Understanding Guitar Hardness: Is It Just About String Tension?

When we talk about the hardness on a guitar basically we talk about the tension in the strings. That’s the direct result we see, but instead we should focus on the things that directly affect the tension in the strings. Because there are a couple of things at stake here: comfort and sound.

As always, every decision you make when buying a guitar will influence the performance while playing it. And even though we’d like to think that we can worry about tension afterwards—the truth is that we need to keep this in mind before we purchase anything. We can find softer strings, but deep down it all comes down to the externals facts that make a guitar hard.

Most people think that the hardness of guitars depends on just the tension of the strings, which is true, but this tension varies depending on some other factors too—factors like scale, the height of the frets, the shape of the neck or string actions will directly influence the hardness of the guitar.

But if there’s one thing you should consider the most when it comes to hardness, that’s the scale. Guitars with a longer scale will be harder, because with a longer distance the strings generate a greater tension. And that’s something you can’t change after you buy a guitar.

When a guitar is harder, the left hand (if you’re right-handed, of course) suffers more from the excessive high action that it requires. Especially if the guitar has a “U” shape (which most classical and flamenco guitars have). The shape of the neck doesn’t make the guitar softer, but can vary its comfort. (A little aside here, some companies such as Alhambra have developed the “Ergoneck”—a “C” shape neck to provide more comfort while maintaining the hardness of a “U” shape.)

Either way, what matters here is the distance between the saddle and the nut. You can have the same strings on guitars with different scales, but they’ll sound different.

A guitar with longer scale will always have to be harder, because in order to get the right tuning, the strings have to apply more tension.

For example, if you’re looking for a concert classical guitar, you’ll need a harder guitar than if you look for something to play around in your home where the only thing you look for is comfort and a good experience.

We could say the best way to choose the right hardness for your guitar is to find the balance between comfort and sound. If we go off balance we’ll probably end up with poor sound.

But it all depends on your needs. There’s no right hardness, just different guitarists with different needs.

These things need to be considered beforehand so you can be aware what you’re going to sacrifice: sound or comfort.

Got questions? Email us.