The Big Shootout: Classical Guitars – All Budgets, All Abilities

The classical guitar is a beloved instrument that has been around for centuries. It is quite common in many parts of the world and its importance in the history of music cannot be overstated.

Despite the fact that it is still referred to as “classical”, this instrument is used by musicians in many styles of music, particularly flamenco, bossa nova, jazz, singer-songwriter, pop, and of course, classical music. 

There are many types of classical guitars to fit many budgets, playing styles, and preferences. Although some folks might think of classical guitars as inexpensive instruments for beginners, some models cost tens of thousands of dollars. Typically, these high end models are purchased by world-class classical or flamenco musicians. 

In this article, we’re going to give you the best 7 classical guitars, for everybody from the beginner to the discerning professional. Keep reading.

Read more about our review process.

Editor's Choice
Cordoba GK Studio Limited

Cordoba GK Studio Limited

Features: On board electronics, European spruce top, Ziricote back and sides

Benefits: Easy amplification, Incredible durability, Bright tones

Best Value
Taylor Academy 12-N

Taylor Academy 12-N

Features: Carved armrest, Grand concert body, Lutz spruce top

Benefits: Nuanced tones, Comfortable to hold/play, Classic Taylor brightness

Best Budget
Yamaha C40II

Yamaha C40II

Features: Full scale body, Spruce top, Meranti back and sides

Benefits: Rich tones, Classic design, Perfect for adult beginners

Our Top 3

The Taylor Academy 12-N is Our Top Pick winner. It features quality tonewoods, great projection, and is very comfortable to play. It’s made by one of the world’s most reputable brands, and comes in at an extremely reasonable price considering the quality and feature set.  

Our best budget choice is the Yamaha C40II. This guitar features a traditional classical construction and is ideal for beginners, songwriters, and students. It gives you a standard classical guitar tone and easy playability. 

The Cordoba GK Studio Limited is our Editor’s Choice. This guitar is for the discerning professional that needs a great instrument to work. It is a hybrid type of guitar, offering a smaller frame and neck for greater playability. Besides having a fantastic tone, it also comes with onboard electronics that you can use in many situations.

Individual Reviews

Our Top Pick
Taylor Academy 12-N

Taylor Academy 12-N

Quality at an affordable price from a renowned guitar maker.

This instrument offers you an authentic nylon-string tone and responsiveness in a smaller body for a more comfortable playing experience. With Taylor's reputable quality and craftsmanship, this guitar sounds as good as it looks and is also affordable.

The Taylor Academy A12-N nylon-string guitar features a Grand Concert body with a Lutz spruce top. In Taylor’s body style line, the Grand Concert is still considered a small body. It comes right after the Baby and Mini travel sizes and before the Grande Auditorium and Dreadnought bodies.

In other words, here we have a nylon-string guitar in a smaller frame than is customary. This makes it easier to play and will accommodate folks with smaller arms and hands particularly well. 

Despite the small body size, when we started strumming some open chords we got a full sound with fantastic projection. The Academy 12-N features layered Sapele back and sides, which is a resonant wood that produces a full yet focused sound.

The best way to describe the sound of this nylon string guitar is classical with an open midrange. This guitar was very responsive to our playing style and capable of producing a flamenco-like character when hit hard or while using the strumming technique known as charrasgueado. 

We also loved how it responded to some Bossa Nova playing with complex extended jazz chords that are characteristic of that genre. Here, the sound had a quiet elegance to it, with responsive basses and an overall balanced voice

This gentle response to our softer playing was also present when we tried some jazz standards and played chord-solo style. While trying some classical pieces, the Academy 12-N also provided a balance and allowed us to run the gamut of dynamics required for this style. 

This guitar was quite comfortable to play. This was not only because of the smaller Grand Concert body, but also the expressive 20″ radius sapele neck with ebony fingerboard, as well as the 25.5 scale length. Another nice feature on this guitar is the TUSQ nut (with a 1.875″ width) and saddle. 

Verdict: Taylor Academy 12-N is an affordable smaller-bodied nylon string guitar that sounds and projects well. It is very responsive to changes in playing dynamics and very comfortable to play and delivers Taylor’s respected craftsmanship.

Best Budget
Yamaha C40II

Yamaha C40II

A great instrument for students, or anyone delving into the nylon string guitar for the first time.

This Yamaha classical guitar is a great choice for those interested in having a very affordable full-bodied nylon string. It will allow you to develop the very specific techniques required for this instrument, or just play some songs with the gentler feel of nylon strings, with a small investment.

The Yamaha C40II is a good choice for the classical guitar student that needs a traditional instrument to practice on. With a Spruce Top and Meranti Back and Sides, this guitar offers you outstanding responsiveness for a tiny price. 

