Best Classical Guitar Under $500 + 5 Vital Buying Tips
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 to the warmer sound of nylon strings, 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 There's also a slightly outdated form of thinking that you have to learn the by-the-book basics first, before you move onto the fun stuff.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.
*This page contains affiliate links and we might make a commission if you purchase something by clicking through our link. This creates no additional cost for you.
Classical Guitars vs Nylon String Acoustic Guitars
I want to talk for a minute about the difference between classical guitars and the newer, hybrid style some people are calling nylon string acoustic guitars.
There has been a movement afoot to make classical guitars more appealing and accommodating to a wider range of people. This includes making some slimmer line models that don't follow exactly the dimensions of a traditional classical guitar. These alterations can come in thinner necks, slimmer bodies and slightly scaled down instruments overall.
Some people are staunch traditionalists and demand separation between classical guitars and 'nylon string acoustic' guitars. The only real classical guitars are those built to traditional specs.
I'm not one of those people.
For me, this leaves a lot of people behind when it comes to playing a classical guitar, or it makes it far harder than it needs to be. There is no reason not to accommodate people of smaller stature, short fingers, or those who just aren't comfortable with the bulk of a traditional classical guitar.
I see no reason to maintain the barriers that diminish some people's desire to play classical guitar. Innovation is needed to keep industries, genres and music alive. So when I see an instrument referred to as a 'nylon string acoustic guitar', I just think of it as being neo-classical.
You can agree, or disagree, but that's why you'll see both traditional classical and neo-classical guitars on my Classical Guitar page. I prefer an approach that invites everyone in.
Oh, and any of these guitars, traditional classical or neo-classical, will do well to have a basic guitar humidifier, like this one.
Best Classical Guitar Reviews
This ¾-size traditional classical guitar had a solid cedar top and mahogany body which are the makings of a very rich, deep tonal structure. You might think this is limiting, or risks a muddy sound, but they've countered that risk in an innovative way, by using an open-pore finish on the top wood of the guitar.
This is as close as you can get to a naked solid wood guitar top and the method allows the cedar to vibrate fully and freely, creating a livelier tone that balances all that warmth in the wood choices.
Ultimately, you get a very rich, complex tone that favors the low end but doesn't belabor it. With this great sound and impressive sustain, you will never fret about getting lesser sound from this ¾-size guitar.
The near-naked finishing method also ensures that the solid top wood, and the sound, will get richer as it ages and sound better and better as the years go by.
Everything else about this guitar build is well done.
This is a no-regret guitar to buy.
Everything about it is better than right. If you're looking for a big sound out of a smaller guitar, take a hard look at this Alhambra.
This Cordoba C4-CE is just a shade off traditional classical in that at 50mm, it has a slightly narrower neck. This becomes an advantage though, as it's equally good at strumming and fingerpicking, very comfortable for both.
Also, the solid African mahogany top, as opposed to traditional spruce or cedar, sets it apart from strictly traditional classical guitars. The mahogany doesn't commit the sound exclusively to bright, or warm, but finds a nice middle ground with strong bass tones and lively top tones. Once again, a great combination.
It's nice to see some experimentation and innovation in the classical guitar field.
In addition, this guitar is gorgeous with that satin African mahogany finish and abalone inlay rosette. This is a stand out classical guitar that will turn heads and maybe even garner a whistle.
This is an acoustic-electric classical guitar, so you can plug in any time you want. The electronics are not impressive, but they get the job done. If you're going to do serious performing you may want to give them an in-depth test run first, or consider this for a possible upgrade.
A beautiful guitar you will love to play and be proud to have in your collection.
The NTX1 from Yamaha was designed entirely to woo steel string acoustic and electric players over to the nylon strings of the classical guitar.
A trimmer body and narrower neck than traditional classical are used to make it easier for steel stringers to transition so they can comfortably add the warmer, more complex overtones to their musical repertoire.
While the NTX definitely favors the higher pitches, it never gets shrill and exceptionally good at avoiding feedback in its electronics. If you need to pull more bass from it, you might consider using a pedal.
The Yamaha NTX1 is performance-ready, accessible to beginners, intermediate and experienced players alike and it will more than fill your expectations with its seductive bridge-the-gap design.
If you're a steel stringer thinking about trying out a more classical sound, take a good, hard look at the Yamaha NTX1. It's designed with you in mind.
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This is a 7/8 size classical guitar, so just a smidge smaller than full size, making for easier reach and greater comfort for most players.
