help me shop for a classical guitar?
December 28, 2018 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering taking up classical guitar again for fun, but don't own one currently and haven't bought one in almost two decades, and I could use some help as I'm thinking of obtaining a guitar. Snowflakes inside.

I used to own a 3/4 classical guitar, not a good one, that was in any case destroyed in a flood two years ago. I'm considering asking for a replacement for my birthday, budget up to $500. My skill level is probably something like "atrophied beginner"--I got up to "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" and some slightly more difficult classical guitar pieces, and with some practice could play those again.

I would prefer something available in 3/4 size because I have small hands and barres gave me trouble on a full-size guitar, but maybe 3/4 size is a bad idea? I don't remember what brand I had before and didn't like it anyway, as it had an extremely distracting rattling burr when I played the G string. I probably shouldn't break the bank on a beginner instrument, but I also don't want something that I'm going to outgrow quickly. I like to compose so if it has decent tone so I can record pieces for my own amusement and that of my family, so much the better.

Do folks have general tips on classical guitar shopping (including strings), or recommendations for specific factory-made instruments? In particular, one thing that troubled me about the 3/4 guitar I had before was the resulting lowered tension on the strings. I do not know enough about guitar to have any idea if there's special strings for 3/4 guitars I should have been buying instead. I'm in the USA.

(The lessons I took were a couple decades ago, from a teacher I am no longer in contact with, and in South Korea, so I can't consult my old teacher.)
posted by yhlee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Back when I was shopping for a guitar, Martin was great, and Takamine was cheaper and almost as good as Martin. Enjoy!
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:58 PM on December 28, 2018

Cordoba is suposed to be good in the < $500 range for classical guitars; so is Yamaha.

I don't think you should get a 3/4 size guitar. It just takes time for your hands to get strong. If your hands are really very small, though, maybe it's OK? Can you go see a classical guitar teacher in person and get their advice?

it had an extremely distracting rattling burr when I played the G string

If you ever have a guitar that does that, it just needs to be repaired or even just "set up". For a classical guitar especially, this probably should be done by a luthier - it may involve filing on the bridge, which you probably don't want the kid working at Guitar Center doing.

In particular, one thing that troubled me about the 3/4 guitar I had before was the resulting lowered tension on the strings.

I don't think there is anything except using thicker strings that would help with that.
posted by thelonius at 6:56 PM on December 28, 2018

I'd highly recommend you consider getting a used guitar; it's a great way to maximize your budget, since someone else has taken the initial hit of depreciation. is one of the best places to do this- here's a list of Classical Guitars under $500. I have personally bought and sold several thousand dollars worth of guitars and associated gear there and am very pleased with it.

Unless you have exceptionally small hands, I would recommend a full-size guitar. It will broaden your buying prospects and ease your transition to other guitars or styles of playing should you choose to do so. As has been mentioned, Yamaha and Takamine are two well-regarded brands that have lots of instruments in that range.
posted by EKStickland at 10:28 PM on December 28, 2018

I'd go with Cordoba or Yamaha. Cordoba QC can be dodgy, so try to play a few if you can (try to do this no matter what, personal preference matters a lot at this level), but the right one can really sing. Yamaha makes excellent workhorse instruments in that range and their quality control is generally excellent.

Seconding the recommendation for a used instrument - it will be broken in, and will hold value better - if you decide to keep playing, you can trade up, and if you don't it'll still be worth closer to what you paid for it.

Based on your previous experiences I'd strongly recommend just getting a full-sized classical guitar, and spending at least some of your budget in getting it properly strung and setup at a shop. In my neck of the woods this is $50-100.

I would (and do) gladly play a no-name 80s Korean pawn shop special with proper action, intonation, bridge, frets, nut, and strings than a Taylor Presentation model that's been bouncing between attic and basement and van for five years without being tuned or played. The problems you describe with the old instrument sound like setup problems to me, and if you're going to bother spending money on the instrument you really want to make sure that it is properly setup.

