How to choose a classical guitar

To begin playing the classical guitar, the only really essential item is a strung guitar! Given sufficient passion and perseverence, it is possible to learn to play on almost anything semi-closely resembling a guitar.

However...

Choosing the right guitar is a fairly important step in learning how to play. Trying to learn to play on an instrument that is difficult or impossible to tune, or where the action is too high, or even on a guitar the student considers "ugly" (very subjective, this!), will in nine cases out of 10 lead to a person giving up the instrument, so it is important to choose the right guitar from the start.

Choose a guitar based on its sound and playability rather than its label/brand.

Set yourself a budget. Guitars can vary dramatically in price, from about $150 to well beyond $1,000. As a beginner, don't spend too much - it won't be worth it. On the other hand, do ensure you buy a playable guitar which you like the look and sound of. Buy quality when possible, but do not overspend.

Buy only from a specialised music shop that can guide and advise you. Better yet, take someone who plays the (classical) guitar with you. It is generally not a good idea to buy over the Internet, unless the shop has a good reputation AND you can return the instrument if it's unsuitable. Ensure the salesperson knows you are wanting a CLASSICAL guitar, which has a wide neck and nylon strings.

If possible, visit a few different music shops, and don't buy an instrument on your first visit to a shop. Test as many instruments as possible. Compare their sound, how much pressure is required to press a string down on the fingerboard, how it looks (you want to like the look of your instrument). Check that the tuning pegs turn easily.

Height of strings above the fingerboard (action) is very important. The strings should be as close as possible to the fingerboard without buzzing. The gap between the strings and the fingerboard should be from 3 to 3.5 mm at the 12th fret. The higher the strings, the more difficult it is to play.

Check that it plays in tune. The pressed note at the 12th fret should sound at the same pitch as the natural harmonic at the 12th fret (the 12th fret should always be exactly one octave higher than the open string).

Check that all the notes on each string are fairly even in volume and sustain (the length of time a note will sound after a string has been plucked).

The standard full size classical guitar fingerboard width is from 50 to 53 mm at the nut, widening slightly and evenly throughout its length to a width of about 63 mm at the soundhole. A narrower fingerboard makes playing more difficult. Three-quarter, half-size and quarter-size guitars have narrower necks for children's smaller hands and shorter fingers.

Ensure you get the right size guitar. The following is a guide from Artist Guitars:

  • Aged 2-5 years: (height 75-100cm) 1/4 size
  • Aged 5-8 years: (height 100-125cm) 1/2 Size
  • Aged 8-12 years: (height 125-165cm) 3/4 Size
  • Aged 12 years +: (height 165cm +) 4/4 Size

Should I hire rather than buy a guitar?

It may be a good idea to "try before you buy" -- to hire/rent a guitar before going to the expense of buying one before you know that the guitar is truly the instrument for you. A beginner guitar is cheap enough, though, that once you are absolutely sure it is the instrument you want to learn, you will want to buy rather than hire.

I can hire my students a guitar on either a short- or long-term basis. Hiring a guitar costs between $10 and $20 per month (minimum rental period is one month). Instruments are not necessarily new, but they are all good, very playable guitars. Rental fees are payable in advance of each month, with an initial deposit of between $50 and $150 (depending on the replacement value of the instrument). On return of instrument in good condition, deposit is refunded. Replacement of broken strings are the responsibility of the student.

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