5 Best Classical Guitars: Gear Guide
By Mason Hoberg
Considering that most guitarists play steel string instruments, most of us find that selecting a classical guitar can be a bit overwhelming. They’re constructed differently, sound different, feel different to play etc. If you don’t have much or any experience with classical guitars (or guitars in general) it can be really hard to figure out which classical guitar will be the best investment on your part.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how to choose the best classical guitar for your needs you’ve come to the right place! This article will give you some great tips that will give you the information that you need to make an informed decision, as well as giving you five great recommendations to help you start your search!
- Why Would I Need A Classical Guitar?
- Classical Guitar vs. Flamenco Guitar
- What Should I Look For In A Classical Guitar?
- Top 5 Classical Guitars
Why Would I Need A Classical Guitar?
Aside from tradition, there are actually a couple of very important reasons that classical guitarists use classical guitars. The first is tone, which in the classical guitar’s case is decided both by the dimensions of its body and by the nylon (or occasionally carbon) strings used on the instrument. These two factors together provide the warm and balanced sound you find in a classical guitar. The size of the instrument is also what allows a skilled player to get the dynamic range needed for many classical guitar pieces while still being able to play with the flesh or nail of their fingers. On smaller guitars (like a classical or parlor) less force is required to get a full sound, which is why fingerstyle musicians generally prefer smaller bodied instruments.
Classical guitars also generally have a much wider neck than steel string instruments. This is helpful in playing complex passages that utilize arpeggios or multiple strings. This part is actually pretty important, because if you don’t have adequate room to play these difficult passages and you compensate by contorting your hand or fingers into awkward positions you can actually damage your wrist or hand.
Classical Guitar vs. Flamenco Guitar
So this is a quick aside that generally will not come up as you’re looking for a classical guitar, but it should be mentioned just to be on the safe side. When you go to purchase your classical guitar be sure to double check whether or not it’s a flamenco guitar. Some manufacturers do a poor job of making sure that the consumer can properly distinguish between their classical model and their flamenco model.
A flamenco guitar is really not suited to classical music because it does not have the sustain required, even if it does share a lot of common features with a classical guitar. It’s a bit like the archtop of the nylon string guitar world. That’s not to say you can’t use a flamenco guitar for classical pieces, it’s just not what’s generally considered the ideal sound for the genre.
The easiest way to tell the two apart is that a proper classical guitar will never have a pickguard while flamenco guitars have scratch plates as a general rule. Scratch plates on a flamenco guitar help protect the instrument when the percussive techniques common to the genre are utilized. Also, flamenco guitars are not only thinner than classical guitars they also generally utilize cypress for their back and sides while classical guitars will generally use rosewood.
What Should I Look For In A Classical Guitar?
Like a steel string guitar, always look for an instrument made with solid wood as opposed to laminate. Laminate is several thin pieces of wood glued together that while increasing strength limit resonance, which in turn will make your instrument sound dull or muted. Solid wood may be a bit more fragile but as a general rule it will sound much better. Manufacturers are also kind of tricky about this. They’ll say things like select spruce, or premium tops, but if they don’t specifically say solid wood it’s generally not a solid wood instrument.
You can also get away with just getting an instrument with a solid top as opposed to all solid contruction. While the laminate back and sides do have a negative impact on the sound they’re significantly more affordable and the top of your guitar is the most important factor in sound production.. With that out of the way, the last choice you have to make is whether you want a cedar topped or spruce topped instrument. Cedar is a bit warmer and mellower while spruce is more clear and articulate. There’s not a right or wrong answer here, it’s just a matter of personal preference. You can also play any piece on a cedar topped guitar that you would play on a spruce topped instrument, and vice versa. It’s a noticeable difference, but not one that will negatively impact your sound or performance. We would recommend looking up some sound samples or trying some guitars in person so that you can experience the difference in sound for yourself.
Top 5 Classical Guitars
For our lists we try to include a wide enough variety of options that everyone can find a good option. We know that a $1,500+ Cordoba is always going to sound better than a $200 Yamaha, but most people can’t really justify instruments of that cost. We’re not saying that one guitar is objectively better than another, we’re just making sure that everyone has a good chance of finding something they will be happy.
