Best Classical Guitars for Different Budgets

My pick for the best classical guitar is the Cordoba C12 because it offers solid wood construction, a raised fingerboard, and great projection.

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Whether you enjoy practicing Fernando Sor’s etudes or you strive to be the next Andrés Segovia, the best classical guitar should support your sound and technique. In other words, it shouldn’t make playing the instrument any harder. If the classical neck is uncomfortable or the frets are sharp at the edges, you won’t play your best. Similarly, if the dull sound makes you constantly try different strings to make it sound good, that’ll distract you from actually practicing.

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Of course, we don’t all have unlimited budgets to get a classical or Spanish guitar that’s absolutely perfect. That’s why I’ve tried to pick a good list of the best classical guitars that range from beginner to professional. My top pick out of the list below is the Cordoba C12, which I’ve played for many years, but I’ll cover nylon-string guitars that are more affordable, as well. 

Brogan’s Quick Take

The best classical guitar depends on your budget, style, and needs. Factors to consider include the quality of materials, craftsmanship, playability, and sound. The Cordoba C12 is a top pick, but other options like the Cordoba C7, Alvarez Yairi CYM75, Alhambra 4-F, and Ibanez GA3 also offer great value for different budgets and preferences.

(Sidenote: Do you want to keep getting better at classical guitar? Then try out tonebase — and use the code Segovia1893 for 30% off forever after a free trial. I used tonebase to help me get some tricky repertoire up to par and I think it’s the best online classical guitar course.)

5 Best Classical Guitars

My top picks for the best classical guitars on the market right now are:

  • Cordoba C12
  • Cordoba C7
  • Alvarez Yairi CYM75
  • Alhambra 4-F
  • Ibanez GA3

Keep in mind this guide to the best classical guitars includes factory-level instruments from major guitar brands. Personally, I haven’t played any luthier-made guitars. Classical players rave about handmade instruments, and I’m sure the instruments are illustrious. But at this point, I’ve played entry-level guitars to professional factory-level guitars, so that’s what I’ll review here.

Below, you can compare my top picks at a glance:

GuitarTypeTop WoodBack & Sides WoodNeck WoodFingerboardScale LengthNut WidthPrice Range
Cordoba C12ClassicalSolid Red CedarSolid Indian RosewoodMahoganyEbony650mm52mm$1,000-$1,500
Cordoba C7ClassicalSolid European SpruceLaminate Indian RosewoodMahoganyRosewood650mm52mm$500-$700
Alvarez Yairi CYM75ClassicalSolid Engelmann SpruceSolid Indian RosewoodMahoganyEbony650mm52mm$1,500-$2,000
Alhambra 4-FFlamencoSolid German SpruceSolid SycamoreSpanish CedarEbony650mm52mm$700-$1,000
Ibanez GA3ClassicalSpruceCatalpaMahoganyRosewood650mm52mm$100-$200

1. Cordoba C12 CD: Best Classical Guitar

Out of all the guitars on this list, this is my favorite. I’ve been practicing, recording, and performing on the Cordoba C12 since 2018. This is the cedar top model, while Cordoba also makes a spruce top model with “SP” in the name. In my opinion, it’s the best classical guitar for the money.

The Cordoba C12 is an excellent classical guitar for serious musicians. Its solid Canadian cedar top and Indian rosewood back and sides produce a rich, warm tone that’s ideal for classical repertoire. The C12’s handcrafted construction, which includes a Spanish heel neck joint and fan bracing, provides superior resonance and projection.

Some notable features of the Cordoba C12 include:
  • Solid Canadian cedar top for a warm, responsive sound
  • Indian rosewood back and sides for rich bass and brilliant trebles
  • Spanish heel neck joint for improved sustain and resonance
  • Fan bracing for optimal soundboard vibration
  • Ebony fingerboard for smooth playability
  • Savarez Cristal Corum strings for balanced tone
  • Lightweight polyfoam case included

Pros and Cons of the Cordoba C12:

Handcrafted with premium tonewoodsMore expensive than entry-level guitars
Superior resonance and projectionRequires humidity control to prevent cracks
Included case for protectionHeavier than some other classical guitars
Smooth playabilityWider neck may take adjustment for some

Compared to other classical guitars like the Yamaha CG122MCH or Kremona Sofia SC, the Cordoba C12 stands out for its combination of fine tonewoods, expert craftsmanship, and included accessories. While pricier than basic models, its solid cedar top and rosewood body deliver a noticeably richer, more expressive sound well-suited for advanced classical pieces and recording.

