Classical Guitars: Yamaha vs Cordoba. Which is the right one for you?

To classical guitar players, whatever their skill level, Yamaha and Cordoba are big names. Barring a minority that prefers custom-made luthier instruments – concert performers, expert players and wealthy retirees – everyone else has something to play from the vast range of guitars these two brands offer between them.

Yamaha is the much older name, having learned the craft in the sixties from Spanish masters. The California-based Cordoba is relatively a new kid on the block from the late nineties, but with a huge and well-earned reputation for quality instruments. 

Generally speaking, Yamaha is built heavier than the Cordoba although both are well built. The Cordoba models are a little louder with a thinner neck and innovations like truss rods and raised fingerboards. Yamaha is traditionally built, warmer in tone, close to the Spanish tradition and highly consistent in quality, batch after batch.

Yamaha vs Cordoba. The issue is too broad and big to resolve. It is better to pit sub-brand against sub-brand, variant against variant to get relevant answers. That’s what we’ll do in this article.

Depending on your skill level, you will want to concentrate on the section that matters most to you.

Guitars for beginners

Yamaha C40II vs Cordoba C1M

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The Yamaha C40 is the acknowledged beginner classical guitar, recommended by countless tutors. Almost everyone who learned the classical guitar seems to have had the C40 as their first full-size guitar.

It is worth all the praise simply for its longevity, its robust build and its great value for the inexpensive price you pay. The C40, or its current version C40II, is the world’s most popular entry-level nylon string guitar and you can’t go wrong with it.

Its good sound and consistent quality are Yamaha trademarks. Feel free to check out my C40 review if you want to research this model in depth.

Up against a Yamaha classic, Cordoba’s popular student model C1M (full-size) is no slouch. Part of the company’s Protegé range, the Cordoba C1M has a matte finish and a rich sound. Its wood choices are as well thought out as the C40’s and is a worthy contender. Like with most Cordoba models, the C1M comes factory-fitted with high tension strings – Savarez 500J High Tension specifically.

Most teachers prefer normal tension strings for their students in their beginning years because they are easier to play on. But then, high tension strings do give a punchier impact to the overall sound. Youngsters may find it necessary to apply extra pressure while playing and that in turn can result in fatigue.

Which is better? Both are similarly priced. Both are aimed at beginner players. Both use similar woods more or less. It’s easier to lean on the side of the Yamaha C40II for its excellent performance over the years. Its precision build and consistent quality are hard to ignore when you’re starting out. Even though the C1M has its legion of followers for its lighter feel and open sound, the scales tip ever so slightly in favor of the older model.


YAMAHA C40IICORDOBA C1M
Top woodSpruceSpruce
Other woodsMahogany/Meranti/Nato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge
Mahogany for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge
Number of frets1819
FinishGlossMatte Polyurethane
Interesting featuresThe C40II is a variant of the much older C40, an evergreen favorite of classical guitar students and teachersFactory-Fitted with Savarez Cristal Corum High Tension 500CJ strings. Great sound and lighter feel
Purchase linksCheck the price of Yamaha C40II at SweetwaterCheck the price of Cordoba C1M at Sweetwater

Cordoba C1M 1/2 size vs Yamaha CGS102A 1/2 size

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For little children learning the instrument, a full size guitar is just too much to handle. Both Yamaha and Cordoba make 3/4 size and 1/2 size guitars for children (and adults with small hands.) For children under 8 years of age especially, the 1/2 size guitar is generally considered a perfect starter instrument.

The C1M 1/2 size is part of Cordoba’s impressive Protege line of classical guitars aimed at students. The C1M 1/2 size is lightweight and easy to play. The model comes installed with the premium quality Savarez Cristal Corum strings in high tension (500CJ). It has all the features of the C1M full-size guitar discussed earlier except for the reduced overall length.

Yamaha is famous for its great-sounding, budget classical guitars. Its CGS102A is hugely popular with the teacher-parent-student community for it is a half-size model that is easy to play for a young player. Even though both makers claim ‘half-size’ for their respective models, it is to be noted that the lengths are different. Yamaha is appreciably shorter with a scale length of 21” (530 mm) as against Cordoba’s 22.8” (580 mm).

Scale length is the distance between the saddle on the bridge (behind the soundhole) to the white, vertical, plastic ’nut’ near the headstock. Because a child’s hands are small, every mm matters and aids in playability.