Musicians the world over have been raving about all of Cordoba’s recent line up. From ukuleles to classical guitars, by all accounts Cordoba has really been knocking it out of the park. One of their more notable models, the C5 is widely regarded as one of the best mid-range classical guitars on the market.
The Cordoba C5 features a solid cedar top, and it’s a great example of the warm and mellow voicing that cedar topped guitars are known for. While the back and sides of the instrument are laminated mahogany, the guitar still compares very well to instruments made from solid wood. There’s a stigma against guitars made with laminate as opposed to solid wood, but it’s a bit overblown. A good laminate guitar can perform perfectly well in most settings, and even though it will never sound quite as good as a guitar made exclusively from solid wood laminate construction won’t necessarily limit you in any noticeable way.
The Cordoba C5 comes with a nut width of 52mm and a scale length of 650mm, which is sure to impress classical guitar traditionalists. As an added bonus, the C5 features a natural high gloss PU and a hand carved headstock. The guitar ships strung with Savarez Cristal Corum high tension strings,
The Cordoba C5 tone is generally considered to be incredibly well balanced for its price range. While the cedar top definitely skews the sound more towards warm and mellow sounds, it’s not to the point where the guitar sounds muddy.
Make no mistake, the Cordoba C5 is definitely a proper instrument. All too often companies churn out cheap classical guitars because they appeal to beginners since they’re physically easier to play. That’s definitely not the case with the Cordoba. While it may not be a custom made instrument, it’s definitely capable of carrying you through a performance or recording session. It’s also a great option for the guitar player who’s already competent on a different type of guitar (whether that’s acoustic or electric) and is looking to add some classical stylings to their repertoire.
As far as quality is concerned, the Cordoba C5 is generally regarded to perform very well. When you look at the quality of any model of instrument you have to take a wide variety of reviews into account. Of course there’s always going to be anecdotes where a guitar came from the factory or retailer with issues, but with the scale these companies work on that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The main appeal of the Cordoba C5 is its dedication to traditional construction and materials. Or at least as close of an approximation as can be made at an entry to mid-level price point. A lot of guitars at this price point are made more like your standard acoustic guitar, though they are generally braced a bit lighter and made of thinner wood on the top, back and sides.
However, a classical guitar is not just a lightly built steel string acoustic. There’s actually a lot of different factors that go into getting a genuine classical sound. The bracing pattern needs to be changed to compensate for the different tone of nylon strings, the thickness of the body needs to be carefully considered in order to maintain an appropriate volume without becoming too bassy, and the action needs to be set a bit higher than a standard steel string.
The Cordoba C5 nails every aspect of this. It is a classical guitar through and through, and because of that it’s head and shoulders above the vast majority of classical guitars that are on the market today. The build quality is superb, and the guitar definitely nails the trademark classical sound.
When you’re a beginner or even an established musician and you’re looking to dip your toe into the pool of being a classical guitarist, it’s completely understandable that you wouldn’t want to shell out a ton of cash on an instrument that your unsure you’re going to like.There’s nothing wrong with starting out on a cheap instrument, and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
However, it’s definitely no easy feat to try and find a quality instrument at an entry level price point. There’s just too many companies trying to capitalize on musicians who don’t know any better. Thankfully for anyone who has found themself in this situation, Yamaha has got you covered. The C40 is a great option for a beginning classical guitarist, and this review is going to tell you why.
Considering it’s price point, it’s perfectly acceptable that the Yamaha C40 is made out of laminated wood. The top is a laminate spruce, and the back and sides are a laminate meranti. Meranti is a vague approximation of mahogany, favored for its stability more so than its tonal properties. This doesn’t mean the guitar won’t sound good for what it is, it just won’t be quite as dynamic as a classical guitar made with rosewood or a related tonewood. The neck is made from nato wood, which is another type of wood related to mahogany.
Surprisingly, both the fingerboard and bridge on the C40 are made from rosewood, which is a definite plus. The bridge especially, as a plastic or low grade wood (whether overly soft or dense) wouldn’t be able to transfer sound to the top of the guitar effectively.
While the Yamaha C40 is definitely aimed at beginner’s or musicians on a budget, it is still a fully functional instrument. It has the standard nut width and scale length for a classical guitar (52 mm and 650 mm respectively) and while it may not be made of the best materials it is made by a company well versed in creating and distributing quality classical guitars.
