The Best Classical Guitar?

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The Best Classical Guitar?

The most important part of this discussion is you, so before you leave, answer the question: What is the best classical guitar, and why? Leave your answer in the comments below.

The question on everybody’s lips

The most common questions are often the most difficult to answer, and the question of which guitar is the best classical guitar is no exception. The classical guitar sound is made up of so many contributing factors that it becomes quite a complex dance of materials, construction techniques and that x-factor each luthier provides. This, of course, is all the elements the guitar provides by itself, it still has to then interact with your fingers and technique!(don’t get me started on strings…)
Times, they are a changin’

The violin, the piano and cello, all have a design that has been set for quite some time. The classical guitar, however, is still a playground of innovation and experimentation. In a way we are very lucky to be living in a time when guitar builders are free from the tyranny of tradition to try new things and constantly push the limits of what our instrument can do. On the other hand, it can be death by choice when it comes to deciding which one, out of the hundreds of variants, is the one for us.

Some of the variations that can affect sound are:

  • Soundboard wood – essentially cedar or spruce.
  • Soundboard bracing – traditional fan bracing, radial, double top, lattice or any number of variants will offer a wide variety of tone palettes.
  • Rounded or flat back – It offers a subtle change to the sound, but the rounded or ‘cello’ back looks amazing!
  • Sound portals – These small holes on the side of the guitar (usually near the neck) not only elicit questions from onlookers but also give the guitarist a different way of hearing the sound.
  • Construction quality – This aspect will depend on the builder. Essentially, a high quality builder will make sure there are no buzzes, ‘wolf notes’, or other noises that don’t belong.

Some of the other innovations include:

  • Arm rests – A Greg Smallman development that lifts the arm off the vibrating soundboard and offers comfort.
  • Raised necks – Necks like the “Millennium” by Thomas Humphrey were raised above the soundboard to give the left hand more clearance.
  • Detachable neck – Yet another Smallman innovation. His guitars actually have detachable necks that allow the action to be changed with the turning of a key!
  • Different scale lengths – Not so much a recent addition, but guitars can be built smaller or larger than the standard 650mm scale length. This makes the size of the guitar suit your hands and fingers. I play a 640.

For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night

Some guitarists rely heavily on the visual aesthetic of an instrument to guide their choice of instrument. After all, the classical guitar is a stunningly beautiful object. From woods, to rosette and unique finishing touches, each guitar can look as unique as it sounds. The appearance, however, will never offer more than a visual treat. Perhaps some audience members appreciate that? For me, the sound is 99 percent of what I am focusing on, but I will admit that the look of a guitar makes me feel good when I am playing it.

Talking about feel…

The way that your hands interact with the instrument will make a big difference in your choice. The playability of a classical guitar is all about how it feels to touch, shift, maneuver, and play your repertoire. Things like string responsiveness in the right hand and the ease (or lack of) in the left hand to fret notes should be pretty high on your list of requirements.

Show me the money!

Price will always be an issue. Even though we don’t have to battle with same astronomical prices that violins, cellos and pianos might warrant, classical guitars can still get expensive. For some of us, we need that money to pay rent or buy a car, so that little tag can make a big difference.

The good news for players is that there are more and more quality builders out there, making competition quite fierce. This results in quality, concert level classical guitars, being available under ten thousand dollars. In general, to get over ten thousand, a builder will have a strong reputation backed by a notable performer that uses their instrument, or a long and distinguished track record that builds trust.

The 5 to 10,000 range is an interesting one, with several builders that may have not been ‘discovered’ yet. Guitar festivals are a great way to meet and greet these builders, or it can simply be by word of mouth.

So, let us know what guitar you admire and why. Perhaps we can all find out about some of the ‘undiscovered’ builders out there!

Cheers,

Simon

 

2016-10-24T00:19:54+00:00 8 Comments

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8 Comments

  1. George Wrigley March 30, 2015 at 4:23 am - Reply

    I had a beautiful classical guitar made by Johnny Walker from Oklahoma. It has a Engleman Spruce top with Cocobolo back and sides. Nice ornamentation in the form of inlays.
    Most importantly is the sound and ease of playing. I love the sound; it is the best sounding classical I have ever played. Very rich with long sustain. It also plays like a dream, and has a wonderful feel in my hands. It is a 640 scale with a string spacing 41 mm at the nut and 57 at the bridge. The neck is also slim. I have small hands and this works out perfectly. His prices are extremely moderate for the high quality, and considering his guitars are entirely hand made. His best model, which I have is $4000.

