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    Categories: Guitars

The Ultimate 2017 Guide to Classical Guitars

So you’ve decided you want to learn to play the guitar, but not quite ready to get an electric Stratocaster or a full-size acoustic? Not to worry, we’ve found a top-notch nylon guitar for you: the Cordoba C5, part of Cordoba’s Iberia series.

Credit: Cordoba Music Group

Top Pick: Cordoba C5
Buy from Amazon $299.00

The C5 has great all-around performance for new and advanced players alike. The Canadian cedar top offers a quiet, mellow sound, meanwhile, the mahogany back and side pieces give the guitar a strong middle range of sound.

Based on our research and practice with various guitars, Cordoba has some of the best quality instruments you’ll find, althought it is by no means the only good brand.

We’ve also discovered that classical guitar has quite different timbres based on the woods used to make them. In addition to the Cordoba C5, we’ll tell you about some of our other picks for beginners.

We’ve taken the time to thoroughly research and play nine different nylon guitars to bring you our pick for the best. Personally, I have a strong background in music, having started playing in middle school with the trumpet and trombone. I began playing a steel acoustic guitar around this time, and kept up with all three instruments throughout middle and high school. After playing a nylon guitar for the first time, I was shocked by how much easier on the fingers it was and how much more freedom of movement I had on the fretboard. Sadly, I didn’t get to keep that guitar.

What’s the Difference Between a Classical Guitar and a Steel Acoustic?

The term ‘acoustic guitar’ refers to the way the guitar makes sound via the string vibration coming through the sound hole. However, most people think of steel-stringed acoustics, by far the more common variety. Steel strings and nylon strings are leagues apart in their performance and used for different play styles. Steel strings tend to yield a bright rock-like sound or even a country-style twang. Nylon strings, on the other hand, have a richer, mellower tone more suited for folk music or Spanish flamenco.

Some steel acoustic guitars have a cutaway body, meaning that the body is indented at the bottom to allow you to reach higher frets more easily. The cutaway design can dampen the resonance of the bass–E, A, and D–strings, giving the guitar a more high-pitched register. Full-body guitars have the body align with the 14th fret. Classical guitars, however, mostly stop at the 12th fret.

Nylon strings are also a lot easier on your fingers. If you’re just starting out, expect to have some tender and sore fingers after an hour or so of playing, but don’t worry. Calluses develop soon enough even on nylon strings.

Why Do I Specifically Need a Classical Guitar?

You can’t just take nylon strings and attach them to a steel acoustic guitar, at least not without making serious alterations to the guitar. For one thing, nylon strings tie to the bridge, whereas steel strings fit under the soundboard with the help of friction pins. Nylon strings are also thicker, meaning they could likely not pass through the string grooves on the nut of a steel guitar. Finally, steel acoustic guitars are built for more tension, so nylon strings could easily snap.

Playing Classical Guitar

One thing you won’t see often on classical guitars is a pick guard. This is a piece of plastic on top of the body that prevents pick motions from scratching the guitar finish. This means you’re going to learn to play fingerpicking style, which features heavily in flamenco and it can offer a wider variety of sound than the use of a pick.

To fingerpick, use your thumb and the first three fingers of your picking hand. Hold your picking hand just above the strings, with your thumb closer to the fretboard than the other fingers. Your thumb is in charge of playing the three bass strings. Your index, middle, and ring fingers should be positioned above each of the three bottom strings: G, B, and E in standard tuning.

Keep your fingers perpendicular to the guitar; curving them too much or too little can cause you to play the string and have it vibrate against the fretboard, creating an unpleasant buzz or pop.

Pluck each string parallel to the fretboard, letting it sound clearly.

Keep each finger at its designated string, and try practicing different finger patterns.

For songs that use fingerpicking, listen to “House of the Rising Sun” or “Dust in the Wind”.

Fretwork on a classical guitar is much the same as on a steel acoustic. You may have to stretch your fingers around a bit more to account for larger distances between strings, but it’s good exercise. In classical guitar, players often arpeggiate their chords. Rather than playing the strings simultaneously or strumming, each note sounds in sequence in a given pattern.

Classical Guitar Maintenance

The most important thing for maintenance is a consistent humidity level between 45 and 55 percent, as well as a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (Guitars International). Too much variation of temperature and humidity can cause the wood of your guitar to warp and the seams to split.

You can buy a hygrometer to monitor your room’s humidity. You should also get a hard-body case custom fitted to your guitar and keep it in the case when not in use. The soundboard of any acoustic guitar, especially a classical guitar, is extremely vulnerable to damage. If you have to move your guitar, do it by the neck rather than the body.