YAMAHA CGC102ACORDOBA C1M 1/2 SIZE
Top woodLaminated SpruceSpruce
Other woodsMahogany/Meranti/Nato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge
Mahogany for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge
Number of frets1818
FinishGlossSatin finish
Interesting featuresIts 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)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 linksCheck the price of Yamaha CGS102A at SweetwaterCheck the price of Cordoba C1M 1/2 Size at Sweetwater

Yamaha CG142 vs Cordoba C3M

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Adult beginners who want to start on the classical guitar – including those revisiting the guitar after a gap of some years – typically look for an affordable guitar that is not too basic. Both Yamaha and Cordoba offer a few choices and we can look at two of them in particular – the former’s popular CG142C or CG142S (cedar or spruce top) and the latter’s C3M (cedar or spruce top).

Yamaha’s spruce version (CG142S) features solid Engelman spruce for a bright sound with good projection. Some people prefer the brighter, more projecting sound of a spruce top while others like the warm and mellow sound of a cedar top.

Either 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 is great 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.

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 lively sound. It is well worth your while and will last you through your advanced beginner stage as well.

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.


YAMAHA CG142CORDOBA C3M
Top woodSolid American Red Cedar Top OR Solid Engelmann Spruce TopSolid Cedar
Other woodsNato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge
Mahogany/Nato for sides, back and neck. Rosewood for fingerboard and bridge
Number of frets1819
FinishGlossSatin Matte
Interesting featuresA full-size 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 topAt 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 linksCheck the price of Yamaha CG142S at SweetwaterCheck the price of Cordoba C3M at Sweetwater

Cordoba Mini II vs Yamaha YGL1 Guitalele

At the inexpensive end, both Cordoba and Yamaha have decided to have a bit of fun with really tiny guitars that aren’t quite ukuleles – just about. The kind of thing we may carry with us on a holiday on a whim without thinking too much about packing or safety concerns. Yamaha calls its miniature variant Guitalele and Cordoba terms it Mini II. Both are fun!

The Guitalele is a cute 6-string nylon guitar that is sized like a baritone ukulele and plays like a guitar. The Guitalele’s tuning is pitched up to “A” at A/D/G/C/E/A. Yamaha calls it “half guitar, half ukulele… 100% fun.”

Cordoba Mini II is an attractive option that the company terms a proper guitar, though diminutive. It’s a nylon-string acoustic for everyone including crossover players of the electric guitar seeking an accessible classical guitar. But make no mistake: the Cordoba Mini II is a legit instrument that just happens to be small. It has a punchy sustain for a body so small.


YAMAHA GUITALELECORDOBA MINI II
Top woodSpruceLaminated flamed mahogany top
Other woodsMeranti
Laminated flamed mahogany back and sides
Scale length17”22.875”
FinishNaturalSatin polyurethane
Interesting featuresInstrument key is C. Altered tuning. Nylon strings. Baritone ukulele sizeWith traditional fan bracing. C-profile neck. Nut width 1.875”. Mini classical guitar, not ukulele
Purchase linksCheck the price of Yamaha Guitalele at AmazonCheck the price of Cordoba Mini II at Amazon

Guitars for early intermediate players

Yamaha CG192S vs Cordoba C7

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When we get to guitars for early intermediate level players, there are exciting choices from the two majors – even if we limit them to a maximum price of around $1,000 or so. Cordoba’s popular C5 and C7 guitars come to mind instantly as also the more costly C9 and C10. These are all excellent classical guitars at various price points by any standard.

Not to be outdone, you have the famed CG Series from Yamaha as also the lower end of its highly regarded GC Series (Grand Concert). These too are top drawer stuff in factory-made guitars for intermediates. Whether Yamaha or Cordoba, all these models come in cedar top and spruce top options.

The CG192S is the flagship instrument of Yamaha’s renowned CG series. It comes with the famous Yamaha sturdy construction using high-quality tonewoods. It continues to be the choice of many intermediate players.

For those on a budget, the model just below it, the CG182C (or S), is a great option for it is pretty much the same as the CG192 except for the mahogany neck and slightly better tuners for a lesser price. Those differences contribute to the durability of the guitar with no real impact on sound quality. In this line of thinking, the CG182 is a better bargain.

