Classical Vs Acoustic Guitar… Which Is Best For Beginners?

in Guitar Basics | 27 comments

How To Choose The Best Guitar When Starting Out

 

classical vs acoustic guitar - which is best for beginners?

 

 

Choosing The Best Guitar For Beginners

 

When you first learn to play guitar you may be faced with the decision on which of the two popular non-electric types of instruments to start out with. We'll call this choice… Classical vs Acoustic guitar.

I’ve found that many students don’t know the difference between the classical and acoustic.  In fact many just believe that they are just synonyms for each other or that the acoustic guitar is the classical guitar and vice versa.  On one hand they are both actually “acoustic” guitars.  “Acoustic simply means a sound that is produced within the body of the guitar without the use of electricity”.  In practice they have come to refer to two different types of guitars. So then what is the difference between them and which is best for beginners?

What Is A Classical Guitar?

 

To start off let’s answer the question “what is a classical guitar?”.  Well there are two distinguishing factors distinguishing the classical vs acoustic guitar. The first and most obvious defining factor is the types of strings that they use.

The classic guitar utilizes only nylon strings whereas a Acoustic guitar is designed to be used with steel strings.  For this reason the Acoustic guitar is frequently referred to as a steel string guitar, whereas the Classicial is referred to as nylon string guitar.

Nylon stringed guitars are very light and built with woods to emphasize resonance.  These guitars cannot handle the pressure that the steel strings would exert on them.

Don't put steel strings on a Classical guitar. Because the neck is not reinforced with a truss rod it is likely to cause the neck to bow over time.

Acoustic guitars,  frequently referred as a Folk, Dreadnought, Steel String or even sometimes referred to as just “the Acoustic”, are designed to be used with steel strings.  Although it can be played with nylon strings, it will unfortunately not sound as good as if it was being played with steel strings.  The sound will be weak due to a inner construction that doesn't reproduce the sound of nylon strings well.

 With regards to my second point, classical or nylon guitars are much lighter and much smaller than acoustic guitars are, they’re also shorter when standing up.

Classical Vs Acoustic Guitar

 

Here is a basic summary of the differences between an acoustic guitar and a classical guitar:

           Classical                                                                                 Acoustic

        wider neck                                                                             thinner neck

        no truss rod                                                                         truss rod in neck

        nylon strings                                                                       metal strings

        softer, mellower tone                                                      louder, more resonant tone

        cut-outs in headstock (“string stores”)                    solid headstock (no cutouts)

Styles Commonly Played On A Classical Guitar?

 

Classical; many styles of Latin and Brazilian music; some pop, folk, and jazz as well.

 

Acoustic Guitar Styles

 

The Acoustic guitar is almost universal in its uses, it spans across every musical genre, suitable for rock (Dave Mathews), folk (Bob Dylan), soft rock (James Taylor), and blues (Eric Clapton) even in more extreme genres such as metal.  Every musician/songwriter should own an Acoustic guitar, they’re great for composing songs of any genre.  The Acoustic is especially useful at campfire sing-along because of its volume as well as lounges and bars.

 

You Need To Know About The “truss rod”

 

The truss rod is there to counter the immense amount of pressure that steel strings place on the neck of the guitar.  Because the Classical utilize the much more flexible and lighter nylon strings which place minimal tension on the neck of the guitar they do not require a truss rod to counter the pressure.

 

Nylon Vs Metal Strings

 

The "weak tension of nylon strings isn’t enough to drive the Acoustic; the sound would be thin.  Nylon strings are designed for the smaller body of the Classical guitar. On the other hand, if you were to put metal strings on a Classical guitar it is likely that the tension would pull the bridge up," bow the neck or even cause it to break over time. This is obviously a big no-no.

 

Which Is Best For Beginners?

 

You probably realize by now that there is no right or wrong, but I will give you a basic summary to help you decide.

If you want to play pop rock or country music and are willing to go through a bit of pain until your fingers get tough the acoustic guitar is likely the best choice. It sounds more like the kind of music you want to play.

If you want to play either Latin styles or general folk style guitar the classical guitar may be right for you. The nylon strings will be easier on your fingers. Unfortunately, if you have short fingers you'll find the neck is pretty wide.

