Beginners typically start their classical guitar journey with a sub-$200 guitar like the Yamaha C40II or Cordoba C1M. Such guitars serve their function well – with basic but solid construction and a decent, consistent sound. As beginners spend a year or so, they feel surer about their future with the instrument and look for the next level guitar.
Pegged around the $500 mark (import price in the US but cheaper in Europe) is the Alhambra 1C model. It is definitely the next step up with a solid top, a Spanish sound and a good reputation.
Check out the Alhambra 1C on Amazon.
Alhambra 1C: It’s a ‘Made in Spain’ classical guitar
All Alhambra guitars are proper Spanish guitars in the sense they are actually made in Alicante, Spain. The widely respected Alhambra range of classical guitars starts with their Student Line, which includes the 1C, 2C and 3C models.
All the instruments made by Alhambra Guitarras are built with solid tops as against laminates. (If you’re not sure of the difference between the two, see my article Solid Wood vs Laminate Tops to understand why solid tops are the way to go.) A solid cedar top ages well and sounds better with time. A German spruce top option is also available.
Student Line models have the string action (distance between the fingerboard and the string) set lower than the Professional Line to facilitate the playing of music by lesser trained hands.
The Alhambra 1C is a great choice for the novice classical guitar player “who wants to take things seriously.” Its sound is considered darker, mellow and sweet which are very much the characteristics of a Spanish made classical guitar. As against, say, the brighter sparkle of a Cordoba C5 and the like.
Good wood choices make it better
Handmade with selected woods, the Alhambra 1C is made with a solid cedar top (or solid spruce top) with Mahogany back and sides. These are good wood choices found in costlier guitars too.
- Top: Solid Red Cedar (or Solid German Spruce)
- Back/Sides: Mahogany (laminate)
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fingerboard: Rosewood
- Tuners: Nickel Plated
- Scale Length: 650mm
- Nut Width: 52mm
The scale length and nut width measurements given above indicate that this is a regular, full-size classical guitar although aimed at beginners or near-beginners. Overall, the 1C is also a lightweight guitar and is easier to play. The weight has a bearing on the sound quality also. The finish is well done and it is a handsome instrument. The binding on top, the dark Indian rosewood fingerboard and the nickel-plated machine heads together make for a stylish guitar.
The nut and saddle at either end are made from a synthetic material, melamine. In more expensive guitars these are generally made from bone. According to the company, melamine is a material that transmits sound to the vibrating top efficiently and contributes to a “round and defined sound.”
A more advanced beginner will sometimes replace melamine with a bone saddle and a bone nut to improve the sound. It’s an easy thing to do – the parts are readily available and replacing takes a couple of minutes. But it’s doubtful if many beginners can tell the difference to the sound that a change like this brings about.
And now onto the sound of the guitar itself.
Well defined sound with a loud volume
Many beginner guitar models tend to be quiet, even if otherwise well built and satisfactory. The Alhambra 1C has a good volume and a well-defined sound for an entry-level guitar. Perhaps the nut and saddle of melamine contribute to the sound. No doubt the lightweight frame helps a lot. And the strings on it are an excellent choice.
The 1C comes fitted with D’Addario EXP44 Extra-Hard Tension strings installed. High tension strings generally lend a crisper sound to the guitar with greater volume. It’s almost always the reason why someone uses higher tension strings. And the EXP44 is a well-rated option, known for its resonance and sustain.
The choice of High Tension strings for a student guitar is unusual. Normally, such guitars come fitted with regular or medium tension strings for easier playability. (To learn about the differences in sound that different tensions cause, read my article Why Use High Tension Strings?) Going by conventional wisdom, an entry-level guitar shouldn’t feature higher tension strings because they can be hard on the left hand which can tire quickly.
And there’s another related issue as well. I have heard it from people who go about measuring such things as action height that Alhambra guitars generally have higher action than comparable models from the likes of Cordoba or Yamaha.
Taken together – the high action and the higher tension strings – the Alhambra 1C should be a harder instrument to play, requiring more exertion. Yet, in practice, this is hardly the case. Thousands of students all over the world – it’s a popular brand in 60 countries – play it without any real issue. No tutors have come out saying this is an inadvisable model for students on account of is playability.
The Alhambra 1C remains well known for its robust sound, ease of playability and lightweight comfort.
Some players have found that Savarez Alliance 540J Hard Tension strings give Alhambra guitars better resonance, volume, and sustain. I’m one among them for I just love what the Savarez does to an Alhambra. (One of my guitars is a 7P and these strings really make it sing.)
Of course, experimenting with and gauging the sound of different string brands may or may not interest beginning students of the guitar. But it can be a satisfying and rewarding pastime, getting involved in trying out new strings, with a real end benefit: a great sound from your guitar. You can glean some tips on how to go about this from my article 5-Step Guide to Finding Your Perfect Strings if you’re interested.
Alhambra 1C in a nutshell
This is a well made, aesthetically pleasing, solid wooden top classical guitar designed for students. It is comfortable to play with a good, loud sound of a dark Spanish flavor. Its finish and general construction are first rate. And it has the Made in Spain stamp at a time when the world’s factory and warehouse tend to be increasingly in China.
It should serve the student well for a period of years. Around the $500 range, this is a good value guitar to get. If in Europe, the price gets better and is serious value for money.
There is a cheaper variant of the 1C called the Alhambra 1 OP. The OP stands for Open Pore and it sports an unusual, next to no finish on top. Very little finish is actually applied “allowing the guitar to vibrate freely without restriction. The result is a more lively guitar that is balanced across the frequency spectrum.”
The 1 OP is worth a serious consideration. It is otherwise exactly the same guitar as the 1C except for the finish and comes at a substantially reduced price. You can check it out here at Amazon.
There are also size variants of the 1C for those who desire small scale guitars:
- 1C Señorita (7/8 size) with a 636 mm scale length
- 1C Cadete (3/4 size) with 610 mm scale length
- 1C Half-size with 544 mm scale length
As an Alhambra owner, if you are looking for a quality student guitar, I’d say get yourself the Alhambra 1C, a guitar humidifier, and a solid hard case. You’re all set. It is a nice-sounding, well-made guitar that should keep you good company for years.
Check out the Alhambra 1C on Amazon. And watch the Alhambra 1C in action here:
If you want to consider other brands too before making up your mind, refer to my article What Classical Guitar is Best for Beginners?