Classical guitar is a great entry level instrument, but if you’ve decided to start your new hobby with one you probably quickly discovered that they can easily exceed the $1000 price point.
You don’t have to shell out a couple grand to sound good though!
This review of the 5 best classical guitars under $300 will get you fingerpicking in no time, with choices ranging from modern style acoustic-electrics like the Washburn C5CE to traditional Spanish style guitars like the Cordoba C3M.
Top-Rated Nylon String Guitars Under 300 Dollars – Overview
|Takamine GC1 Natural||Check Price|
|Yamaha CGX102||Check Price|
|Ovation Applause Balladeer||Check Price|
|Ibanez GA5TCE||Check Price|
|Cordoba C3M||Check Price|
- Top: Spruce
- Body: Mahogany
- Back: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Balanced, warm tone
- Traditional build for those wanting to master the classical guitar
- Laminate top doesn’t provide full sonic capabilities
Simple, stylish, and true to form, the Takamine GC1 NAT is everything you can ask for in an affordable-range classical guitar. It’s a no frills build from a quality company that will get you going on your way to fingerstyle mastery.
The GC1’s spruce + mahogany combo brings a tone that is reminiscent of baroque-era music — warm and gentle with a prominent mid-range and silky frequencies up and down the fretboard.
Laurel may not be the ideal fingerboard wood, but you can spiff it up and give it the classic rosewood feel with a little touch of lemon or linseed oil.
There are many classical guitars at the below $300 price point, but across the board the GC1 ranks as one of the best if you’re looking for an instrument built in the Spanish tradition. It’s not exactly worthy of large stages, but for small performances or practicing beginner classical guitar songs it’s hard to beat.
- Top: Spruce Wood
- Body: Mahogany
- Back: Nato wood
- Neck: Nato wood
- Traditional build with a modern electronic pickup system
- On-board digital tuner to keep your tones true
- Balanced voice in all ranges whether plugged-in or straight acoustic
- Lack of on-board EQ controls while playing plugged-in
Yamaha doesn’t really build any bad instruments, which is why they’ve been one of the foremost guitar brands since their breakthrough into the market. You might be hesitant to buy a classical from a manufacturer known more for their steel-strings and electric guitars, but a few minutes of playing the CGX102 is enough to convince you Yamaha puts quality work into all they produce.
The CGX102 has a traditional classical body shape and neck profile but features a modern Yamaha pickup system that makes this one of the top-ranked affordable classical guitars of our time.
My issues with this guitar are few, but I have to tell you I don’t like not knowing the woods my guitar is made of, and Yamaha’s “locally-sourced tonewood” listing for the neck specs don’t quite cut it for me. Additionally, when I’m plugged in I like as much on-board EQ control as I can get, but the CGX102 only features a volume and tone control.
However, these problems are easy to ignore once you get your fingers moving across the strings and hear the sweet music this classical guitar can create.
- Top: Spruce Wood
- Body: Fiberglass
- Back: Ovangkol Wood
- Neck: Spruce Wood
- Fretboard: Ovangkol
- Scalloped spruce bracing makes for great tonal articulation
- Durable Lyrachord® body material withstands bumps and bangs
- Cutaway and electronic elements create a hybrid classical unlike any other
- Very nontraditional build
- Can be hard to develop proper playing posture due to rounded body shape
When I started playing guitar, I was an all-out metalhead and wanted nothing more to shred an electric, but this was out of my family’s budget and I had to settle for learning on an old acoustic. After I learned the basics, a friend let me borrow his Ovation, and my perception of acoustic instruments was forever changed.
Ovations are crisp, clear, highly articulate instruments that redefine what a guitar can be. The cedar-topped Applause model will probably change your perception of classicals like mine was changed of acoustics. It’s sleek and super comfortable to play, delivering a near-to-traditional classical sound while offering the modern benefits of a single cutaway and versatile Ovation electronics.
It’s a true hybrid instrument which sounds unlike any other classical guitar on the market, but maintains a beautiful tone that makes up for what it lacks in tradition. Unlike most Ovation models but in line with the classical custom, strings are tied rather than pinned, which you can easily learn to do yourself.
My only problem with Ovations is that their rounded Lyrachord body can be hard to learn to hold as it tends to slip off the thigh, but keeping this model between your legs in classical form should alleviate any of those difficulties.
