Difference Between Acoustic Guitars And Classical Guitars

The acoustic and classical guitars, with their rich histories and distinctive sounds, stand as pillars in the world of music. Both types of guitars cater to different musical expressions and preferences, making the choice between them a significant one for musicians. The differences stretch beyond just the physical appearance to the very essence of the sounds they produce and the materials from which they are made.

The primary difference between acoustic and classical guitars lies in their string types, construction, and the sound they produce. Acoustic guitars typically feature steel strings, a broader neck, and a sound that’s vibrant and resonant, making them suitable for a wide range of music genres. On the other hand, classical guitars are strung with nylon strings, have a wider neck and fingerboard, and produce a softer, mellower tone that is often associated with classical and flamenco music.

While both guitars share similarities in structure, they diverge in aspects like playability, tone, and the music they best complement. Acoustic guitars are known for their versatility in various music genres beyond classical and flamenco, offering a brighter, more pronounced sound. Classical guitars, with their nylon strings, offer a gentler playing experience, ideal for beginners and those dedicated to classical guitar techniques and sounds.

Tonal characteristics of acoustic and classical guitars

History and Origins

Acoustic Guitars

The acoustic guitar has roots that stretch back centuries, evolving from early stringed instruments like the lute and the vihuela. The modern acoustic guitar, as we know it, began to take shape in the 19th century. Innovations by craftsmen such as Antonio Torres Jurado expanded the body size, altered the proportions, and introduced the fan-bracing pattern that significantly enhanced the sound volume and quality. This evolution allowed the guitar to stand out in ensemble and solo performances. The 20th century saw further refinements with the introduction of steel strings, which contributed to the robust sound and durability of the instrument.

Classical Guitars

Classical guitars trace their lineage back to the Renaissance and Baroque periods with instruments such as the vihuela and the baroque guitar. The classical guitar as we recognize it today was largely developed in Spain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Antonio de Torres, among others, played a pivotal role in defining its construction and sound. The use of nylon strings, wider necks, and smaller bodies compared to their modern acoustic counterparts are distinctive features that have been preserved through time. Classical guitars have been integral to classical and flamenco music, with their design optimized for fingerstyle playing to produce a clear, resonant tone.

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Physical Characteristics

Body Shape and Size

The body shape and size of acoustic and classical guitars significantly influence their sound projection and tonal qualities. Acoustic guitars typically feature a larger body with a narrower waist, designed to enhance volume and bass response. The dreadnought shape is particularly popular for its powerful sound. Classical guitars, on the other hand, have a smaller, more hourglass-shaped body which contributes to their mellow and nuanced sound. This difference not only affects their musical output but also impacts their playability and suitability for various music genres.

Woods and Materials

The choice of woods and materials plays a crucial role in the sound characteristics of both guitar types. Acoustic guitars often use a variety of woods; spruce or cedar for the top, and rosewood or mahogany for the back and sides. These materials are selected for their resonance and durability, contributing to the guitar’s bright and vibrant tone. Classical guitars favor woods that offer a warmer, softer tone, such as cedar for the top and rosewood for the back and sides, aligning with the nuanced sound desired in classical music.


The strings of these guitars are fundamentally different. Acoustic guitars use steel strings that produce a bright, loud sound suitable for a variety of music styles from folk to rock. The tension of steel strings also affects the guitar’s construction, necessitating a robust build. Classical guitars use nylon strings that yield a softer, mellower tone ideal for classical and flamenco music. The lower tension of nylon strings results in a gentler feel, which can be more accommodating for beginners.

Neck and Fretboard

The neck and fretboard design differs between acoustic and classical guitars, affecting playability and comfort. Classical guitars have wider necks and flat fretboards, accommodating the precise fingerstyle technique required for classical compositions. Acoustic guitars feature narrower necks and slightly curved fretboards, designed for versatility across playing styles, including strumming and fingerpicking.

Sound and Tone

Sound Production

The sound production mechanism in both guitars relies on the vibration of strings transmitted to the body of the guitar, which then resonates to produce sound. However, the construction and materials of acoustic and classical guitars result in distinct sound profiles. The larger body and steel strings of the acoustic guitar produce a louder, brighter sound, while the classical guitar’s smaller body and nylon strings offer a softer, more nuanced tone.

Tone Quality

The tone quality of acoustic and classical guitars can be described as bright and robust for acoustics, versus warm and mellow for classicals. This difference is primarily due to their construction, string type, and intended musical genres. Acoustic guitars are favored for their versatility and strong projection, making them suitable for a wide range of music styles. Classical guitars, with their nuanced tone and dynamic range, excel in classical and fingerstyle music.

Music Genres

Preferred music genres for each guitar type reflect their sound characteristics and playability. Acoustic guitars are versatile instruments, widely used in genres like folk, rock, country, and blues. Their bright tone and loud projection make them ideal for vocal accompaniment and solo performances. Classical guitars are predominantly used in classical music and flamenco, with their softer tone and nuanced sound offering a perfect fit for intricate compositions and fingerstyle playing.

