There are literally hundreds of models of classical guitar out there in the market. Even with so-called beginner models, there are just too many options. How do you decide on the right classical guitar?
Which classical guitar is the best depends on two factors: the size and your budget. The size of a classical guitar can be full-sized or fractional. If you are sure about pursuing the guitar, you can afford to spend more on a quality instrument. If you’re merely testing the waters, you can settle for a low-cost guitar.
To start with, let’s assume we’re going for a full-size guitar meant for an adult player. And we’ll look at three price points: budget, regular and high end. We will look at the smaller size (fractional) guitars for young players and adults with small hands later.
Full-size classical guitars for adults
By adult, we mean anyone above 12 years of age who normally requires a full-size guitar. Some adults may need smaller guitars because they are of small stature, especially hands and arms. Teachers often recommend that such folks use a 630 mm guitar, also known as the 7/8 guitar. I have a whole article discussing my recommendations of 630mm classical guitars. Do consult that if you’re an adult looking for such a solution.
Excellent budget options
ADM Full Size Classical Nylon Strings Guitar with Gig Bag
This guitar starter kit comes with essential accessories at an affordable price. It is not a well known brand but a satisfying one for those who have purchased it.
The guitar has a fan-style bracing which is more common among expensive guitars. Another feature not found at this price point is a dual-action truss rod for adjusting the guitar’s neck angle and making it easy to play. You don’t have to adjust it, at least not during your beginner phase, but it’s nice to know it’s there.
The ADM features solid spruce wood for the top, nato for the neck and basswood for the back and sides. These are good choices and again surprising in a relatively lower price guitar.
The tuning pegs are of durable hard acrylic. It is easy to adjust the tuning with the chrome geared tuning head.
The beginner extras comprise one waterproof guitar bag, digital tuner, footstool, stand, capo and an extra set of strings. Everything you need to start playing immediately comes in one box. Good thinking. Check out the price of the ADM Full Size Guitar at Amazon.
Hola! Music Classical Guitar (HG-39GLS)
Hola! Music Full-Size Classical Guitar is another surprising package at the affordable end. It features a spruce top guitar with Mahogany back, sides and neck. Those are standard tonewood choices for a beginner guitar. The fingerboard is made of Walnut, another popular choice among higher-priced guitars.
This classical guitar “provides the perfect combination of style, sound, and savings” according to the manufacturer. It is a lightweight guitar with a glossy finish. At an overall length of 39” it is a full size guitar.
The guitar comes pre-installed with Savarez Strings, a popular and reputed brand of strings made in France. It is a welcome and surprising feature at this price bracket.
A truss rod, which is a steel bar that runs along a guitar’s neck, completes the list of features. The adjustment screw, located inside the soundhole, can be turned with the included Hex Key to control the ‘action’ of the strings to suit one’s playing comfort. Turning it one way brings the strings closer to the fingerboard and turning it the other way takes them further away. A truss rod is not a feature that a beginner strictly requires, but it is certainly a nice, if unexpected, extra to have.
A free padded gig bag comes with the guitar. Taken as a whole the Hola! guitar with its gig bag is a full-on value-for-money product. It has everything a beginner needs. Check the price of the Hola! Classical Guitar (HG-39LS) at Amazon.
Branded and reasonably priced
All guitars here are regular, full size (650 mm) guitars. They are not all that expensive and you can get yourself a big brand name like Yamaha known for its sound, build quality and lasting value.
Yamaha CGS 104A, students’ favorite
This is one of those models where the sound quality feels more ‘expensive’ than the actual price paid. Coming from the able stables of Yamaha, the 104A deserves serious consideration for all its features – good woods, great build and continued student confidence over the years. Wherever there is formal education concerning the classical guitar – online, a real college or with a tutor – the 104A comes up for discussion. You can’t go wrong with it.
