Classical guitar can be a great instrument of choice for beginner musicians.
With their nylon strings that are soft on the fingertips and wide nuts that make it easy to avoid dead notes in chords, they’re one of the easiest guitar types to learn on.
I know that as a beginner it can be really challenging to decide on a guitar; there are so many models to choose from and at a first glance they pretty much all look the same.
The fact is there are a lot of differences and some key deciding factors you need to know about before you choose your first instrument.
We’ve taken a look at dozens of classical guitars to try to make your choice an easy one.
The following classical guitars are great for absolute beginners, music students, kids, or guitarists with a bit of experience who are seeking to transition to the world of nylon strings.
I’m a bit of a brand loyalist, and almost went with the Godin-family brand La Patrie Etude as my top pick, but all things considered I had to go with the instrument that is most truly traditional.
So, winning our top spot is the Cordoba Iberia Series C5.
Cordoba’s classical guitars are all about authenticity. Each model closely follows the Spanish tradition, so their tone and playability seems plucked straight out of the early 19th century.
The C5 is a great addition in their lineup, built to sound and feel like the real deal but without the multi-thousand dollar price tag you might expect to pay for such a genuine classical model.
The first guitar we’ll look at, taking the lowest rank in this review, is the Squier SA-150N.
Squier is great at a lot of what they do, but in the realm of classical guitars there are a few more manufacturers making better models.
The SA-150N is a fine model, with an unbeatable price and tough laminate body making it one of the best classical guitars for beginners, but I’ve got a few more favored picks that top it.
Ready to get those fingers picking? Let’s dive in.
The Top 5 Best Classical Guitars for Beginners – Overview
#5 Squier SA-150N Check On Amazon >>
- Top – Laminate Lindenwood
- Body – Mahogany
- Neck – Mahogany
- Fingerboard – Maple
- Very inexpensive, perfect for students and children
- Well articulated sound
- Rosewood bridge for tonal balance
- Laminate top without a lot of tonal complexity
- Unusual tonewood combination
In order for a laminate top guitar to make it to one of my top-ranked reviews, it’s got to have a lot going for it besides.
With the Squier SA-150N, I was really won over by the price to quality ratio.
For less than $100, it’s hard to find a guitar that’s not next to worthless and more of a toy than a real instrument.
It’s not exactly traditional, with a lindenwood top I’ve only ever seen on maybe two or three other guitars, but still manages to produce a tone that makes practicing enjoyable.
You will not wow any crowds with this model, but for less than $100, you shouldn’t expect to.
What this guitar is really good for is a student model. If you yourself, or perhaps your child, have an interest in playing guitar but aren’t completely sure of your level of commitment, at this price it won’t hurt at all to give this hobby a try.
For guitar teachers, this is a great model to recommend to students, or to buy yourself to keep as a students’ model. In just a couple lessons you should be able to cover the costs, and will open up your customer base even to those who don’t currently own an instrument.
In short, the Squier SA-150N isn’t extravagant, but it is by all means a practical practice instrument. For more great classicals under $300, check out this review.
#4 Ibanez GA3 Check On Amazon >>
- Top – Laminate Spruce
- Body – Agathis
- Neck – Nyatoh
- Fingerboard – Nandu
- Spruce top produces clear, focused notes in every range
- Inexpensive, good for those unsure of their musical dedication
- Laminate construction can take a fair amount of bumps and bangs
- Flat, uninteresting tone
The Ibanez GA3 moves us slightly higher up the line of beginner classical guitars, with an upgraded laminate spruce top that gives us more the traditional tone that you’d expect from a classical.
Like the Squier above, it’s not going to blow the socks off anyone listening, and its nontraditional tonewoods leave a bit to be desired, but in terms of tone and playability it should satisfy anyone just starting to learn the hobby.
It has a two-inch wide nut that is perfect for beginners who haven’t yet mastered the finger arching technique required for crystal clear chord work.
This makes the space between strings wide enough that your chances of deadening a note with an improperly curved finger greatly reduced, and more easily allows you to figure out where you’re going wrong in each position.
I’m not going to tell you that it sounds amazing, because it doesn’t. It sounds pretty standard and what you might expect a guitar at this price to sound like, but it’s not bad at all.
The GA3’s laminate spruce top produces a nicely balanced tone where each note is clear, and though it lacks in complexity, it’s articulated enough to give beginners a good idea of what a classical can do.
