It’s not always easy knowing what to look out for when you are buying a classical guitar. New classical and acoustic guitars can be purchased very cheaply – I’ve just seen a half-size one for under £20 at Argos! But if you’re serious about learning or improving your playing then you’ll want to get the best guitar you can afford.
Solid Top Guitars
Ideally, you should get a solid top guitar. This is where the top of the body of the guitar is made out of one solid piece of wood rather than several thin layers glued together and laminated. The laminated tops are cheaper to make but don’t resonate as much as solid wood and so the tone suffers.
The salesperson in the shop should be able to advise you but manufacturers are duty bound to specify the materials used for their guitars so it’s worth checking out the websites for a particular model as well.
Another consideration is “playability”. First of all, does it feel nicely balanced to hold and does the neck feel comfortable for your fretting hand? This is a matter of personal choice and it’s better to get a guitar you like rather than one that doesn’t make you feel relaxed and at ease.
Secondly, the action shouldn’t be too high. This is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. If this is too high then it may be difficult to press the strings down cleanly, especially higher up the neck. If it’s too low the strings may buzz against the frets.
A typical action on a classical guitar would be 4mm on the bottom wound E string and 3mm at the first nylon E string. Measurements are taken at the twelfth fret.
If you know what you’re looking for, it may be worth getting a second-hand guitar. However, there are a few problems with going down this route.
You can never be sure how the guitar has been cared for, whether it’s been exposed to the sun for long periods or been left by a radiator, or kept in a very dry or damp room – both of which could affect the wood. Any slight warp in the neck will cause the guitar to be off key no matter how hard you try to tune it.
If you can see the guitar first and have a play on it before you buy you’ll be able to make a judgement.
Well, what about Ebay? This is far more risky as you’re likely to be buying the guitar on the strength of a photo and a description from the seller. On the other hand, there are bargains to be had so I wouldn’t rule it out altogether! I have bought (and sold) quite a few guitars on Ebay and saved myself a great deal of money. If you buy a guitar on Ebay make sure you go for a quality brand so that you know it is durable and don’t be afraid to get advice from an experienced guitarist before you make your bid.
So, what should I buy?
It’s all down to personal preference – and your budget! Having said that, here are a few guitars which are generally good value and may be worth trying out in the shop.
Yamaha produce some very nice instruments and have a reputable name
Yamaha C40 Classical Guitar – you can’t go far wrong with this guitar for the money. It seems to be widely endorsed throughout the internet and retails at around £100. You may be able to pick up a second-hand one for even less. A very good starter guitar with nylon strings.
Cordoba C5 Classical Guitar – Cordoba make some lovely guitars at reasonable prices. The C5 is a traditional classical guitar with a solid cedar top and costs around £250.
Paco Castillo 202 – If you have a little more to spend (about £330) then a great investment would be this guitar from Paco Castillo. The 202 comes as either a cedar or spruce top guitar. The cedar produces a mellow sound and the spruce has a brighter tone. To hear this in action listen to Nathan Cragg’s version of “Applause” by Lady Gaga.
If you’re considering buying an acoustic rather than a classical – here are a few possibilities
Yamaha APX500 – this is a steel-stringed electro-acoustic guitar so it can be played with or without an amplifier. It’s quite a small guitar and has a cutaway, enabling the higher frets to be easily reached. When it is unplugged, it doesn’t have a great deal of volume due to it’s size. This isn’t a problem unless you’re performing, in which case it can be used with an amp. I actually bought one of these guitars about 15 years ago and it cost me over £500. Due to its popularity it now retails at around £270 which is excellent value!
Yamaha FG700S Folk Acoustic Guitar – This is a dreadnought-style, steel-stringed guitar with a big body but no cutaway. These guitars are great for strumming as the bass notes really ring out. It can be finger-picked like any guitar but it is quite heavy and a strap can be a big help here. These sell for about £220.
Martin guitars are generally at the higher end of the price range but are considered to be very good quality.
Little Martin LX1 – this is a three-quarter sized steel string guitar which is perfect for younger players or for beginners with small hands. It currently can be purchased for about £350.
Fender CP-100 Parlour Acoustic – if you want a small-bodied, steel string guitar then you may want to try out the Fender CP-100. At £150 it won’t break the bank and is much easier to play than a dreadnought.
Budget brands Sigma and Vintage offer good value for money but try before you buy, if possible.
There are so many guitars available – it is worth spending an hour or so at a guitar shop trying out instruments in your price range to get one that feels right for you. If you can, ignore the”bling” – some guitars look fabulous but the sound and playability are the most important factors when buying.