The Best Classical Guitar?

//The Best Classical Guitar?

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!




2016-10-24T00:19:54+00:0018 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.

  6. 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).

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

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


      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.

  8. Joannes May 5, 2017 at 11:00 am - Reply

    first of all,
    I love the sound and look of my guitar:
    My present guitar from 2016 the Merula Special has a cedar top and is made by the dutch builder Bert Kwakkel have back and sides made of Brazilian rosewood. the finger board and neck are of one piece of Grenadille (rosewood from Tanzania) in stead of ebony and decidious cedar. This unique rosewood has a very closed grain and is extremely durable. Because of this qualities it is not necessary to lacquer the neck, which results in very comfortable playing.
    Since ebony is no sound wood Bert Kwakkel conceived the idea of building a new type of guitar in which the neck and finger board would be made of one piece of Brazilian Rosewood. The result is a slightly heavier guitar (350 grams more) with a surprisingly royal and solid tone.

  9. Doug May 20, 2017 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    My favorite (and at the moment, only) guitar is a Dean España CS cedar top that I got for about $150. It was a floor demo with a couple of tiny dents in the soundboard, minor cosmetic issues only. In tone, I’d put this guitar against anything in the $300-$3000 price range. Heck, it could probably hold its own against some luthier-made guitars costing over $3k. A lot of this I think is simply fetishizing guitars, at least those at a certain price level. It seems sometimes that the CG world desperately wants its own Stradivarius class; it’s probably human nature. To me the tone is what counts, not necessarily whether the sides and back are 150 year old rosewood or not. (Mahogany is just fine by the way). I don’t want to see the luthier craft die out by any means, but I wonder if the gap between good solid factory-made and luthier-made is really that great, where it counts.

  10. Martha Kreipke May 21, 2017 at 2:37 am - Reply

    The difference will likely show up in the projection in a concert hall, the intonation, the ability to use a wide range of dynamics, and the quality of the tuners to finely tune the instrument and keep it in tune

    I have tuned a lot of student guitars for school groups. It isn’t too hard to tune the open strings, but they are frequently out of tune by the 3rd fret and really out of tune by the 12th fret.

    But the best classical guitar is the one that feels good to us, sounds good to us, and that we love to play.

  11. Phillip Barber October 8, 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Jaroslav Mach from Holland/Czech Republic makes some beautiful and highly playable guitars. I bought one ‘on spec’ from an internet guitar shop and ended up buying a more recent model and then had him build me a 10 string. The guitars look beautiful, sound delightful and are a joy to play. They are the sort of guitar you just cannot put down! I have played guitar for many years and wanted a top quality master grade guitar for a reasonable price. Highly recommended.

  12. Stephen January 1, 2018 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Tough question indeed. Everyone likes different characteristics, and is looking for different tone palettes in a guitar. I’d say this is greatly influenced by what you listened to as you grew up, I guess.
    I own a 1983 Antonio Ruiz-Lopez guitar which I commissioned him to built in 1982 when I was a student at my local conservatory in Paris. This Luthier has tragically died in 1989 after his shop was foreclosed and his entire wood stock dumped on the street under heavy rain. He didn’t survive this and died after a breakdown. Very sad!
    Anyways, he was recommended by my teacher. I didn’t know anything about luthiers at the time. But in the year or so it took him to finish it, I was going there 2 or 3 times a week to see the progress. I was fascinated by everything he did. I loved the smell of wood mixed with that of alcohol and shellac in the small shop! My grandmother paid 7500FF for it. At the time that was a considerable amount of money! I’d say probably in the $7000-$9000 range today. But salaries weren’t near as high as what they are today!
    It has South American rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard, 650mm scale length, and a traditional fan-braced red cedar top. It is somewhat quite plain looking as are many guitars from the French school (although he was Spanish).
    The guitar is extremely resonant with a sustain to die for. It’s not very forgiving. You can hear the smallest mistakes. It delivers very strong basses and silky smooth, yet very present treble. It’s very well balanced across the entire register. No wolf notes or anything like that. No volume difference between the basses and the trebles. The soundboard is tuned to F.
    I just had it refretted last month.
    My old teacher has a 1987 D. Friedrich which was built for him (not a second-hand guitar). He hadn’t seen or heard my guitar in over 25 years as I was abroad for that long.
    We compared the 2 last week, and we were stunned at the comparaison. It’s hard to describe, but it sounds quite similar. However, it’s a lot more responsive and present, yet a bit smoother but punchier in the top register. It’s a bit less powerful though, but not by much. Of course it doesn’t have the double sides the Friedrich has.
    It’s quite easy to play, but the Friedrich had a tiny bit of a lower action. Mine is 4.1mm at the 12th fret on the low E, and on his guitar it’s 3.9mm.
    Needless to say I’m extremely satisfied with this guitar. I just love it. I’ve tried many over the years, Kohno’s, Ramirez, Boucher, and other high-end guitars. I always come back to this one.
    In my humble opinion, to my ears, it’s one of the best guitars I’ve played.
    I hope this helps.

  13. Johan Gebben April 19, 2018 at 12:37 am - Reply

    My guitar, which I had built for me, was delivered to me only a few months ago. It was built by the Canadian luthier Marcus Dominelli in British Columbia. He builds solid tops, lattice braced and double top guitars. Mine is a 640 scale Persian walnut double top with cedar/Nomex/spruce top, with the spruce being the top layer. I love the sound of the guitar. A local college classical guitar instructor told me he thought it sounds nicer than a colleague’s Simon Marty and another Matthias Dammann he had played. Marcus charges a very reasonable $5-6,000 for these guitars. Mine has the elevated neck, sound portal and arm rest, along with gorgeous Krause Scheller tuners from Germany.

    As most players would agree, the sound is very much caused by the quality of the performer, but having a quality instrument which also appeals to all your senses, is a pleasure to play. It is the best, for you.

    • Johan Gebben April 19, 2018 at 12:39 am - Reply

      That should read Klaus Scheller. Should have watched auto correct.

  14. Jose Castaneda July 29, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Lucio Nunez out of San Antonio. A master builder that won’t break the bank. I own two. ☺️

  15. John Skinner August 9, 2018 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Where does Rafal Turkowiat rank an who carries his guitars?

  16. Charles Benincasa September 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Kohno – back in 1978 anything over $500 entered diminishing returns. You paid a lot more for little more.

    Today’s price point appears to be $5,000. It’s a guitar; not a violin. Enough said :-)

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