There are a few things to consider when buying a classical guitar for a beginner. It’s not about things like quality and price alone, it starts with how old the player is.
A classical guitar is a mechanical device at heart and directly relates to the size of the player. A child below 10 years of age, say, needs a smaller size guitar than an adult. A grown adult who has a small frame or smaller than average hands will need a smaller size guitar as well.
This recommendation is for a ‘normal’ size adult who can handle a full-size guitar.
Best guitar for adult beginners
After considering quite a few models out there, I prefer the Yamaha C40II as the perfect choice for a beginner. It is full size. It is sturdily built. It is highly regarded by the classical guitar community of students as well as teachers. It is quite affordable.
I have played its predecessor the Yamaha C40 and it is a great guitar for beginners. Since a serious beginner has many things to learn and think about from posture to technique to sight-reading, he or she shouldn’t have to spend agonizing hours choosing an instrument as well. Get the C40II and get on with other things is what I recommend.
Besides, a beginner does not have what it takes to judge the sound quality of an instrument. They can spend hours in a guitar store without hearing appreciable differences between instruments. It’s wiser to go with a battle hardened, tried and trusted brand and model put through its paces by thousands of other buyers. Reputation counts.
Over the years, everyone agrees that Yamaha has managed consistency in quality to a great extent. This sort of reputation goes a long way in winning the trust of online buyers. Especially buyers who may not live in cities with big name guitar retail shops.
If you want to know more you can read a detailed review of the Yamaha C40 here.
What to look for in a beginner classical guitar
A full size: Normal guitars have a scale length of 650 mm. Scale length is the distance from the bridge to the nut at the tuning machines end. Unless there is a special need – you have smaller hands and your teacher advised you to get a shorter scale guitar or the player is a child under 10 years of age – look for a full scale guitar. All the time you invest in practice should be on a standard size guitar.
A good action: The ‘action’ that guitarists speak of is the distance between the strings and the fretboard below them. Too little distance, the strings buzz and twang. Too much and the extra effort to press the strings down makes it harder to play. Here’s where trusted factory brands like Cordoba and Yamaha and others come into play with good action tolerances built in.
Its wood choices: It is difficult to expect solid wood tops at this price range. You will instead get laminated wood tops (a laminate is many thin layers of wood stuck together). The choice of woods should be pretty standard though. The top wood (with the sound hole) is the most important for overall sound quality and resonance and is almost always cedar or spruce. The back, sides and neck woods have relatively less impact on the sound and are usually Indian rosewood and mahogany. Although other hard woods may be used instead to keep down the cost.
Its playability: This will sound like a woolly term to beginners, but to most intermediate players even, this is the most important criterion. If ordering online, and if the playability isn’t right, it may be good reason to return the instrument. It’s a difficult concept to expect of the beginner, who by definition is learning to play and will not have fixed ideas on how ‘playable’ an instrument is. You will have to call in an intermediate level friend or colleague to help you out either at the store or when it gets delivered home. Or rely on top brands like the ones mentioned here to assure yourself. You need a basic hygiene check, nothing fancy. A reputed brand will deliver it.
Its popularity over time: You really don’t want to be experimenting with basic quality and endurance. When others have tried and tested it for you over time, you have a trusted brand that knows how to deliver.
Its reputation for consistency: A mostly wooden instrument, even if made in a modern factory, cannot be identical to another one. So if a brand wins a name for consistent quality, it has won half the battle on your behalf.
Its price: While you certainly don’t want to spend too much, you should actually watch against paying too low. I would suggest not going below $100 for a beginner’s guitar unless your guitar teacher actually suggests a specific bargain. (I may consider changing that guitar teacher, but that’s another story.) A cheap guitar doesn’t built confidence, musicality or last long. But then, know that at this stage, you don’t need a $500 guitar either.
A good returns policy: A reputed dealer (online or offline) will have this in place, but it’s in your interest to check. Just in case a lemon lands up in the mail.
Top brands to consider as a beginner
Cordoba Protege C1: This qualifies strongly with regard to all the conditions listed above. Cordoba guitars are lightweight and have a different ‘feel’ about them because of that. Unusual for this price range, the C1 comes with a two-way truss rod for adjusting the ‘action’ to suit your style of playing. Check the price of a Cordoba Protege C1 at Amazon.
Yamaha CGS 104A: This comes with a laminated spruce top and is another Yamaha favourite with students and teachers who recommend them. It is a leading model out of Yamaha’s Student Series and everything about it is full-sized.
Lucero LC100: I would take a serious look at this even though I’ve hardly seen one in real life let alone play one. But the online reputation of the Lucero LC100 among students is quite high. It is a favourite and is in the same price range like the others above. Laminated spruce top, crowd tested and it has a cool Black variant too.
If you want to know details of the various options of models to consider, I suggest reading through my review of guitar options for the beginner.
Extra tempting bits
Many guitars come with an attractive package. You will find deals where a gig bag, an extra set of strings, an instructional booklet or DVD, etc. are thrown in to sweeten the deal. Sometimes, these come included in the price of the guitar or they come extra for a few dollars more.
Of course, everyone loves a good deal. A polishing cloth or a tuner thrown in feels so thoughtful, after all. It’s good to focus on the main guitar first! Check all the qualities it must satisfy. Once satisfied, we can allow ourselves to be led down the garden path following small and shiny objects to our heart’s content.
That sounds like plain common sense, no doubt. In times of great desire or excitement, that is often the very thing that flies out of the window.
How long will a guitar last?
In terms of build, you have nothing to worry. A good brand guitar will last years with normal upkeep and maintenance. (If you live in extremely humid or hot places, you will take sensible precautions, of course).
In a couple of years, you will flog it on eBay or Criagslist. Trust me, you will know when the time comes.
It is highly unlikely that you will change your guitar to something better because it died on you. No, it will be because you are learning to put together what sound like musical phrases, your fingers are moving well, your teacher is noticing your progress and you are wondering what you’re doing still playing that beginner guitar!
Get it? That’s the way it happens. You simply outgrow it, perhaps in a year or two. It happens to the best of us. It means you are moving to the next level. And that’s perfectly fine.