For those who want to play classical guitar there really is no option but a classical guitar.

If the guitar is for child or someone with small hands I usually recommend a smaller student guitar with nylon strings. The neck is the thin and the guitar is easier to hold. These guitars are commonly called 3/4 size guitars or student guitars.

I hope this helps you to choose the right guitar for you concerning classical vs acoustic guitar.

If you are taking guitar lessons I’d encourage you to ask your teacher which they would prefer you learn guitar on. Keep in mind that you can always change guitars or even buy a second guitar. I like to have each for different situations and different styles of music. Above all have fun and go with what inspires you.

Tell Us What You Think - Please Comment Below!

We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?

 

 

Tomas Michaud

Tomas Michaud

Author - Tomas Michaud at Real Guitar Success
Tomas Michaud is an American born guitarist and music educator with a French Canadian heritage. He first developed the Starland Guitar System in 1982 when his 9 year old daughter asked him to teach her guitar. Since then he’s founded the Starland School of Music in the SF Bay Area, and RealguitarSuccess.com.

When he's not making guitar instruction videos or creating more music to record (currently 7 CDs including Beauty and Fire) he's riding his bike along the beach with his dog Marco Polo or traveling to interesting places with his lovely wife Pui.
Tomas Michaud

    27 Comments

  1. Okay, so I’m officially aware I made a horrible mistake. I chose a nylon string guitar, currently being a beginner, and now completely regret it. Is there, if even possible, a way to get a nylon string guitar to use different strings, like ones that won’t completely destroy it?

    Joshua

    August 8, 2015

    • Best advice Joshua : sell your nylon cord guitar and buy an entry-level steel string guitar like the YAMAHA FD02. Pretty inexpensive and still provides a decent sound quality. Good luck!

      Stephan Becker

      October 4, 2015

      • “Classical Guitar” has 3 different meanings: (1) a nylon stringed classical or Spanish guitar; (2) classical music written or adapted for guitar; and (3) classical guitar technique. The last one is the most important. It is a way of playing that has been refined over centuries. Whatever type of music you want to play, classical guitar technique will teach you how to read music, accompany yourself with base and harmony lines whilst playing melody and give your music some style with different ways of plucking the strings (eg, the rest stroke and the free stroke), along with dynamics (different degrees of loudness). The easiest way to learn these techniques is on a classical nylon string guitar. It is designed for this very purpose. Once you learn to play classical guitar, like me, you will love it! Steel strings are fine, but I think they are most suited to strumming and accompanying singers.

        James

        November 12, 2015

      • Well said James. – Tomas

        Tomas

        November 13, 2015

    • Don’t blame the instrument because you cant make it sound good. Everyone has a preference to what they think is a good resonant tone. if anything, starting with a classical guitar is better for developing your skills. Due to the lack of tension on the strings, you will be better able to play chords without dulling certain strings. steel strings require more pressure applied to get a clear note. not to mention that you’ll want to develop calluses when you start and steel strings will irritate your fingers faster than nylon. Stick with your classical, unless the guitar’s harmonics are out.

      John

      February 29, 2016

  2. Thanks for the article and the video along with it!

    Ural

    February 4, 2016

    • You’re welcome Ural. – Tomas

      Tomas

      February 19, 2016

  3. I’ve been playing a takamine h5 concert classical guitar for a couple of years. I chose classical because I don’t have a good voice. It’s hard to find good more modern music. Some rewritten for classical guitar doesnt sound like the original. Any ideas? What about new with age music? Does anyone have a good source?

    Lana

    March 11, 2016

    • Hi Lana… nothing right now but I’ll keep my eyes open. – Tomas

      Tomas

      March 16, 2016

  4. i am trying to figure out which guitar would be best for me. After reading through the type of music the classical and acoustic guitars are best for, I have realized that I might do better with an acoustic guitar. The only issue I have is when i read further down, you reccomended people with smaller hands to use a nylon string guitar. I have long fingers but small hands and I do remember when I was a teen that I had issues with the cords on a normal guitar. Does the 3/4 or student sized guitars come in acoustic also with the steel strings? I don’t want to buy a full size acoustic guitar to find out that I can’t play it well because of my hand size or to buy a smaller one and learn that it doesn’t play the melody I am looking for. I also am left handed, so I don’t know if that will play into the availability of finding a guitar that will fit me while not costing an arm and a leg. Thank you very much for the help!