Kremona is a European company with a long history of top quality string instrument creation and the quality on this guitar is no exception. You've got a sweet solid red cedar top for a nice, warm sound. The dovetail neck joint is a woodworker's dream. The nicely finished rosewood fretboard is comfortable and easy to play.
This Soloist Series S62C gives and full, round sound and projects very well into a room. The sound created gives no clue that the guitar itself is a bit smaller than standard. Oh, and the sustain is exceptional. It sounds like a much more expensive classical guitar.
The one recurrent issue is that sometimes the finish isn't pristine. I think that can be forgiven at this price point. They put all their efforts into making an easy to play, great sounding guitar. At this price point, something's gotta give, and they focused on the most important things.
A lot of bang for your buck here. Don't ignore this one.
So this one is a little flashy, with a hand-crafted, fiery abalone inlay rosette, gloss finish and beaded-looking trim, but it's made high in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.
If anyone is going to make a truly flashy classical guitar, I would expect it to come from somewhere like the village of Paracho.
This Paracho Elite features a solid spruce top for a bright, lively sound feature the top end of the tonal range. This is a guitar that is eminently playable, including at the performance level.
Paracho guitars are not shy, they want to show off, so they do everything they can in the construction to be comfortable which helps you be a better player.
The quality is good all-around and it looks and sounds sweet. You might want to replace the nut and bridge with real bone, but then you're fully ready to go.
This guitar will make your sound pop and look good doing it.
If you are looking for the hot rod of classical guitars, look no further.
This Takamine GC5 might be the sleeper hit of this list. On the mid-lower end of the price spectrum, the GC5 has a lot of great features and Takamine quality that just make it a surprise in the price category.
First off, this classical guitar has a solid spruce top, which lends it to sharper, brighter tones. However, that's tempered by a laminated rosewood body that balances the sound, keeping it from getting tinny and giving it a nice, complex tonal quality that is very pleasing to the ear.
Second, the mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard make for a very comfortable playing combination. This is especially important in a classical guitar.
All of the construction on this guitar is beautifully done. It's one of those guitars that's worth more than its price tag.
Good looking, brilliant sound and tonal qualities, and comfortable to play make it a triple threat.
The Takamine GC5 is easy to recommend in this category. Everything you want in a classical guitar, done well.
Need Lessons in Classical Guitar?
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This slightly slim and trim classical guitar from Ortega takes a chance and wins on the sleek and stylish front.
A thinner body and slim neck that will make classical players with small hands infinitely happy, create an easy-to-handle model that's enjoyable to play.
The solid Canadian western red cedar top produces a rich, warm tone while the mahogany body keeps the tone from getting muddy.
You get a nice, big sound from this slim classical guitar.
The deep red finish is high gloss and beautiful, while the 12-hole bridge keeps the sound bright and crisp.
A lot of details add up to make this an attractive beginner-intermediate guitar in a great price range.
This is the kind of student guitar that you can show off and look good long before you're ready to display your playing skills. It will get you excited to play and carry you for a long time in your musical journey.
The traditional of traditional, the Cordoba C7 is a great option and a nice upgrade from the C5. This link is for the solid spruce top version, which is great if you're looking for brighter tones.
However, if you're looking for the warmer, deeper tones of cedar there's an option for it on the same page, just to the right of the image.
Note: The cedar is a little more expensive than this page promises, but still a great value for such a good guitar in this price range.
The C7 is a well-built guitar for beginning and intermediate players. Either top wood choice produces awesome sound, and it has a wonderful sustain for added richness.
While it might not sound like a handmade professional guitar (at ten times the cost), it does sound like a guitar that's 2-3 times more expensive than this one.
This guitar is going to keep you happy for a long time.
The Yamaha CG182S is a fine entry into the classical guitar field.
The solid spruce top makes for a brighter but rich tone and the ebony fingerboard makes it easy to play. It generally arrives well-appointed from the manufacturer with little needing to be done upon arrival.
This guitar has beautiful sustain and resonance. A rosewood body enhances the richness of the tone, keeping the spruce from becoming annoyingly perky.
This is a wonderful sounding guitar as we've all come to expect from Yamaha.
The CG182S is one of those guitars that is truly in a higher class, but carries a lower price tag. That's what you call value, when you get your money's worth…and then some.
This Yamaha is a winner all around.
This Kremona is a classical guitar designed for flamenco. It favors the bright tones and mid to high end of the tonal range that flamenco is famous for.
The Rosa Morena sports a spruce top (no surprise there) and a rosewood body, giving it more depth than some flamenco guitars and making the option of using it for other genres a distinct possibility.