The Cordoba C7 is also meant for an advanced beginner or early intermediate guitarist. Not just price, but in terms of tonal quality and general handling, the C7 will be more appreciated by a guitarist with some experience. Its solid top of cedar (as against laminated wood) is already a step up from the novice world.

The C7’s traditional fan bracing under the top wood makes for great resonance and big sound. A two-way truss rod at this level of guitars is a handy feature to take care of its long-term neck orientation issues. A sleek glossy finish is a lovely touch.


YAMAHA CG192CORDOBA C7
Top woodSolid American Red Cedar Top OR Solid Engelmann Spruce TopSolid Cedar
Other woodsRosewood for back and sides. Mahogany for neck. Ebony for fingerboardIndian Rosewood for back and sides. Rosewood for bridge
Number of frets1919
FinishGlossGlossy Polyurethane
Interesting featuresIt is possible, as some have done, to jump straight from a beginner C40 right onto the CG192 (or a Cordoba C7 or equivalent) by skipping all the in-between line of guitars. It is a massive jump in tonal quality, playability, touch, durability – and the price, of courseAs found in more expensive guitars, the nut and saddle are made of bone, not plastic. And like every Cordoba guitar, the C7 is built light. The C7 is great value, if not a downright bargain at this price point
Purchase links Check the price of CG192CCheck the price of Cordoba C7 Cedar at Sweetwater

Cordoba C10 vs Yamaha GC22

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The C10 is a high-end guitar in the Cordoba range, part of its Luthier Series. It is also one of their top-selling models. It is “handmade in a small boutique workshop” and features either a Canadian cedar top or a European spruce top. The company terms it a “concert-level instrument.”

Aimed at the serious guitarist, the Cordoba C10 is a high-quality instrument made of solid woods. The C10 is also one of the most striking guitars to look at: a well-crafted guitar, classy and elegant, with a remarkable degree of workmanship. As one satisfied user said, “I spent hours looking for surface defects and smears and overspills but I couldn’t find any.”

Watch the big honchos of the company talk about the Luthier Series, so we know how seriously they are taking this model. The famed American luthier Kenny Hill has a few words to say here in his capacity as Cordoba designer and master builder.

Some owners have commented that to get the ‘true voice’ of the C10, they had to change the strings from the original. In some cases, a new set of D’Addario carbon strings worked wonders and others said Augustine’s Blue/Regal strings did the trick for them.

(If you want to get the basics of what strings to fix on your guitar, read my 5-Step Guide to Perfect Strings.)

The Yamaha GC22 has solid Rosewood for its back and sides and the top is either solid American Red Cedar or solid European Spruce. It is a tonewood combination, typical of higher quality guitars, that promises nuanced sound and expression. As the woods age, the tonal richness improves.

Great sound with easy playability. Those who may find the action a little high will have to lower the saddle but that’s not unusual these days on a new guitar.

For many owners, the GC22, cedar top or spruce, is a stand-out guitar from their previous one. They love the expression they can get out of it and the nuances it brings to their playing. As with all high end Yamahas, the GC22 has a well rounded, balanced sound with no particular leaning towards the basses. The basses, in fact, sound pure and rich on a typical GC22.

Users who have played both the GC22 and the GC12 (one rung below) say they sound pretty much identical, sharing a rich, resonant quality. It may then come down to whether you love the looks of Mahogany or Rosewood more.

Some have got excellent results using normal tension strings on the GC22 while replacing the G string with a carbon one. It brings out more clarity and gets rid of tubbiness.


YAMAHA GC22CORDOBA C10
Top woodSolid American Red Cedar Top OR Solid European Spruce TopSolid Western Red Cedar/Solid European Spruce
Other woodsSolid Rosewood for back and sides. African Mahogany for neck. Ebony for fingerboardSolid Rosewood for back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard
Number of frets1919
FinishGlossGlossy Polyurethane
Interesting featuresConsistent quality is Yamaha’s strong point. You can expect a GC22 to sound big and sustained. Trebles are not overpowered by the bass. And the sound will certainly improve with age. The neck profile is very comfortable for better playabilityAs found in more expensive guitars, the nut and saddle are made of bone, not plastic. And like every Cordoba guitar, the C10 is built light. The C10 is a hugely popular guitar with intermediate guitarists for its brightness and volume.
Purchase linksCheck the price of Yamaha GC22C at SweetwaterCheck the price of Cordoba C10 Spruce at Sweetwater

Guitars for intermediate to advanced players

Yamaha GC32C vs Cordoba C12

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The Yamaha GC32 is considered the start of the “higher end” of the GC line. It is a very Spanish sounding guitar, produced in the Hamamatsu factory in Japan. (The models below, GC12 and GC22, are reportedly made in China.)

