Best Classical Guitar Under 500 Dollars– 5 Facts You Should Know Before Buying
So you're looking to get the best classical guitar under $500 that you can. Fair enough. It's an honorable quest. You want to understand how to judge quality and what to be looking for in a classical guitar in an affordable price range. I've got plenty to say about that. But let's make sure you're looking for the right thing first. For that, I'm going to ask you 3 questions.
1) Do you want to play classical guitar music, like Andres Segovia, Julian Bream and Classical Gas?
If your answer is Yes, then great. You're in the right place, ready to learn the right things.
Whether this is your first foray into playing guitar, or you're simply expanding your repertoire, or upgrading from a starter instrument, understanding what makes a classical guitar unique is important. Playing classical music is a great skill and quite enjoyable. It's also a very marketable talent if you're looking at picking up gigs at parties and weddings – until you become a world famous virtuoso, of course.
2) Are you a beginner and you've been told that it's best to start on a classical guitar?
This one is a little tougher. Some people say that once you can play a classical guitar, you can play anything. They like to recommend it for beginners because the nylon strings are easier on your fingers. There's also a slightly outdated form of thinking that you have to learn the by-the-book basics first, before you move onto the fun stuff.
Yes, the nylon strings are kinder to your fingers at first, but the fingerboard is wider and really pushes you to reach more to make those chord fingerings. The idea that once you can make those chords on a classical you can do it on anything is sort of true, but it doesn't mean you're not going to have to make an adjustment when you switch to your desired guitar-type.
And if you've read any other part of this site, you know how I feel about starting out – you should do it on the kind of guitar you want to play. You're much more likely to stay with it if you're having fun. If you think you have to survive the basics on a guitar you're not excited about playing, think again. If this is you, take a look at my Guitar for Beginners, or Best Beginner Electric Guitar pages, before you dive into buying a classical guitar.
I'm not trying to discourage you from starting on a classical guitar, I'm just trying to balance the discussion and make sure this is the right move for you.
3) Do you want to play Spanish, or Flamenco, music?
Then a classical guitar is a fine place to start. Many people who play flamenco start on a classical guitar.
However, there are some significant differences between a classical and flamenco guitar, so you might want to consider going straight to a flamenco guitar. As soon as you start learning guitar tricks like right hand tapping techniques, you're going to want/need that golpeador (plastic shield/pick guard) so you don't wear out or damage your guitar.
In addition, the action on a classical guitar is higher than on a flamenco guitar, so you will have to adjust when you switch. The sound is different, as well as several other factors – which I plan to cover on a Flamenco Guitar page soon.
There's probably a little more selection in classical guitars under $500, but there are some great flamenco guitars around this price range, so you might want to consider starting with one of those.
If you're settled, and sure you're in the right place looking for a really good classical guitar for the money, read on - and I'll cover the vital things you should be looking for.
Knowing that you really do want a classical guitar is Thing #1.
Note: For the artist profiles on this page, instead of featuring the same top classical guitarists that make every list, I'm going to feature 4 excellent women who sometimes get overlooked.
The good news is that with a budget up to $500, you're likely able to get a solid wood top rather than a laminate. This is one of the main reasons to get into this price range and up out of the very beginner instruments. Solid wood tops have more resonance and warmer, truer tones than laminated ones.
The two main woods you'll see in classical guitars are cedar and spruce.
Spruce is the lighter color you'll see, almost a white blond, sometimes with a touch of honey to it. Of these two woods, it's also the one that projects better to the back of the room. It generally has a crisper sound with excellent note separation. Some varieties excel for aggressive players. There are a number of different types of spruce that can be used and each has their own characteristics within this general profile.
Cedar is darker, pushing color into the lighter browns. It giver a warmer, fuller sound and robust undertones. Cedar weighs less than spruce and is somewhat more responsive, making it ideal for beginners, though it is not lesser of a wood for higher level players. If anything, in its fullness, cedar is not quite as good at profiling individual notes, but it is great for having a full voice.
If spruce is Aretha Franklin, cedar is the choir.
For more notes on top woods, body woods, and their individual varieties, visit this page. I also discuss fretboard woods there. Spoiler – Real ebony is the slickest, smoothest choice and best for speedy finger work.
The truth is, these wood characteristics are generalizations. The construction inside, and the materials used for the side and body, have a lot to say about how a guitar sounds. However, in this price range, you're not working with a luthier building you a custom guitar, so you'll have less to say about these other options. If you know what kind of sound you want, the guide above should get you in the direction you want to go.
Afshar’s personal story begins in her native Iran. Born in Tehran to a family with ancient roots in the northern region of Azerbaijan, at ten years of age she first encountered the guitar while visiting a cousin who was taking lessons. She told her father she loved the guitar; the next day he presented her with her first instrument and arranged for lessons.
She is the only classical guitarist in the world who blends excellent formal training in the United States and Europe with the rich cultural heritage of Persia to bring audiences an extraordinary musical experience.
– From lilyafshar.com (links to audio page).
