Its nylon strings set the classical guitar apart. Both other styles of guitar use strings made out of steel. This gives them that famous metallic guitar sound. Nylon strings give classical guitars a softer, more full-bodied tone. Nylon strings also feel much different to play. They are softer to the touch, making it easier for beginners. But nylon strings also behave much differently from steel strings, and it is hard to replicate the famous steel guitar sound.
By size and sound, it is the smallest of guitars. But it has the widest neck. (The neck is the area below the fretboard.). This can make some chords very difficult to play on the classical guitar.
The classical guitar is almost nearly played fingerstyle – that is, without a pick.
Famous Classical Guitarists
The classical guitar’s reputation has improved dramatically over the past several decades. It used to be the butt of classical music jokes and left to small parlors. Now it is featured in concert halls across the world.
The man most influential to this revival was Andres Segovia, who died in 1987. Other famous classical guitarists include Christopher Parkening, David Russell, and Jason Vieaux.
The classical guitar is also essential to Latin- American music, most notably flamenco music. The most famous flamenco guitarist ever is Paco de Lucia. Other flamenco virtuosi include Carlos Montoya and Nino Ricardo.
(Note: The flamenco guitar is somewhat different from the classical guitar. The two look almost identical and are both best known for nylon strings. But the internal construction is different. The flamenco guitar has more bracing to get a louder but thinner sound. You can play flamenco on a classical guitar, but you may not quite get the same sound. But because they are very similar and I am more familiar with the traditional classical guitar, I will focus on that.)
One less-conventional musical genre that has adopted the classical guitar is country music. Willie Nelson is famous for his tattered nylon-string guitar. And Zac Brown has made waves in recent years by using a classical guitar in his country band.
Pros of Starting on Classical Guitar
Beginners are often advised to start with a classical guitar. Part of the reason is the nylon strings. They are much softer than the steel strings of acoustic and electric guitars.
Classical guitars are also available in ¾ or even ½-sized models. This is great for younger guitarists who may not be tall enough for a large acoustic guitar.
And the classical guitar is the foundation of all other guitar styles.
Cons of Starting on Classical Guitar
The cons of starting out on the classical guitar can be summarized in two words: volume and vibe.
The classical guitar is a very quiet instrument. This is why, unlike with most classical instruments, almost every major piece of music is written for solo guitar. The classical guitar was just too quiet to be heard among a large group of instruments. Fortunately, construction has improved, allowing for louder classical guitars and leading to the instrument’s becoming more common in concert halls.
One way to coax more sound out of the classical guitar is to have the right fingernails. These act as a natural pick against the strings, enhancing the guitar’s voice. It can be a lot of work maintaining good classical guitar fingernails. The classical guitar may be the only instrument where a manicure is part of the music lesson! But without good nails, your guitar will be even quieter.
Let’s face it: the classical guitar is not the guitar that is going to have people calling you a badass. Getting the guitarist’s vibe is a motivation for many people to start playing. I am not knocking that at all – it was one of my reasons to start playing, too! I am advising, though, that if you want to look cool as a guitarist, then buy a steel-string or an electric guitar.
But don’t be deterred if you like this style the most. Who cares what other people think? Playing what you want marks the true guitar vibe.
Classical Guitar Buying Tips
The classical guitar might be the hardest to buy because it is the most difficult to make. The acoustic and electric guitars are assembly-line products – very little hand-crafting is required. Not so the nylon-string. Only in recent decades has it been made in factories. Most high-end classical guitars are still individually made by luthiers.
Make sure your classical guitar comes with a warranty and spend as much as you can. We will cover specific shopping tips later in the book.