Classical Guitar vs Acoustic Guitar

For the uninitiated, it may be hard to distinguish between a classical guitar and an acoustic guitar. Here’s a comparison between classical guitar vs acoustic guitar.

If you want to play a guitar and you don’t want to bother with the expense and hassle of an electric guitar, then perhaps you think that the only other option is a regular acoustic guitar. But actually, you may want to think about getting a classical instead. The classical guitar vs. acoustic guitar debate is a rather popular point of contention among guitar lovers, but the truth is that you can’t really objectively say that one is better than the other.

What is true is that they’re different form one another, and that one may be better for you than the other.

It’s true that when you read about acoustic and classical guitars the terms “acoustic” and “classical” can be somewhat used inaccurately. Some online writers seem to think that the two terms are interchangeable. Others may even regard classical guitars as just some type of acoustic guitar.

It’s true that acoustic and classical guitars are very similar, especially in relation to electric guitars. After all, electrical guitars have to be plugged into a power outlet, and then you’ll need a proper amplifier and speaker to hear the sound you’re making.

With acoustic and classical guitars, you can make music without the need for electrical power. This means that these guitars are easier to bring along to impromptu parties and gatherings. You can also play them right away whenever you’re in the mood, as you won’t need to prepare them at all. Just pick one up, and play.

Yet there are crucial differences between acoustic and classical guitars. In fact, you may have even thought that you bought an acoustic guitar and actually you just got a classical guitar instead.

Is my guitar classical or acoustic? Now that may be a question that has popped in your head just now, if you’re never really knew the differences between the two. So let’s answer some questions and tackle some of the major differences between the two types of non-electric guitars.

How Much Does It Cost?

For consumers on a budget, this is obviously a pertinent question regardless of what item you want to buy. But it’s especially crucial when you’re buying a guitar.

In general, classical guitars are more affordable than their acoustic counterparts. That’s why for beginners who aren’t sure about playing the guitar for the long term, classical guitars are the more sensible option. Why risk more of your money when there’s a very good chance you’ll lose interest in playing the guitar after a month or so?

Of course, this is a general rule and there are plenty of exceptions in the guitar industry. There are expensive classical guitars, just as there are truly affordable acoustic guitars. It’s just that on average, the classical ones are cheaper and the acoustic ones are more expensive.

What Kind of Strings Does Your Guitar Have?

For the classical guitar vs. acoustic beginner, determining the type of string is perhaps the easiest way to check if a guitar is an acoustic or a classical version.

Does your guitar have steel strings? Congratulations, you have an acoustic guitar. This is the guitar that you hear more often on various pop songs over the years ever since the Beatles.

Do you have nylon strings on your guitar? Then actually, your instrument is a classical guitar. The use of nylon strings also explains why you may have some people refer to the classical guitars as “nylon-stringed acoustic guitars”.

Why Can’t Classical Guitars Use Steel Strings, and Why Can Nylon Strings Be Used for Acoustic Guitars?

Classical guitars aren’t meant to have steel strings. Is it possible for you to put steel strings on these classical guitars? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s not recommended, because the design of the guitar wasn’t meant to accommodate the tensile strength of steel strings. The steel strings will eventually break the guitar over time, as it can bow the neck or pull the bridge up.

On acoustic guitars, it’s also technically possible for you to put in nylon strings instead of steel ones. Acoustic guitars are meant to withstand the tensile strength of steel strings, so they won’t get damaged when you put in the weaker nylon ones.

But it’s not a good idea because the resulting sound of nylon strings on an acoustic guitar would feel muted and thin. It just sounds wrong. If you’re dead set on using nylon strings, then you should have just gone with a classical guitar in the first place.