The Yamaha C40 obviously isn’t going to have the dynamic or tonal range of a more expensive instrument, but it does still give a beginner an accurate approximation of the tone you would get with a classical guitar. The C40 definitely benefits from having a spruce top, which enhances some of the high end frequencies which can be lost or deadened by mahogany (or a mahogany stand-in) back and/or sides in a classical guitar.
When graded on its own merits, the Yamaha C40 performs incredibly well for its price point. Though the lack of rosewood back or sides removes some clarity, the guitar isn’t muddy or unclear. It holds up well for fast passages and the complicated voicings unique to classical guitar, and though it may not be very loud it’s perfectly adequate for practicing. In fact, it’s lower volume may be a plus if you’re looking to purchase this guitar for a beginner guitar player, as most beginner musicians don’t exactly sound very musical. As far as quality is concerned, the Yamaha C40 is acceptable. Of course at this level the fit or finish aren’t going to knock your socks off, but there’s no flaws inherent to the model that affect the durability or sound of the instrument. If you want to independently verify this, check out the Amazon reviews or Ebay listings for this product. When a model has a flaw you’ll see a ton of hate for it online, and there will be pages upon pages of listings where people are trying to flip the model because it didn’t hold up.
We would consider the Yamaha C40 one of the best buys you can make if you’re not ready to commit to a more expensive instrument. The sound isn’t going to compare to a high-end instrument, but as far as fit and durability are concerned the Yamaha C40 isn’t going to let you down. It can kind of be thought of as the classical equivalent to Peavey amps and Epiphone acoustics. It’s never going to be a studio level instrument, but it’s going to be a stable and functional piece of equipment for as long as you’re prepared to use it.
La Patrie Guitar, Concert CW QI
Far from a one trick pony, the La Patrie Concert CW QI is an innovative and versatile acoustic electric nylon string guitar produced by the Godin instrument conglomerate. The company has produced just about every type of guitar imaginable at one point or another, and their name has quickly become synonymous with supreme quality at a very attractive price.
The Concert CW QI is no exception to this trend, and it’s no surprise that it’s incredibly highly regarded by musicians the world over. It has a host of great features, and you would be hard pressed to find its match tonally at this price point. Features
The La Patrie Concert CW QI is a bit of a departure form the standard classical guitar. The guitar features a cut away (exactly what it sounds like, a cutaway is a curve where the body meets the neck that allows to easier access to the upper frets of an instrument), which isn’t commonly found on mid to upper level nylon string guitars. Cutaways have a bit of a stigma associated with them because some people believe that having a cutaway on an instrument will negatively effect the tone. This makes sense in theory, but it’s debatable as to how much of a difference it actually makes in practice. So long as the guitar was built well in the first place and uses resonant tonewoods it will still sound perfectly fine. The La Patrie Concert CW QI is also constructed with solid tonewoods, which is pretty remarkable considering it’s price point. The top is solid pressure tested cedar, and the back and sides are solid mahogany. The mahogany and cedar pairing may make the guitar sound a bit dark, so it may be a good idea to look at a brighter sounding nylon string to compensate for this. However, your experience will vary based on your playing style.
Though the guitar may not utilize a standard classical body shape, the nut width and scale length are standard for a nylon string guitar. The Concert CW QI also features an under the saddle active transducer pickup, which will make it a perfect fit for the gigging guitarist on a modest budget.
The Concert CW QI comes with a high-gloss custom polished finish, as well as a tusq nut and saddle manufactured by Graphtech. For those of you who may not be aware, tusq is a synthetic material that is more structurally consistent than bone or ivory. It’s a matter of debate as to whether or not this leads to a better sound, but tusq is definitely not objectively worse than any other saddle or nut material.
The La Patrie Concert CW QI could be considered the gigging musician’s nylon string guitar. It’s by no means cheap, but it’s not so expensive that it’d be a disastrous loss for the average musician. The guitar may be voiced a tad dark, but this can definitely be compensated for with the right strings, technique, or equalization if you happen to plugging in for a recording or live performance.