In summary, the Cordoba C12’s premium materials, refined construction, and superior sound make it an excellent choice for classical guitarists seeking a high-quality, responsive instrument. Its warm cedar top, rich rosewood back and sides, and resonant Spanish heel produce the full, nuanced tone needed to do justice to challenging classical works.

2. Cordoba C7: Best Affordable Classical Guitar

The Cordoba C7 is an excellent classical guitar that provides exceptional value for its price point.

This instrument has several standout features:
  • Solid Canadian cedar top for a warm, rich tone
  • Indian rosewood back and sides adding depth and resonance
  • Spanish fan bracing pattern optimized for responsiveness
  • Genuine bone nut and saddle for improved sustenance
  • Glossy PU finish offering elegant aesthetics and protection

Some key pros and cons of the Cordoba C7:

High-quality tonewoodsSlightly heavier than some models
Balanced, expressive soundSetup may need adjustment
Traditional Spanish constructionHigher action takes getting used to
Excellent craftsmanshipCase sold separately

The Cordoba C7 classical guitar features high-quality tonewoods, including a Canadian cedar top that contributes to its warm, rich sound. The instrument’s Spanish fan bracing pattern enhances its responsiveness and tonal projection. Additionally, the C7 boasts a genuine bone nut and saddle, which improve sustain and clarity. The guitar’s glossy PU finish not only provides an elegant appearance but also protects the wood from minor dings and scratches.

Compared to entry-level classical axes like the Yamaha C40II or Fender FC-100, the Cordoba C7 nylon-string provides a substantial upgrade in sound quality, playability, and overall experience. The combination of the Canadian cedar soundboard, Indian rosewood body, and Spanish-style build delivers a tone with greater warmth, sustain, and dynamic range.

While higher-end luthier-made instruments may offer additional refinement, the Cordoba C7 stands out as a well-rounded choice for advancing students and budget-conscious performers seeking a responsive, great-sounding classical guitar. Its solid-wood top, quality construction, and player-focused features make it a compelling option in its class.

3. Alvarez Yairi CYM75 Masterworks: Best Traditional Classical Guitar

With its solid AA Western Red Cedar top and East Indian Rosewood back and sides, you’re getting an incredibly well-crafted instrument when you purchase the Alvarez Yairi CYM75 Masterworks Classical Acoustic Guitar.

Alvarez Yairi CYM75 from zZounds

Some key features of the CYM75:
  • Solid Canadian cedar top for warm, rich tone
  • Solid African mahogany back and sides for excellent projection
  • Ebony fingerboard and bridge for smooth action
  • Hand-inlaid wooden rosette and purfling for elegant aesthetics
  • Gotoh gold tuners for precise tuning stability
Exceptional tonal qualityHigher price point
Premium build materialsHeavier than some models
Expert Japanese craftsmanshipLimited availability
Elegant traditional aestheticsRequires humidity control

When compared to other classical guitars in its class, like the Cordoba C12 or Ramirez 125 Anos, the Alvarez Yairi CYM75 stands out for its combination of top-notch woods, expert craftsmanship, and superior sound. The solid cedar top and mahogany body work together to produce a warm, responsive tone with excellent sustain and clarity across the full range of the instrument. The precision fretwork on the ebony fingerboard ensures smooth playability, making it a joy to perform with.

In conclusion, the Alvarez Yairi CYM75 is a superb choice for the serious classical guitarist who seeks uncompromising tone, playability, and craftsmanship. Although it comes with a higher price tag than some other options, the quality of its woods, construction, and sound make it a worthwhile investment for those who demand the best from their instrument.

4. Alhambra 4-F: Best Affordable Flamenco Guitar

I couldn’t resist putting a good flamenco guitar in this list. The Alhambra 4-F Conservatory Flamenco Guitar is made from noble woods and features a solid German spruce top, sycamore body, and ebony fingerboard. A few things make classical and flamenco guitars different. 

