Many players associate classical guitar with an inexpensive, entry-level instrument with a playing action higher than a suspension bridge and not much going on tonally. Then, it may come as a surprise that the nylon string is just as diverse as the steel-string one, with nylon models available from all of the top acoustic brands and prices for the best classical guitars reaching eye-watering levels similarly.
High-end nylon-string guitars tend to serve a couple of specific musical niches, namely classical and flamenco, but their overall appeal does cross over in some areas. In this guide, we’ll go over what sets classical guitars apart from one another and make some recommendations for the best classical guitars available today.
BEST CLASSICAL GUITARS: OASISGUITAR’S CHOICE
The Taylor Academy 12e-N is challenging to beat in terms of classical guitars. Taylor will be familiar to any acoustic player – steel or nylon – due to its reputation for producing top-tier guitars. Still, with its Academy series, Taylor has learned how to pack all of its experience and know-how into a range that is affordable to the masses.
The Taylor 12e-N offers the classic Taylor package: great tone, great playability, and excellent build quality. Even if you’re not a nylon player, the 12e-N is worth a quick try if you have the opportunity. It may open your eyes to an entirely new way of playing.
BEST CLASSICAL GUITARS GUIDE
Taylor Academy 12e-N
Taylor is seeing great success with its Academy line, which promises the full-fat Taylor experience at a price that is relatively affordable for the masses. The Taylor Academy 12e-N is an excellent nylon-strung option that combines classical and flamenco styling with the ergonomic comfort of a more traditional steel-string guitar.
The beveled armrest made for a very comfortable playing experience, and we were impressed with how the onboard electronics maintained the guitar’s natural resonance even at higher volumes.
|Top: Lutz Spruce|
Back & sides: Layered Sapele
Fingerboard: West African Ebony
Ovation Timeless Legend
Ovation is a bit of a curiosity, relying on that familiar ‘bowl-shaped back and sides. Charles Kamen, the founder of Ovation, believed there were specific inherent frequencies in an acoustic that he didn’t want and set out to create his solution using composite materials typically found in the aviation industry. The result was and continues to be a guitar that promises elite performance at high volume levels while avoiding the nasty feedback commonly associated with amplifying acoustic guitars.
The Ovation Timeless Legend Nylon results from all that innovation, with a solid cedar top that produces a mellow, balanced sound when combined with the Lyrachord material. There is no doubt that this is a high-end instrument, though its neck is slightly thinner than some classical or flamenco veterans may prefer. If you’re going to name your guitar ‘Timeless Legend,’ it better be good, and thankfully, Ovation has delivered.
|Top: Solid Cedar|
Back & sides: Lyrachord
Neck: 5-piece mahogany/maple
Washburn Festival EACT42S
It’s not uncommon for players of various styles to dabble in fingerpicking when the mood strikes. The Washburn Festival EACT42S is nearly the ideal guitar for a bit of musical escapism. The Festival offers an excellent entry-point to ‘proper’ classical guitars, with dimensions and scaling similar to a more traditional acoustic but with enough trappings to ensure it excels as a nylon string.
We liked having unrestricted access to the upper frets, and the 4-band EQ gave us a lot of control over our amplified tone. Visually, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we felt the Washburn Festival provided a lot of guitar for the money.
Back & sides: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Engineered Wood
Gigging musicians frequently demand a certain level of quality and dependability from their guitars, and the Cordoba C7-CE is an affordable, high-quality guitar that fits the bill nicely. The C7-CE features excellent tonewoods that elevate the guitar sonically and aesthetically. The onboard Fishman electronics combine an under-saddle piezo with an internal microphone and provide precise control over your amplified tone.
The Cordoba C7-CE is a very appealing package for the price, and we highly recommend it.
|Top: Canadian Red Cedar|
Back & sides: Rosewood
Cordoba GK Pro Negra
When looking for a specific type of guitar, it’s often a good idea to look at what the pros are using. There are few better places to look for something that can withstand the rigors of full-blooded flamenco than the Gipsy Kings.
The Cordoba GK Pro is a top-tier model that the Kings themselves have endorsed, and it comes with several elite-tier fittings and features. This guitar begs you to play fast, with all the percussive flourishes that come with it. The premium tonewoods make it sound as good as it looks, and the slightly thinner body allows you to play in whatever stance you prefer. The GK Pro isn’t cheap, but it has a lot of authenticity and vibe.
|Top: European Spruce|
Back & sides: Indian Rosewood
How is a classical guitar different from an acoustic guitar?
Classical guitars differ from standard steel-string acoustic guitars in several ways, not the least of which is the wider neck (up to 2″) to accommodate more complex fretting shapes.
Construction, body shape, and weight distribution are also different. Bracing – providing rigidity to the body – is usually lighter in weight and arranged to enhance the guitar’s resonance and classical. Flamenco guitars also have a shallower body depth than a dreadnought acoustic.
There are also differences between flamenco and classical nylon-string guitars within the subgenre. Flamenco versions frequently feature a reinforced plate to protect the body when percussive techniques are used. The neck of a flamenco guitar is also flatter, which allows for a lower playing action.
Along with classical and flamenco nylon-string guitars, some hybrids use some of the features and aesthetics of regular guitars – such as narrower necks – and provide an excellent middle-ground to anyone seeking the warm, mellow sound of nylon without completely changing their playing technique.
Whatever the case may be, the best classical guitar for you is the one that allows you to achieve your playing objectives. These are specialized instruments with characteristics that may not lend themselves to playing crossover styles, but a good nylon acoustic is a sight to behold in the right hands. Here are some of the best classical guitars available today. We have traditional classical guitars, flamenco guitars, hybrids, and acoustic-electric options.
Are classical guitars suitable for beginners?
Most of us first encountered a classical guitar in a classroom when we were learning to play it – but are classical guitars a good option for beginning players?
While the technique for playing a nylon-strung guitar differs slightly from that of a steel-strung guitar, the skills are unquestionably transferable. Young children may find the more petite, lighter body easier to hold, and the softer nylon strings are undoubtedly gentler on their fingers.
However, there may be a few issues, the most significant of which is the wider neck and string spacing. While small children can play, it can be more difficult, so keep this in mind.
It’s also worth noting the tone differences. Classical guitars are not designed to be strummed like their steel-strung cousins, so they can sound a little flat when you try to play them like a standard acoustic. This can be a rather uninspiring experience for beginners, so stick to a traditional acoustic guitar if you plan to strum your way through many cowboy chords.
How much should I spend on a classical guitar?
Like “regular” acoustics, classical guitars come in various styles, and price points, ranging from beginner classical guitars to hand-made artisan models and everything in between – but how much you choose to spend boils down to what you want out of your new guitar.
A $100 entry-level instrument will more than suffice for absolute beginners and young children, allowing you to determine whether this is the guitar style for you. Intermediates and established players looking for a classical to record with should look around the $500 mark. This will get you a high-quality instrument, and with so many options available, you won’t be disappointed.
Professional players will cost $600 or more, and if you can afford it, you should go for an all-solid option. This will give you the most prosperous and complex tone possible.