Fender Classical Guitars Review: Are They Any Good?

For decades, Fender has been a big name in popular music known for its iconic electric and bass guitar models. Who hasn’t heard of Telecasters, Stratocasters and the P-Basses? Lesser known is the fact that Fender also makes entry-level classical guitars.

Fender classical guitars are affordable and aimed at beginners. Thanks to artists like Willie Nelson, the nylon-string guitar has been popular with the non-classical crowd for ages. Many schools buy them for their music departments because they are easy to play, easy to tune and they carry the reputed Fender name.

For young people venturing into the world of musical instruments, Fender classical guitars offer a good start with their narrow necks and easy playability. They also make for a smooth transition into regular acoustic/electric guitars at a later stage if the student so chooses.

To the purely traditional classical guitar player, however, Fender falls short with its non-standard specifications. You will not hear a classical guitar tutor recommending a Fender classical guitar.

Let us look at the popular models of classical guitars from Fender. All of them are attractively priced with features that non-classical players love – slim necks, radiused fretboards and comfortable guitar-body shapes. These models are built to deliver the feel of a regular acoustic guitar – but with nylon strings instead of steel for a mellower sound and easy playability for young beginners.

  • Fender CN-60S smaller size, slim neck
  • Fender ESC-80 3/4 size, slim neck
  • Fender ESC-105 full size, slim neck
  • Fender ESC-110 full size, wide neck

Fender CN-60S: Great guitar for crossover players and beginners

For a couple of hundred dollars, you can get yourself a popular and well-made nylon-string guitar with the CN-60S. The slim neck is the main attraction for those who play the acoustic guitar or are planning to play one. Check out CN-60S at Amazon.

Why is the slim neck such a big deal? Because the wider neck of a ‘proper’ classical guitar increases the spacing between the strings. This gives enough room for the right-hand fingers to pluck a string while clearing the adjacent string comfortably. Since fingerpicking is at the heart of classical guitar technique, the greater width is a welcome feature.

For acoustic guitarists used to strumming with a plectrum, however, the wider neck makes the left hand stretches harder. Especially for younger players. So popular manufacturers like Fender, Martin and Taylor have long chosen to provide slimmer necks in their classical guitars that are sized like acoustic guitar necks. The spacing between strings is comfortable and the beauty of nylon string sounds can be enjoyed without difficult or unfamiliar hand stretches.

The neck width – or nut width as it is called – is at 43mm (1.69”) as against a full size 50 mm or even a 52 mm nut width. This feature is a great asset to non-classical players as much as it is a no-no with classical players.

A related concept here is the flatness of the fingerboard versus being curved. The curved fingerboard construction is familiar to acoustic players and makes for playability. The flat fingerboard construction is standard in all purely classical guitar brands.

The CN-60S comes with what Fender calls ‘Easy-to-Play’ shape with rolled fretboard edges. It is also known as the radiused fretboard. For beginners who want to eventually progress to jazz and pop style playing, the curved fretboard (12” radius) along with the slim neck is a desirable feature that provides familiarity and ease of play.

For the same reasons, it is easy to see why traditional players of the classical guitar will continue to discuss their Yamahas and Cordobas and Alhambras without mentioning anything about a Fender or a Taylor at all.

Also, on the convenient side for beginners is the reduced scale length of the CN-60S. Scale length is the distance from the saddle (the raised white plastic behind the soundhole) and the nut (the vertical piece of plastic at the other end over which the strings pass to the tuning pegs.)

The scale length is 643 mm (25.3”) on the CN-60S as against a full size 650 mm standard. 

Even conventional classical guitars come in different sizes including the 640 mm version, so there is nothing unusual about smaller scale lengths as such. They are a matter of convenience given a player’s age or physical stature.

In all other specifications, the Fender model compares well with any traditional classical guitar model aimed at beginners – including choice of woods, type of bracing, pricing, etc.

The model has a solid spruce top, which is a good choice for a brighter sound. It has laminated Mahogany back and sides, which is also a standard choice among many beginner nylon-string guitars. It has a classical fan bracing. And as mentioned, the model sports an easy-to-play neck with rolled fingerboard edges.

Like Cordoba classical guitars, this model comes with a dual-action truss rod for adjusting the neck angle. You probably shouldn’t mess with this if you are a beginner and the guitar is new. The feature may come in handy somewhere down the road.

If like many people you believe you can do no wrong by ordering a highly respected brand like Fender online, you should be happy with the CN-60S. It is smaller, slimmer and inexpensive. It is a well built guitar for the price and a good first guitar for anyone who likes the sound of nylon. Check out CN-60S at Amazon.

Fender ESC-80: 3/4 size classical guitar for children and pre-teens

Want to buy a starter guitar for your little son or daughter? The ESC-80 is a 3/4 size guitar with a reduced scale length of 592 mm (23.3”) instead of the full size 650 mm. It is an extremely convenient guitar for small hands to play and learn. At around the $100 mark, the price is attractive too for a full-fledged guitar. Check out ESC-80 at Amazon.