Alhambra 4-F from zZounds

The Alhambra 4F, a flamenco guitar model, is crafted with a solid European spruce top, cypress back and sides, an ebony fingerboard, a Spanish cedar neck, a rosewood bridge, golpeadores (tap plates), and traditional wooden friction tuning pegs. Alhambra, a renowned Spanish guitar manufacturer, has carefully selected these materials for their quality and tonal properties.

The Alhambra 4F boasts these impressive features:
  • Solid European spruce top for bright, responsive tone
  • Cypress back and sides for warm, balanced resonance
  • Ebony fingerboard for smooth playability
  • Spanish cedar neck for stability and comfort
  • Rosewood bridge for enhanced sustain
  • Golpeadores (tap plates) for percussive flamenco techniques
  • Traditional wooden friction tuning pegs for classic aesthetics
Authentic flamenco soundHigher price point compared to entry-level guitars
High-quality tonewoodsRequires regular maintenance
Handcrafted by skilled luthiersMay not suit other musical styles as well
Ideal for advanced techniquesWooden tuning pegs require more tuning adjustments

Compared to other flamenco guitars, the Alhambra 4F stands out for its superior craftsmanship and attention to detail. The combination of a solid European spruce soundboard and cypress back and sides creates a balanced, responsive tone that is perfect for the dynamic demands of flamenco music. While entry-level flamenco guitars may offer a lower price point, they often cannot match the Alhambra 4F’s quality of materials and construction.

In conclusion, the Alhambra 4F is a top-tier flamenco guitar that delivers exceptional sound, playability, and craftsmanship. Its carefully selected tonewoods, traditional construction, and flamenco-specific features make it an ideal choice for serious flamenco guitarists seeking an authentic, high-quality instrument.

5. Ibanez GA3: Best Budget Classical Guitar

Ibanez GA3 from zZounds

Ibanez isn’t all about metal and jazz guitars. You can find some affordable classical gems like the GA3. This guitar is so cheap (but reliable) that it’s the one you should buy if you’re not sure what to expect from a classical guitar.

Perhaps you play steel-string guitar and don’t want to invest much in classical playing. Or, maybe you just want to pluck some nice bossa nova chords every now and then. And if you’re an electric player looking to experiment in the classical guitar world, you might not want to put down a load of cash. If that sounds like you, then this is the nylon-strung guitar to check out.

The Ibanez GA3 is an excellent classical guitar that offers great value for its price.

This guitar features:
  • Spruce top for bright, articulate tone
  • Mahogany back and sides for warmth and sustain
  • Rosewood bridge and fretboard for smooth playability
  • Nylon strings for traditional classical sound
  • High gloss polyurethane finish for durability
Affordable priceNot made with all solid woods
Quality tonewoodsNo electronics for amplification
Smooth playabilityMade in China, not Spain
Traditional nylon string sound

The Ibanez GA3 uses quality tonewoods in its construction. The spruce top provides a bright, articulate sound while the mahogany back and sides add warmth and sustain. Rosewood, used for the bridge and fretboard, enables smooth fretting and playability.

Compared to more expensive classical guitars like those made by Cordoba or Alhambra, the GA3 represents an affordable option. While it doesn’t have the all-solid wood construction of pricier models, its laminate back and sides help keep costs down without overly sacrificing sound quality. The GA3 delivers the traditional nylon string tone that’s essential for classical repertoire.

For anyone looking to get started with classical guitar, the Ibanez GA3 makes an ideal choice. Its combination of quality woods, smooth playability, and wallet-friendly price make it one of the best values on the market today for a beginner or intermediate classical instrument.

The Art and Science of Crafting the Perfect Classical Guitar

How the Best Classical Guitars Are Made

Lutherie, the art of crafting stringed instruments, is a crucial element in the creation of high-quality classical guitars. Renowned luthiers, such as Jose Ramirez, Hermann Hauser, and Antonio de Torres, have contributed significantly to the evolution and refinement of classical guitar design.