- Top: Spruce
- Body: Sapele
- Back: Sapele
- Neck: Nato Wood
- Fretboard: Purpleheart
- Cutaway body for easy access to upper frets
- Acoustic-electric design for plugged in playing
- Thin neck for modern steel-string feel
- Nontraditional body and neck doesn’t give full classical experience
The Ibanez GA5TCE is a great instrument for standard steel-string players looking to add a classical guitar tone to their set. Ibanez’s slim neck design is paired with a cutaway body and basic pickups to form this affordable hybrid that performs just as well unplugged as it does amped up.
I love the sound of nylon string guitars but not so much their typical wide necks, and I’m always a sucker for a cutaway acoustic. This makes the GA5TCE a guitar that I really like the feel and playability of.
There’s not a lot to complain about with this model: it’s tone is sweet in every range, it feels good in the hands, and its build is well-done for a factory crafted guitar. Of course, I’ll always opt for a guitar with a solid top, but if you’re looking for an instrument that meets you in the middle between steel-string comfort and classical tonality, this Ibanez will be right up your alley.
- Top: Solid Western Red Cedar
- Body: Mahogany
- Back: Mahogany
- Neck: Nato Wood
- Fretboard: Morado Wood
- Handmade by a team of highly skilled luthiers
- Solid top that sounds better with age
- Authentic historical build in the Spanish tradition
- Can ship with improperly ground frets/sharp fret edges extending past fingerboard
- Needs a setup to perform properly
If you’re after the truly traditional classical guitar experience, Cordoba is the brand for you. They build solely in the Spanish tradition and craft each guitar by hand, keeping in line with techniques perfected by luthiers over more than two centuries. I’d expect a guitar of this quality to cost more than I could afford, but the Cordoba C3M delivers more than anyone could hope for at this price point.
Its solid cedar top and mahogany back and sides combine to form a tone that hearkens back to historical times when the great artists like Fernando Sor and Francisco Tárrega were composing the first timeless classical guitar pieces to grace our world. Playing the C3M, its hard to not imagine yourself in a mid-19th Century concert hall.
It’s graceful, traditional, and built with the care and attention of some of the planet’s best luthiers. They might overlook some of the finer details such as grinding down the frets, but with a little TLC after the purchase, you can hone this guitar to be an instrument you’ll be proud to own for the rest of your life.
What Can I Expect From A Classical Guitar Under $300
Classical guitars are sold at a price ranging from $50 to over $10,000, and the differences among them are huge. For $50, you can expect nothing more than a decoration or a toy. New guitars at this price point are very poorly built, usually made with tuning machines that can’t hold a bit of tension, and intonated so poorly as to be practically unplayable.
Conversely, the highest end guitars selling for thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars are exquisitely handmade by world-renowned luthiers and sound better than you’d imagine a guitar could sound.
At $300 and under, you should expect a guitar that is completely playable with no major faults or defects that would prevent you from learning everything you could learn on any top dollar guitar. Generally, I wouldn’t consider these guitars performance quality, but if you work up the nerve to hit a few open mics I wouldn’t hesitate to bring any of these guitars on stage.
Who Should Buy A Guitar In This Price Range?
Classical guitars at and under the $300 price range can be a choice instrument for guitarists of any experience level. It all depends on your personal needs, but from entry-level beginners to touring professionals, these guitars can serve a genuine purpose.
If this is your first time buying a guitar, you really can’t go wrong with buying a $300 classical. Any of these guitars will be enough to get you on the road to musical mastery while being affordable enough that if you decide your ambitions lie elsewhere you won’t be ashamed of the expense.
Intermediate guitarists looking to branch out to classical music or simply add a nylon-string guitar to their arsenal will find guitars in this price range suited to meet just about all their needs.
Professionals will all have their own reasons for buying affordable instruments and shouldn’t be dissatisfied with any of the offerings in this list.
What To Look For in a Classical Guitar Under $300
Like with all instrument purchases, a basic checklist should be gone over before making a final decision. Classical guitar quality markers are about the same as with any other guitar, but extra attention should be paid to the tuning machines. Our article about the differences between acoustic and classical guitars explains this in a bit more depth.
