Buying a classical guitar

Buying a classical guitar as a beginner is really hard as you don't know enough about guitars and guitar playing to distinguish between a well made and a poorly made guitar or, for that matter, what kind of sound you prefer. Here you will find tips and guidelines for buying a classical guitar that will help you buy the best classical guitar for you. If you are looking to buy a classical guitar for a beginner, here are the top three guitars that I recommended for beginners in the price range of $100 - $250. You could pretty much pick any of these classical guitars with full confidence, knowing that you are getting excellent value for money and a beautiful guitar that will take you well down the road into your guitar playing.

For the top three beginner to intermediate guitars in the price range of $150-$350, these are my top picks. The guitars in this category will serve you well for many, many years. 

I’m getting a lot of messages from people coming here because they want to learn to play guitar as part of worship. If this is you, you might want to join Aaron Anastasi’s programme. Aaron is a musician and a worship leader. He put together a step by step programme for aspiring Christian musicians. If you're interested, you can use the exercises and advice in learn-classical-guitar-today to develop your finger strength and dexterity and Aaron's lessons to work on strumming and worship music. 


Top 10 tips for buying a classical guitar

1. Buy a nylon string acoustic or classical guitar

If you are a classical guitar player, or wish to play classical guitar, then you will need to get a nylon string guitar. Do not make the mistake of settling for a steel string guitar. While the steel string is a beautiful guitar there are many classical techniques that just do not work on it. For classical guitar playing you need the round and mellow sound of gut strings these can be found on nylon string acoustic guitars and classical guitars. This will also be better for your fingers as the steel string cuts terribly into the fingers of beginner guitarists.

2. Decide on your budget

A lot depends on your budget. A good price range for a beginner guitar is somewhere between $100-$200. Anything cheaper is likely to be made of plywood which pulls apart after a time and has a terrible sound since the plywood does not allow for the resonance required by classical guitar playing. There is nothing more discouraging to your confidence and more destructive to the development of your musical ear than a thin, tinny sounding instrument which refuses, despite your very best of efforts, to produce the warm round sound that you aspire to.

3. Buy a solid top guitar

The best classical guitars have tops made of spruce or cedar, although other woods such as mahogany and maple are also popular. Cedar is regarded by many as top of the range as it provides a sound that is round and warm. Personally I prefer a spruce top for beginner classical guitarists. Spruce is generally a bit cheaper, but provides - for my ear anyway - a brigher and cleaner sound which is encouraging to the ear. The fretboard should be made of wood. Rosewood, maple and ebony are common woods. Where possible avoid fretboards that have been stained.

4. Buy secondhand if you can trust the seller

If you are on a budget you might wish to consider buying a used or secondhand guitar. Picking a secondhand guitar might be a little harder than getting one off the shelf for a number of reasons because you have no idea how the guitar has been cared for in terms of humidification and exposure to the sun. Neglect in either of these areas could result in a bend in the neck. While too slight to be observed by the untrained eye it could result in the tonality of the guitar along the neck being permanent off key. If you are going the secondhand route, be sure to take an experienced guitarist along with you. Go for a well known brand. Pick a brand that has stood the test of time and preferably a model that is well known for the quality that it provides.

If you can trust the seller, or if you can take an experienced guitarist along with you, you can sometimes get far more for your buck by buying secondhand than by buying a new guitar. 

5. Check out the guitar

I recommend that the more confident of us go into a music store and spend the morning checking out the guitar. This can be quite difficult though as store sales people can sometimes dominate, particularly when you are beginner, which might make you feel quite uncomfortable or result in you buying a guitar promoted by the sales store but not the most suitable for you. Also, it's quite difficult to test a guitar when you can't really play it. It can also be embarrassing if there isn't a private place to check the guitars. If you are not that confident, buy online or from a local music store that has a full money back return policy. The vast majority of music stores offer an exchange policy rather than a money back guarantee and will allow the exchange only if there is damage on the instrument. When I buy a guitar I like to drive a guitar and really play it which I cannot really do in a music store without having a circle of people around me to watch the 'concert'. The last time I bought a guitar I brought five home to test drive. The guitar I ended up buying was 1/3 of the budget that I had allocated, but by far the best sounding guitar.