The Concert CW QI is a great example of the warm and mellow tones that you can only get with a cedar topped nylon string guitar. It’s not quite as lively as a spruce topped nylon string, or even a cedar topped guitar with rosewood back and sides, but it’s still perfectly capable of sounding extraordinary in the hands of a good musician.
As far as build quality is concerned, the Concert CW QI performs just as well as any other guitar in its price range. There’s no widespread reports of the guitar being overly fragile (though in case you weren’t aware because nylon string guitars are built thinner than their steel string counterparts they are more delicate as a general rule), and there’s nothing in the specifications of the model that suggest it would be more fragile to changes in temperature or humidity than any other guitar would be.
The La Patrie Concert CW QI is a great option for the musician who’s seeking a mellow and warm nylon string sound and doesn’t necessarily care about getting an instrument with a less traditional sound and appearance. It also may find a fit with classical guitarists who find prefer to plug in to an acoustic amp or P.A. system when they preform live, as the electronics on the Concert CW QI are perfectly capable of producing a great approximation of an acoustic tone.
The guitar may not be a perfect fit for those who are looking for in instrument strictly for classical, but the La Patrie is definitely a great fit for those of you who dabble in the various genres associated with nylon string guitars.
Manuel Rodriguez Caballero 11 Cedar Top Classical Guitar
Since the late 1950s the Rodriguez family has been turning out some of most desirable classical guitars in the world, and if you’re on a budget the Manuel Rodriguez Caballero 11 is no exception. The guitar has an intricacy and beauty that is almost impossible to find from any other instrument at this price level.
If you’ve been considering whether or not to purchase a Manuel Rodriguez Caballero 11, the following sections will give you all the information to decide if this guitar will be a good fit for your needs and your budget, and it will detail all the specifications, sound quality, and features that go into making this guitar what it is. Also, this review is only on the cedar topped version of this guitar, as there is also a model made with spruce.
Like many guitars in this price range, the Manuel Rodriguez Caballero 11 isn’t solely constructed form solid woods. Though, the company definitely does take a careful approach when selecting the wood for the soundboard (or top as it’s generally referred to) and the back and sides. In order to be accepted into the facility, the wood spends two years drying from the time it was cut down before it’s even turned into lumber. Next, the cuts of wood that will eventually go on to become a guitar are selected based on the grain pattern. Lastly, before the wood is transformed into an instrument it’s stored inside a humidity controlled portion of the factory.
The top of the guitar is Canadian cedar, which is highly sought ofter due to it’s uniquely warm and complex tone. The back and sides are bubinga, Bubinga is a tonewood that falls somewhere between mahogany and rosewood, with some of the warmth that’s generally found in mahogany and some of the clarity that’s generally expected from rosewood.
Structurally, the guitar is pretty standard for what you’d expect from a classical guitar. The nut width is 52mm, and the scale length is 650mm. From the bracing to the headstock, this guitar is a dream for those of you who admire a traditional feel from your classical guitars.
For those of you who plan on performing live, keep in mind that this guitar does not come standard with electronics of any kind. Classical guitarists generally prefer to use a mic regardless, but it’s definitely something that you should be aware of. There are classical guitars in the price range that do come with electronics, but they also have to sacrifice some tone or durability in order to do so.
If you’re against miking, there are options available for great sounding pickups that can be either temporarily or permanently installed. Expect to spend around $300 if you decide to go this route, as that’s a rough estimate of what you’re final cost will end up being once you find a good quality pickups and a competent luthier to install it.
The sound of the Manuel Rodriguez Caballero can best be described as surprisingly complex for it’s price point. Of course the guitar embodies the tonal traits that one would expect from a cedar topped classical guitar, it’s warm (focused on low and mid-range frequencies, with treble frequencies that are present but not overpowering), but it also has a richness to the notes that one wouldn’t expect from a sub-$500 instrument. While the type of wood used in the guitar definitely helps with this, you can really only get a guitar to sound like this by proper building techniques. Just because a guitar uses the most expensive tonewoods a luthier could get his/her hands on does not mean that it will be a good sounding instrument, it’s all about how well it was constructed to begin with.