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Playability and Performance

Action and Playability

The action, or the distance between the strings and the fretboard, significantly affects a guitar’s playability. Acoustic guitars typically have a higher action compared to classical guitars. This can make them feel harder to play, especially for beginners, as more pressure is needed to press the strings down. However, the higher action allows for a louder sound without the buzz that might occur with lower action. On the other hand, classical guitars, with their lower action and softer nylon strings, provide a more comfortable playing experience, making them a favored choice for many beginners.

Learning Curve

When it comes to the learning curve, the classical guitar is often considered easier for beginners due to its nylon strings, which are gentler on the fingers, and its wider neck, which allows for more room between strings, reducing the chance of accidentally muting adjacent strings. However, the skills and techniques developed on a classical guitar can differ significantly from those used in popular music styles often played on an acoustic guitar. Therefore, the choice between the two should also consider the musical genres the player is most interested in.

Performance Settings

The performance settings for each guitar type vary according to their sound projection and tonal qualities. Acoustic guitars, known for their louder volume and brighter tone, are well-suited for solo performances, bands, and outdoor settings where projection is key. Classical guitars, with their softer and more nuanced sound, are ideal for intimate settings, classical concerts, and recordings where the subtleties of the music can be fully appreciated.

Maintenance and Durability

String Replacement

String replacement frequency and types vary between acoustic and classical guitars. Acoustic guitar strings, being made of metal, tend to wear out and lose their tone faster than the nylon strings of a classical guitar, especially when played regularly. Players might find themselves replacing acoustic guitar strings every 3 to 6 months, whereas classical guitar strings can last up to a year before they need replacing.

Care and Upkeep

Maintaining the condition of your guitar ensures its longevity and optimal sound quality. Regular care and upkeep steps for both guitar types include:

  • Keeping the guitar in a case when not in use to protect it from dust and humidity changes.
  • Wiping down the strings and body after playing to remove oils and residues.
  • Monitoring the humidity and temperature of the storage environment, as extreme conditions can damage the wood.

Durability Factors

The durability of a guitar depends on its build quality and the materials used. Generally, acoustic guitars, with their steel strings and tighter string tension, require sturdier construction, which can contribute to their longevity if well-maintained. Classical guitars, while also durable, may require more attention to humidity levels due to their more sensitive wood and glue joints, which can be affected by environmental changes.

Price and Accessibility

Cost Comparison

The cost of both acoustic and classical guitars varies widely based on factors like brand, materials, and craftsmanship. Beginner models of both types can be found at similar price points, starting around $100. However, professional-level instruments can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. The choice should be guided by the player’s budget, commitment level, and the sound quality they seek.

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Both acoustic and classical guitars are widely available in music stores and online. However, the vast array of acoustic guitar models and brands might offer a broader selection compared to classical guitars, which can be more specialized. This accessibility makes it relatively easy for beginners to find an instrument that suits their preferences and budget.

Choosing the Right Guitar

Personal Preferences

Deciding between an acoustic and a classical guitar often comes down to personal preferences regarding sound, playability, and the music genres the player is drawn to. Consideration should be given to the physical comfort of playing the instrument, the type of music one wishes to play, and the sound qualities that the player finds most appealing.

Recommendations for Beginners

For beginners, a classical guitar might be recommended due to its softer strings and easier playability. This can encourage practice and reduce the likelihood of finger soreness during the early stages of learning. However, if a player is more interested in popular, rock, or folk genres, starting with an acoustic guitar might be more motivating, despite the initial challenge its steel strings might present.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a guitar classical or acoustic?

Classical guitars are characterized by their nylon strings, which produce a soft, mellow tone, ideal for classical music genres. They typically have a wider neck, facilitating intricate fingerstyle playing. Acoustic guitars, however, have steel strings that produce a brighter, louder sound, suitable for a wide range of music styles from folk to rock.

Can beginners start with an acoustic guitar?

Yes, beginners can start with an acoustic guitar. While the steel strings may be tougher on the fingers than nylon strings, acoustic guitars are versatile and suitable for a wide variety of music genres. It’s important for beginners to choose a guitar that aligns with their musical interests and goals.

Is a classical guitar easier to play?

Classical guitars can be easier to play for some beginners due to their nylon strings, which are softer on the fingers, and their wider necks, which may facilitate learning finger placement. However, ease of play also depends on individual preferences and the style of music one wishes to learn.

How do I choose between an acoustic and classical guitar?

Choosing between an acoustic and classical guitar depends on the music genres you prefer, the sound you aim to produce, and playability. If you enjoy a wide range of music and prefer a vibrant sound, an acoustic guitar may be the better choice. If you’re drawn to classical, flamenco, or folk music and value a softer, mellower tone, a classical guitar might suit you better.


Choosing between an acoustic and classical guitar is a decision that influences one’s musical journey profoundly. It’s not merely about the difference in strings or the sound produced but about finding a musical companion that resonates with your artistic aspirations. Whether it’s the versatile, bold sounds of an acoustic guitar or the soft, nuanced tones of a classical guitar, the choice ultimately enhances your musical expression and journey.

The journey of selecting the right guitar should be guided by personal preference, the genres of music one is passionate about, and the playability that suits one’s style. Understanding the distinct characteristics of both acoustic and classical guitars empowers musicians to make an informed decision, ensuring a fulfilling and enjoyable musical experience.

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