Luthiers employ various construction methods, both traditional and modern, to craft instruments that showcase their unique style and tonal characteristics. Traditional construction methods, such as Spanish heel and fan bracing, have stood the test of time and are still favored by many luthiers for their proven results. However, modern innovations, like double-top and lattice bracing, have gained popularity for their potential to enhance sound projection and sustain.

Construction MethodDescriptionNotable Luthiers
Spanish HeelA method where the neck and body are joined as one piece, providing stability and sustainAntonio de Torres, Jose Ramirez
Fan BracingA bracing pattern that radiates from the soundhole, offering balanced tone and responseHermann Hauser, Robert Bouchet
Double-TopA construction method using two thin soundboards separated by a layer of Nomex, enhancing projection and volumeGreg Smallman, Matthias Dammann
Lattice BracingA bracing pattern consisting of a lattice of thin wooden struts, promoting vibration and resonanceGreg Smallman, Simon Marty

Tonewoods and Their Impact on Sound Quality

The choice of tonewoods is essential in determining the sound quality of a classical guitar. Luthiers carefully select woods based on their density, grain structure, and resonance properties to craft instruments with distinct tonal characteristics.

Some of the most commonly used tonewoods in classical guitar construction include:

  • Spruce (Soundboard): Known for its light weight, stiffness, and excellent vibration transfer, resulting in a bright, clear, and responsive tone.
  • Cedar (Soundboard): Offers a warmer, darker tone compared to spruce, with quick response and rich overtones.
  • Rosewood (Back and Sides): Provides a deep, complex tone with excellent projection and sustain.
  • Mahogany (Back and Sides): Imparts a warm, balanced tone with good mid-range and clarity.
  • Maple (Back and Sides): Known for its bright, articulate tone with excellent note separation and clarity.

However, the use of exotic tonewoods has raised concerns about sustainability and the environmental impact of harvesting these precious resources. Luthiers and guitar manufacturers are exploring alternative materials, such as locally sourced woods and sustainable plantations, to address these concerns while maintaining the quality and integrity of their instruments.

Bracing Patterns and Resonance

Bracing patterns play a crucial role in determining the resonance and tonal qualities of a classical guitar. The bracing supports the soundboard and influences how it vibrates in response to the strings, shaping the overall sound of the instrument.

Traditional bracing patterns, such as fan bracing and Torres bracing, have been used for centuries and are known for their balanced tone and responsiveness. Luthiers like Antonio de Torres and Hermann Hauser have refined these patterns to optimize the sound and playability of their guitars.

Innovative bracing designs, such as lattice bracing and double-top construction, have emerged as alternatives to traditional patterns. These designs aim to enhance sound projection, sustain, and volume while maintaining a balanced tone. Luthiers like Greg Smallman and Matthias Dammann have pioneered these techniques and have gained recognition for their high-performance classical guitars.

Bracing PatternCharacteristics
Fan BracingBalanced tone, good response, and clarity
Torres BracingPowerful bass, good projection, and sustain
Lattice BracingEnhanced volume, projection, and resonance
Double-TopIncreased soundboard stiffness, improved projection, and sustain

Soundboard Materials and Their Effect on Projection and Sustain

The soundboard is the heart of a classical guitar, responsible for amplifying and projecting the sound produced by the vibrating strings. The choice of soundboard material significantly impacts the projection, sustain, and tonal characteristics of the instrument.

Solid wood soundboards, such as spruce and cedar, are highly prized for their superior sound quality and responsiveness. Spruce is known for its bright, clear tone and excellent projection, while cedar offers a warmer, mellower sound with quick response and rich overtones. Luthiers often select high-quality, straight-grained solid woods for their soundboards to ensure optimal performance.

Laminated and synthetic soundboards have gained popularity as cost-effective and durable alternatives to solid wood. Laminated soundboards are made by layering thin sheets of wood with alternating grain directions, increasing stability and resistance to environmental changes. Synthetic materials, such as carbon fiber and Nomex, offer exceptional strength, stiffness, and resistance to humidity fluctuations, making them suitable for guitars that require durability and consistency.

While solid wood soundboards are generally preferred for their superior sound quality, laminated and synthetic options provide affordable and reliable alternatives for students, travelers, and players in humid climates.