The neck is slim for ease of play with a nut width of 44 mm (1.75”) as against a full size 50 mm or 52 mm. It may seem like a small thing – just a few millimeters off the normal – but for small hands doing the playing the reduced size makes a telling difference. The main reason why even accomplished players of the acoustic guitar stay away from classical guitars is the wider neck and hence the wider string spacing.

At this price range, you cannot expect solid woods for the guitar top. A solid wood like cedar or spruce is more expensive than laminated woods, which are basically thin wood layers pasted together. The ESC-80 has a laminated spruce top with laminated Okume wood for its back and sides.

The fingerboard is made of walnut, a good choice. And, unusually for a Fender classical, the fingerboard is non-radiused and flat, exactly like a traditional classical guitar’s fingerboard. On higher frets, the position markers are identified with white dots which can be a good visual aid to beginners. This is a minor feature invariably found in every acoustic guitar brand and invariably absent in every conventional classical guitar.

So, this is a small size, easy to fret nylon-string guitar which can also be a good travel guitar. The sound is good and the build quality is strong, so for an affordable price, the ESC-80 can be exactly what a student looks for. A 3/4 size guitar, generally speaking, is not just for children and pre-teens. It can also serve adults with small hands well.

Check out Fender ESC-80 at Amazon.

Fender ESC-105: Full size with a slim neck for beginners

With a scale length of 648 mm (25.5”), the ESC-105 is pretty much a standard size classical guitar. This is a full size model aimed at beginners with an inexpensive price tag. The nylon strings are easy on the fingers of a novice and the slimmer neck makes for easier playing. The nut width is 44 mm (1.75”) instead of a full 50 mm or 52 mm.

Check it out on Amazon.

The guitar has a laminated spruce top with laminated Okume wood for the back and sides. Laminate woods, instead of more expensive solid woods, are pretty much the norm in beginner instruments. The fingerboard is of walnut and non-radiused and flat like a traditional classical guitar. 

For folks who want to explore various types of guitar styles – like pop, rock, jazz, Latin, flamenco, Cuban, African and so on – a model like the ESC-105 gives ample scope with its slim neck. As mentioned, the narrow neck is similar in size to regular acoustics and makes for more familiar, easier playing than wider necks found in traditional classical guitars. This makes it easier to experiment with various musical styles while not worrying about technical issues to overcome.

Folks who have grown up with a Strat or a Telecaster have a certain fondness for the Fender name and when they return years later to experiment with the acoustic guitar’s nylon-string cousin, or to buy one for their child, they gravitate toward the same brand that gave them so much pleasure years ago. The ESC-105 is a good beginner’s guitar to come to in this context with slim-neck comfort and full size resonance. Not to mention the throwaway price that you pay for a Fender.

It is a good entry level guitar for a serious learner. Or perhaps a second guitar to keep at the office to pluck during the lunch hour. It can be the perfect choice for someone who usually plays the steel string guitar and wants to explore ‘nylon sounds’ without the wider fretboard and a huge price tag.

Fender ESC-110: ‘Proper’ classical guitar with full specs for beginners

The ESC-110 is essentially the same guitar as the ESC-105 but with a standard, wide neck found on typical classical guitars. For once, you will not find the ‘slim neck’ feature here. It is a ‘proper’ classical guitar in all respects by way of specs.

Check out the Fender ESC-110 model at Amazon.

Not only is the nut width a full 50 mm (2”) but the fingerboard is also non-radiused. It is flat as in a regular classical guitar. The only difference that suggests a pop/rock orientation behind the guitar is cosmetic: the white dots that mark the positions on the neck. These markers are typically not present in conventional classical guitars.

But in respect of all the specs, the ESC-110 scores well. The guitar has a laminated spruce top with laminated Okume wood for back and sides. The body shape is classical and the finish is Satin. The scale length is a full size 648 mm (25.5”) and the tuning machines are open-gear with pearloid buttons.

From a crossover player’s point of view, this model makes no concessions in terms of overall length, nut width or fingerboard curvature. It is meant to appeal to those who wish to play the classical style of guitar without compromise. And for once, this Fender model is capable of attracting purely classical guitar players to the brand’s fold.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or someone returning to an old hobby, this model is worth considering for the genuine classical guitar experience it offers. It is a well-made guitar and you can expect it to be durable. The sound is mellow and warm with a broad dynamic range. It lets you develop a classical finger technique with its wide string spacing.

If that overall sounds like your kind of thing, the ESC-110 is an affordable, purist’s idea of a classical guitar to consider.

Check out the Fender ESC-110 model at Amazon.

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I have a full article on Taylor classical guitars if you’re interested in a comparison. And an article on the popular Takamine brand of classical guitars. Check it out to know more. Happy reading!

Narayan Kumar

Narayan Kumar is a passionate classical guitarist and an online research buff. He is also one half of the online classical guitar duo DuJu who put out guitar duets regularly on their YouTube channel. Read more about Narayan.

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