Choosing this guitar is not about choosing ‘extra’ packages thrown in but about the quality of the instrument itself. Yamaha instruments have won a name for their super build and consistency in quality.
|Top wood||Laminated Spruce|
|Other woods||Laminated Meranti/Nato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard|
|Number of frets||18|
|Interesting features||This is a leading model out of Yamaha’s Student Series. Everything about it is full-size specs.|
|Amazon link||Check the price of Yamaha CGS104 A at Amazon|
Yamaha C40II, the eternal evergreen
The original C40, of which the II model is the current variant, has earned its stripes for at least a couple of decades now. Both the newer C40II and the earlier C40 have similar, if not identical, features. I highly recommend this guitar, it is a true find in its category – excellent build, good sound and consistent quality. Feel free to check out my C40 review if you want to research this one in depth.
|Top wood||Laminated Spruce|
|Other woods||Mahogany/Meranti/Nato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge|
|Number of frets||18|
|Interesting features||The C40II is a variant of the much older C40, an evergreen favourite of classical guitar students and teachers|
|Purchase links||Check the price of Yamaha C40II at Amazon | Yamaha C40 II at Sweetwater|
You pay a little more, about $100 roughly, to get into a higher quality level. You have a choice of the major brands Yamaha and Cordoba who are well represented in this segment.
Cordoba C3M, a serious step up
Cordoba, like Yamaha, is a respected name in beginner and intermediate classical guitars of exceptional quality. The C3M is on the higher end of the beginner range but weighs in well. With its solid top (not laminated) of cedar, it is known for its ease of playing, lightness in construction and a lively sound. If you can reach for the slightly higher price, it is well worth your while and will last you through your beginner stage and beyond.
As mentioned earlier, this is a question of learning intent and commitment to serious guitar playing. A passionate beginner who wishes to take the high road to learning deserves an instrument that resonates equally well.
|Top wood||Solid Cedar|
|Other woods||Mahogany/Nato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard|
|Number of frets||19|
|Interesting features||At this price level the saddle/nut is usually plastic. The C3M uses bone, found in higher priced guitars. The Spanish classic Fan Bracing under the top wood is an advanced feature as well|
|Purchase links||Check the price of Cordoba C3M at Amazon | Cordoba C3M at Sweetwater|
Yamaha CG142C Cedar Top Classical Guitar
This is a great guitar for a beginner to early intermediate player. It is known for its good tone and playability. It stays in tune solidly. Yamaha make great classical guitars and this is one of them, even though they make more expensive ones like the CG162 and CG182.
The CG142C features a solid American cedar top with nato wood back and sides. The fingerboard is rosewood and the neck nato wood.
The spruce version (CG142S) features the solid Engelman spruce for a bright sound with good projection. Some prefer the brighter, more projecting sound of a spruce top while others like the warm and mellow sound of a cedar top.
Spruce or cedar top comes at the same price, so it is a subjective call really to prefer one over the other. In either case, the harmonics are better and the tonal balance between the treble strings and bass strings is very good for a beginner’s guitar.
The CG142 is aimed at the beginner, perhaps the ambitious beginner who wants a bit more. It is a full size guitar with a full nut width of 2”.
A full-size affordable classical guitar that is value for money. For someone stepping up from a 3/4 model or entering the classical world for the first time from the acoustic side, this is a good quality introduction to a solid top.
I know of a guitar teacher who recommends the CG142 to his early stage students instead of going for a cheaper ’student’ guitar. Obviously this is meant for those who wish to take the classical guitar seriously as a hobby or otherwise – in the belief that a guitar should provide years of service to a student.
You can check the price of a Yamaha CG142C at Amazon. Or a spruce top CG142S at Sweetwater.
Smaller size classical guitars for children
3/4 size options
There is no standard measurement that manufacturers agree on for what constitutes a 3/4 guitar. Or, for that matter, even a 1/2 size guitar.
A 3/4 size guitar, as defined by Yamaha, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, is a guitar with a scale length of 585 mm (23”). Whereas Cordoba, the other heavyweight, calls a guitar a 3/4 size if its scale length is 615 mm. Other manufacturers have other numbers.
Scale length, incidentally, is the distance between the saddle near the soundhole and the nut, the vertical white plastic thing over which the strings pass to enter the headstock area.
To make sense of these variations, check this about whichever brand you intend to buy: Either the scale length is 585 mm (Cordoba spec) or 615 mm (Yamaha spec) or something in between but nothing longer. Or look for an overall length of about 36″.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some promising models of 3/4 size.
J & Z Beginner Classical Guitar
This is a popular choice on Amazon, a decent entry-level option at a very affordable price. It is a 3/4 size classical guitar (with nylon, not steel, strings) with a stated overall length of 36”. Nylon strings are good on the fingers of young players, unlike steel strings which cut into delicate fingers.
The model is well made for its price with solid basswood for the top, back and sides. Maple is used for the neck, head and fretboard.