The time will come when you have to change the strings of your guitar. The more often you play, the more often you’ll have to change the strings because they lose their full sound and become weaker. Change one string at a time, starting from the bass strings. Changing all the strings at once abruptly removes all the tension from the neck and can permanently damage it. You’ll also want to put petroleum jelly or a similar lubricant on the tuning heads, more of it on the lower strings.

Finally, to keep your guitar looking clean you should wipe it down with a chamois cloth. This is a smooth cloth that limits scratches on the finish. Hobby stores and specialty music stores carry chamois cloths.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Cordoba C5
Has a beautiful rosewood fingerboard and Spanish cedar neck that are shaped to fit well in the hand$299.00
Yamaha C40II
Notes sound crisper and fit a variety of playing styles$139.99
Fender CN-240SCE
This guitar has strap hooks so you can play on stageOut of stock
Ibanez GA6CE
The piezo pickup with 4-band equalizer adds a blues-like sound to the strings
Lucero LC100
Designed as a traveling guitar Out of stock
Lyons Classroom Guitar
Comes in your choice of full size and fractional size, so even younger students can comfortably playOut of stock
Alvarez RC26HCE Hybrid
The 4-band equalizer and pickup help to project the guitar's sound even in the most crowded areasOut of stock
Epiphone PRO-1
Designed with a new player in mindOut of stock
La Patrie Concert Guitar
The body is made of 800-year-old cedar and mahogany with a beautiful satin finish$429.14

Our Top Recommendation: Cordoba C5

Credit: Cordoba Music Group

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The Cordoba C5, part of Cordoba’s Iberia series, tops the list of our best classical guitars based on our research and testing. It has great all-around performance and is suitable for new and advanced players alike. The Canadian cedar top offers a quiet, mellow sound due to less stiffness along its grain. However, the sound gets muddy if you try to play too loud. The mahogany back and side pieces give the guitar a strong middle range of sound rather than the overpowering bass or treble registers that other woods like rosewood create.

The Cordoba C5 has a low action, making it easy to fret. If you want, you can adjust the action by raising the truss rod. The action refers to the height of the bridge and therefore the distance between the fretboard and the strings. Lower action means you don’t have to press as hard on the strings to fret the proper notes.

The downside is that you can’t pluck the strings too hard or you’ll cause fret buzz. This happens when the strings vibrate against the frets, which mutes and distorts the notes. The only other downside comes from the somewhat sharp metal edges of the frets, but you can file these down gently.

Each C5 guitar is handcrafted, using only the finest natural wood as opposed to wood laminate. This makes the guitar a work of art as well as a fine-tuned musical instrument. The C5 has a beautiful rosewood fingerboard and Spanish cedar neck that are shaped to fit well in the hand.

Finally, the fretboard is wider than that of a steel acoustic. While this makes you have to stretch your fingers farther and can pose problems for players with smaller hands, it allows more precise fingerpicking because the strings are farther apart. You don’t have to worry about playing the wrong string and ruining a complicated picking pattern.

At time of publishing, the Cordoba C5 runs at an average of $299, but prices vary. Current price on Amazon.com: $299.00

Runner-Up: Yamaha C40II

Credit: Yamaha Corporation

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For our close runner-up, we picked the Yamaha C40II. Yamaha carries a solid reputation in the music world as producers of fine instruments, and its line of classical guitars is no exception. In truth, the Yamaha C40 isn’t inferior to the Cordoba, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

The Yamaha C40 has a spruce top, which has the opposite characteristics of cedar sound-wise: the sound comes out more clearly when you play louder. Notes sound crisper and fit a variety of playing styles. The downside is that you can’t play softly, because spruce doesn’t resonate as well with lower volume as cedar does. The back and sides are made of Meranti, a wood laminate. It doesn’t provide the same sound quality as solid wood, and in fact somewhat mutes the tone.

One thing to keep in mind about the Yamaha C40 is that the factory-made strings tend to wear out quickly, in worst cases within the first month. It’s unclear why this occurs, but guitar strings aren’t difficult to replace. Current price on Amazon.com: $139.99

It’s a solid beginner guitar, but you’ll probably want to transition to a model with full wood body as your playing progresses. If you’re just starting out and need a cheap guitar, though, this one is the way to go.

Other Guitars to Consider

Fender CN-240SCE

Credit: Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

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In a crowded venue, it can be hard to hear a classical guitar. This Fender CN-240SCE model adds a little electric amplification to the mix and adds design sensibilities of an electric guitar with its thin body. This makes it work a lot better for standing performances; unlike many classical guitars, this guitar has strap hooks so you can play on stage. An onboard tuner, preamp, and pickup make the guitar sound without detracting from the classical design. Like the Cordoba, the Fender has a cedar-mahogany body. The action heightens considerably around the 10th fret, so you might want to lower it a bit, depending on your play style. At time of publishing, this guitar was priced around $400 (current price on Amazon.com: Out of stock).

