Sometimes overlooked and underappreciated, the best classical guitars can fill a sonic space that can’t be touched by the more popular steel-string acoustic and electric guitars. A good classical can also be really useful in the studio, providing another texture to provoke the listener’s ears.
Nylon strings are softer to the touch and as such are a little kinder to the fingers than steel strings. They also sound much more mellow, with a darker and warmer tone. You don’t quite get the same projection and direct sound as you do with a steel-string acoustic, but a great classical guitar can easily sound just as good.
Whether you’re looking to play straight-up classical, flamenco, gypsy jazz or soul, there’s a nylon-string guitar that’s going to be just right for your needs. Dispel any preconceptions you might have about battered old things that don’t stay in tune, our pick of the best classical guitars highlights some quality, well-made, reliable options and covers everything from beginner instruments to high-end, professional-grade models.
Best classical guitars: Our top picks
In terms of the best classical guitar, it’s difficult to pin down, as there’s such a variety. For its playability, price and superb tone, we love the Taylor Academy 12e-N. It’s got a really slick neck profile, good intonation and it sounds beautiful. It’s articulate and versatile, working for pretty much any acoustic genre you can throw at it. Add to that a quality acoustic guitar pickup and you’ve got our top pick.
For the best starter classical, the Yamaha CG122MSH blends affordability and quality. Featuring a solid spruce top that helps yield a bright but balanced tone, it’s ideal for those wanting to get started in the world of classical music, but that might be swayed into looking at other styles too. Then, if you’ve got a lot of money to spend and want an incredible, high-end hybrid classical guitar, you should check out the Lowden S-25J.
Best classical guitars: Product guide
The Academy line offers a Taylor guitar without the hefty price-tag, making, as Taylor says, the “acoustic guitar accessible to more players.” But the Academy 12e-N is accessible in all kinds of ways. First off, it’s compact, and as the firm's smallest full-scale shape, the Grand Concert is the perfect size for a classical nylon-string.
The 12e-N could be considered a “crossover” nylon-string. It has an adjustable truss rod and a lightly radius’d fingerboard and a narrower neck (about 1/8” thinner across the nut than your typical 2” wide classical guitar), but its voice is classical with an open, responsive midrange. A hard percussive approach reveals a border-line flamenco voicing, while turning down the intensity showcases a more Latin-voicing that would work well with your bossanova or jazz-fusion chord book.
There are very few negatives. You’ve got a great neck shape, an accommodating size with a bevelled armrest – praise be! – and incredible playability. With its crisp, defined classical voice, that’s a winning combo.
Read the full Taylor Academy 12e-N review
For beginners, or anyone looking for an affordable entry point into the world of nylon-string guitars, the CG122MS is a no-brainer. The CG122MS has been kicking about for years now because, once again, Yamaha has made it a point of pride that it can put together an entry-level guitar that performs well beyond its price point.
It has a full-size classical body, with a very classical 2.05” nut width and 2.28” spread at the bridge, and it feels great, with a really welcoming neck profile.
As for tone, well, tune in for a well-balanced voice that’s good and strong in the mids, with articulate high-end, and if it lacks just a little bit on the low-end it still out-performs many more expensive guitars. The CG122MS is available with a cedar top as well as the aforementioned spruce - offering a little more robust low-mid to the sound.
Read the full Yamaha CG122MS review
Built in honour of Paco de Lucia, the F7 Paco Flamenco is a punchy little guitar that strikes the balance between rounded low-end warmth and the precise high-end rat-a-tat needed for flamenco guitar.
The neck is solid mahogany, a comfortable 2.1” at the first fret and 2.4” at the 9th, and measures a full classical 2” in width across the nut. The action is low and easy, while the body’s depth (3.5” in the lower bout, 3.3” in the upper) aids both comfort and the brightness required of all good flamenco guitars. These dimensions just feel right.
It is a sumptuous instrument, especially at the price. There’s solid Canadian cedar on the top, with fan-style bracing to let your rasqueado really pop, and the all-important tap plate.
With solid Sitka spruce on the top, solid mahogany on the back and sides, Martin has provided a mellower but equally classic take on Martin tone. Martin’s 000 auditorium body shape is one of the smallest they offer, and with a depth of 4.125”, it is easily applied to nylon-stringed adventures. The build is, of course, exceptional.