The action is well-balanced and comfortable and, like all Kremonas, the guitar is well made all around. It produces a loud and voluminous sound that is the envy of its class.
Kremona's European craftsmanship tradition carries through on their more affordable models and that makes this guitar a great deal.
Brilliant for flamenco and other, similar song stylings.
As per their nature, Cordoba has made a most traditional classical guitar – in a ¾ size. Convenient for younger players, players with thick, (and/or) short fingers, or anyone who finds a full-size classical guitar rather cumbersome, this Cordoba still packs a mighty punch.
The solid cedar top favors players who prefers deeper tones and a warm sound over a higher, brighter one.
It's a very durable guitar, perfect for this price range accommodating newer players or as a practice/travel guitar for more experienced guitarists.
The rosewood fretboard is particularly easy on the fingers. Smooth and comfortable, it makes chord changes easier as your finger glide easily across it.
And it has a nice wood inlay rosette.
It's kind of a classic Cordoba, which is to say it's well made, very well priced and a quality instrument all around.
When you're going classical, you can't miss with a Cordoba.
Solid Topwoods in Classical Guitars
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
Internal Bracing Patterns on Classical Guitars
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
The Classical Guitar 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
FAQ - Best Classical Guitar Under $500
What is a good price for a classical guitar?
If you're looking for a starter classical guitar, you can safely enter at the $150-250 range, staying with quality brands like Yamaha and Cordoba, and have confidence you're getting a good beginner instrument.
If you want a classical guitar that's better quality that you're not going to evolve out of quickly, you're better off budgeting in the $300-500 range. This price range will get you a very nice classical guitar that's well-constructed, probably with a solid wood top. A classical guitar like this will last through your beginning learning and well into your intermediate playing. You won't have to replace it until you're ready to take a serious step up.
What is a good classical guitar brand?
Depending on what price point you're considering, some good classical guitar brands are Cordoba, Yamaha, Alhambra and a notch higher on the scale, Kremona. Though Ortega and Takamine shouldn't be ignored when looking at good, affordable classical guitars, either.
The Top 3 (out of 11 reviews) on our Best Classical Guitars Under $500 are:
What is the best classical guitar for beginners?
The best classical guitar for beginners, first and foremost, is one that is both a quality instrument and fits the player comfortably. I'd recommend looking at Yamaha's student classical guitar line and the lower end of Cordoba's C series. This is assuming a desire to not spend too much money, but get a really good quality instrument.
If you have a little more room in your budget, consider one of the guitars above for an instrument that will be with you throughout your beginning lessons and well into your intermediate learning on classical guitar.
Are classical guitars harder to play?
If you look at it from a physical standpoint, classical guitars have 2 major features that distinguish them from acoustic guitars. One is an advantage, one is a disadvantage.
First, classical guitars have nylon strings, which are softer and gentler to play. These are easier on a beginner's fingers and thus make them easier to play.
Second, classical guitars have a wider neck. This makes the stretch to reach chords more challenging, and requires a little more practice and patience, as well as good technique to get your hand in the right position without causing pain.
However, the kind of music that is played on classical guitar is generally more technical, often requires multi-finger fingerpicking and is usually just more demanding. In this sense, I would say that yes, a classical guitar is harder to play overall.
What should I look for when buying a classical guitar?
Two of the most significant aspects when buying a classical guitar are top wood choice, and size/comfort.
If your budget allows, you should be looking for a solid wood top, which will most likely be cedar or spruce. Cedar emphasizes warm lower tones, while spruce favors the spritely higher pitches. It helps to know which sound you prefer in making your choice.
You should also look for a guitar that fits you well. If you're on the smaller side, don't hesitate to get a ¾-size classical guitar, or parlor guitar. If you've got large fingers, make sure the string spacing is wide enough for you.
Is classical guitar better than acoustic?
Classical guitar is neither better, nor worse, than acoustic. These two guitars are used to play different styles of music and each is suited to its role.
Classical guitars have warmer, rounder sounds and are used primarily in classical and flamenco music styles. They have nylon strings, which are gentler on a beginner's fingers, but also a wider neck which can be more challenging.
Acoustic guitars have a louder, brighter sound and they're used in rock, country, blues and almost any pop genre. The steel strings take a little more time for a beginner's fingers to get used to, but the neck is a bit narrower, making it easier to reach for chords.
The choice between classical and acoustic lies in what style of music you want to play.
Classical guitars are beautiful instruments. 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, Kremona, and Takamine 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.
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