There's nothing that can quite replicate the feel or sound of playing a nylon-string acoustic guitar. However, even if you're well versed in steel-string acoustics, or can rewire a Stratocaster with your eyes closed, the classical guitar can still be a thing of mystery.
There are innumerable classical manufacturers and while some of them (eg, Yamaha) will be familiar to most of us, there are plenty of brands that won't be.
Here we've selected of some of the best nylon-string guitar models we've come across. Whether you want a classical-style electro or something more steel-string-like and tailored for the stage, these are the guitars we recommend...
Cordoba Iberia GK Studio
So many lower-end nylon-strings seem overbuilt and unresponsive acoustically - not the GK Studio. The Studio is a delight, from its feather-light weight to its quite un-classical neck that, despite its width, actually makes thumb- around positions relatively easy, certainly in lower positions.
The Studio is designed for a more 'flamenco'-type sound and it might surprise some players just how much bite it can have, especially played with some gusto with fingernails rather than your fingerpads.
"The GK Studio comes highly recommended for anyone who wants to, or already is, enjoying the nylon sound."
4 out of 5
Thanks to a solid body - and no acoustic chamber - they are entirely feedback resistant: one reason why more than one big-name guitarist has used one for an amplified acoustic interlude in a loud rock band setting.
A major feature of the Silent Guitar design is its highly modernist appearance: aside from the neck and centre section, a laminated guitar-shaped frame is all you get for the 'body'.
This latest model adds Yamaha's Studio Response Technology (SRT): a digital system that emulates the sound of a real guitar, studio-recorded with a high-class microphone.
"If you've caught the nylon bug, this is the place to start. A lot of guitar for the money."
4.5 out of 5
Cordoba Mini O
While the Mini can be tuned to standard pitch, on a scale that's so reduced from the typical classical scale of 650mm (25.6 inches), things are relatively floppy but far from unplayable.
In the factory-designed A to A tuning, however, things feel remarkably classical-like, and the wider spacing makes it surprisingly easy to fret. There's reasonable projection, too, but it's as a practice tool or even a songwriting partner that the Mini feels a lot more 'serious' than many smaller instruments.
"A quality mini classical travel guitar."
4 out of 5
Alhambra Crossover CS-3 CW E5
Alhambra is a Spanish maker located in Muro de Alcoy, in the province of Alicante, that has been successfully making nylon string guitars for over 40 years.
Bearing in mind the base price of this guitar, it's very well made, sharp and clean. The cutaway might well limit it's acoustic volume but it's enough for small room ensemble use. Amplified it performs to a high standard and the easy playability makes it hard to return to a larger-necked traditional classical.
"If you've found the majority of nylon electros too unwieldy the Crossover provides slick playability, with the performance ethic of a high-line steel string electro."
4 out of 5
Yamaha has a long and distinguished heritage in classical guitar-making, and while this one looks traditional, it features the system 68N preamp and contact pickup, with a 48mm nut width.
Sporting a solid spruce top with nato back and sides and a nato neck, this is fantastic value.
BUY: Yamaha CGX102 currently available from:
La Patrie Collection Q1 EQ
An all-solid wood (cedar/rosewood), top-of-the line model from the Godin’s nylon-string brand.
Canadian-made, it comes with optional EPM Quantum 1 pickup and preamp system, high-gloss finish and Tusq nut and saddle. Highly consistent quality.
Santos Martinez Virtuoso 'Bossa Nova' SM475CEA
If non-cut nylon-string electros are a rare breed, cutaway versions are more than plentiful.
This is a good place to start: solid cedar top, laminate rosewood back and sides and Fishman pickup and preamp with tuner. These Chinese-made guitars work well amplified, too.
From its balanced acoustic sound - quite subdued in terms of volume - to its amplified tone, Yamaha really has got this right.
There's a natural sound with no piezo quack, which records well into your DAW; it loves modern effects, too, and hey, you wanna play it with a pick like Rodrigo (who uses a custom-made version of this very guitar), be our guest.
"For anyone after a different sound but with steel-string-like playability, this is the place to start: an absolutely superb modern nylon-string electro."