You’ll find the neck that little bit wider, encroaching on classical proportions at 1.875” across the nut, while the cutaway joins the body at the 16th fret. This allows easy upper fret access for soloing, and the Fishman Matrix VT Enhance NT1 pickup will help make those solos to pop while maintaining the rich, natural tone of the 000C12-16E.
The 000C12-16E is a considerable investment but the tone and build is exceptional. It feels incredible, too, with that high-gloss top off-set by a satin-smooth back, sides and neck.
You can always count on Alvarez to come up with affordable acoustics with impressive specs and the Cadiz Concert Classical Hybrid is a classic of the genre, hence its inclusion on this guide to the best classical guitars. Here we’ve got an immaculate, subtly-figured solid Sitka spruce top that is paired by dark walnut on the back and sides, acacia binding and armrest, and L.R. Baggs StagePro electronics, all for 600 bucks.
This is a hybrid, but it’s scaled towards a classical feel, with a 1.9” width at the nut. The satin neck is lovely, a flat-profile piece of mahogany with a dark strip of ebony to reinforce it.
Elsewhere, there’s real bone nut and saddle, and asymmetric fan bracing patterns inspired by Jose Ramirez III – plus there is a treble bar on the bracing to help articulation in the high-end.
This is a classical hybrid that really comes into its own if you are playing gigs regularly and require an instrument that is going to serve you night after night in the most challenging environments.
The MultiAc Encore’s bread and butter is in delivering consistent amplified tone thanks to its EPM Dual Source electronics. The Dual Source refers to the under-saddle and soundboard transducers and you can choose how much you want of each in your signal. Indeed, finding the right mix for recording is a cinch, and despite the unorthodox presentation (no one’s mistaking this for a flamenco guitar) the MultiAc Encore is a triumph of practical guitar design.
The thinline grand concert body-shape super-comfortable and with a solid cedar top and silver leaf maple on the back and sides, it offers an excellent tonal platform and looks pretty darn neat too..
Read the full Godin MultiAc Nylon Encore review
The P3FCN is another stage-friendly electro-acoustic from a Japanese brand that has built a formidable reputation for quality. Takamine’s CT4B II preamp offers sliding controls for 3-band EQ and volume. It sounds rich and naturalistic. The control panel also features an onboard chromatic tuner.
The P3FCN is another one that will play well to nylon-string newbies, with its 14-fret-to-the-body build and Venetian cutaway, wood dot inlay and 1.87” nut width offering a more traditional acoustic vibe.
Indeed, some nylon-string players might find that a little cramped, but that is a matter of preference. But no one is going to complain about the thin profile of the mahogany neck, or the luxurious feel of the bound rosewood fingerboard. All in all, it’s one impressive hybrid.
Read the full Takamine Pro Series P3FCN review
Yamaha's NX range dates back to 2009, when it offered players two similar but quite different guitars, the NCX and NTX. The NCX was more traditionally classical. It had a wider classical neck, the fingerboard was flat, and the neck joined the body at the 12th fret. The NTX had a narrower neck, a radius'd fingerboard and 14 frets to the body.
Both have been enduringly successful, but we’ve included the NTX1 here on the grounds that it’s ideal for winning over players of traditional acoustic guitars and electric players. The contemporary construction is immaculate. We love the thin neck profile. The acoustic sound is balanced, if a little on the quieter side, while plugged in the NTX1 is a natural, and sure to record.
Given that it’s not strictly traditional with its fingerboard, neck profile – and there’s dot inlays, a rare treat indeed for nylon – feel free to attack it with a pick a la Rodrigo Sanchez (he uses a custom NTX1200) or layer some effects over the top of it. The new Atmosfeel preamp electronics are superb, offering quack-free tones courtesy of an under-saddle piezo with individual string sensors, a transducer to capture top-end, and an internal microphone to round the signal out and give it some depth. Impressive.
With a solid European spruce top complementing a laminated cypress back and sides, The GK Studio is a ridiculously accomplished instrument for the price. Under that immaculate piece of spruce there is fan bracing to help that top to really resonate – it’s a classically Iberian build.
Tone-wise, the GK Studio’s acoustic voice is nicely balanced with the cypress laminate putting a little bottom-end on the spruce’s effervescence in the upper-mids.