Famous Classical Guitarist #1
Bone Saddle and Nut
The nut is the piece at the top end of the fretboard that maintains the string spacing and guides the strings to their respective tuners.
The saddle is the piece the strings pass over at the lower end of the guitar before attaching to the bridge. It's also the piece that is most significant in raising or lowering the action on a guitar. (The action being the distance between the strings and the fretboard.)
In beginner guitars, these parts are usually made of plastic. While this gets the job done, it wears out more quickly and it doesn't have the vibration transferring resonance that bone does. For the best classical guitar under 500 USD price range, you should start to see bone nuts and saddles for added durability and better sound. It's not a make or break as far as buying decisions go, but it's good to pay attention to what you're getting.
Xuefei Yang is hailed as a musical pioneer - her fascinating journey began after the Cultural Revolution, a period where Western musical instruments & music were banned. Xuefei was the first-ever guitarist in China to enter a music school, & became the first internationally recognized Chinese guitarist on the world stage. Her first public appearance was at the age of ten and received such acclaim that the Spanish Ambassador in China presented her with a concert guitar.
– From xuefeiyang.com (links to video page).
Famous Classical Guitarist - #2
This is an internal system of struts that support the soundboard (top wood) of a guitar to reinforce it against the stresses imposed by the tension of the strings and the forces exerted when the guitar is played. It's a challenging balance for luthiers to design bracing that both protects the soundboard and allows it the freedom to vibrate naturally, creating the best sound possible.
Since the 19th century, because of the work of Antonio Torres Jurado, traditional bracing for classical guitars has been in a fan configuration emanating out from the sound hole. This is still a very popular pattern used today.
Much more recently, Australian guitar maker, Greg Smallman, designed the lattice bracing system, which also gets widely used in today's guitars.
Again, in this price range you're probably not going to have much choice, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of what goes into the making of your guitar.
Ana Vidovic comes from the small town of Karlovac near Zagreb, Croatia, and started playing guitar at the age of 5, and by 7 had given her first public performance. At the age of 11 she was performing internationally, and at 13 became the youngest student to attend the prestigious National Musical Academy in Zagreb where she studied with Professor Istvan Romer.
Her international performance career includes recitals in New York, London, Paris, Vienna, Salzburg, Rome, Budapest, Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Oslo, Copenhagen, Toronto, Baltimore, San Francisco, Houston, Austin, Dallas, St. Louis and beyond.
– From anavidovic.com. (links to audio page).
Famous Classical Guitarist - #3
Neck - Trussrods, Width and Options
Because nylon strings are softer and require a lot less tension than steel strings, classical guitars rarely have truss rods. Truss rods are adjustable metal rods that run through the neck to help keep the neck straight and prevent warping. However, Cordoba is a company that commonly puts truss rods in their classical guitars. Some other companies put them in certain models.
A classical guitar with an adjustable truss rod is a good thing. It's not absolutely necessary, but I would definitely consider it a plus if it were on a model I was considering.
Another note about necks…
Classical guitars have a wider neck than any other guitar style. Partly, this gives you space for fingerstyle and chord fingerings. It can be a blessing for people with large hands, and a curse for those with small ones.
If you have small hands and you want to play classical guitar, pay attention to neck width (or nut width) and err on the side of smaller widths. Also, look for a C-shaped neck that'll be the easiest reach for your fingers to handle. And if any of the guitar models you're considering brag about a slimmer profile neck (front to back), consider that a plus. Alhambra and Cordoba are excellent brands to look at for these things.
Alternatively, you might consider a crossover guitar. These guitars have nylon strings and a classical guitar sound but have narrower necks and slightly rounded fretboards, and usually a cutaway for easier reach. Crossovers solve a lot of the size issues some people experience with classical guitars.
The one thing about classical guitars, however, is that they come in the widest range of sizes. An alternate solution for people with smaller hands and/or body, would be to get a ¾ classical guitar (they go down to ¼ size for kids). This will alleviate neck-size issues for most people, though you'll get a little less volume with a smaller guitar.
Born in Minneapolis, Sharon Isbin began her guitar studies at age nine in Italy, and later studied with Andrès Segovia, Oscar Ghiglia, and for ten years with noted Bach scholar and keyboardist Rosalyn Tureck with whom she collaborated on landmark editions/recordings of the Bach lute suites for guitar (Warner Classics/G. Schirmer).
Sharon Isbin has been acclaimed for expanding the guitar repertoire with some of the finest new works of our time and has commissioned and premiered more concerti than any other guitarist, as well as numerous solo and chamber works.
– From sharonisbin.com (links to video page).
Famous Classical Guitarist - #4
Classical guitars are beautiful instruments, if a bit limited in their applications. But for those who prefer to specialize, or who are adding to their skills, looking for the best classical guitar under $500 will get you lots of good choices. Brands like Yamaha, Cordoba, Lucero, Alvarez, Kremona, Takamine and Manuel Rodriguez all make wonderful instrument in this price range, with solid tops, usually solid wood bodies and nicely refined tuning machines and hardware. Chosen wisely, a beautiful guitar you get in this price range will last you long into your classical guitar career.