The classical guitar developed first in Spain and Italy and spread out elsewhere. Today, classical guitars are made all over the world. And yet no other country has a stronger cultural relationship to the classical guitar than Spain. It’s not for nothing that the instrument is also known as the Spanish guitar.
[Image graphic credit: Vecteezy]
Guitars made in corners of Asia with Spanish names tacked onto them to lend them a favorable Spanish flavor do flood the market. And, on the other hand, there is the genuine article: classical guitars made wholly in Spain. Let’s talk about them.
I have kept the upper limit around the $3,000 range although most of the guitars below will fall well short of that limit. The idea is not to get pulled into the rarefied world of concert guitars with the pro luthier models (although it’s an exciting venture). It is more instructive to find fabulous guitars in the student range, if not for the beginner, and see what Made in Spain has to offer.
Spanish guitars are made with the traditional Spanish heel, which guarantees a perfect union between the neck of the guitar and the body, increasing its volume and sustain. And there are some differences between the great schools of construction: Madrid, Granada and Valencia.
Alhambra, the most popular
Alhambra classical guitars are probably the most well known among the Made in Spain brands. It sells in over 40 countries the whole range from beginner instruments to pro quality guitars. You get well crafted instruments at a great price: which can vary from about $350 for a novice guitar to $3500 for their top of the line Luthier India variant.
Established in 1965, with 50 years of experience in the construction of guitars, Alhambra’s factory space is a massive 14.000 square meters in Alicante, Spain. So forget about quaint sheds in which single luthiers spend countless hours at their craft. This brand caters to thousands of buyers worldwide. All Alhambra models are built with solid tops. The student line of instruments has a lower action for easy playability.
Like all major brands, Alhambra offers different lines of product under the heads of Student, Conservatory, Professional and Exotic Woods Collection. Unlike, say, the mass-produced Cordobas, Alhambra variants do not have truss rods and have a slightly higher action. Alhambra guitars also have a larger lower bout than is found in most guitars.
To continue the comparison with the popular Cordobas, Alhambra has a better balance in sound between the bass and the tree whereas Cordobas typically tend to have a rich bass. Cordobas are also less expensive. Just like you will notice some Cordoba variants like the C7 or C9 highly recommended by users once you get past the basic beginner stages, you will hear Alhambra 4P or 5P crop up frequently in online discussions. You can check the price of an Alhambra 5P at Amazon.
One of my guitars is an Alhambra 7P and it is a lovely guitar. It has a warm and beautiful tone and is easy to play. The 7 series is where the company’s all-solid-woods models start. I tried the 8P also in the shop but preferred the 7P – and saved some cash as well. I personally think there is not sufficient difference between the 7P and even the 9P to justify the difference in cost.
I know someone who has an Alhambra 11P. It sounds great with a lot of sustain, clarity and sound separation even though some may find the action a little too high. It is also very loud! It’s also beautifully well made. The top of the line Linea is in a completely different league and is a superb instrument.
I have a full review of the popular Alhambra 5P model detailing its key features. Read it if you want to know more about this model.
Here’s a review and sound demo of an Alhambra 7P
Raimundo: Handcrafted for students
At their workshop off Valencia in Spain, Raimundo produce over 12,000 instruments a year, almost all of which are exported to countries across the globe. It is not exactly an Asian mass production set up churning out countless number of guitars on an assembly line. But it not a luthier’s hut either.
Raimundo Guitars make classical, flamenco and acoustic guitars of every grade, from student models to top of the range concert guitars. Set up in1968, when Manuel Raimundo decided to set up his own guitar-making company, the company has grown significantly while keeping its artisan reputation intact.
Handcrafting is a major portion of the entire guitar building process. They are convinced that their success has come about by sticking to the artisan spirit of traditional Spanish guitar making. All of their models feature the ‘Spanish heel’, where part of the neck of the guitar remains inside the body. “It is an elaborate and time consuming process, but one which offers a greater stability to the instrument, as well as important sonic advantages.”
All of Raimundo’s guitars are 100% made in Spain. Guitarras Raimundo is the first Spanish guitar manufacturer to obtain the certificate of Spanish origin for all of their guitars.
It is believed that some of the “Made in Spain” Cordoba guitars are made by Raimundo. (A lot of Cordobas are built in China.) The Raimundo factory has also been making guitars for many reputable brands like Jose Ramirez.
The Raimundo148 cedar costs what an intermediate guitar generally costs – in the $1,200 range. It is a popular student model for sweet trebles and a firm bass, great tone and projection. It’s a pretty loud guitar and very easy to play. Happy owners swear by it. It is also one of the better-built guitars you will find.
