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Classical Guitar vs Acoustic Guitar [Which One Should You Start With?]

Classical Guitar vs Acoustic Guitar


Should You Start with a Classical or Acoustic Guitar?

To the untrained eye, acoustic and classical guitars look very similar. This is often a big problem for beginners who don’t know which guitar is better to start with. In this article you will learn the main differences between acoustic and classical guitars.

The first thing that needs to be said is that no one can really blame you for confusing these types of guitars since in the family of string instruments acoustic and classical ones are very close relatives.

Honestly, you can even be somewhat good at guitar, but if you only played acoustics or electric guitars, you may not even know what’s different about classical guitars.

However, let’s not rush the horses and first look at the similarities.


Similarities between acoustic and classical guitars

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Acoustic and classical guitars work in the same way in regards to sound production and amplifying. The air vibration caused by the strings is amplified by the hollow body of the instrument (guitars with bigger body types will product a deeper tone).

With that being said, both acoustic and classical guitars don’t need electronics or extra equipment like amps, chords or pedals to sound good. Acoustic and classical guitars often have similar size, shape and even color!

With so many similarities one might think that the differences are fairly minimal or not really that important. This is definitely not the case. Let’s look at why acoustic and classical guitars are much more different than they seem on the first sight.


Differences between acoustic and classical guitars

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The neck

Classical guitars have a significantly wider neck than their steel string counterparts. The string spacing is also different as they are set further apart from each other. On one hand it’s very comfortable to play finger style since there’s more room to move between adjacent strings with your picking hand.

On the other hand, with a wider neck it may be harder to strum and play chords, especially in the case of a youngster with smaller hands. If you’re a beginner and want to practice strumming basic chords – you might want to stay away from classical guitars for now.


Strings, truss rod and action

Most steel string acoustic models have a considerable amount of tension on the neck. On average, about 160 pounds between the headstock and the bridge. That’s nearly double to the 85 pounds of pressure created by classical strings.

For this reason you’ll notice that acoustic guitars are equipped with a reinforcing metal truss rod. The truss rod used to counteract the string tension that would otherwise cause it to warp up or pull towards the body.

Steel strings come in many different gauges, materials, and pressures that can impact the sound as well. If an instrument reacts adversely, you can adjust the truss rod if the action happens to be a bit too high or too low.

Lastly, one of the primary drawbacks to learning with steel strings is that they will hurt your fingers until you develop calluses.

Classical guitars on the other hand come with softer feeling nylon or synthetic gut strings. These different materials have an effect on tonal quality and overall feel. Standard classical nylon strings also come with different gauges, but what makes the difference in tone and feel is again, the string tension.

Because of the nature of the materials, nylon strings are easier on the fingers and produce more mellow sound. As mentioned, they don’t impart the same amount of tension on the neck which also shifts their frequency response.

This reduced tension is also why classical guitars generally do not come equipped with a truss rod, although higher end models will as an extra reassuring feature.


Size and body shape

Acoustic guitars come in all sizes and shapes – from half size instruments to giant dreadnoughts. However, the most common acoustic guitar sizes are 3/4 or full size. A standard classical guitar is usually 25-26 inches – which is about the same length as full size acoustic models.

Keep in mind that classical guitars have smaller bodies in general, and despite the having a similar scale length, will have a very different tone.

Besides having differences in body structure, the headstocks are also specific to each type of instrument. A classical guitar is instantly recognizable by its slotted headstock, whereas steel string instruments feature a flat face with vertical pegs.


Sound and styles

Because acoustic guitars come in larger sizes, they produce louder, stronger and more vibrant sounds than the classical ones. They are suitable for playing music genres like rock and jazz. Therefor if you want a brilliant tone and the ability to cover a vast majority of modern, popular acoustic songs, a steel string acoustic is your choice.

Even though these features are likely to attract most guitarists, some beginners may be better off with a classical instrument as they are easier on the fingertips and have a beautiful warm tone. But it’s important to note that they often have a hard time maintaining a modern contemporary guitar voice.



Your budget also plays a great role in the type of guitar you choose. Even though prices can vary greatly between instrument styles, steel string acoustic guitars are usually more affordable simply because of market acceptance. To put it in a different way, for $200 you have a broader range of sizes, shapes and colors compared to classicals.



Parting Thoughts

Learning to play the guitar is a very rewarding experience. The type of guitar you start with will have great influence over the future of your musical career.

Unfortunately in this age of instant gratification, many beginners quit because the guitar they started with gave them a hard time while learning.

Still the question remains, which guitar should you choose as a beginner?

To sum up, classical guitars are easier on the fingers, easy to play and produce a mellow sound. In contrast, steel string acoustics are more versatile allowing you to practice a wider range of music.

Finally, it has been our experience that regardless of the category of guitar you choose, making sure the instrument is properly setup makes a huge difference in the enjoyment factor for the player.

Contributor: Alan Jackman from Beginnerguitar.pro

Follow Steve Blundon:
Steve Blundon is a business owner, published author, former music teacher and active master guitar tech who's been servicing instruments for over thirty years. Visit Author's Page.

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