The distinctive feature of this classical guitar is it comes with a package of useful accessories: a waterproof guitar bag, a guitar strap, a tuner, a guitar wipe and even two picks. Check the price of the guitar + package at Amazon.
Yes, it’s that Fender of electric guitar fame. The reputed Fender has a beginner’s 3/4 size classical guitar in its range. Made of laminated Agathis top with Sapele back and sides, the Fender Squier FA-15N has a fingerboard made with Rosewood and a neck made of Nato. The scale length is 592 mm (23.3”) which falls comfortably within the accepted range of what we know as the 3/4 guitar.
The neck width at the nut is an unusually slim 43 mm (1.69”). This will make it easy to hold the guitar, especially for those crossing over from a regular acoustic/electric guitar.
The FA-15N is a good looking guitar at a budget-friendly price that is easy to play. It is a good choice for children or older beginners. Upgraded sapele sides and back, upgraded machine heads, dot inlays, compensated saddle and Fender screened headstock logo are the key features.
Adding value to your purchase, the Fender Squier FA-15N comes with useful accessories including a gig bag. Everything you need to start playing immediately comes in one box. An easy-to-use Fender clip-on tuner and a Fender guitar strap are included. Picks are included if you want to add to the basic fingerstyle. An instructional DVD is also included for learning the guitar. Check the price of the Fender Squier + package at Amazon.
1/2 size options
Again, there are varying numbers thrown around to define a 1/2 size classical guitar. Yamaha has a scale length of 530 mm (about 21″) for their 1/2 size guitars. Cordoba’s equivalent is longer at 580 mm (about 22.8″).
Look for either of these numbers with these brands or a number in between the two numbers with other brands. To a small child of under 8 years, every mm counts and you want to ensure that the measurement does not get, quite literally, out of hand!
That said, here are a couple of very good 1/2 size options for the little one.
Yamaha CGS 102A 1/2 size for the little one
Even though they say it themselves that Yamaha is famous for producing great-sounding budget classical guitars, it happens to be true. The smaller 1/2 size makes it easy for small hands to reach the frets. It’s probably too small for adults with small hands but very right for an 8 year old or younger.
|Other woods||Meranti for sides, back, Rosewood for fingerboard and Nato for neck|
|Number of frets||20|
|Interesting features||Its scale length (distance from nut to bridge) is a reduced 21 inches (about 530 mm) as against a full size of 25.6 inches (650 mm). Yamaha calls it 1/2 size|
|Purchase links||Check the price of Yamaha CGS102A at Amazon | Yamaha CGS102A at Sweetwater|
Cordoba C1M 1/2 size, a great choice
The C1M 1/2 size and 3/4 size are part of Cordoba’s impressive Protege line of classical guitars. Both feature the premium Savarez strings and have everything in common except for the length. Again, the 1/2 size is only for young children below 8 years. It is lightweight and easy to play. The model comes installed with Savarez Cristal Corum strings in high tension (500CJ).
|Other woods||Mahogany for sides, back and neck, Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge|
|Number of frets||18|
|Interesting features||The 1/2 scale length (distance from nut to bridge) is a reduced 22.8″ (about 580 mm) as against a full size of 25.6″ (650 mm)|
|Purchase links||Check the price of Cordoba C1M 1/2 at Amazon | Cordoba C1M 1/2 at Sweetwater|
If you’re interested in 3/4 size guitars for your child, I have written an article dedicated to finding the right 3/4 guitar for a child with specific model recommendations.
For help on what to look for when buying a classical guitar, whether budget ones or expensive ones, whether for a beginner or a more advanced player, I have a helpful step-by-step guide on how to choose a classical guitar. You will find it useful.
One of the most useful accessories for your new classical guitar is a guitar support. If you need help in choosing one check out my 7 Popular Guitar Supports Reviewed.
If you are one of those wondering about why even a new set of strings go out of tune so frequently on your guitar, read my article on Why Strings Go out of Tune and How to Stop Them. You will breathe easy.
2 thoughts on “Which Classical Guitar is Best for a Beginner?”
My first classical guitar was the Yamaha CG101 and I have many fond memories of that guitar. It was a great starter guitar, it had decent tone ( at least what I thought was decent back then ) and I liked the neck shape. The action was set high, so I had to file down the saddle a bit. Great memories playing Bouree on that guitar.
Yes, Yamaha was very much the choice for beginners then. In many places probably the only one. I too had a Yamaha C40 and the piece I learnt on that was the famous Romance by Anon. 😉