But then the GK Studio, with its cutaway and Fishman pickup and preamp, has all the mod-cons you could want from an electro-nylon. There’s a phase switch, 3-band EQ, a tuner, volume, phase and notch controls to tame any unwanted feedback. The GK Studio is a hugely well-equipped instrument that won’t empty your bank account.
Sure, the SLG200S is pretty avant-garde to look at, but it’s lightweight and super-playable; those more used to playing the electric will love it. Yamaha’s ground-breaking SLG200s Silent guitar is part of an extensive suite of instruments that eschew the idea of, y’know, having a body per se, and instead use a wooden frame with a solid-wood central core.
With clever onboard electronics which include an AUX input, two reverbs and a chorus, the idea is that the SLG200S can be plugged in for a feedback-free performance in the most uncompromising live settings, and also be used as an all-but-silent practice tool.
Think of it as a hollowed-out singlecut. It comes with a gig bag, but what’s also cool about this is that the frame is detachable, making it one of the most attractive options for travelling. Definitely a strong option for anyone who likes to be a bit different.
This is the perfect choice for players who are more accustomed to the feel of a steel-string guitar, but want the mellow warmth of nylon strings, making it probably the best hybrid classic guitar out there. It’s expensive, but Lowden makes some of the most highly revered acoustic guitars in the world.
It’s incredibly full and natural sounding. A solid red cedar top lends a wonderful warmth and lower-mid bump, whilst the solid Indian rosewood back and sides balance out the entire frequency range. The top end is detailed but smooth and there’s plenty of bottom end, without it being overbearing or ‘woofy’. Overtones are kept in check too, so it’s easy to control regardless of playing style. It’s nice and responsive, but has been built to be stiff enough so that you can play plugged in without worrying too much about feeding back.
The Lowden S25J is very comfortable to play. It’s a hybrid so it’s not necessarily designed for purists, but the string spacing is wide enough to play with a proper classical or flamenco technique, whilst the cambered fingerboard might please steel-string or even electric players.
Best classical guitars: Buying advice
Do I need a classical, flamenco or hybrid guitar?
Though closely related, there are differences between classical and flamenco guitars that make each one more suitable to its style of music. With classical guitars, you generally want more sustain and a warmer, darker sound. Many of the best classical guitars have bracing that aids in this, as well as tonewoods that impart the right sort of tone.
Flamenco guitars on the other hand are typically slightly brighter sounding, with a faster and snappier attack. This makes sense, as flamenco music (and its similar musical derivatives) is often fast-paced, with the guitars acting almost as percussive instruments at times. Many flamenco guitars have a slightly thinner body when compared to a classical, and again, will be braced in such a way that helps their overall sound. You’ll likely get less sustain on a flamenco guitar too.
There are then guitars that combine features normally found on steel-string guitars with the construction and sound of nylon-stringed instruments. These so-called hybrid guitars offer the classical sound to players that might not get on with the traditional dimensions of a straight-up classical or flamenco guitar. Purists might want to look elsewhere though!
What tonewoods should I look out for?
With the best classical guitars, the most common tonewoods used for the top are spruce and cedar. It’s not quite as straightforward as ‘one wood for classical, the other for flamenco’, as pairing it with the right back and sides also has an impact on the instrument’s overall sound. Spruce, though, will normally lend the guitar a brighter sound, with a detailed and crisp top end. Spruce does tend to be quite balanced tonally, and is easily sourced, helping its popularity.
Cedar is both visually and tonally darker – there’s usually more going on the lower-mids than there is with spruce. It has a quick response and reacts well to fast picking and, whilst it sounds very full, it doesn’t quite project as much as spruce.
What should I consider in terms of nut width?
One aspect that can affect how the guitar feels under the fingers of both hands is nut width. A wider nut width is the norm on most nylon-strung guitars, with a full 2” being the average size. This means there is more space between each string, allowing you to get your fingers in the right position for various classical and flamenco right-hand techniques. Those making the jump over from electric or acoustic may need a little time adjusting, though there are guitars out there, like the aforementioned hybrids, that have a slightly narrower nut.
How we choose the best classical guitars for this guide
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When choosing what we believe to be the best classical guitars available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.
First and foremost, we are musicians, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best classical guitars on the market right now.
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