We began our tests by playing some open chords and got a nice rich sound. With a full 2-inch nut, 25.56″ scale length, and body depth of 3.31″, we were clearly dealing with a full-size classical instrument. 

This fact is important for those beginners that want to get into classical playing or anyone that wants to get an authentic nylon-string playing experience on a budget

This guitar is also a good choice for songwriters that need an inexpensive instrument to have by their side when inspiration strikes. Although not particularly small, it is still a good choice for traveling and always having by your side.

The playability on this guitar was great, especially considering the price. It featured a Nato neck and Rosewood Fingerboard – the fingerboard in particular was a surprise, especially at this price. Naturally, this guitar features a standard classical neck, which is much wider than you’d find on a steel string guitar. This may take some time to get used to for electric or steel string acoustic guitar players.  

This guitar also comes with Yamaha’s Player Port app, available for iOS and Android. Here you get access to tips, videos, techniques, articles, and more. This app also features a built-in tuner that may come in handy. 

Verdict: The Yamaha C40II Nylon String Guitar is an affordable option for students and beginners. If you’ve been curious about taking up the classical guitar, this is a great way to get your hands on a quality guitar from a brand well known for their build quality, that doesn’t cost too much. It served up some great tones, and offered comfortable playability, too.

Editor's Choice
Cordoba GK Studio Limited

Cordoba GK Studio Limited

A professional instrument that delivers for the working musician.

A flamenco guitar that can deliver in all nylon-string-related styles. With a smaller body and neck, this instrument is comfortable to play, responsive, and features a Fishman Presys Blend electronic system for plugging in.

The Cordoba GK Studio Limited is a hand-built nylon-string instrument that was designed to offer the dynamics and responsiveness of a flamenco guitar. It features Cordoba Gold tuning machines for stability and a bone nut and saddle for better tone quality. 

Cordoba built this guitar to be the ultimate gigging instrument for the modern nylon-string player. Featuring a resonant spruce top, the GK Studio comes with ziricote back and sides

Ziricote is considered an exotic wood that besides having a unique look, also provides a smooth and rich sound. This type of wood is also favored by some flamenco players as it offers a sound that is more bass-heavy than other woods

The sound of this guitar filled the room from our very first strum. It projects quite well and is balanced across the frequency range. Although it excels at flamenco, the GK Studio is also a great option for bossa nova, jazz, classical as well as other styles. It is a very dynamic and responsive instrument. 

This Cordoba hybrid nylon string guitar features a body width of 14.5″ on the lower bout, and 11.25″ on the upper bout, making it comfortable for players with shorter arms.  

This guitar also offers superior playability, thanks to its low action, 25.5″ scale length, and C-shaped mahogany neck. The Studio GK features a traditional handmade classical guitar design, with Spanish-style fan bracing which allows the top to vibrate more freely and with a balanced tone.

This GK Studio also comes with a Fishman Presys Blend that offers three-band EQ, a notch filter, tuner, and blend control. When plugged in, the sound remained powerful and balanced, and we were able to dial in how much we wanted the internal mic to capture in relation to the piezo, via the blend control.

Verdict: The Cordoba GK Studio Limited combines the best of classical guitar design and flamenco instrument tone woods, with modern playability. It is a very responsive instrument and a great option for working guitarists as it sounds fantastic unplugged, and thanks to the Fishman Presys Blend electronics built right into the guitar, the amazing natural acoustic character of the guitar is retained when amplified.

Also Consider
Takamine GC 1

Takamine GC 1

A fine instrument that offers quality tonewoods at an affordable price.

A classical guitar that features traditional construction, looks, and tone. This nylon string is a good choice for those that want to have a classical guitar featuring a neck style, sound, and playability rooted in tradition.

The Takamine GC1 NAT features a typical design and construction for a classical guitar. With a spruce top, mahogany sides and back, and neck, this guitar is built with quality woods to provide full classical tone and projection. 

This guitar features a 2” synthetic bone nut along with a rosewood bridge with a compensated synthetic bone saddle for ensuring proper intonation. The tuners on the GC1 NAT are chrome and feature white pearl buttons.

By combining a classical bracing pattern with a spruce top and mahogany back/sides, Takamine achieved a good sound at a fraction of the cost.

This guitar sounded balanced and responded well to our playing style and dynamics. The sound was snappy when we placed it more forcefully and smooth when we played delicate classical passages on it.

The playability is exactly what you’d expect for a traditional classical guitar. With a 25.6″ scale length and Laurel fingerboard, this guitar may not be comfortable for those that are used to electrics or steel string acoustics. The laurel fretboard was a little drier than we usually like, but with some lemon oil or fretboard conditioner, it would quickly come to life.

That said, it does feel just like a classical guitar would, and also behaves like one. This instrument is great for those that want to go into the classical guitar world, or play other styles while retaining the tradition of construction and qualities of a true classical guitar. 