At this price, it’s another great guitar for students or teachers and for kids or anyone unsure of if they’ll want to play longer than a couple months.
#3 Yamaha CG182C Check On Amazon >>
- Top – Solid Western Red Cedar
- Body – Mahogany
- Neck – Nato
- Fingerboard – Ebony
- Traditional classical guitar tonewoods
- Yamaha quality, affordable price
- Good for beginner to advanced players
- Nato neck breaks from the traditional build
With the Yamaha CG182C, we’re moving out of the realm of super budget guitars and into more serious territory.
This is for the most part a truly traditional classical guitar, with a solid cedar top and mahogany back and sides that are the backbone of classical tone.
It’s well-balanced, with clear and punchy low and high ranges and a mid range that is slightly emphasized.
The ebony fingerboard is super responsive and gives you the sustain you need for ringing high end fret work.
Beginners will appreciate the slightly thin neck profile, alleviating the hand pain that accompanies your playing while you’re still developing your playing muscles.
Since the CG182C has a solid top, it’s guaranteed to age well and be the kind of guitar you can own happily for many years.
Even as a beginner model, I’d say it’s got a good enough tone to hit the stage with, so if you’re really ambitious you won’t have to look for another guitar when you’re ready to start testing your skills in public.
For another great Yamaha classical guitar, check out our review of the Yamaha C40.
#2 La Patrie Etude Check On Amazon >>
- Top – Cedar
- Body – Wild Cherry
- Neck – Mahogany
- Fingerboard – Rosewood
- Handcrafted by experienced luthiers
- Great tone, affordable price
- Available in left handed model
La Patrie is a branch of one of my favorite brands of instrument, Godin Guitars. Godin’s models routinely rank high with us, like their steel string Seagull S6 which we reviewed here.
All the guitars in this family are top quality, overseen by master luthier Robert Godin, and handmade in the guitar-centric town of La Patrie, Quebec.
The Etude model is a fine classical guitar, with the solid cedar top that gives these instruments the crisp, smooth sound that they’re known for.
It’s not a traditional classical guitar, but the changes to the archetypal design were only made to boost its quality.
In breaking from the mold, La Patrie utilizes a double-function truss rod that is totally atypical for classical guitars. Usually, this type of guitar has a solid neck without a truss rod, which requires them to be wide and flat to hold up against the string tension.
The La Patrie addition of a truss rod enables them to reduce the neck profile, adding to your playing ease and comfort.
Instead of the traditional mahogany back and sides, La Patrie uses the wild cherry common to most of Godin’s guitars, which is locally sourced from forests surrounding the town in which their instruments are made, keeping costs low and adding an element of sustainability to their craftsmanship.
All their models are handmade, so the Etude is guaranteed to have a huge attention to detail and perfection that is hard to find in today’s world of mass-produced factory-made instruments.
The La Patrie etude is a beautiful looking and exquisite guitar. It’s fun and easy to play, so beginners just starting out or anyone looking for a budget-friendly classical model will have great experience in choosing this model.
#1 Cordoba Iberia Series C5 Check On Amazon >>
- Top – Solid Canadian Cedar
- Body – Mahogany
- Neck – Mahogany
- Fingerboard – Rosewood
- Traditional bracing pattern for authentic classical tone
- Made by a company that knows the ins and outs of classical guitars
- Classic construction for traditional experience
When it comes to classical guitars, Cordoba is a tough name to beat. They’re one of our top choices for the best classical guitar brands.
All their guitars are handmade by traditionally trained luthiers, and have the tonewood combo that makes a classical guitar a classical guitar. To find out more about why we love Cordoba, check out this article.
The C5 is one of their finest beginner models, lacking nothing in terms of tone or playability, but keeping costs at what I consider to be the ideal range for beginner guitars.
For the traditional tone, the C5 combines a solid cedar top with mahogany back and sides to create the mellow, soft, rich tone that makes classical guitar music shine. Its rosewood bridge and fingerboard ensure that every note is true and pristine, so whatever position you’re playing in you are bound to sound great.
Cordoba has extensively studied historical classical guitars and perfectly replicated the traditional Spanish fan bracing pattern, further adding to the C5’s tonal authenticity.
Cap all this off with a nut and saddle carved from truly resonant bone, and you’ve got a guitar that sounds like you time-traveled two hundred years into the past.