In high-end guitars like the GC32, it’s not just the choice of the tonewoods. It’s in the particular choice of the actual pieces of wood that go to make a classical guitar. No wood piece is ever identical to any other like no two fingerprints are the same. Care taken here by a master craftsman directly translates as the final quality of the instrument.

Up close, the attention to detail is everywhere. It is lacquered, but thinly. The guitar is heavier than usual. The edge banding is very detailed. It does not buzz.

In terms of sound, the mid and treble tones are super clear and bright. The GC32 has a bit more complexity in tone than the lesser models. The good thing about a Yamaha is that you are guaranteed reliability, consistency, great build and finish. Taken together, the GC32 in its price band is a hard one to beat.

The handmade Cordoba C12 classical guitar “fuses modern elements with traditional design.” The Cordoba C12 features a lattice-braced top. Lattice bracing increases a guitar’s projection and sensitivity. You’ll also enjoy increased access to the upper frets and increased playability from the C12’s raised fingerboard. Natural lacquer finish will allow the cedar top to mature its tone over the years.

It is a handsome guitar that performs as good as it looks with fans all over the world. The Cordoba C12 is gorgeous to simply look at, from the detailed mother-of-pearl “Esteso” rosette inlay and maple binding to the gold tuners with ebony buttons.

It’s easy to love the rich, full tone of the Cordoba C12’s premium tonewoods well put together. The sound is big, no doubts about that. Cordoba’s humidified hard case is included (at the time of writing) in the price, which is a great accessory if you live in humid conditions.


YAMAHA GC32CORDOBA C12
Top woodSolid American Red Cedar Top OR Solid European Spruce TopSolid Western Red Cedar/Solid European Spruce
Other woodsSolid Rosewood for back and sides. Ebony for fingerboardSolid Indian Rosewood with Flame Maple Center Wedge. Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard
Number of frets1819
FinishPolyurethane GlossGlossy Polyurethane
Interesting featuresAt less than $2,000, the Yamaha GC32C is an outstanding instrument. Solid rosewood back and sides. Ebony fingerboard. Solid American cedar top. Or European spruce top. It will sound better with ageGreat tonewoods. Lattice bracing.  The C12 was designed with playability in mind, and the great looks are an added extra
Purchase linksCheck the price of Yamaha CG32C at Sweetwater Check the price of Cordoba C12 Spruce at Sweetwater

Cordoba Espana FCWE Gipsy Kings vs Yamaha NCX5 NT

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This comparison is for you if you’re into nylon strings electrified with a cutaway design to help you reach the high notes. The classical guitar has its attractions for those on the electric/acoustic side of the fence. There are many leading brands that cater to the cutaway-nylon-string-electrified guitar desiring crowd. Names like Ibanez, Takamine, Kremona and Taylor spring to mind. As also the classical guitar giants Yamaha and Cordoba.

The Cordoba FCWE acoustic-electric nylon-string guitar is handbuilt in traditional flamenco style. The nut width, scale length, and low action are all structured in typical flamenco performance. The top is European spruce with cypress back and sides. A Spanish cedar neck with ebony fretboard completes the assortment of premium tonewoods.

As a performance-focused guitar, the FCWE comes fitted with the Fishman Prefix Problend pickup system. The Problend system combines a piezo pickup with an internal mic. The two signals are blended to taste. The snappy bite of a piezo pickup blends smoothly with the natural tones of a microphone.

It is a traditionally built flamenco guitar of handbuilt quality on the one hand. And it is a loud and extroverted instrument with today’s stage presence on the other. It is part of the company’s Gipsy Kings series of guitars, an impressive line. The playability is fast and smooth.

A popular Yamaha equivalent in this price range is the NCX5-NT. Its starting point is traditional classical guitar form and body depth. The NCX series of guitars are aimed at the same audience – contemporary players seeking the exotic sound of nylon strings without necessarily buying into the classical repertoire.

