Roman inspired me to write about Nylon stringed guitars versus Steel stringed guitars. I've played both, for long periods of time, so I reckon I'm entitled to a bit of an opinion :)
Nylon or steel is very polarising - pretty much most guitarists would play only nylon, or only steel, there aren't many who would play both, except maybe for a few very specific novelty reasons.
Rather than try to form this blog into a coherent narrative, I'm going to randomly bullet point up my learnings about nylon and steel in no particular order:
1. Generally, steel has a bright sound, nylon has a mellow sound...so if you like bright, you are probably going to play steel; mellow, nylon.
2. Nylon strings are an absolute pain to break in, they stretch over many days. Steel breaks in quick and easily. Never change nylon strings just before a gig.
3. Steel strings are under a lot more tension - you can't put steel strings on a nylon guitar (just in case anyone was thinking about it). This makes fretting "harder" than fretting on nylon. You'll develop serious calluses on your left hand fingertips playing steel, nylon will only develop minor calluses. (By the way, calluses are a good thing). If you are a newbie, steel will hurt your soft tender newbie fingertips to start with. If you are a hard core steel player nylon will feel like big floppy lackybands.
4. Nylon strings are fatter than steel strings. Makes them easier to fret particularly for newbies, again less pain. Generally nylon necks need to be wider than steel necks to account for the fatter strings.
5. Nylon necks are wider than steel necks because of the fat strings, but also because nylons tend to be used more for complex left hand work. There is more room to move around, more forgiving to error. You can play just as complex stuff on either, but they nylon is going to have that little bit more room and you won't need to be quite as precise as steel. If however you have a small hand, a full width (50-54mm) neck might represent a problem.
6. Nylon allows more expression, more emotion (stands back, ducks and covers). Look, it's true. You don't get the same level of dynamic and tone control out of steel with just your fingers. I'm not saying that steel is meant to be played flat out all the time, but it is easier to put more dynamics, note-for-note, in nylon playing than steel playing. The subtleness in tone and volume differentiation that you can apply in nylon is wider, and easier to control. This is high-end skill stuff; n00bs, intermediate and even advanced players are still concentrating on playing a piece correctly, applying dynamics is one of the last things a player really starts to focus on.
7. Steel bodies naturally have a bigger sound and wider frequency response than nylon. You'll never get that huge fat tonal response from strumming a chord on nylon than you will from a big dreadnought steel body. Steel is a natural choice for rhythm strumming.
8. Steel will rip your fingernails to shreds if you are a fingernail player. Fingernails are naturally at home on nylon, and bring even more dynamicism to your playing. As a fingerstyle player, your best bet on steel is to play without fingernails, and build up (and maintain) calluses on your fingertips for picking. Use a thumbpick. Or, Alaska piks are a great choice for steel and even nylon if you weren't blessed with strong fingernails.
9. Bends can be wider on steel than nylon. Due to the extra tension, you can bend beyond a tone even as you are getting closer to the open position. On a nylon, even at the 12th you'll battle to bend out to a tone, and even then you'll need to bend the strings more than halfway across the fretboard - meaning you won't be able to play the strings you are running across - generally, nylon isn't really made for bending.
10. "You are cooler playing steel." Ha, maybe. You can play nylon on your right leg, or standing up with a strap, but the best position is the classical left leg foot on stool to get the angles right. (I'm also "too cool" for that position, but I do know and accept that the classical position is easier and better).
11. Nylons are a good beginners guitar. You won't hurt your fingers as much, nylons are more forgiving than steel and you don't need to be quite as strong.
12. Intonation, and compensation, is crazy on nylon. Because the three monofilament strings have very different characteristics to wound multifilament strings the bridge/saddle/nut has a hard time balancing this out. It's hard to find a very well-intonated nylon string - well at least one that suits your playing style. Interesting trivia: the D string is under more tension than the G string. The monofilament strings are so fat and floppy that just pressing harder when fretting can change the pitch. Performing a chord requiring some deft stretchy left hand work will invariably cause you to slightly bend strings as you reach because they are floppy - the pitch perfect amongst us (certainly not me) will wince with pain.
13. Crossing between nylon and steel from time to time requires a mindset change in addition to the physical approach change. Nylon to steel will hurt your fingertips, you'll feel like you are pressing hard and plucking hard, and the tone will almost sound "harsh". Steel to nylon will feel like you are playing a flimsy child's guitar with elastic band strings and you'll have to play gently so you don't twang the thing. But if you can keep your mind open, and play each type in the manner it needs to be played, you'll get a lot of enjoyment from what each one provides.