Verdict: The Takamine GC1 NAT is a true classical guitar, from construction to tone and all the way to its playability. It features quality tone woods but remains an affordable guitar. This is a good choice if you intend to learn classical guitar, or would prefer to play one that is made in the traditional way However, it may be a little hard to play for those that are used to necks of electric and steel-string guitars.

Also Consider
Cordoba C5

Cordoba C5

Handmade classical guitar design for an authentic sound and feel.

This instrument features Cordoba's craftmanship and overall quality but at a low price. The C5 is among this company's most affordable instruments but made with quality tone woods and good playability on a traditional design.

The Cordoba C5 features a solid cedar top, gloss polyurethane finish and Spanish-style fan bracing. Solid cedar is a very common choice for top wood on classical guitars, as it offers great resonance, balance, and projection. On the other hand, the traditional fan bracing is also a common choice for classical instruments, as it allows the top to vibrate lively but with a focused sound.

In use, it became clear why Cordoba chose this more traditional building approach for the C5. We got an even tone with great resonance, even while light strumming or playing quiet legatto passages. 

This guitar also responded well when we played some flamenco techniques. The C5 came alive with a tone full of pep and attitude, that filled the room with each strum. 

This guitar is a good choice for playing classical as well. Its playability is what you’d expect from an affordable classical guitar, with a full neck and responsiveness that helps get the best dynamics from the instrument. 

The neck is also solid mahogany with rosewood fingerboard, two common choices for traditional classical guitars. Another great feature is the 2″ bone nut, which aids with tone and is far superior to synthetic bone and other cheaper materials. We did feel that the full width nut might cause issues for players with smaller hands, but larger players shouldn’t have issues with this model.

Although this guitar is among Cordoba’s most affordable models, its construction and design, as well as its stylish finish in gloss make it a great guitar for the price.

Naturally, the playability is not as good as in more expensive Cordoba models, but still decent enough to be a good choice. This guitar is a good choice for serious students or professionals that want to have a traditional classical instrument. 

Verdict: The Cordoba C5 features a traditional classical guitar design and quality woods that deliver a good playing experience. It is among Cordoba’s beginner and affordable line of instruments, so it does not have the fantastic playability of its more expensive models. Still, it’s a great sounding guitar that responds well to the player’s hands.

Also Consider
Washburn C5

Washburn C5

A standard classical guitar with tone and playability that surpass its price.

A traditional nylon string guitar all the way through. This Washburn offers quality and a smaller scale length to aid playability without sacrificing tone. With good tone woods and a standard classical neck, this instrument offers a smooth tone for a low price.

The Washburn C5 features a spruce top with a catalpa back and sides. Spruce is often used in acoustic guitar construction as it offers a nice tone without significantly elevating the price of the instrument.  

In our tests, the C5 gave us that characteristic mellow sound of nylon strings. Although this guitar features a traditional construction, its tone, timbre and overall feel are great for playing softer and more delicate styles like bossa nova.

Naturally, you can also play flamenco and classical if you wish, but the C5 is not a loud guitar and responds best to a soft touch. 

This guitar is also comfortable to play for a traditionally built classical. This is partly because of the relatively low tension on its strings. This factor also makes the C5 a good choice for students or folks that are used to playing electric.

Another feature also enhances the playability of the C5 is the 25.5 scale length. With 19 frets, a nut width of 2″, a body depth of 4″ on the lower side, and 3.7″ on the upper side, the C5 is a good example of a modern classical guitar. 

Other noteworthy features are the mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard and bridge, and quartersawn scalloped sitka spruce bracing. These are also strong design choices by Washburn, especially the rosewood fretboard which gives this guitar a nice response to the player’s touch. 

Verdict: The Washburn C5 is a nylon string that excels at playing more delicate styles such as bossa nova and fingerstyle jazz standard chord solos. It features good construction appointments and provides a mellow sound. The playability of this instrument is good and in accordance with what you’d expect from a traditionally built classical guitar.

Also Consider
Yamaha NCX1 Acoustic/Electric

Yamaha NCX1 Acoustic/Electric

A modern nylon string with fantastic sound and quality onboard electronics.

This guitar blends the best of traditional craftsmanship with modern features for today's players. With a single cutaway that allows for playing in the entirety of the fretboard, this Yamaha classical delivers tone, playability, and convenience.

The Yamaha NCX1 Acoustic/Electric features a unique bracing system developed over the years by their engineers. This construction feature is present in the NX Series of classical guitars, which is quite popular. The NX bracing system enhances the low-end resonance of the guitar and brings out the unique qualities of different body types and tonewoods.

This became evident when we started testing this guitar. The tone is forward but focused, with a tight bottom end that adds punch to chords and low string passages.  