The Role of Strings in Playability and Tone

Strings are the link between the player and the guitar, directly influencing the playability and tone of the instrument. Classical guitar strings are typically made from nylon or fluorocarbon materials, offering different tension, gauge, and tonal characteristics.

Popular string brands for classical guitars include:

  • D’Addario: Known for their consistency, durability, and balanced tone.
  • Savarez: Offer a wide range of tensions and gauges for different playing styles and preferences.
  • Augustine: Provide warm, rich tones with excellent projection and sustain.
  • Hannabach: Known for their precision, stability, and comfortable playability.
  • La Bella: Offer high-quality strings with excellent intonation and long-lasting performance.

String materials and gauges can significantly impact the feel and sound of a classical guitar. Nylon strings are known for their warm, mellow tone and comfortable playability, while fluorocarbon strings offer a brighter, crisper sound with increased projection. Lighter gauge strings are easier to play and provide a softer tone, while heavier gauge strings offer increased volume, sustain, and resistance to breakage.

Choosing the right strings is a matter of personal preference, playing style, and desired tonal characteristics. Experimenting with different brands, materials, and gauges can help players find the perfect match for their instrument and playing needs.

Keep reading: Best Classical Guitar Strings

Classical Guitar Accessories and Maintenance

Proper care and maintenance are essential for preserving the quality and longevity of a classical guitar. Regular maintenance, such as string changes, fretboard cleaning, and humidity control, can help prevent common issues and ensure optimal performance.

Essential accessories for classical guitarists include:

  • Humidifier: Helps maintain proper humidity levels to prevent cracks, warping, and other damage caused by dry conditions.
  • Case: Provides protection during storage and transportation, shielding the guitar from impacts, temperature fluctuations, and humidity changes.
  • Capo: Allows players to change the key of a piece without adjusting their fingering, facilitating transposition and extending the guitar’s range.
  • Footstool: Helps elevate the guitar to a comfortable playing position, reducing strain on the player’s back and neck.
  • Metronome: Assists in developing accurate timing, rhythm, and speed by providing a steady beat to practice along with.

Proper care and maintenance techniques include:

  • Regular string changes: Old, worn strings can negatively impact tone, intonation, and playability. Changing strings every 1-3 months, depending on playing frequency, can help maintain optimal sound and feel.
  • Fretboard cleaning: Dirt, oils, and grime can accumulate on the fretboard over time, affecting playability and appearance. Cleaning the fretboard with a soft cloth and lemon oil can help remove buildup and condition the wood.
  • Humidity control: Classical guitars are sensitive to humidity fluctuations, which can cause cracks, warping, and other damage. Using a humidifier in dry conditions and a dehumidifier in humid environments can help maintain proper humidity levels and prevent damage.

By investing in quality accessories and adhering to proper maintenance practices, classical guitarists can ensure their instruments remain in top condition for years to come.

Playing Techniques and Tonal Qualities

Classical guitar playing techniques are essential for unlocking the full potential of the instrument and producing a wide range of tonal qualities. Fingerpicking and strumming are the two main techniques used by classical guitarists, each offering unique tonal possibilities.

Fingerpicking involves plucking the strings with the fingernails or fingertips of the right hand, allowing for independent control of each string and enabling complex polyphonic arrangements. Fingerpicking techniques include:

  • Apoyando (rest stroke): The finger plucks the string and comes to rest on the adjacent string, producing a fuller, louder tone with greater sustain.
  • Tirando (free stroke): The finger plucks the string and moves away from the guitar, resulting in a softer, more delicate tone with less sustain.
  • Arpeggios: Plucking the strings in a sequential pattern, creating a harp-like effect and showcasing the guitar’s polyphonic capabilities.
  • Tremolo: Rapidly alternating the index, middle, and ring fingers on a single string, producing a sustained, shimmering effect.

Strumming involves sweeping the fingers or thumb across multiple strings simultaneously, creating a rhythmic, chordal accompaniment. Strumming techniques include:

  • Rasgueado: A flamenco-style strumming technique that involves rapid, percussive strokes with the back of the fingers, producing a lively, passionate sound.
  • Alzapúa: A thumb-based strumming technique that alternates between downstrokes and upstrokes, creating a consistent, driving rhythm.