Ibanez GA6CE

Credit: Ibanez Guitars

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The Ibanez GA6CE has a spruce-mahogany body. One thing that sets it apart from competitors is the cutaway body, allowing easier access to higher frets that you normally can’t reach on an acoustic guitar. The piezo pickup with 4-band equalizer adds a blues-like sound to the strings, especially if you play them with a pick. Granted, classical guitars don’t lend themselves well to picks, but you can make it work if you’re careful about how you attack the strings. Sometimes, the electronics don’t pick up all the sound, so it leads to a muted quality that detracts from the overall experience. It’s not a bad investment.

Current Amazon.com price: 

Lucero LC100

Credit: Lucero Guitars

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The Lucero LC100 is clearly designed as a traveling guitar. Although you should by no means abuse a guitar or any musical instrument, you have to accept that on tour, things are going to happen. This guitar has some of the most solid construction we’ve seen, but the tuning pegs leave a little to be desired until furtheer adjustment. After rewinding the strings at the headstock, the guitar stays in tune quite well. It seems to have a hard time sounding the upper register. The factory strings will need time to stretch before you play them, or simply replace them. This is guitar is also one of the least inexpensive guitars we’ve tested.

Current Amazon.com price: Out of stock

Lyons Classroom Guitar

Credit: Musician’s Friend

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For teachers or music educators needing a batch of solid-performing guitars, the Lyons classroom guitar might be a good bet for you, especially if you have younger students. The guitar comes in your choice of full size and fractional size, so even younger students can comfortably play. The tuning machine heads have a remarkably tight grip, so the guitar can keep in tune for potentially weeks. The Lyons classroom guitar doesn’t have quite the sturdiness of construction that some of or other models do, but it’s a good bargain for a solid guitar.

Current Amazon.com price: Out of stock

Alvarez RC26HCE Hybrid

Credit: Alvarez Guitars

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With the Alvarez RC26HCE, you get the best of both worlds. This classically-designed guitar has a longer, narrower neck that makes it more comfortable for players used to a steel string acoustic. The 4-band equalizer and pickup help to project the guitar’s sound even in the most crowded areas. It also includes an LCD backlit onboard tuner to keep your strings playing like they should.

Current Amazon.com price: Out of stock

Epiphone PRO-1

Credit: Epiphone / Gibson Guitar

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The Epiphone PRO-1 is designed with a new player in mind. Lower scale length, larger and closer frets, and light-gauge strings combine to minimize the pain and effort players often experience when first picking up a guitar. The scale length is the length of the string from the headstock to the bridge; shorter strings feel looser under the fingers. It’s also easier to make chords that normally require supreme finger flexibility. Of course, you’ll want to replace the factory strings with others. If you switch from the Epiphone to another guitar not tailored to beginners, it might catch you off guard and be harder to play another one.

Current Amazon.com price: Out of stock

La Patrie Concert Guitar

Credit: Godin Guitars / Guitares Godin

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We’ve talked about guitars for home, practice, and school, but here’s a guitar you can play at a concert and be truly proud of its appearance. The body is made of 800-year-old cedar and mahogany with a beautiful satin finish, and the gold lyra tuners have pearloid buttons that really add to the appearance of the guitar. The La Patrie Concert Classical Guitar has a mellow, relaxing sound that is stronger on the bass strings. Treble strings sound a bit thin, though. Also, it doesn’t seem to play as loud as some of the other guitars we’ve listed. High-quality materials feature in the construction of the La Petrie Concert Classical, and it shows in the price, being on the higher end pricewise.

Current Amazon.com price: $429.14

 

Sources

  • Basic Finger Picking Exercise. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.guitarlessons.com/guitar-lessons/guitar-styles/basic-finger-picking-guitar-exercise-1/
  • Classical Guitar Care and Maintenance. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2016, from https://www.guitarsint.com/article/Classical_Guitar_Care_and_Maintenance
  • Classical Guitar Tone Woods Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.londonguitarstudio.com/classical-guitar-tone-woods-guide.irs
Penni and TomoeMichi :Hi! I'm Penni. I've been obsessed with playing and teaching music since I was 10 years old. I've had hundreds of students over the years who have at some point asked for my advice on what to buy to support their learning. When you buy certain products from some of the sites which we link to, Hear the Music Play receives a commission that supports our work.Here is an explanation of what we do and how to support our work.