Best classical guitars 2023: nylon-string guitars for every budget

Best classical guitars 2023: nylon-string guitars for every budget
(Image credit: Future)

For many players, the term classical guitar conjures up thoughts of an inexpensive, entry-level instrument, with a playing action higher than a suspension bridge and not a great deal going on tonally. It may come as a surprise then to find that the nylon-string scene is just as diverse as the steel-strung one, with nylon models available from all the top brands in the acoustic world, with prices reaching similarly eye-watering levels for the very best classical guitars.

Admittedly, high-end nylon-string guitars tend to serve a couple of specific niches of music, namely classical and flamenco, but their overall appeal does crossover in some areas. In this guide, we’ll discuss what distinguishes the different types of classical guitar from one another, as well as offering some recommendations of some of the best classical guitars you can buy today.

Best classical guitars: Guitar World's choice

On balance, the Taylor Academy 12e-N (opens in new tab) is hard to beat in the field of classical guitars. Any acoustic player – steel or nylon – will know of Taylor thanks to its reputation for providing guitars at the top table, but with its Academy series, Taylor has learned how to pack in all its experience and know-how into a range that is affordable to the masses. 

The Taylor 12e-N delivers the classic Taylor package; wonderful tone, superb playability, and exemplary build quality. Even if you’re not a nylon player, the 12e-N is worth a quick dabble if you get the chance. It may open your eyes to an entirely different way of playing.

If you’re after a traditional flamenco guitar but can’t afford to invest in a luthier-built masterpiece from Andalusia (who can!) then we recommend the next best thing – the Yamaha CG182SF (opens in new tab). Like all Yamahas, it’s beautifully built and exceptional value. 

The top is solid Engelmann spruce, and the sides are cypress, which not only sounds perfect for the genre, but looks every bit the part too. The action’s low, and the tone is punchy yet crisp. It’s the perfect flamenco guitar for this kind of money.

Best classical guitars: Product guide

Best classical guitars: Taylor Academy 12e-N

(Image credit: Taylor)

1. Taylor Academy 12e-N

Simply the best classical guitar for most people

Specifications

Top: Lutz Spruce
Back & sides: Layered Sapele
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: West African Ebony
Scale: 25.5”
Frets: 17
Finishes: Varnish

Reasons to buy

+
Taylor-appropriate build quality
+
Superb electronics

Reasons to avoid

-
Neck perhaps slightly too narrow for pure classical players

Taylor is seeing some great successes from its Academy line, which promises the full-fat Taylor experience at a cost that makes them – at least relatively – affordable for the many. The Taylor Academy 12e-N is a superb nylon-strung option which provides the benefits of classical and flamenco styling with the ergonomic familiarity of a more standard steel-strung guitar.

We particularly like the bevelled armrest which made for a nicely comfortable playing experience, while we were impressed with how the onboard electronics retained the guitar’s natural resonance even at higher volumes. 

Best classical guitars: Cordoba C7-CE

(Image credit: Cordoba)

2. Cordoba C7-CE

Gorgeous Spanish-specific nylon with onboard electronics

Specifications

Top: Canadian Red Cedar
Back & sides: Rosewood
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Scale: 25.5”
Frets: 19
Finishes: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
You’ll love the cedar top
+
Quality preamp

Reasons to avoid

-
Remember to turn the built-in tuner off!

Gigging musicians often require a certain level of quality and reliability from their guitars, and in the Cordoba C7-CE there exists an affordable, high quality guitar that would fit the bill nicely. The C7-CE packs in some superb tone-woods, which elevate the guitar sonically and aesthetically, and the onboard Fishman electronics, which blends an under-saddle piezo with an internal microphone, allows for precise control over your amplified tone. 

For the price, the Cordoba C7-CE is a pretty compelling package, and one we’re happy to recommend.

