In the topsy-turvy world of acoustic guitar, the nylon-string often gets overlooked, but we’ve got ten of the best nylon-string guitars here in classical, flamenco and hybrid styles to convince even the most ardent steel-string player that finger-friendly nylon is in their six-string future.
So, why is the nylon-string guitar under-appreciated? Perhaps, it’s because it has always been looked upon as a niche instrument, as a specialist tool for classical and flamenco players, or simply because the steel-string acoustic, with its louder volume and brighter voicings, was an easier fit for popular music.
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Either way, the nylon-string has many advantages. Firstly, it’s a lot kinder to your fingertips. Secondly, its design has evolved. The classical and flamenco styles require a special kind of build, and remain faithful to that, but nylon-string guitars have evolved, with hybrid styles offering a traditional acoustic feel, and smart acoustic guitar pickup and preamp options to ensure a sound amplified performance. And that’s before mentioning the tone – organic, warm, mellower.
So let’s take a look at some of the best nylon-string guitars you can buy right now.
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What are the best nylon-string guitars right now?
The Taylor Academy 12e-N is an entry-level model but, of course, entry-level for Taylor is still north of 700 bucks, and still arrives with the expectation that you’re getting a quality guitar for serious players. And the 12e-N does not disappoint. It marginally parks itself in the hybrid category but exemplifies classical guitar tone with crisp and precise voice, with a beautifully responsive upper-midrange. The finish might be no-frills but it’s perfect, with the bevelled armrest a feature that, quite literally, we’ll never tire of.
Nylon-string guitars still suffer from an image problem. Perhaps because classical and flamenco styles are considered niche. Well that just makes it all the more important that guitars such as Yamaha’s superlative (and super-affordable) CG122MS exist. It makes the perfect ‘My First Nylon-String’, and that goes for experienced players who are nylon-curious and six-string novices alike.
Best nylon-string guitars: buying advice
There are typically three styles of nylon-string guitar you will need to be familiar with; the classical, flamenco and hybrid. We’ll look at the classical guitar first. Leaving aside the strings, the key differences between the classical guitar and the regular or traditional acoustic guitar is in its dimensions.
The best classical guitars will have a flat fingerboard and a wider neck, measuring around a full 2” across the nut. The wider spacing behind the strings might shock some players but those who have played a modern shred guitar might find it to their liking. The wider spacing allows for more intricate playing, more busy fretting hand arrangements, with the sound classical guitar technique to position your thumb on the middle of the neck while playing.
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This, sadly, rules out using your thumb to fret a chord as you might on a regular acoustic, but that is the trade-off. The bracing patterns on a classical guitar are typically different, too. The bracing is lighter in weight and arranged in a fan shape to help the top resonate a little more.
Flamenco guitars are closely related to the classical guitar but there are key differences to look out for. Again, it’s about having the right tool for the job, and it’s impossible to separate the guitar from the dance; there is a kinetic spirit to both, and a certain electricity to the instrument whether there is an onboard preamp or not.
With flamenco, where you need a fast and bright response, the guitars have a shallower body depth than classical guitars. There might be a tap plate – or golpeador – to protect the guitar’s top from the percussive technique of golpe. Flamenco guitars might also have their necks set at a flat angle to allow for a lower action than their classical counterparts. The notes might die out a little quicker, too.
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As for the hybrid, or “crossover” nylon-string, the majority of hybrids on the market apply some more traditional specs to the nylon-string template, and feature narrower necks, with fretboards that a classical player might feel cramped. Like the classical and flamenco guitars, the scale length might be longer than the standard for steel-strings, with the extra tension compensating for the softer nylon strings. But here we might see some more familiar bracing patterns.
Which is the best nylon-string guitar for you? That depends. Are you a traditionalist, favouring a 2” nut width, a wider, flatter neck? Or would somewhere in between be more your pace, the so-called hybrid nylon-string, that takes the cambered fingerboards and narrower nut widths of traditional acoustic guitars and transposes them into a nylon-strung application? Let’s take a look…
The best nylon-string guitars available today
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 midrange. It is responsive. 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
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. See the Pacifica or FG800 for further evidence.
For beginners, or anyone looking for an affordable entry point into the world of nylon-string guitars, the CG122MS is a no-brainer. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 typically exceptional. There is solid Sitka spruce on the top, solid mahogany on the back and sides – a classic Martin pairing for an instrument that delivers a mellower take on Martin tone.
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, allowing you to noodle up top for soloing.
To help make those solos pop live, there is a Fishman Matrix VT Enhance NT1 pickup and preamp which does an excellent job of not stepping on the 000C12-16E’s natural tone.
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 nylon-string 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 nylon-string 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 awesome stage-friendly electro-acoustic from a Japanese brand that has built a formidable reputation for quality. This is another one that will play well to nylon-string noviciates, 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.
The Takamine 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. 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.
The GK Studio is a ridiculously accomplished instrument for the price. You’ve got a solid European spruce top complementing a laminated cypress back and sides. Under that immaculate piece of spruce there is fan bracing to help that top to really resonate – it’s a classically Iberian build.
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.
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.
Finally, and arguably the most unconventional of all nylon-string guitars, the Yamaha SLG200S. Yamaha’s ground-breaking 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, 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.
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. 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. Other cool things to note is an AUX input for playing along to recorded music and the onboard tuner. Oh, and there are two onboard reverbs and chorus also.