Advanced techniques for tonal variety include:

  • Harmonics: Lightly touching the string at specific nodes while plucking to produce a bell-like, ethereal tone.
  • Pizzicato: Plucking the strings with the left hand while fretting to create a short, percussive effect.
  • Tambour: Tapping the strings or soundboard with the right hand to produce a drum-like percussive sound.

By mastering these techniques and exploring their tonal possibilities, classical guitarists can create rich, expressive performances that showcase the instrument’s versatility and beauty.

Classical Guitar Repertoire and Composers

The classical guitar repertoire is vast and diverse, spanning centuries of musical history and encompassing a wide range of styles, forms, and cultural influences. Influential classical guitar composers have shaped the instrument’s development and pushed the boundaries of technical and expressive possibilities.

Notable classical guitar composers include:

  • Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909): Spanish composer and guitarist who established the guitar as a serious classical instrument, composing iconic works such as “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and “Capricho Árabe.
  • Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959): Brazilian composer who blended classical and folk traditions, creating a unique style that showcased the guitar’s expressive range. His works, such as the “Five Preludes” and “Chôros No. 1”, are staples of the classical guitar repertoire.
  • Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999): Spanish composer best known for his guitar concerto “Concierto de Aranjuez”, which showcases the guitar’s lyrical and virtuosic capabilities against a lush orchestral backdrop.
  • Leo Brouwer (b. 1939): Cuban composer and guitarist who has explored a wide range of styles, from avant-garde to minimalism, incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms and extended techniques into his compositions. His works, such as “El Decameron Negro” and “Sonata”, are highly regarded in the contemporary classical guitar repertoire.

Expanding the classical guitar repertoire is an ongoing process, with contemporary composers exploring new sounds, techniques, and cross-cultural collaborations. Composers such as Roland Dyens, Nikita Koshkin, and Sergio Assad have contributed significant works that push the boundaries of the instrument and showcase its adaptability

Best Classical Guitars: Conclusion

In conclusion, finding the ideal classical guitar is a personal journey. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned player, it’s crucial to find a guitar that resonates with your style and budget. My top pick is the Cordoba C12, but you might find the best option is something else.

Best Classical Guitar: FAQ

Below are a few frequently asked questions about finding the best classical guitar.

What is the difference between a classical guitar and an acoustic guitar?

Classical guitars have nylon strings, a wider neck, and a smaller body compared to acoustic guitars, which have steel strings and a narrower neck. Classical guitars are primarily used for playing classical, flamenco, and folk music, while acoustic guitars are more versatile and used across various genres.

What should I look for when choosing a classical guitar?

When selecting a classical guitar, consider the following factors: wood type and quality (top, back, and sides), construction (solid wood vs. laminate), neck and fingerboard comfort, sound projection and tonal balance, brand reputation and craftsmanship, and your budget and skill level.

How much should I spend on my first classical guitar?

For beginners, a decent entry-level classical guitar can cost between $150 to $500. As you advance, you may want to invest in a higher-quality instrument, which can range from $500 to several thousand dollars. It’s essential to find a balance between your budget and the guitar’s quality.

What are the best classical guitar brands?

Some reputable classical guitar brands include: Cordoba, Yamaha, Alhambra, Takamine, Alvarez, La Patrie, and Kremona.

Should I choose a solid wood or laminate guitar?

Solid wood guitars generally offer better sound quality and resonance, but they are more expensive and sensitive to environmental changes. Laminate guitars are more affordable and durable, making them a good choice for beginners or those on a budget. As you progress, you may want to upgrade to a solid wood guitar.

How do I know if a classical guitar is comfortable to play?

When trying out a classical guitar, pay attention to the neck width, shape, and action (string height). The guitar should feel comfortable in your hands, and you should be able to easily press the strings without excessive pressure. It’s crucial to choose a guitar that suits your hand size and playing style.

Can I use a classical guitar for other music genres?

While classical guitars are designed for classical, flamenco, and folk music, they can be used for other genres like pop, jazz, or bossa nova. However, keep in mind that the nylon strings and smaller body may not provide the same sound or volume as steel-string acoustic or electric guitars typically used in these genres.

Further Reading