The Artisan series is excellent. The Raimundo Professor is a great model (although it has a synthetic nut and saddle – easy to change it to bone, though, if you wish). The Raimundo 150 and 180 models come with cedar or spruce top, rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard and a cedar neck with a nut width that is slightly less at 51.5 mm. The 128 at a price of around $500 is a great choice for the aspiring student.
Even those familiar with the Raimundo name may not be aware that Raimundo also makes top grade instruments like its Model 180 and Model 185 at the high end.
Listen to the sound demo of a Raimundo 112, an entry level guitar model.
Raimundo 112 demo
Admira, the affordable one
For many years now, Admira guitars have been the classical guitar of choice for teachers, and students in many parts of the world. They are good early guitars offering great value for money. It’s made a name for itself for quality as well as affordability. A beginner of the guitar somewhere in Europe today is probably playing an Admira.
Admira Guitars was founded in 1944 by a German Enrique Keller Fritsch, who had emigrated to Spain. Several generations of the family have worked together over the years since then, developing and producing Admira classical guitars, as well as flamenco guitars and electro-classical guitars. The small company Keller began just a few years after the Spanish Civil War is one of the largest and most well-known builders of classical guitars in the world. Admira is still based in northern Spain.
The process of manufacturing classical guitars does not easily lend itself to much automation. A highly skilled workforce is very necessary with some specifically automated processes. The vast majority of each guitar is built and finished by hand.
The ADM200 Alba model is aimed at the complete beginner. For a fraction of more expense, the ADM400 Sara offers a better selection of tonewoods. However, those at a higher level will look at the 1957N Almeria model, a very prevalent and popular choice in thousands of music schools and classrooms.
Over the years Admira has also produced a wide variety of mid-price-range classical and guitars, with a good reputation. Most variants offer a wide range of sizes – Cadete ¾, Senorita 7/8 and Requinto ½.
A popular entry level model is the Admira Irene (around $250) which can be compared to Alhambra’s 1C model also aimed at the same audience. Maria, Malaga and Avila are three of the popular student models. From the advanced student series, the Admira Teresa and Admira Capricho deserve mention for being excellent value at their price level. The higher-end Admira A20, with all solid woods, is still very accessible at around $750.
Time to listen to the sound of an Admira A15
Almansa: High quality from a smaller outfit
In continuation of names like Alhambra and Admire, here’s one more Spanish made classical guitar starting with an A: Almansa.
The Almansa guitar range is also highly regarded, with a good selection of instruments, as well as high-grade, hand-built models for the professional player. It is a reasonably priced range, although not as inexpensive as the Admira line of products. Their student model, the popular 401, for instance, starts out at about $500. The highly regarded upper-end model 457 goes for about $1600 and the one notched above it is Model 461 at about $3000.
Since 1989, the Almansa guitar has been built in the Spanish City of Almansa in the region where Alhambra guitars are also made. Like with many Spanish makers, Almansa combines traditional skills with modern production methods to make factory-built, handmade guitars. The Spanish Heel is a traditional construction method that is at the heart of every Almansa classical guitar. The guitar gains a greater than normal neck angle for a lower action and greater stability.
Almansa guitars are relatively less well known than, say, Alhambra guitars. They are a smaller outfit with a lesser production output. But they do have a dedicated following of their own. Some users believe that the most Spanish sounding and feeling of all is the Almansa.
Thae Almansa 402 is equivalent to the Alhambra 3C and is probably superior to the famous Cordoba C5 both in quality of build and in sound. The higher-priced Almansas, like the 457 and 461 mentioned above, are especially valued for their tone and build.
By and large, the action is a bit high on Almansa guitars. If you end up choosing one – and it’s a great choice! – go for light tension strings to make the playability easier.
Listen to the sound of an Almansa 402
Camps: Great choice for intermediate level
Camps Guitars was founded in 1945 by Juan Camps Coll, whose twin loves of music and carpentry led him into guitar making. The Camps workshop itself is located in the northeastern Catalan coast of Spain. Here, craftsmen and craftswomen apply the traditional methods of guitar making that have been passed down to them through the generations. They first select, then saw the woods for each instrument; they assemble, polish and finish it.
Camps have been among the traditional family setups that have placed a lot emphasis on research and development. This approach has led to new and modern elements in their instruments. The truss rod placed inside the neck is found in many Camps guitars. They use materials like carbon fiber, modern varnishes and adhesives, and adjustable titanium ribs. Their exclusive amplification system incorporates six independent saddles on the bridge. This inclusion of today’s ideas is certainly unusual for Made in Spain guitars we are talking about here.
Today, Camps Guitars are well known for the quality of the instruments. Their range includes classical and flamenco guitars, student guitars, concert guitars, and cutaway and electro-acoustic guitars. They also offer customized guitars, made to the guitarists’ specifications.
