Here’s a practical guide for adult players with small hands who wish to play the classical guitar.
Besides children, some adults too have small hands. For them, a standard, full-sized guitar can be a strain to play. They prefer small scale guitars that help in ease of playing.
Obviously, beginners will look at cheaper small scale guitars, while advanced players (yes, there are many advanced players, even concert guitarists, with small hands) will look at the expensive end.
Such guitars, smaller in size and aimed at adult players, are known as 7/8 classical guitars or 630 mm classical guitars. Exactly like regular, full-size guitars, 7/8 classical guitars also fulfill a range of quality and budget needs.
We will not discuss even smaller size guitars like 3/4 or 1/2 or 1/4 size because these are meant for children and not taken that seriously for adult playing. These are basic instruments using rudimentary materials and factory techniques of mass production. If interested in these sizes, read my article on Yamaha 102A for children below 8 years and Yamaha 3/4 Size Guitars Review for older children.
7/8 classical guitars are smaller in size than standard, full-size guitars, both horizontally and vertically. The horizontal length of the strings from the bridge to the nut is called ‘scale length’; and the vertical thickness of the neck at the nut is called ‘nut width’. Both scale length and nut width are smaller in 7/8 guitars.
Full-size classical guitars have a scale length of 650 mm guitars and a nut width of 52 mm. Longer lengths and wider necks are possible, but generally, these are the standard numbers across manufacturers and luthiers. Classical guitars meant for adults with small hands have a scale length of 630 mm (sometimes less) and a nut width of 48-50 mm.
Small hands need small guitars. It’s as simple as that.
Cordoba Dolce classical guitar: For adult beginners with small hands
For adult players in their first year of exploring the classical guitar, the Cordoba Dolce with 630 mm scale length is a great choice. The Dolce has a solid cedar top, not a laminated one. Solid woods are found in costlier instruments and not seen in this price range. That’s a straight win because the top wood has the most direct bearing on the sound.
Besides the top wood being solid Western Red Cedar, the back and sides are Mahogany, a standard choice of wood. Like most Cordobas, the Dolce has a Spanish fan bracing, which is the arrangement of wooden struts under the top wood. The bracing too has a bearing on resonance. Check the price of a Cordoba Dolce (Amazon link).
Again, for a guitar in this price range, the Cordoba Dolce has a two-way truss rod to adjust the neck angle. You won’t be using it often but it’s great that it is there. As another indication of its quality build, the nut and saddle are made of bone, not plastic. This too is uncommon at this price range.
These are good features for the price and the guitar will keep a student good company for the beginning years and more. And it’s just right for those with small hands. The Dolce is slightly more costly than a basic full-size beginner guitar, for sure, but for the benefits it offers, the price is reasonable.
Just for the sake of clarity, I must mention that the Cordoba Dolce is not the same as the Cordoba C9 Dolce (this is a confusing name given by some retailers to the popular Cordoba C9 Parlor). The C9 variants are in the more expensive category and meant for the intermediate level player like the main C9 model itself. The one we are talking about here – the Cordoba Dolce (without the C9) – is in the $350 ballpark and aimed at beginners.
Yamaha CS40II classical guitar: For early adult beginners of with small hands
The Yamaha CS40II is the smaller, 7/8 version of probably the most popular student guitar in the world, the C40II (without the ’S’). It is a spruce top guitar for an adult guitar beginner at an affordable price. A 7/8 instrument is almost full-size and this Yamaha is very suitable for an adult beginner.
Yamaha’s factory-built guitars – and this one is no exception – are robustly constructed and known to last a long time. It is a highly regarded student guitar for its intonation, consistency and value for money. It is much less expensive than the Dolce.
The scale length (the distance between the saddle and the nut) is 580 mm and the fingerboard width is also a little smaller at 47.5 mm (1 7/8”). To a musician with smaller hands, every millimeter makes a difference in playability. Check out the price and user reviews of Yamaha CS40II (Amazon link).
Note: This product is currently listed as unavailable at Amazon and not even listed on other major online stores. Not sure why. Could be because we are in 2020 in the thick of the pandemic. The Yamaha CS40II is a great (and cheaper) option to the Cordoba Dolce for beginners.
Cordoba C9 Parlor classical guitar: For intermediate players with small hands
For the more experienced, intermediate player (with small hands) there is the respectable Cordoba C9 Parlor.
This model is in a different league – in construction, materials, sound quality and price. This is an all solid wood construction using quality tone woods. The top is solid Canadian cedar and the sides and back are of solid Mahogany. The fingerboard and bridge are of Indian rosewood.
Its nut and saddle are of bone, not plastic. And it comes with a two-way truss rod to adjust the neck angle. It has the Spanish fan bracing. It is lightweight (as Cordobas usually are) with a robust sound, described as punchy and mid-range heavy.
You can check the price and reviews of the Cordoba C9 Parlor at Amazon. Or here’s Cordoba C9 Parlor at Sweetwater. Although Sweetwater titles it the C9 Dolce for some reason, it is really the C9 Parlor model we are talking about.