5 out of 5
Admira Virtuoso EC
The Spanish-made, non-cut Virtuoso E was one of our favourite start-up electro nylon strings in its day, but it’s now been replaced by this cutaway version.
The specs are the same, though: a solid cedar top and laminate rosewood back and sides with Shadow’s Nanoflex pickup and 4Plus preamp.
BUY: Admira Virtuoso EC currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
There’s plenty of crossover, steel-string influence in this superb solid spruce/rosewood cutaway model.
Specs include a 508mm (20-inch) radius ’board, 47.6mm nut with the ES-N under-saddle pickup and rotary volume, treble and bass controls. A bit of road-ready finery, no doubt.
There are plenty of steel-string influences here from the florentine cutaway to the winged-top headstock, ‘narrow’ 46mm nut width and slightly cambered fingerboard.
The Fishman under-saddle pickup and Clasica II preamp features volume and EQ rotaries, plus tuner and phase switches.
"The purist in us says no, but the player says yes! This is a great, affordable example of the modern steel/nylon hybrid."
4.5 out of 5
Lowden Jazz Series S25J
Lowden’s Jazz Series starts with the all-solid cedar/rosewood S25J fitted with Fishman Matrix Infinity System as standard.
Specifically designed to appeal to both steel-string and classical players, it features a cambered fingerboard and lowden’s tremendous craft: spectacular.
Joan Cashimira 87BCE
Outside of the high-end, traditional Spanish makers have been hit hard by Asian competition.
Made in Spain, this thin-depth electro cutaway is really worth checking out. It features a solid German spruce top over laminated sycamore back and sides, with a Fishman Prefix Pro Blend system.
"It's a shame the electrified sound doesn't match its excellent acoustic performance. Find one that does, however, and it'll be a fine flamenco-style electro."
4 out of 5
Chris George Custom CE-N
Another thin-depth cutaway electro, this original custom design was conceived by George.
It’s all-solid spruce/rosewood with a cedar neck, classical width nut and flat ebony ’board, it also features the fishman aura pro preamp. There are also steel-string and solidbody versions.
"Here's a guitar that proves that not all innovation comes from the major brands. A beautiful instrument."
4.5 out of 5
Designed for practise, this ‘silent’ nylon string is just as happy used with headphones or by hoary old rockers at high volume - it doesn’t feed back!
Onboard effects include reverb, chorus and delay plus it has a classical scale length, nut width and flat ebony ’board.
"It might seem like a gimmick, but this is a highly practical practice tool and great plugged in for stage or home-recording use."
4.5 out of 5
Godin Mulitac Grand Concert SA
Want a stage-ready nylon electro? Godin has plenty including a 7-string, fretless, and semi-solid models for feedback rejection and even synth access.
This is classical-like with a full width nut but lightly cambered (610mm/24-inch) fingerboard, chambered mahogany body and solid cedar top.
BUY: Godin Mulitac Grand Concert SA currently available from:
Carvin's detailed, considered build is perfect if you need a pro-quality nylon-string for your louder gigs where a more standard electro-acoustic doesn't cut it. It's a beautiful guitar and very practical with it.
This thinline electro nylon also has synth access. Aside from its slotted headstock and tie-block bridge it’s distinctly un-classical with a mahogany through-neck and shape that’s more tele than torres. It features a 48.6mm nut width with a 508mm radiused ebony ’board and plenty of custom options, too.
"A beautifully made nylon stage electro-acoustic with Synth Access and superb feedback resistance."
4 out of 5
The 712ce-N exhibits the intimacy and balance of a steel string. The wide neck is easy to adjust to and intonation and playability are superb.
It feels very different to a concert classical and sounds very different, too - less bright-edged and explosive. Its unplugged sound suggests a much more laid-back style: a seriously good Latin/jazz nylon string. The string tension isn't over-soft either - it's very engaging, albeit far from its Spanish roots.
"Taylor's take on the hybrid steel/nylon guitar is extremely playable with a mellow acoustic voice and crisper, more attacking amplified sound."
4 out of 5