    I love it so much I had him make me a flamenco also. That one is still breaking in, but beginning to develop into a fine guitar. The flamenco was $2500. It is made from plans of the 1951 Marcelo Barbero, so I ordered it with geared pegs look realistic. The geared pegs actually tune quite nicely.

  2. John Farraro March 30, 2015 at 5:35 am - Reply

    I don’t think I can comment on the “best guitar”; but I can comment on what I like. I think there are a number of good builders who produce concert grade instruments in the 5-10K range. In fact I think if you pay more than 10 or maybe 15K your no longer paying for an excellent instrument – you are paying for a famous guitar. In my case, I am fond of my current instrument – a 2007 cedar top John Price. Compared to the other Australian style builders – I find his to be some of the warmest in tone. Some lattice braced guitars can come out a little too bright and in come cases thin in tone for me anyway. Of course like most well built modern guitars it projects well (sounds like a piano in volume in a smaller room), is extremely well balanced and is very responsive (can be a challenge for an intermediate player like me – it magnifies when I get it right, and when I get it wrong).

  3. Brian March 30, 2015 at 5:40 am - Reply

    Yamaha C-40, cheap, can buy it anywhere and hours of fun trying to get it in tune!

    Just kidding. It’s a bit of a hard question… Personally I like Cedar and I like old Euro Spruce, I don’t like Englemann but I do like Sitka. I think the best guitar is a Torres FE19 because you can do anything with it style wise and it is kind of the original.

    Currently I own a Richard Howell cedar top 9 fan Fleta, I love it but there are all kinds of guitars for certain jobs and I think the Fleta style does Spanish music better and I like it more but the Torres is kind of the ‘Swiss army knife’ of guitars.

  4. Jim Marvin March 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Just had to replace a Hauser knock off from Paracho. Navarro Garcia. Good guitar. Bought the Cordoba Master Series Hauser. $3600 delivered. I am stunned at the playability and tone. Kenny Hill really knocks it out of the park in this price range.

  5. Michal Philbert March 31, 2015 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    I would like to include a fantastic guitar I purchased March 2014 that I am very pleased to own. It is a Premier Edition Spruce Double Top classical guitar. It is one-year old now and the sound is incredible; great bass volume and sustain in the high notes. The top is spruce with cedar underneath. The sides and back 150 year-old Brazilian rosewood, and inside sides are cypress. It has an elevated neck at the 12th fret for easier fingering on the high notes. The guitar sings, and the play and action are the finest I have encountered. The guitar was made by Dake Traphagen who has a workshop in Bellingham, Washington. He makes a cedar double top and also specializes in vintage instruments; vihuela, etc. His prices are very reasonable. I highly recommend him to anyone interested in buying a high-end professional classical guitar. http://www.traphagenguitars.com

  6. Profile photo of Nathan Stocks
    Nathan Stocks July 25, 2016 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    I believe you mean “elicit” (verb, evoke or draw out) instead of “illicit” (adjective, illegal or forbidden).

    • Profile photo of Dave Belcher
      Dave Belcher July 26, 2016 at 11:04 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Nathan—just a typo, which I’ve corrected. We appreciate it!

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  7. Richard Lavine September 23, 2016 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    The best classical guitar, is one with a lot of stories in it, one that sucks you into an intimate feedback loop like a perfect lover, one that teaches good and bad mistakes, one that isn’t afraid to take extended trips into crazy town at a moments notice, one that vaporizes into the duet and joins you in timelessness, one that is low maintenance and does not require you to buy 6 strings from separate vendors to get that sound or worship the humidifier, one that gets bored with something at the same time you do, one that makes you want to play it sail it in a tight reach as good as it can be sailed, one that manages to fit in the new note even when there is no room for it, and to take a bow and whisper a quiet ‘that was fun’ into your ear after and then beg to do more.

    Though I may be a fool, the guitars I love do seem to sound better and better, and sometimes I play an unloved perfect guitar, and I have to wonder what it would sound like after we’ve gone all the way.

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