The company calls the Cordoba C9 a “concert-level instrument at an affordable price”. While that may or may not be accepted by every player, this much is clear: the C9 is a well regarded instrument and so is its slightly diminutive cousin, the C9 Parlor.
Cordoba C10 Parlor classical guitar: For more experienced players with small hands
The Cordoba C10 Parlor is for the intermediate/advanced player looking for ease and playability in a quality instrument. At a higher level than the C9, there is also the inevitable price jump.
The smaller Parlor version is pretty much the same as the bigger and more famous C10 with its all-solid wood construction and warm tone. With a solid Canadian cedar top and solid Indian rosewood back and sides, the C10 Parlor has a responsive soundboard for louder intonation.
Like the C9 Parlor, the C10 Parlor too is aesthetically pleasing with its mother-of-pearl weave rosette of a vintage 1920’s design.
Bradford Werner of ThisIsClassicalGuitar.com in his review of the C10 Parlor says it has a “more rich and sustained sound compared to the C9 Parlor. The upgrade is worth it in my opinion.” And goes on to say he’d “happily recommend it to my smaller sized students or those looking for a smaller guitar.”
It is interesting that Werner himself has small hands and plays a 7/8 guitar (although a custom-built, luthier-made one.)
The C10 Parlor comes fitted with Savarez Cristal Corum 500CJ strings which are a popular high tension variant. Check the price of the Cordoba C10 Parlor at Amazon.
Should adults with small hands get smaller than 7/8 guitars?
The short answer is yes if you’re a beginner. And no, if you’re an intermediate player.
It comes down to the availability of quality instruments. When you look at smaller size classical guitars like 3/4 or 1/2 sizes, you’re looking at basic instruments made for beginners. An adult beginner with small hands will happily find them easy and comfortable to play. Which is a great thing, of course. The more comfortable you are with an instrument, the easier it becomes to learn well and play frequently.
Feel free to explore the world of 3/4 size guitars (and smaller) if you’re a newcomer to the classical guitar and have small hands. It can make your life easier.
The quality is decent at this level, especially with major brands like Yamaha and Cordoba. Typically well built and nice sounding, these models – like the Yamaha CGS103A and Cordoba C1M (both in 3/4 size) as also Yamaha CGS102A and Cordoba Requinto (both in 1/2 size) come to mind – are perfectly suitable for beginners of any age (and size) and will set them off to a great start. These are good quality instruments even though aimed at the starter level.
But when you get into the ‘serious’ guitars of intermediate level – matching the standards set by a Cordoba C9 or C10, say – there are simply no 3/4 or lesser size instruments of excellent quality at your disposal.
At this level and above, you have only the 7/8 and full-size guitars (and some, out-sized) to pick and choose from. So, for intermediate and advanced players with small hands, the 7/8 guitar sets the size limit below which they have nothing to reach for.
Classical guitar sizes
|4/4 guitars||full size, normal – 650 mm scale length|
|7/8 guitars||less than full size – 630 mm scale length – in a price and quality range from beginner to advanced levels|
|3/4 guitars||noticeably less than full size – inexpensive, only for beginners|
|1/2 guitars||seriously less than full size, for a child around 8 years of age|
For a fuller discussion and explanation of classical guitar sizes, see my article A Buyer’s Guide to Classical Guitar Sizes.
Note that there is no definite standard for how long a 7/8 classical actually is or should be.
For instance, the German-made Ortega guitars have their own 7/8 range but with a scale length measuring 613 mm rather than 630 mm. Cordoba 7/8 guitars are at 630 mm, Yamaha CS40II is at 580 mm, Kremona 7/8 is at 620 mm. Yet all are termed ‘7/8 guitar’ by their makers!
Do small hands need a small scale guitar at all?
There is a contrary opinion that must be shared here. This school of thought says that adults with small hands don’t need a small guitar. They just need better technique. Within limits, there is merit to this line of thinking. You can’t use small hands as an excuse to cover up deficiencies in playing technique.
With a little practice and guidance, your hands can be trained to work the regular 650 mm, full-size classical guitar. Many players, including self-taught ones, can vouch for this. A senior player or a tutor would be your best guide here.
On the other hand, a shorter 630 mm classical guitar is not an inferior instrument. Choosing one does not concede defeat at being unable to tame the full-size beast. As seen above, the C9 Parlor and C10 Parlor, even though small scale, are excellent high-quality instruments.
We are all built differently and using a small scale guitar like the ones discussed here just acknowledges that fact. Even top luthiers like Kenny Hill and Marcus Dominelli offer shorter scale lengths of 640 mm and 630 mm to accommodate their clientele’s needs. Why would they if thought the short-scale guitar was inferior in sound quality or workmanship?
A 7/8 guitar with a scale length of (roughly) 630 mm is, in my opinion, is a happy compromise between comfort and quality. As seen earlier, even an accomplished guitarist and teacher like Bradford Werner (ThisIsClassicalGuitar.com) uses a smaller guitar, although of a custom luthier variety. Go for it.
If you’re interested in an even smaller classical guitar (without it being a ukulele!), read my Cordoba Mini II review Small Size, Big Fun.