First off, you want to check for any obvious flaws in the build, checking the entirety of the guitar for chips, dents, scratches, nicks, etc. If you find anything like this while in the guitar shop, bring it up to the salesman and you might be able to get a decent discount.
Secondly, check the length of the neck for any twisting, bending, curving, or separation from the body. To do this, hold the guitar up level with your eyes and look from the bridge toward the headstock. Does the neck seem to warp, or does it maintain a straight line through its length? Next, hold the guitar out from you at arms length and make sure the neck doesn’t bow or curve. On classicals this doesn’t tend to be a common problem, but every once in a while a guitar might slip past the quality control pros at the manufacturer and ship with a neck that just doesn’t make the cut. As classical guitars usually lack a truss rod, this otherwise reparable misconstruction becomes a fatal flaw.
If the neck and body pass the par separately, move on to make sure everything is properly attached to everything else. The joint where the neck meets the body should have no space or separation, and the bridge needs to be checked for lift. A lifted bridge happens when the string tension pulls up on the bridge, lifting the bottom edge off the guitar body. Again, this is not a common problem in classical guitars due to the low string tension, but you should check your guitar for perfection nonetheless.
Finally, check your tuning machines! Cheaply made classical guitars have tuning posts that just can’t hold tension for one reason or another, but in an instrument ranging around $300, you shouldn’t have to worry about this. You can go about checking this a couple different ways.
If you’re in a music shop and have no idea how to tune a guitar, simply ask a salesperson or guitar tech to demonstrate the tuner stability for you. They’ll de-tune each string, then tighten or loosen it back to proper tone. Then they’ll probably riff around with the guitar for a bit and show you that the guitar has stayed in tune.
If, on the other hand, you do know how to tune, you’ll just need to do what the guitar tech would do. Just make sure the strings don’t slip and that the tuning machines stay in place through a few minutes worth of playing, and you’ll be finished with your quality checklist and ready to roll.
What Are Good Classical Guitar Brands?
There are a few categories of classical guitar brands we can talk about. First and worst are the brands that make what are essentially toys. I won’t name-shame them here, but be an informed buyer and read reviews to make sure you’re not buying an unplayable sham.
Next up the line are well-known guitar manufacturers that specialize in steel-string instruments but dabble in the classical world. A few of these would be Yamaha, Ibanez, and Ovation. These makers have stood strong through the decades and produced a line-up of quality instruments ranging from beginner guitars to custom-made axes played by musical legends. Generally, you won’t find anything unplayable from these companies, and more often than not will be surprised by their good quality:price ratio. Even though classical guitars are not what they’re known for, these brands have a reputation to uphold and craft their classicals with the same quality work that they give all their other instruments.
Last and best are the exclusively classical guitar companies. They specialize in traditional nylon string instruments and have pioneered and perfected the craft. These are brands such as Cordoba, Alhambra, and José Ramírez who build classical guitars in line with the Spanish tradition while incorporating their own design innovations to make truly amazing instruments. Some of these makers have entry-level product lines so you can get a taste of their quality without breaking the bank, but others stick to a strict level of highest-value workmanship and don’t sell for any less than a few thousand dollars.
For more info on some of the best classical guitar brands, you can check out our blog post on this subject here.
Should I Buy a Used Classical Guitar?
Used classical guitars can be one of the best finds you’ll come across. Sometimes, people just don’t know what they have collecting dust in the attic and will sell high quality instruments at unbelievably low prices. I always make it a point to stop by yard sales and flea markets in search of one of these golden buys. It’s not extremely often that I come across an instrument I want, but when I do it’s usually a used gem.
Just make sure to go over the guitar quality checklist to make sure it’s in working order before you buy, and remember to do your research before committing to a used instrument. Used classicals can definitely be worth it, but if you’d rather get a new guitar to make your mark on, here you can read about some of the best classical guitars worth the money.
The Final Word
Boy oh boy do I love a good classical guitar, and what a joy it is to tell you about some of my favorites.
In this review, the clear winner is the solid top, traditionally built Cordoba C3M, but I’ve had a great time checking out all the others.
I’m not exactly a frill-seeker, but when compared to the bonus features of the other models, I have to hand last place to the Takamine GC1 NAT.
Just take the time to really think about what you’re looking for in a classical guitar, and I’m sure there’s something on this list that can suit all your needs. Thanks for reading, and until next time, happy playing!