Body Design Differences

Because acoustic guitars are designed to handle the strength of steel strings, they’re different than classical guitars which are meant only for nylon strings. Here are some of the design differences:

  • Scratch plate. This is the piece of plastic covering near the sound of the guitar. As its name suggests, its function is to protect the guitar body from being scratched by the pick you’re using. You usually use picks only with steel strings, so only acoustic guitars generally have this feature. Classical guitars don’t have them since you can use your bare fingers on the softer nylon.
  • Wider fingerboard. Since nylon strings are thicker than steel ones, the fingerboard on a classical guitar is generally wider for proper string spacing. The fingerboard on the acoustic is thinner as the steel strings don’t need as much space.

So if you have smaller hands, you may find the smaller fingerboard of the acoustic as more apt for you. On the other hand, your bigger hands will find the wider classical guitar fingerboard more comfortable to play as its size is more suitable for your hands.

  • Truss rod. This is the steel rod that braces the length of the guitar neck of your acoustic guitar. It’s necessary to counter the strength of the steel strings, and its absence in classical guitars is another reason why the classical ones are less expensive.
  • Classical guitars are on average smaller than their acoustic counterparts. That’s another reason why classical guitars are cheaper, and why some consider them the better option for young beginners. However, this size difference isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some acoustic guitars are smaller than average, while you may stumble upon a larger classical guitar.
  • Fret markers. These are the dots and inlays on the fingerboard to help you find the right placement for your fingers. You tend to see them on the larger acoustic guitars, though they’re absent from the smaller classical guitars. The lack of the inlays also helps make classical guitars more affordable.

The Sound Difference

This is perhaps the biggest difference of them all, as steel strings definitely sound different from nylon strings. Imagine the first few notes of the Song “Yesterday” by the Beatles. That’s an acoustic guitar with nylon strings. The same is true with the opening chords of the Oasis song “Wonderwall”.

Steel strings are louder and they have greater resonance. They’re the most common guitar sound you hear on pop songs, compared to the relative rarity of classical guitars and nylon strings.

However, if you do listen to a lot of Latin and Spanish-type music such as the flamenco or what the Gypsy Kings play, you may want to go with a classical guitar. While there actually is a flamenco guitar, a classical guitar is easier to find and more versatile as well.

Which One is the Best for You?

That’s a personal decision. We can, however, help you make up your mind with a few observations if you’re a beginner.

A classical guitar is great for some beginners because:

  • They’re generally more affordable.
  • They’re smaller, so younger children may feel more comfortable playing them.
  • They use nylon strings, and so they’re not painful to press on when you do chords.
  • You don’t need to use a pick on nylon strings either.
  • They’re great if you like classical or traditional Spanish music. You can also use it to play some type of jazz or folk music. You can also play pop songs with it—no one’s stopping you!
  • You just like the softer and mellower tone.

The acoustic guitar may be more to your liking if:

  • You don’t mind paying more, though there are plenty of very affordable acoustic guitars.
  • The thinner fretboard feels more comfortable for your smaller hands.
  • You don’t mind developing calluses on your fingers. Some people even think of these calluses as the “price” that artists have to “pay” for their music.
  • You want your guitar to sound louder, which is great when you’re in a large room or at the beach playing for a crowd.
  • You want to get the authentic sound of what you hear in popular music these days. The vast majority of popular music use steel strings, so if you’re determined to get that Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran sound you have to use steel strings and an acoustic guitar.
  • You want to be able to play any type of non-electric guitar. If you can play an acoustic guitar, then a classical guitar is easy for you. On the other hand, the reverse isn’t true. Just because your fingers can handle the classical guitar and its nylon strings doesn’t mean that you can play an acoustic guitar easily without some pain from the steel strings.

Of course, if you’re a beginner, you can do what most beginners have done. Start with a classical guitar so you can focus on doing chords without worrying about the pain from steel strings. Then after you’ve mastered that, you can buy an acoustic guitar and learn how to deal with the steel strings and thinner fretboard.

You’ll end up with two guitars, and that’s not a bad idea at all. If you’re really a musician, the classical guitar vs. acoustic guitar debate doesn’t have to limit you. Just get both the classical guitar and the acoustic guitar. You can find affordable ones for both types. Then you can have a particular guitar for your different moods and whims!

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