Best classical guitars: Ovation Timeless Legend

(Image credit: Ovation)

3. Ovation Timeless Legend

This bowl-back nylon acoustic is perfect for the stage

Specifications

Top: Solid Cedar
Back & sides: Lyrachord
Neck: 5-piece mahogany/maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Scale: 26.2”
Frets: 19
Finishes: Natural

Reasons to buy

+
Bold, projected sound
+
Neck is a dream to play

Reasons to avoid

-
Neck may be too thin for traditionalists

Ovation is something of a curio, relying as it does on that familiar ‘bowl’ shaped back and sides. Charles Kamen, founder of Ovation, believed there were certain inherent frequencies he didn’t want in an acoustic and set upon building his own solution comprising composite materials usually found in the aviation industry. The result was, and is, a guitar which promises elite performance at high volume levels, without fear of nasty feedback usually associated with amplifying acoustic guitars.

The Ovation Timeless Legend Nylon is the culmination of all that innovation, providing a solid cedar top which gives a mellow, balanced sound when combined with the Lyrachord material. This is a high-end instrument, of that there is no doubt, although its neck is slightly thinner than some classical or flamenco veterans may like. That said, if you’re going to name your guitar ‘Timeless Legend’ it had better be good, and thankfully Ovation has managed to live up to that promise. 

Best classical guitars: Yamaha C40II

(Image credit: Yamaha)

4. Yamaha C40II

Affordable ‘proper’ Nylon-string from Yamaha

Specifications

Top: Spruce
Back & sides: Meranti
Neck: Nato
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Scale: 25.5”
Frets: 18
Finishes: Natural

Reasons to buy

+
Great step up for younger players
+
Sounds good for the price

Reasons to avoid

-
A little basic for some

While the transition from ¾ scale nylon-strung acoustic to either steel-strung acoustic or electric is a tale as old as time, there are some who prefer a path less-trodden. Graduating from a ¾ scale up to a full-size nylon-stringer makes for the ideal next step in the playing career of plenty of players, and in the Yamaha C40II there is the perfect guitar with which you can make that leap.

In keeping with Yamaha’s generally excellent reputation for quality levels which exceed their price tags, the C40II classical guitar delivers a superb playing experience, great sound and solid construction which should see most players through the next few years of their musical journey.

Best classical guitars: Washburn Festival EACT42S

(Image credit: Washburn)

5. Washburn Festival EACT42S

Thinline electro-acoustic with crossover appeal

Specifications

Top: Spruce
Back & sides: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Engineered Wood
Scale: 25.5”
Frets: 19
Finishes: Natural

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent feedback control
+
Looks different

Reasons to avoid

-
Not one for the flamenco purists?

It’s not unknown for players of different styles to dabble with a bit of fingerpicking, if the mood dictates. In the Washburn Festival EACT42S there exists almost the perfect guitar for a bit of musical escapism. Featuring dimensions and scaling not dissimilar to a more traditional acoustic, but with enough trappings to ensure it excels as a nylon-string, the Festival offers a superb entry-point to ‘proper’ classical guitars. 

We appreciated the unfettered access to the upper frets, while the 4-band EQ ensured we had a huge amount of control over our amplified tone. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea visually, but we felt the Washburn Festival delivered a lot of guitar for the money.

Best classical guitars: Cordoba GK Pro Negra

(Image credit: Cordoba)

6. Cordoba GK Pro Negra

Top-shelf material from the classical guitar specialists

Specifications

Top: European Spruce
Back & sides: Indian Rosewood
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Scale: 25.6”
Frets: 19
Finishes: Natural

Reasons to buy

+
Amazing sound and feel
+
Wide/thin neck plays like a dream

Reasons to avoid

-
It may be overkill for some   

Often when you’re looking for a particular type of guitar, it pays to see what the pros are using. When you’re looking for something that can handle the rigours of full-blooded flamenco, there are few better places to look than with the Gipsy Kings.

The Cordoba GK Pro is a top-of-the-line model, endorsed by the Kings themselves, and brings with it a number of elite-tier fittings and features. This guitar positively urges you to play at high-tempo, with all the percussive flourishes that accompany it. The premium tone-woods ensure it sounds as good as it looks, while the slightly thinner body makes it comfortable to play whatever stance you prefer. It’s not cheap, but the GK Pro has authenticity and vibe in spades. 

Best classical guitars: Godin ACS-SA Slim

(Image credit: Godin)

7. Godin ACS-SA Slim

Innovation? In a classical guitar?

Specifications

Top: Cedar
Back & sides: Silverleaf Maple
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Richlite
Scale: 25.5”
Frets: 22
Finishes: Natural, Black Pearl

Reasons to buy

+
High grade playing experience
+
Versatile

Reasons to avoid

-
Something about plugging a nylon-string guitar into a synth makes us feel strange…

If the talk of thin necks and built-in EQ panels has upset some of the more traditionalist classical guitar players, you might want to move to the next entry. You see, in the Godin ACS-SA Slim we have possibly the most technologically advanced classical guitar on the market. In fairness, it is unashamedly aimed towards electric players who need something else in their arsenal. Still, adding a 13-pin synth connection, meaning it can control Roland’s GR Series guitar synths, is plain bonkers.

Putting that to one side, there is still a lot to love about the ACS-SA Slim. It boasts a sensible selection of high-end tone-woods, with the Silverleaf Maple and Cedar top balancing out together nicely, while the craftsmanship evident is in keeping with other guitars in the Godin stable. Maybe you are the kind of person who wants to plug a classical guitar into a synth. More power to you if you are. This, my crazy friend, is the perfect guitar for you. 

Best classical guitars: Takamine GC-6CE

(Image credit: Takamine)

8. Takamine GC-6CE

Solid mid-range offer geared towards classical players

Specifications

Top: Spruce
Back & sides: Black Walnut
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Laurel
Frets: 20
Finishes: Natural, Black

Reasons to buy

+
Wide neck is a joy for classical playing
+
Ideal step up for the intermediate player

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the most exciting classical guitar in the world… but does it need to be?

Classical guitar players tend to be a different breed to your average electric player. There’s no hankering after oversized amp stacks or obsessing about reverb pedals. In many ways, it’s a more sedate way of living. A few carefully chosen tone-woods, a wide neck and a bit of care and attention paid to projection and resonance, and a happy player will be found. In the Takamine GC-6CE, there is the perfect guitar for many classical players. 

We found the combination of black walnut and spruce gave the GC-6CE a wonderfully chimey tone, which was a pleasure to experience. It doesn’t have bells and whistles – except for the onboard electronics – but it does deliver a consistent, pure, clean sound which we became rather enamoured with. For the classical player making the move from entry-level to intermediate, the Takamine is a superb choice.

Best classical guitars: Martin 000C12-16E Nylon

(Image credit: Martin)

9. Martin 000C12-16E Nylon

The steel-string icon’s take on nylon

Specifications

Top: Sitka spruce
Back & sides: Mahogany
Neck: Select hardwood
Fingerboard: Ebony
Scale: 26.44”
Frets: 20
Finishes: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
Beautifully built from top-notch components
+
Onboard Fishman pup and preamp
+
Mahogany build is unorthodox, but it works

Reasons to avoid

-
It’s a Martin, a brand not known for classical guitars
-
Plenty of excellent competition at this price

If we had to name one brand that epitomizes nylon-string guitar heritage and production, then Martin wouldn’t be on our shortlist. Not even close. Steel-string guitars? Yes, absolutely, it’s hard to think of a brand that’s been more, ahem, instrumental in that area. But nylon? No.

Which is why the 000C12-16E is a bit of a curiosity. The nut is slightly narrow for a traditional classical guitar, it has a cutaway, X-bracing and is equipped with a very tasty Fishman Matrix Enhance NT1 preamp and pickup system. The top is Sitka spruce, but the back and sides are mahogany, which is not a wood usually associated with classic nylon-string guitars.

Yet, Martin markets it for "classical guitarists looking to take their classical playing to the next level". In our opinion, this is a lovely, well-appointed guitar that boasts a rich, tight bass with wonderful top-end articulation. You know what? That unorthodox mahogany choice works a treat. 

However, it’s clearly more of a crossover guitar than a concert instrument for classical players. If you’re a fan of Martin steel-string guitars but want to side-step into the world of nylon every now and again then this is just the guitar for you.

Best classical guitars: Yamaha NTX5

(Image credit: Yamaha )

10. Yamaha NTX5

Craftily built crossover for steelies craving nylon tone

Specifications

Top: Solid European Spruce
Back & sides: Walnut
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Scale: 25.6”
Frets: 24
Finishes: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
A neck that steel string players will adore
+
Hi-tech electronics
+
Feedback resistant

Reasons to avoid

-
Unplugged it can’t compete with a ‘proper’ nylon guitar
-
Not cheap

If you’re heavily into steel-string acoustics and electrics then you simply must consider adding some nylon, because it can bring an extra dimension – a contrasting texture – to your compositions.

Don’t fancy those huge necks and flat-as-a-board, ahem, boards? No worries, the NTX5 is just the ticket for performance or the studio. Its slim, soft-C shaped neck is easier to get your hand around than a bottle of Bud, and the narrow nut, 24-fret ebony board and Venetian cut-away make this one accessible guitar to play.

It’s a thinline, so it doesn’t sound all that unplugged, but hook it up to an amp or PA and you’ll find that Yamaha’s state-of-the-art Atmosfeel pickup and preamp system is simply incredible.

Like most Yamahas, especially those at this price point, the build is impeccable. Other than its unplugged sound, it’s hard to fault.

Read the full Yamaha NTX5 review

Best classical guitars: Ibanez GA34STCE

(Image credit: Ibanez)

11. Ibanez GA34STCE

Performance-ready thinline that loves life in the spotlight

Specifications

Top: Solid spruce
Back & sides: Ovangkol
Neck: GA/Okoume
Fingerboard: Purpleheart
Scale: 25.6”
Frets: 21
Finishes: Gloss, natural or black

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Onboard preamp and undersaddle pup
+
Looks great

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the traditional classical sound 

There’s a lot to love about the poetically named GA34STCE. Okay, we’re being sarcastic about the name (who thinks these things up?), but this is a whole lot of performance guitar for not a lot of money.

You get a thinline body for comfort and feedback rejection, a cutaway for upper fret access, a solid spruce top and Ibanez’s AEQ210T preamp system with undersaddle pickup. It’s a fine-looking guitar too, with its neat, eye-catching rosette and smart gold tuners.

Like all thinlines, it sounds a bit wishy-washy in purely acoustic mode, but plug it in and it transforms into a rich tone monster that’s eager to be let loose on stage. It represents amazing value for a performance-ready guitar from a big brand such as Ibanez.

Best classical guitars: Yamaha CG182SF

(Image credit: Yamaha)

12. Yamaha CG182SF

Entry-level flamenco guitar that punches well above its weight

Specifications

Top: Solid Engelman spruce
Back & sides: Cypress laminate
Neck: Nato
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Scale: 25.6”
Frets: 18
Finishes: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
True flamenco tone and dynamics
+
Authentic build quality
+
Solid Engelman spruce top

Reasons to avoid

-
If only the sides were solid cypress too

Good flamenco guitars are niche instruments that command high prices, so it’s rare to find one this inexpensive. Yes, it may have been made in a factory far from Spain, but its build, materials and tone are still authentic enough to conjure visions of dark, sultry evenings misspent in the Sacromonte.

True to form, its back and sides are made from cypress, albeit laminate, while the top is a rather handsome piece of solid Engelman spruce. The bridge is rosewood, as is the wide fingerboard, which terminates at a 52mm nut. The action is low, which is typical for a flamenco guitar, but it also makes the CG182SF an easier guitar to play for crossover steel players.

This is a punchy flamenco guitar with a sharp attack, little sustain, a bright tone and good projection. Just as it should be for practicing your finest Rasgueado technique!

Best classical guitars: Buying advice

Close up of classical guitar

(Image credit: Future)

 If you’re looking for a nylon-string guitar specifically, as opposed to a general purpose acoustic guitar, then the chances are that you play classical, flamenco, jazz or Latin styles. Beyond the obvious tonal differences, these genres require a guitar that is geared towards the unique playing techniques involved. Most steel-strung acoustics simply don’t provide enough finger real-estate in which to work your magic.  

How is a classical guitar different from an acoustic guitar?