Any player getting into the intermediate level of playing or looking to outgrow their early guitar is likely to encounter a Camps guitar as a possible option. Like many swear by the mid-level Cordobas (C9 or C7), there are many who hold a positive opinion about certain Camps models: SP6 and M10, for instance.
A Camps SP6 is in the $850 range and within reach of an advanced student. It is an all-solid wood classical guitar, less expensive than the M10. Its plastic nut and saddle should be probably replaced with bone, but it may not matter to many.
The Camps M14 is another excellent model with great workmanship and tone. It too is in the $900 range. Some users think it sounds better than some guitars three times the cost.
The M10 mentioned above is really a fantastic guitar, probably one of the best value guitars ever. It is not all that expensive. The talented Slovenian guitarist and recording engineer Uros Baric is highly impressed with the M10 Spruce top as you can tell from his brief review below.
Uros Baric playing Camps M10-S
Amalio Burguet: Artisan guitars
Amalio Burguetguitars are made in Catarroja, Valencia in southern Spain. The quality is excellent, but they are a bit more expensive (start at 1000 EUR) than the entry levels from, for example, Alhambra. One of my current guitars is an Amalio Burguet Concert 1A, which I bought from their factory while on holiday in Spain.
Amalio Burguet, the founder, still runs the show along with his daughter Vanessa and son Damian. He was always impressed by the best mass-production guitars made in Valencia but he also admired the artisan guitars built in small, private workshops. That combination is the hallmark of every Burguet guitar: built with the quality of an artisan piece, but at an affordable price for advanced students and professionals.
He pays special attention to the selection of woods from different origins and natures, as also the essential drying process of wood. I visited the small workshop where the construction of guitars happens with everything being completely made by hand. They make enough numbers for export around the world, so they are not making 20 guitars per year or something meager like that. But then, neither are they an Asian powerhouse, churning out hundreds of instruments in a day.
The 1A is a fantastic guitar at around $2,400. The bass is incredible on it and it has a typical Spanish sound. It has a solid punch. You don’t getter a great rosette or any of the fancier frills. You get all-solid woods and a great sounding guitar. I recommend this model heartily to anyone who wants a reasonably priced (not cheap) and totally hand made classical guitar. I’d recommend any Burguet model, come to think of it. They are all well made and of all-solid wood construction.
A popular, well-regarded student model is the Burguet 2F, a favorite go-to guitar for many. It’s a surprisingly good guitar for a student model and at that price point. Their recent high-end model is the Unico priced at around $3,000. To people (like me) who have actually sat and played their guitars over a few hours, these prices are truly a steal.
The 2M is a good deal for its price as also a recent model of theirs, Vanessa. You’d compare these models alongside something like a 10P or 11P of Alhambra.
Amalio Burguet 1A spruce demo
Prudencio Saez: Great value for students
Another popular Made in Spain classical guitar that is highly recommended for students and intermediates is any model by Prudencio Saez. Especially his student models using cocobolo wood is a great instance of playability and affordability.
Prudencio Sáez Armengol settled as a guitar builder in Valencia in 1963 after working in workshops of other experienced luthiers. He earned a great reputation as a builder of top quality guitars at accessible prices.
Saez is a true believer in the authentic artisan style of guitar-making. His techniques are as unhurried and painstakingly meticulous as those of yesteryear. The factory craftsmen themselves describe their workshop as a place where time stands still. The guitars are built by hand and have many of the qualities one might expect from luthier made guitars.
They are well made, responsive instruments that provide a higher standard of construction and tone compared to similarly priced instruments. These are perfect for the serious player looking for an instrument that can provide a rich tone. Great instruments at unbelievable prices.
The beginner model 4A is priced around the $450 mark. The step up model 33 is about $600. It has Cocobolo back and sides and is often compared with the Alhambra 5P in buying decisions. And the higher models 2PS, 4PS and 6PS hover around the $1700 mark.
Many recommend the Prudencio Saez 132 GL. The GL stands for ‘goma laca’ or French polish. The model 132 (without GL) has a thick varnish as against the lightness of the French polish in the GL variant. Hence the 132 GL is said to sound more rich and open.
The Prudencio Saez 28 is a well-regarded model with a spruce top and solid Indian rosewood for back and sides. This can be compared with a Camps SP6 (similar top and back and sides and price range) in a buying decision.
Demo of Prudencio Saez 290 concert guitar
Esteve, a traditional range of affordable quality
It was in 1957 when the 3 partners Francisco Esteve, Manuel Adalid and Antonio Monfort decided to create their first guitar workshop. Today, a team of 50 artisans work in Esteve’s factory in south of Spain, near Valencia.
