of the Aquila Alabastro and he too was impressed by how quickly they settled in. The G string went a little flat by the morning, he said, but all else was pristine. (It always is the G string, isn’t it? Read my article on Why The G String Sounds Bad and what to do about it.)
For some reason, the Alabastro (or for that matter, even other Aquila variants I tried) does not sing well on my guitar. My own choice is the Savarez 510CR almost every time. And I know how to get them settled in in a couple of days’ time.
Sometimes, the best thing to do after restringing a nylon string guitar is to play the heck out of it and keep retuning. It speeds up everything greatly.
It makes sense to change into a new set of strings on a day when you can be around the guitar for a while. You can retune it every 15 minutes or so to help speed up the process. If you are crossing over from the electric/acoustic world, a little patience is required.
No matter what you try, the results aren’t going to be instantaneous. And nylon strings won’t stay in tune for too long in a solid manner, the way steel strings do. I don’t think the classical guitar ever gets into a position where it never needs tuning. Little tune-ups will always be there and I check for that every time I pick it up to play.
Here are some Amazon links to some of the strings mentioned in the article, if you want to check their price.
If you want to explore the exciting world of high tension strings, read my article Why Use High Tension Strings? to see if they may right for your guitar.