Strings and changing sound textures

When I first string up a guitar I listen intently. In a sense I savor the sound’s flavor, but not so much to appreciate it, but rather to register what it sounds like initially. With double tops, I use Savarez Cantiga/Alliance strings and most of the time it sounds just like I want it to, loud with a strong, full treble voice. If It doesn’t work that way, I start looking to other strings to fine tune the sound.

Now strings are not going to make an overbuilt guitar sound like a fine concert instrument, but as I learned long ago not to overbuild a soundboard, that isn’t what I’m trying to do. What I am trying to do is balance the tonal qualities of the instrument to strings that will maximize the instrument’s potential. Let me repeat what D’Addario shows on a string insert.

From the Warmest to the Brightest (treble strings)
Rectified Nylon
Black Nylon
Clear Nylon
Composite Nylon
Titanium Nylon

I’ve found this to be generally true, as long as we understand that we are talking about the treble strings. Generally I don’t care much about bases. A well built classical guitar will usually handle bass strings well. Oddly enough, what trebles are in use do influence how the bass notes respond, at least in polyphony. It’s the treble response that I care about and how I judge an instrument.

I have built some guitars that are so responsive that I have to “dial it down” and replace the carbon strings with nylon trebles.

I recently built a short scale (632 mm) but full size concert classical guitar with a solid spruce top. I knew I’d have to use hard tension strings due to the scale length. I also suspected that I’d have to try a few sets of strings to find what worked best. I started with D’Addario J46 nylon strings and was immediately dismayed that the trebles just didn’t do anything. I then tried RC white HT strings, but the strings didn’t seem to get tight enough and the G string suffered towards the nut. There was also a disturbing initial click I didn’t like. Next I tried titanium, which seemed promising, but again just didn’t quite have it. I didn’t have any high tension carbon strings at the time so I ordered a string I’d never tried before, Knobloch (HT) Actives. These strings make this instrument sing with a nice, full treble. The bases actually are a bit stronger than the trebles, but the overall effect is quite nice and close enough to balanced that little technique change is required. When I change these strings again I’ll try Savarez Alliance, or maybe I’ll stick with Knobloch Actives. I built this one for myself, so I’ll have more time to experiment.