It comes fitted with the Atmosfeel pickup system, a cutaway shape, a traditional neck profile and good wood choices.

Yamaha has always been well known in the acoustic and electro-acoustic world of guitars. The pickup and preamp system controls allow for an easy blending of mic sound with the pickup sound. It is simple to use and the settings can be dialed in without even looking at the controls.

Taken together, the electronic system plus the traditional nylon string set up, the NCX5 is a popular choice with players seeking stage performance levels from a classical guitar.


YAMAHA NCX5-NTCORDOBA FCWE Gipsy Kings
Top woodSolid European spruce top with rounded edgesSolid German Spruce
Other woodsSolid walnut back and sides. Mahogany neck with ebony fingerboardSolid Spanish Cypress back and sides. Ebony fingerboard
Number of frets1919
FinishSatinGlossy Polyurethane
Interesting featuresA Mic Blend knob enables you to blend the mic signal with the piezo. A Bass EQ knob controls a peaking EQ. You also get a Master Volume control.Fishman Prefix Problend System. Handbuilt to traditional flamenco specifications for optimal performance and quality
Purchase linksCheck the price of Yamaha NCX5 at SweetwaterCheck the price of Cordoba Espana FCWE Gypsy Kings at Sweetwater

Yamaha GC42 vs Cordoba Hauser Master Series

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We are nearing the top end of the scale now. The Master Series from Cordoba is hand made in California, unlike other models which are made in China, and represents top of its line. Yamaha’s GC42 is a step above the GC32 we saw earlier and can be your concert guitar. This is not the company’s top of the line – there are a handful of models that extend up even further (in price too, of course.) These models are handcrafted in Japan.

The GC42C with its solid American cedar top has an outstanding range with articulation and detail. Premium Madagascar rosewood back and sides enhance low-mid richness. An African mahogany neck and ebony fretboard ensure playability. This looks and feels like an expensive guitar, which it is.

For later intermediates and advanced players, the GC42 is a perfect fit. In the Delcamp forums (with its luthiers, expert players and knowledgeable enthusiasts) there is a special fan group devoted to the Grand Concert Series. Such is the respect and following Yamaha has at its high end.

The Cordoba Hauser nylon-string guitar is a “handcrafted instrument that gives you incredible control over your tone.” This responsive guitar is based on an original 1937 Hauser guitar. From wood thickness to bracing pattern to the tonal balance, every effort was made to bring to life a legendary instrument. An advanced guitarist will expect this guitar to express every nuance and detail in their playing.

That Hauser model is the one that Segovia played on for most of his career. It’s the sound of the classical guitar that many are accustomed to from listening to the maestro’s various recordings. There are premium tonewoods at work here to reach that perfect balance of brightness and warmth. The player has total control over tone, dynamics and expression.

You’ll love the rich, full tone of the Cordoba Hauser Master Series Classical’s premium tonewoods. Solid Indian rosewood back and sides set a powerful tonal foundation for the solid Engelmann spruce top, giving you the perfect balance of warmth and brightness. The neck is solid Spanish cedar, for maximum transfer of string energy to the top. An ebony fingerboard and Indian rosewood bridge complete the elegant look.


YAMAHA GC42CCORDOBA HAUSER
Top woodSolid American CedarSolid Engelman Spruce
Other woodsSolid Madagascar Rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck with ebony fingerboardIndian Rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard
Number of frets1819
FinishPolyester GlossGloss
Interesting featuresWith its vibrant, expressive tone that improves with age, the GC42C is a handcrafted, premium classical guitar of concert qualityBased on Segovia’s legendary Hauser 1937 model, a concert guitar that is handcrafted for player nuance and control
Purchase linksCheck the price of Yamaha GC42C at SweetwaterCheck the price of Cordoba Hauser Master Series at Sweetwater

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If you lean towards Yamaha, you will want to read further follow-ups with my article Yamaha Guitars for Intermediates as well as Yamaha Classical Guitars Overall Review.

If you side with Cordoba, you may want to check out my reviews of two of the most popular classical models: the Cordoba C9 review and Cordoba C10 review.

Adults with small hands – whether beginner or expert – often look for small scale guitars. Read my article Small Scale Classical Guitars for Adults for information about both Yamaha and Cordoba models of smaller scale.

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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