Esteve is a popular name in classical guitars throughout the world. It again has its family traditions of guitar making going back to sixty years or so, like with most brands under discussion in our article.
Pronounced Es-TEH-vay, all Esteve guitars have solid tops, real wood purfling and bindings and traditional Spanish integrated neck-body construction. Mid-range and upper-end models have all solid wood back and sides and ebony fingerboards.
Even in Spain, Esteve is a highly respected name in lutherie, combining old world design and modern ideas of construction. Esteve guitars, again, feel like a Spanish heirloom with great playability and price. They are certainly no mass-produced guitars.
While only solid cedar or spruce is used on the soundboards, high quality rosewood, ovangkol and mahogany are the prime woods for all models. The base model 300Z starts out at around $450 and the professional one Model 11 is at about $1500. Model 11 is one of the most balanced models of their range, a professional guitar at a studio guitar price.
Other models in the Professional line are Model 12, Adalid, Hauser, Señorita and Torres. The reputed Esteve Adalid is named after one of the 3 original founders. The mid-level 3Z model is priced around the $1,000 mark.
The Esteve 9 C/B has an excellent bass, amazing clarity, great tone, volume, and projection. This was one of the models that was in my shortlist on my Spain visit (before I finally settled on the Amalio Burguet 1A. These are tough choices.) All solid wood Esteves are great guitars while being very good value for the money.
Esteve Adalid cedar demo
Jose Ramirez, the most famous one
And finally, the granddaddy of them all: the famous, most esteemed Jose Ramirez guitars. It is probably the most respected classical guitar name in the world, representing some of the highest quality instruments you can buy.
A long history dates back to over 100 years when a young José Ramírez came to be known as the most outstanding guitar maker of the 19th century, second only to Antonio Torres, who is credited with inventing the modern classical guitar. He trained many of his own apprentices, including his own son, José Ramírez II, and because of this, his workshop became the cornerstone of The Madrid School of Guitar makers.
Now in the hands of the fourth generation, Ramirez guitars are great for that Spanish classical traditional sound. They generally have a warm rich traditional sound – the polar opposite of a modern lattice braced guitar. A Ramirez guitar is reminiscent of Christopher Parkening’s warm, rich guitar sound.
While these guitars can get to stratospheric levels in price, it isn’t always true. The Estudio 2 model kicks in at around $1,600, not that expensive for a guitar of this heritage and quality. It is bordered on either side by the Estudio 1 and Estudio 3 with a couple of hundred dollars’ difference in price.
The limited-edition Jose Ramirez 125 Anos model was built to celebrate the Ramirez workshop’s 125 years of guitar making. It has a solid cedar top, solid Indian rosewood back and sides, and a 12-fret cedar neck. It is around $1,500. Some say the 125 Anos is a better overall guitar than the well known and older 4E model. If true, then no factory guitar in its price range can possibly touch the 125 Anos. As one user put it, the Anos is “the best guitar bargain on the planet.”
Again, the Ramirez Guittarra del Tiempo is a well-regarded model but clocks in at a relatively low $1700. An intermediate guitarist will do well to investigate it deeper. A relatively newer model the SPR is meant to be a bridge between student guitars and luthier level guitars. Its price is around $3,200.
Ramirez guitars are expensive? Think again – at least about the above models. And now watch the Ramirez 4E in action.
Ramirez 4E demo
Barring a hugely popular brand like Alhambra, you will generally not find any of these brands in your usual online retail stores. You will have to contact a brick and mortar supplier (hopefully not far from where you live.) Or check a couple of sites like the following for more information on pricing, delivery, etc.
And, of course, there are also the manufacturer websites for detailed product information. On a related, but more general, note if you need some guidance and tips on how to go about choosing a classical guitar for yourself, read my 9-Step Guide to Choosing Your Guitar. It can help simplify the process for you.
In the interest of those folks who may be curious about really high-end classical guitars with the stamp of both ‘Luthier-made’ as well as ‘Made in Spain’, here’s a very brief listing of brands that should be mentioned.
He is almost a cult figure among luthiers. With his unique bracing system, all his models are appreciably different and yet have a recognisable sound, say the adherents. The volume you can generate from some of his models is only limited by what you can do with your right hand, some say. You may want to take note of his popular models: M5, M15, M30 and the M50.
Another respected name among those who know. His guitars too are known for having a special sound and to those moved by it, they are well worth the price. Key models you will hear of when you get sucked into the subject: Gabriella, Herencia, G11, 1A and the India model.
Ignacio M. Rozas
Rozas trained under the great José Ramirez and is regarded as one of the finest luthiers in Spain. His guitars are played by professional players all over the world. He retired from making guitars in 2008, so you will find it difficult to procure one of them now.
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