Martin wouldn't be my first (or fifth) choice for a nylon-stringed guitar, and anyway their classical offerings are well outside this price range. Really I haven't been excited by what's been coming from Martin for the last twenty years, but I've played some older Martins that I fucking love, and I have a soft spot for the composite-based entry models they're doing these days. I have never played a single Takamine that I liked, YMMV.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am also a second time beginner with small weak hands and have both a regular and a 3/4 size guitar. Both are low end Guitar Center guitars, I find playing the 3/4 size more difficult because the strings are sooo close together but still no easier to hold down. I already knew lots of chords and they came back naturally as I relearned on the full size guitar but I have to play very slowly and look at my fingers a lot on the smaller one. It doesn't sound as good either. I also have a steel string Baby Taylor which is a sweet small guitar, but my callouses aren't up to playing it much.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:49 PM on December 28, 2018

If you plan to take any lessons again, your teacher can help with this. They'll know where the good local stores are, and will be able to make guitar suggestions as well.

In the absence of a teacher, I'd still visit at least one or two guitar shops. There are things that become apparent very quickly when you're trying to play an instrument in hand, and you'll be able to rule out a bunch. Things like whether the finish is neat, how the neck feels, or the weight of the guitar. Be sure to listen to how it sounds as you play, and also listen to the guitar being played *at* you -- if possible, have someone go with you, or ask one of the store people to play so you can hear what it sounds like from the other side.

I have small hands and I play with a regular size classical, and I agree with the above -- you'd probably do better with a full-size guitar in the long run. I know you mentioned barres, and those are always going to be something to learn how to do. It's much easier for me to to a full barre chord on a thinner neck, for sure, but it's much easier for me to play classical pieces on an actual classical guitar because it has a wider nut width (about 2"). Otherwise it feels much more cramped, which in my case also doesn't help with repetitive strain injury. Listen to a humble nudibranch's warning above.

Generally speaking, I would recommend:
- A solid top (you'll probably be picking between cedar or spruce - honestly it's mostly a matter of personal taste, so it's another good reason to go and try out guitars in person. For longevity reasons I would go for a glossy finish, rather than matte)
- Check the fingerboard/neck and avoid any that have a steep bow (a classical guitar with a severe neck relief will be difficult to address with a regular setup); be sure to play notes on each string at each fret, all the way down the neck.
- Decent tuning machines on the headstock (I mean, functionally rather than decorative -- they should at least have a little screw on the end of each tuning head).

Nth-ing Yamaha classical guitars; they are very good value especially in your budget range (I have one, but the model is no longer made). If possible, I'd go somewhere that offers their line and try out their "CG" series, and see if you can tell the differences between them -- most of them have solid tops. One of the lower-range models is the CG142, and the top of the line in this series is the CG192 which runs $500 new, so those and the models in between would be something to look at, new or used. There's a handy "Specs" tab to compare the various differences of all the models.

If you can spring for a little more, also look into the all-solid-wood, handcrafted Yamaha classical guitar line, which is the "GC" series (not a typo -- it's literally the inverse of the other series name. I wish these series names were more distinctive). You might also be able to find something like the GC12 model used or on sale for around or close to your budget (maybe like $600).

There are also models that come with a pickup if you're interested in recording that way than via a regular mic. e.g. the "NX" series is their acoustic-electric line that you might be interested in looking at (I have not seen these in person), with the NX700 at the $500 mark.

If you buy new, you'll probably have to buy the case separately -- so figure that into the budget as well.

For strings, I like the D'Addario Pro-Arte strings, hard tension (EJ46). You might start there and branch out to different tensions as you go.

Good luck! It's an exciting purchase and I hope you find a guitar you really enjoy for a long time. Pro tip: If you buy from a B&M store, the salesperson might be able to give you a deal on a guitar + case + strings + foot stand + tuner etc. Doesn't hurt to ask. I've helped friends get deals just by asking. Feel free to follow up here or memail me if you have any other questions.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 3:01 AM on December 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Anything but chili: what to slow cook for multiple...   |   What live sports worldwide can I stream free with... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments