Classical guitars are available in a number of different sizes and materials. Here are some things to consider when purchasing a new classical guitar.
Generally schools recommend full size instruments for beginning students. The main reason for this is uniformity of sound and look. Classical guitar is often played in an ensemble setting and a full sized instrument ensures a full, rich sound that can be heard alongside other members of the group.
If the school does not specifically recommend a full size guitar, and the student is of smaller stature it can be worth considering a 3/4 size instrument.
1/2 size instruments and smaller are not worth considering for the school instrumental music programs.
Solid Top vs. Laminate Top
The quality of the materials used to construct your instrument will have a large effect on the way the guitar sounds and ages. Every part of the guitar contributes to it's overall sound but the guitars 'top' or 'soundboard' is arguably the most important factor.
A solid top instrument is essentially a single solid piece of timber and can be visually identified by closely examining the edge of the soundhole. You will be able to the see the cross section of the grain if it is solid timber.
Cheaper laminate top instruments are constructed of multiple thin layers of timber joined together using heat, pressure and adhesives. Often finished with a veneer of nice wood, laminate tops are durable and more cost effective to produce than solid top instruments.
Solid tops offer better sustain and a richer resonance which improves further as the instrument ages.
Classical guitars are constructed from a number of different tonewoods which are selectively combined to produce beautifully resonant instruments.
Guitar tops are generally made from one of the following tonewoods, each with it's own tonal profile:
Spruce is the most widely used timber for both classical and steel string acoustic guitars. Known for its bell like clarity and immediate sound spruce can be played hard without diminishing the clarity of the sound but can lack character when played softly
Visually spruce is creamy white to pinky light brown in colour but does tend to tan over time.
Cedar is a less dense timber than spruce and produces a darker, more complex sound with a higher ratio of overtone to fundamental. Although it is not as clear and articulate as spruce it produces a tone that is rich with character. Cedar is darker in colour ranging from cinnamon to light chocolate in hue.
Mahogany is often used to construct the back and sides of guitars and it can also be used for the top.
Tonally mahogany is very warm and punchy due to its very high density. Mahogany guitars benefit greatly from the aging process and is easy to spot due to the rich dark reddish brown colour.
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