    Anna-Jean

    May 9, 2016

    • Hi Anne-Jean, acoustic guitars in general have a thin neck so that’s not a problem… But the body can be large. Many woman, and some smaller bodied men, who want to play acoustic find a Yamaha FG JR1 3/4 Size Acoustic Guitar perfect. It has a slightly smaller body and easier to hold, and the thin neck of an acoustic. There’s also a baby Taylor that is popular… more expensive but sounds better.

      If you are a beginner and haven’t played before I strongly recommend you purchase a guitar with a normal arrangement of strings… Not what you call left-handed. Here’s an article I wrote that can explain more: https://tomasmichaud.com/learning-guitar-left-handed/

      – Tomas

      Tomas

      May 9, 2016

  5. I have large hands but thick fingers. I’v already started lesson with an acoustic guitar, but have trouble with cord A as I can’t seem to get all 3 middle fingers into the space available (very little margin for error). Would I be better off using a classical guitar, that has a wider neck?

    David Wheeler

    June 18, 2016

    • Hi David. You are not the only one with this problem. Even I have a hard time playing the a the way you’re describing. The classical guitar is one possibility… But I’ve created a post to talk about it in more depth and give you an idea the pros and cons of different ways of dealing with this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hv9WempYy4 Hope this helps. – Tomas

      Tomas

      July 1, 2016

  6. To Anne-Jean, Check out LaPatrie classical guitars (a Godin Guitar company) . They are made in LaPatrie Quebec Canada. The LaPatrie guitars have a thinner neck.

    Alain

    August 14, 2016

  7. Also for Anne-Jean. Godin also makes the Simon And Patrick acoustic guitar. The Songsmith model is smaller than others, has a beautiful sound and is reasonably priced.

    Alain

    August 14, 2016

  8. Nicely explained so I took acoustic guitar. Thanks for your help.

    Siva

    September 3, 2016

  9. Am I correct in assuming that Indie Folk musicians would then use steel string guitars? Ben Howard, Damien Rice etc. That is the genre I would like o play. But am just worried about size as im a smll girl.

    Gabrielle

    October 4, 2016

  10. Thank you for the the clear well-written article. Your recommendations supported with your personal experience was eye opening. I am emailing this to my 12 year old and then we are going guitar shopping. Thanks so much

    Saith Paul

    November 2, 2016

    • You are very welcome Saith. Guitar shopping… how fun 🙂 – Tomas

      Tomas

      November 19, 2016

  11. Hi,
    my son wants to learn guitar and his teacher recommend to buy the following guitar to start learning, would you please let me know is that a good guitar or i should by another brand like Yamaha, also please let me know which one is better Yamaha FG800
    Altamira N100

    hossein

    June 24, 2017

    • Hi Hossein,
      I’m not familiar with the Altamira N100… but I often recommend the Yamaha FG800 for beginners. Sounds like your teacher knows what is a good guitar for students.

      – Tomas

      Tomas

      June 30, 2017

  12. Hi tomas, I’m looking at purchasing a F310P yamaha scoustic guitar but my dad thinks this is a bad idea because of its metal strings and narrow neck, what do you think?

    amelia

    September 10, 2017

    • Hi Amelia,
      The Yamaha F310 is a good guitar for beginners. The steel strings will hurt your fingers, but it’s still the best choice for most people if you like pop music. If you practice daily for a little bit your fingers will be fine in about 3 – 4 weeks.
      – Tomas

      Tomas Michaud

      October 1, 2017

  13. Hi, Tomas

    I am a beginner and would like to learn classical guitar. The Yamaha FG800 is unavailable here in Brazil. What is your opinion on the NCX / NTX series, would it be appropriate?

    Andréa

    December 9, 2017

    • Hi Andrea,
      I looked them up on the web. Knowing that Yamaha has good quality for lower priced instruments I’m sure either would be fine. I did only saw more expensive ones with the prefix NTX. I say if you can afford them go for it!

      – Tomas

      Tomas Michaud

      December 28, 2017

  14. Why the people call a guitar for “begginers”?

    Kareli

    May 1, 2018

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