6. Check the intonation

The best way to do this is to tune each of the strings as precisely as possible using a guitar tuner. Then test all the E notes along the neck as indicated in the diagram below. 

Thereafter test all the B notes as provided in the diagram. And similar so for D. Check particularly higher along on the neck. Doing this will help you identify where the guitar's intonation is out. The intonation can be fixed by a luthier but there is little justification for buying a new guitar and then having to spend money on a luthier fixing it.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you can click here for the top three guitars that I have recommended for beginner guitar players in the price range $100 - $200. You could pretty much pick any of the three with full confidence, knowing that you are getting excellent value for money and a beautiful guitar that well take you well down the road into your guitar playing.

If your budget allows, have a look at the top four guitars in the price range of $200 - $600 recommended as concert guitars for college classical guitar music students. The fact is you get what you pay for. The better guitars cost more but are also easier to play, have a much better tone and tigher intonation.

7. Generally (not always) avoid guitar packages like the plague

These guitars are the bottom of the barrel in terms of playability, sound quality and basic durability and are almost definitely made of plywood which as I discussed above are guitars to avoided.

There is one marked exception that is outstanding quality and at an excellent price. This is the Yamaha C40 Classical Acoustic Guitar Package. The package includes the guitar - which is one of the beginner guitars that I recommend - a gig bag, guitar method book and DVD, plus a digital tuner. This is definitely good value and all this for only $10 more than the price of the guitar alone.

Beginners and young learners alike will appreciate the quality found in this Yamaha C series classical guitar. This quality instrument delivers outstanding cost performance with exceptional playability and tone. The C40 is a full-size nylon-string guitar.

By Sailoil, August 16, 2004: For the price it is hard to beat this guitar as a starter instrument for someone learning from scratch. You will be able to learn the rudiments of classical, spanish and folk music, and this will give a student a route into electric guitar should they want to go the rock route later on.  Click for more reviews and information on the Yahama C40

8. Check the guitar's action

The action of the guitar refers to the distance between the guitar strings and the fret board. The setup of the action is crucial for a beginner guitarist. If the strings are too close to the fret, string buzzing will be almost impossible to avoid. If, on the other hand, the strings are too high from the frets then the guitarist will have to put a lot of strength into sounding each note. The perfect action provides a minimal distance between the strings and the fretboard without causing the strings to 'buzz'. Here is a youtube video provided by ObrianGuitars about setting up your own guitar. It is focused on those who build their own guitars but does a good sense of the complexity involved in building a guitar. 

9. Check the guitar tuning nuts

Make sure that each of the guitar tuning nuts are working well and that are non are slipping. A slipping nut will definitely need to be fixed by a luthier as your guitar will constantly be going out of tune.

10. Pick a well known guitar brand

You will do well to stick to those companies who have a long and solid reputation for making excellent guitars such as Yamaha, Ibanez, Aria and Takamine with Yamaha having a long standing reputation for good quality entry level classical guitars.

Guitar Basics

You can scroll the rest of the guitar basics pages by scanning the list below, or scrolling through the navigation bar

  • Sitting Positions: This lesson takes you through the principles and dos and don'ts of the classical guitar sitting position. It introduces you to the guitar supports available including footstools, the Efel, the Dynarette, the A-Frame and the ErgoPlayay.
  • Music Theory provides an introduction to musical notation and to the basic theory that you will need to start playing.
  • Notes on the Guitar: Becoming familiar with the notes on the guitar is essential for any guitarist. This lesson provides guidelines and free guitar software. This is where you pick up the guitar and begin playing.
  • Finger Names : Finger names in classical guitar scores.
  • How to Tune your Guitar: How to tune your guitar. There is nothing worse than playing on an untuned guitar. This page teaches you how to tune your guitar with and without an electronic tuner.
  • Buying a Classical Guitar: If you need to buy a guitar or are thinking about buying a new guitar, then this page is for you. It provides useful tips on how to pick your first classical guitar.

You'll need to go a little deeper into music theory as you proceed. The best online resource for this is Guitar Theory Revolution. It recognises that music theory is very hard for guitarists because music theory has till now been located in the piano paradigm. The Guitar Theory Revolution overthrows the piano paradigm that is holding you back and embraces the attributes of the guitar to unpack music theory. In fact, it goes further and allows you to see that the guitar is one of the best instruments for learning theory. 

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