The NCX1 responded well to light and aggressive playing, making it a good choice for flamenco, classical, jazz, and even pop. The Sitka spruce top provides great projection and also responds well to percussive hits for modern playing contexts. 

As far as playability, this guitar features a traditional neck profile with a flat radius fingerboard for players that have big hands or prefer a standard classical neck. The fingerboard on this guitar is made of walnut, while the neck features nato. 

The NTX1 is a good choice for working musicians. It allows you to plug into a PA or amp via its Yamaha preamp system. The onboard electronics feature an under-saddle pickup and a 3-band EQ so you can dial in your sound. You also get an onboard tuner for added convenience. 

The one drawback of this guitar is that it will likely be a bit uncomfortable for folks that play mostly electric or steel string. The onboard electronic system is a great addition, but this feature is typically geared to folks that are not classical or flamenco guitarists but want that nylon flavor on their set. 

Verdict: The Yamaha NCX1 Acoustic/Electric is a great instrument with innovative bracing and fantastic features. It is a good choice for guitarists that like to play mostly classical or prefer the feeling of a thicker and wider neck, and it of course features Yamaha’s renowned quality, and reliability. The tones were dynamic, and well suited to a wide range of styles, and having built in electronics further added to its versatility.

How to Choose The Right Guitar For You

When buying a classical guitar, it is important to find an instrument that is right for you. Asking yourself questions like “what do I need it or want it for” and answering truthfully can be a great place to start.

Below we listed some essential factors to consider. These will help you narrow your search and point you in the right direction to get a nylon string guitar that is appropriate for you. 


Playability is a paramount concern for many folks transitioning from other guitar types into classical, and this is mostly defined by the neck and fretboard characteristics.

One of the common issues that some players experience when playing a classical guitar is that the instrument’s neck is too thick and hard for them to play. This is particularly true for musicians that are used to playing electric guitar and want to add a nylon-string instrument to their arsenal. 

Companies like Cordoba are renowned for designing guitars specifically for this type of player. They offer crossover instruments that feature thinner C-shaped necks, that are sometimes radiused. Instead of a flat fingerboard, you get a slightly curved one, which can greatly help if you are used to the feel and spacing of a fretboard on an electric or steel-string guitar. 

On the other hand, many players prefer a more traditional neck with a flat fingerboard to get that authentic nylon-string playability. Flamenco and classical players in particular often demand this type of traditional construction to get the most out of their instruments and have them respond in the way they consider appropriate.

Naturally, like most things relating to guitar, this is highly subjective and depends on your background and overall preference. 

Onboard electronics

Having onboard electronics to be able to plug your classical guitar is another important consideration. You will definitely need one if you plan to play with any kind of band or group, in order to plug into the PA or amp and be part of the entire mix. 

Naturally, having onboard electronics can signficantly increase the price of the instrument. On the other hand, if you want a nylon string guitar to write songs, learn to play, or go the traditional classical route, then you likely don’t need amplification. 

Acoustic performance

This may seem like an obvious factor to consider, but it is critical in classical guitars, and it goes well beyond tone, timbre, responsiveness, and other subjective qualities.

It is crucial that your classical guitar has proper intonation and the ability to hold its tuning. Another important factor is that it should play cleanly and evenly across the entire fretboard. In other words, no buzzing, no crackled notes, or other unwanted noises should be present. 

Some fret buzz may go unnoticed on an electric guitar when it’s plugged in, but the classical guitar is quite unforgiving in this area. Make sure that your guitar performs well across its neck extension, regardless of the price of the instrument.

Final Thoughts

The classical guitar is a gorgeous instrument that can sound as beautiful as it looks. It offers a unique playing experience and an intimacy that many players of all kinds love. 

Despite the fact that the nylon strings tend to be easier on the fingers, the classical guitar requires a specific set of techniques in order to truly master it. However, it is also a great addition to any guitarist’s collection, and arguably an essential sound to have. Today we looked at some of the best models available in the market today.

To recap, the Taylor Academy 12-N is Our Top Pick, for those looking for great features, quality tone wood, playability and value at the same time. 

For those on a tight budget, our best budget choice is the Yamaha C40II. This instrument is a traditional classical guitar in every sense and a great option for students or songwriters. For those with working musicians with attention to detail, the Cordoba GK Studio Limited is our Editor’s Choice, offering superior tone, and playability thanks to its smaller neck, and onboard electronics.

  • Rodrigo Sanchez

    Rodrigo is an award-winning songwriter (Best Popular Song Of 2018 for Ibermúsicas), and has worked with the prestigious EMI Music Publishing Latin America. He has production credits on artists such as Descemer Bueno, and has also composed alongside Grammy and ASCAP award-winners such as Sebastián De Peyrecave and José Luis Morín. For over ten years, he's been an editor/writer for Recording Magazine, and spent a year as head of translation for Brazilian magazine Musica & Mercado.