Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar: What’s the Difference?

When you first enroll your child in guitar lessons, you may have to decide which guitar they should learn how to play: a classical guitar or an acoustic guitar. Many who are new to playing the guitar unknowingly believe that the terms “acoustic” and “classical” are interchangeable with each other when, in fact, they refer to two completely different types of guitars. Although they are both in the guitar family, there are a lot of variations in design between the two guitars. Below you’ll find some of the most common differences between classical and acoustic guitars.

Body Shape

Although you’ll have to actually pick up the guitar to notice some of the differences on this list, the difference in body shape can be spotted visually. Classical guitars are slightly smaller than acoustic guitars and there are a few minor differences in the actual shape of the body. Although comparing body shape isn’t always the easiest way to tell apart the two, there is one key difference in construction that’s easy to spot: acoustic guitars usually have a scratch plate (the piece of plastic next to the sound hole that protects the body of the guitar while you play), and classical guitars do not. So, if all else fails, look for a scratch plate- in most cases it’ll be present on acoustic guitars and absent from classical guitars.

When it comes to the fretboard, the fretboard of an acoustic guitar is noticeably narrower and the fretboard of classical guitars don’t have fret markers (or dots) along the board. Additionally, the headstock is noticeably different between the two instruments.

Strings

Another differentiating factor is the type of strings the two guitars require. In most cases, classical guitars use nylon strings, which look, feel, and sound different from the steel strings typically reserved for acoustic guitars. They’re thicker and produce a mellower, rounded out sound. Although some new guitar players attempt to use nylon strings on acoustic guitars, the weak tension of nylon strings will produce a thin, weak sound. Similarly, if you’d put metal strings on a classic guitar, it’s likely that the tension would pull the bridge up, bow the neck, and cause permanent damage over time. To prevent damage and maintain the guitar’s intended sound, stick with the strings recommended for your guitar.

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What’s a Truss Rod?

The truss rod, or a rod that’s intended to counter the immense amount of pressure that steel strings place on the neck of the guitar, is absent from classical guitars but present on acoustic guitars. Since acoustic guitars use steel strings and classical guitars do not, there’s no reason for a classical guitar to be manufactured with a truss rod. Typically, the truss rod can be spotted visually- simply pick up the guitar, hold it lengthwise with the neck towards you, and you should be able to spot a bolt or hole that’s located under the plastic plate next to the top nut on the headstock. In rare cases, you’ll only be able to locate the truss rod after taking off the fingerboard. If your child decides to play an acoustic guitar, an important part of maintaining a guitar is knowing how to adjust the truss rod.

Benefits of Learning Acoustic

When compared to the classical guitar, the neck of an acoustic guitar is smaller and easier to play- especially for small children with tiny hands or short fingers. Additionally, acoustic guitar strings are a great way for guitar players to build up their callouses. Once your child’s fingers have callouses, they’ll be able to pick up virtually any guitar, including classical, and play. If your child is patient enough to work through the buzzing issues and build callouses on their fingers, an acoustic guitar is a great choice. Plus, they’re a very popular choice and; therefore, quite easy to find and afford, even on a budget.

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Benefits of Learning Classical

Although classical guitars are less popular than acoustic guitars, they’re still a viable option for those interested in learning the guitar. Classical guitars are a great way for a person of any age or skill level to work on, improve, and perfect their technique. Since the neck of a classical guitar is thicker than an acoustic, the player must be meticulous with their technique. Classical guitars are strung with nylon strings, which tend to be easier on the fingers and less difficult for a new player to adjust to. Finally, classical guitars tend to be cheaper than acoustic guitars, which is why many new players unknowingly purchase a classical guitar as their first instrument.

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Which is Right for Me?

If you’re on a tight budget, an acoustic guitar may be the better choice, while a child who prefers to learn Latin or folk music should choose a classical guitar. By now, you’ve probably realized that there is no “best” choice. You should weigh your options, and speak to your child about which guitar is going to inspire them to practice and learn the guitar. Because, after all, that’s what really matters.

Music & Arts

Music & Arts is a family owned and operated music resource for parents, students, educators and musicians. With over 140 stores in 23 states and the largest private lesson program in the United States, Music & Arts is an authority on music education and a resource for new and experienced musicians alike.

3 Comments
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  2. Great post! Thank you for helping me understand the benefits of learning acoustic. I really like how you said that “When compared to the classical guitar, the neck of an acoustic guitar is smaller and easier to play- especially for small children with tiny hands or short fingers. Additionally, acoustic guitar strings are a great way for guitar players to build up their callouses.” My brother started off by playing acoustic and it has helped him to be the great guitar player that he is today.

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