As far as quality is concerned, the Caballero 11 performs very well in every respect. There’s no issues with this guitar that are commonly reported, and there’s nothing to suggest that there’s a flaw inherent to the model that will one day impact it’s playability or sound. One of the high points of this guitar is the care that went into designing its appearance. The natural finish is gorgeous, and the Caballero 11 even utilizes Indian rosewood for its inlay.
The Manuel Rodriguez Caballero 11 is the perfect entry into the classical guitar world. The guitar is built wonderfully, and though it’s a bit more expensive than some beginner instruments its quality more than justifies its cost. It’s adherence to classical guitar convention also ensures that it will be a perfect fit for the musician looking to capture a trademark classical guitar tone.
Simply put, the Manual Rodriguez is an instrument that any guitar player would be proud to have. It’s got a great tone, and it has the potential to be a lifelong companion for the musician who’s willing to give it the care and attention that it deserves.
Godin Mulitac Grand Concert SA
Boasting a slick look and some very impressive specs, the Godin Multiac Concert has quickly become one of the go to instruments for musicians who require an accurate acoustic sound without the feedback issues that plague most acoustic instruments.
Though the price point may scare off some, but those of you without pockets deep enough to afford it will not be disappointed. It’s a guitar that’s just as home busting out some swinging fusion jazz licks as it is playing the fast and complicated passages that unique to classical music.
The Godin Multiac Concert SA is a professional quality instrument, though we wouldn’t really describe it as a true acoustic guitar. It’s aimed at musicians who focus on synth sounds, fusion, jazz, or acoustic voiced live performance. You wouldn’t be too far off in considering it the nylon version of Taylor’s T5.
That’s not to say that the Concert SA has no acoustic value. In fact, it actually does have a solid cedar top. The guitar also features a mahogany neck, a Richlite fretboard, and a chambered mahogany body. While it may be a bit quiet, the guitar well also sound perfectly fine when used unplugged for practice. Just keep in mind that the acoustic properties of the instrument are meant to enhance the sound of the electronics. If you go in looking for a guitar that will hold up well in an acoustic ensemble or jam, or a secret weapon for your recording studio you may want to consider looking elsewhere.
The Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA is meant to feel as much like a classical guitar as possible as far as the playing surfaces are concerned (body, neck angle, and neck dimensions). The guitar features a relatively traditional nut width. It may be a bit of the standard 52mm, but it’s such a small difference that it’s not going to be much of a transition for a musician who is accustomed to playing a classical guitar. The scale length of the guitar is 650mm, which is standard for a classical guitar. For finish options available for this guitar, the Godin Multiac Concert SA comes in either a natural high-gloss finish or a white high-gloss finish.
For some musicians, the main appeal of the Multiac Concert SA may be the custom RMC electronics, which allows you to directly control a variety of synths with your guitar. It’s not really all that common of a feature, and it adds oodles of versatility to a guitar that’s already well suited to a ton of different genres.
As far as sound is concerned, the Godin Multiac Concert SA is great for live performance. Though the guitar may not look like what you’d generally imagine a classical guitar to appear like, when plugged into the right equipment it’s capable of producing a sound that would stun even the most staunch classical guitar traditionalists.
That’s not to say that the Concert SA is strictly a classical guitar of course. As mentioned above, this instrument can handle just about any genre where a nylon string guitar would generally be used. That includes some forms of jazz, flamenco, and just about an type of finger style arrangement (excluding the blues of course).
There’s not much to say about the RMC electronics except that they’re perfectly functional in every regard. They’re obviously made out of high-quality materials, and as a general rule should be fitted with the same proficiency you would expect any other Godin instrument to have. So long as you’re not overly rough you’re most likely never going to run into a problem with this aspect of the guitar.
Quality wise, the Godin Multiac Concert SA hasn’t received a word negative attention from the wider public. Of course there will always be the unlucky few who manage to pick up a lemon, but as far as the overall quality of the model is concerned there’s just not really any complaints to be found. The fit and finish are both handled with the care and attention to detail that one would expect at this price point, and the tuners perform their role adequately as well.
The guitar is capable of filling an absolutely staggering amount of different roles, and when you consider the insrument’s sound as well as the quality of the materials used in its construction the price really is perfectly reasonable.; even if it may be a bit of a stretch for those of you who are on a budget. As an added bonus, it also looks pretty cool.