In terms of playability, the C5 is right on the mark of the genuine classical guitar experience.
It has the standard 52 mm nut, the non-cutaway reduced classical body shape, and the wide and flat traditional classical neck profile.
Its nylon strings are at a perfect tension, with action low enough to be a breeze to play but just high enough to eliminate any fret buzz.
Finally, the C5’s neck has a high-gloss finish which allows you to easily move up and down the fingerboard, making scales and multi-position chord progressions a complete joy to practice.
Absolute beginners will love the tone and feel of this model, and more experienced guitarists looking for their first nylon string guitar will find that the sound of the C5 is unbeatable at this price point. We covered more great classical guitars under $500 here.
Buyer’s Guide – How To Choose The Right Classical Guitar if you are just starting out
Why Are These Guitars Good for Beginners?
First and foremost, classical guitars are good for beginners because they’re so much easier to fret than steel string acoustics.
Nylon strings are much softer on the fingers than steel strings, and are wound at a lower tension that takes less pressure to get a pure note from.
Next, each of these models is on the affordable end of quality classicals.
Instruments in this category can range from $50 to $50,000, and when you’re just starting out to play it’s good to get something that both performs well and won’t leave you in debt. We wrote this article so you can find the best classical guitars for the money.
The guitars listed above are all perfect for practicing, while the higher cost models are even good for small to medium performances.
They’re fun to play, sound good, and have the quality of construction that will last with little to no problems for many years if properly cared for. Sweetwater has a great article on guitar maintenance you should read.
Who Should Buy a Classical Guitar?
Obviously, if you love classical guitar music, a classical guitar is a good place to start learning to play.
Classical guitar music is soft and sweet, with an elegance and gentleness that just can’t offend.
If you’re mellow and refined, this can be the perfect guitar match for your sensibilities.
Classical guitars are good for beginners because of their wide string spacing and soft, comfortable playability.
Starting out on another type of guitar requires you to first really work on getting your fretting fingers to arch properly, and believe me, this can be super frustrating.
Non-arched fingers cause what is called deadening, which is where the pad of a fingertip touches a string it’s not supposed to and causes the vibrations to die, resulting in a buzz or complete loss of tone in one or more of a chord’s notes.
Classical guitars cut back on this issue by letting you space your fingers farther apart in each chord. This prevents deadening, and when you do deaden a string, allows you to more easily see exactly which of your fingers is causing the problem.
Additionally, their soft nylon strings don’t hurt your fingertips nearly as bad as steel strings do, letting you practice for longer and reducing the chances you’ll want to give up because of sore fingers.
Other people who should buy a classical guitar are more experienced players just looking to expand their skill set, or those who have become bored by their electric guitars or steel string acoustics.
This kind of musical apathy can happen easily, and if you’re feeling stuck in a musical rut, buying a new type of guitar to explore a different playing style can help re-ignite your passion for playing.
What’s the Difference Between Classical and Acoustic Guitars?
The key differences lie in a few different areas, and we covered this in depth here.
For starters, the strings are different. In a classical guitar the strings are made of nylon and metal-wrapped nylon. They’re under comparatively little tension, and are thus easier to hold down against the frets.
In a standard acoustic guitar, the strings are made of steel, which is why they’re properly referred to as steel-string acoustics.
The strings are attached differently too. We wrote this handy guide to teach you the easiest way to change classical guitar strings.
Since classical guitars are under less tension, they often don’t have truss rods, which is the system of support that steel string acoustics use to keep the neck from breaking under the string tension.
This truss-rod-free design means that classical guitar necks need to be built wider and flatter to keep their strength and support, whereas acoustic guitar necks can be much slimmer. Read all about this feature in our truss rod guide.
Tone-wise, classical guitars are softer, more mellow, and not as loud as steel string acoustics. Their tone is generally called much “warmer.”
They’re also held differently; classicals between the legs with the head pointing up, and acoustics resting on the lap with a flatter angle.
Finally, classical guitars are meant to be played with the fingerstyle technique. This is where the strings are plucked using the fingertips or fingernails, unlike a steel string guitar which can be played with a plectrum.
The Final Word
If you’re ready to learn the guitar style that started it all, these guitars are a great place to start. Even the lowest costing Squier sounds good enough to give you playing enjoyment for years, and the Cordoba C5 is stage-ready as soon as you are.