Classical guitars—also known as nylon string guitars or Spanish guitars, from their country of origin—have a mellower tone and smaller body than their steel-stringed cousins. Quality of material is the most important consideration when looking for a classical guitar. Soundboards of cedar or spruce tend to have the best sound. A good classical guitar was at one time a serious investment; true quality could only be achieved through labor-intensive handcrafting, and a professional-level instrument would set you back a few grand.
Luckily, modern technology has improved the assembly-line creation process, and you can now get an instrument with stage-worthy sound for less than a thousand dollars. Whether you’re a steel string player adding a new sound to your arsenal or a classical player looking to upgrade your equipment, the models explored below are all attractive options. These are the best classical guitars under $1000.
Kremona Rosa Morena Nylon String Guitar
This Bulgarian luthier is one of the best-kept secrets of the classical guitar world. This model is a member of their Flamenco Series, and features the Andalusian Bracing Pattern and shallow neck angle traditional to a flamenco-style guitar—but don’t take that to mean it’s only good for playing Spanish music! The Rosa Morena is the best of both worlds, with the rosewood and spruce construction typical of a concert classical guitar. The Rosa Morena is praised for the sweetness of its sound and the beauty of its construction, with a balanced tone and authoritative projection. This belongs on any list of the best classical guitar under $1000.
La Patrie Presentation
Made in Canada, La Patrie guitars are finished with a special lacquer that actually improves the response of the wood over time, increasing its resonance the more you play it—and it starts out excellent to begin with. Low action makes for easy playability, while the adjustable radius fingerboard can be helpful for someone accustomed to the narrower neck typical on a steel stringed guitar. The top of this guitar is made of solid cedar, while the sides, back, and fingerboard are rosewood. The synthetic tusq saddle responds better than cheaper plastic versions and the eye appeal is certainly strong on this model, from the gorgeous mosaic rosette to the lyra style gold tuners.
Cordoba C9 Parlor Acoustic Nylon String Guitar
Previously called the C9 Dolce, this Cordoba guitar features a Canadian cedar top and mahogany back and sides and comes with a humidified hard-sided case, an added bonus for the musician who travels with their instrument frequently. The low action makes it easy to play without unneeded tension in the wrists and hands. Cordoba guitars (see full specs), generally, also have great eye appeal, with this model featuring a hand-inlaid mother of pearl rosette. Crafted by hand with solid wood, the craftsmanship on this guitar rivals that of instruments costing twice as much, and the sustain is well-balanced throughout the instrument’s range. This is easily among the best classical guitars under $1000.
Yamaha NCX1200R Acoustic Electric Classical Guitar
Yamaha instruments offer a consistency unparalleled by smaller manufacturers, and the NCX1200 (see full specs) is no exception. The only instrument on this list to feature a true ebony fingerboard, this guitar has a soundboard of solid spruce and rosewood back and sides for a focused, clear tone with excellent projection in the higher end. The Venetian cutaway design allows greater access to the upper frets, while the on-board ART 2-way preamp system makes it a versatile choice for the jazz musician who wants the mellow nylon string sound but has to compete for volume with a kit and hornline.
Soundboard Materials: Which Wood is Better?
The soundboard (or top) of most classical guitars will be made of either spruce or cedar. These two woods are equally effective in the construction of a high-quality instrument, though the guitar will have different tonal characteristics depending on the wood used. Spruce is harder, and will produce a brighter and more focused tone, with more clarity and definition. Cedar soundboards, on the other hand, tend darker and more mellow, rich and warm throughout the instrument’s range.
The Cordoba C9 and Kremona Rosa Morena feature bone saddles. A bone saddle tends to produce a richer tone than one made of plastic, with less stridency in the high end and more depth to the bass. The synthetic bone used in the La Patrie Presentation would fall between the two, more resonant than plastic but not quite as rich as true bone. The fingerboard of a high-end classical guitar is often made of ebony, believed to be more durable and stable than woods with less dense grains, but the rosewood construction used in most of the instruments on this list is more cost-effective, and indeed more prevalent in the low- to mid-range market. The fingerboard is also wider on a classical guitar than steel-stringed models, something to be aware of when buying a guitar for a young player, or if you have generally smaller hands.
There is a common misconception that a classical guitar is by definition acoustic. It is often played acoustically in classical and Brazilian contexts, alongside other un-amplified instruments. For playing on-stage or in louder ensembles, however, the classical guitar can be, and often is, fitted with pickups and electronics. Classical guitar purists argue that the addition of electronics to the instrument is a bad idea, as some manufacturers will sacrifice tone for the purpose of electronics, shortening the distance between the front and back of the guitar and making it tinny when played without amplification. While this may have been the case in the past, the electronics in the Yamaha NCX1200R don’t affect the sound of the instrument when it’s played acoustically, while still giving it a chance to compete against rock or jazz ensembles, where the unamplified classical guitar’s sound would be lost.
Regardless of which classical guitar you choose, remember that it’s called a nylon string guitar for a reason! The softer wood used in the construction of classical guitars cannot stand up to the tension steel strings would put upon the joints, and trying to fit it with steel strings will damage the instrument. Also keep in mind that nylon strings are more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity than steel strings, and tend to go out of tune more easily. Make sure to tune and adjust your instrument every time it’s played. With proper upkeep and maintenance, a well-crafted classical guitar—like the best classical guitars under $1000 on this list—will give you years of musical enjoyment.