Why you can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Nylon-string guitars differ from steel-string acoustic guitars in several ways, not least in the expanded width of the neck – up to 2” or more – to accommodate complex fretting shapes. On traditional models, fingerboards are as flat as a pancake too, which comes as a shock to most guitarists crossing over from steel-strung acoustics or electric guitars.

The guitar’s body will also be significantly lighter built than a steel-string. Nylon strings don’t exert anything like the tension that steel strings do, so there’s little need for heavy reinforcement. More importantly, the lighter, less powerful nylon strings just won’t be able to get a heavily-built soundbox (the guitar’s body) resonating sufficiently to generate enough tone and projection. 

It follows that bracing – the method of providing rigidity to the body – is usually lighter in weight and almost always arranged in a delicate fan pattern, rather than the stronger ladder, X or V shapes you will find in steel-string guitars.

In theory at least, a nylon-string guitar doesn’t need a truss rod because it doesn’t have the string tension to contend with, but some brands, notably Cordoba, include them. This is useful in the unlikely event that you do have to make a neck adjustment.

Crossover guitars for steel-hearted players 

As we’ve just mentioned, a nylon-strung neck can be a real handful, more than some steel-string players are willing to stretch their hands or their heads around. Still, if you’re really sold on adding some rich, warm nylon acoustic tones to your compositions there is a solution. 

In recent decades many brands have introduced nylon crossover guitars to their catalogs. These often look a lot like steel-string guitars, yet they’re strung with nylon. The headstock and tuners are a giveaway, but the necks are comfortably thin, the fingerboards are radiused and the bodies often feature cutaways and electric pickup systems for amplified performance. Many are designed as thinlines to guard against feedback when amplified.

Frankly, most serious classical players won’t touch them with a bargepole, but they’re fantastic for crossover artists, as well as players into jazz and Latin styles

Classical or Flamenco?

Both classical- and flamenco-type guitars have a proud Spanish heritage but they’re actually very different.

A classical guitar will be built for sustain, warmth and measured playing, whereas a Flamenco guitar is brighter, has more attack, less sustain and a low action for rapid fretting. So low in fact, that a little bit of fret buzz is considered normal.

To achieve this tonal difference, Flamenco guitars are built more lightly from very particular tonewoods, usually cypress or sycamore for the back and sides with a spruce top. They’ll also feature a golpeador (a large transparent pickguard) to protect the top from the sharp percussive strikes that characterize Flamenco playing.

Once you’re beyond complete beginner stage you’ll realize that flamenco sounds dreadful on a classical guitar and vice versa. Don’t worry, just consider it another excuse to add to your guitar collection!

Tonewoods

Flamenco guitars aside, nylon-string guitars invariably have rosewood backs and sides, although very occasionally exotic woods such as bog oak are used. Rosewood gives a very balanced tone with precise mids, sparkly highs and warm lows, which is why it’s so popular for steel-strung instruments too. 

A spruce top will impart a delightfully clean, bright sound, whereas cedar is both darker in color and in tone. Both are beautiful to look at and hear, so the choice is purely down to personal taste. Together, they work gorgeously for duets…

Are classical guitars good for beginners?

While the technique of playing a nylon-strung guitar is slightly different from a steel-strung one, the skills are most definitely transferable. Nylon-string guitars are readily available in smaller sizes that can be easier for young kids to hold, and the softer strings are unquestionably kinder on their fingers. 

That said, there can be a few issues – the main one being the wider neck and string spacing. While it's not impossible for little ones to play, a nylon-string guitar can be more challenging, so the potential neck width awkwardness is worth bearing in mind. 

It's also worth noting the differences in tone, which can result in a rather uninspiring experience for beginners trying to emulate their pop and rock heroes. So, if you are planning on strumming your way through a bunch of cowboy chords, best to stick to a steel-string acoustic guitar. 

How much should I spend on a classical guitar?

Like ‘regular’ acoustics, classical guitars come in various styles and cover a wide range of price points, from beginner classical guitars to hand-made artisan models and everything in between – but how much you choose to spend really boils down to what you want from your new guitar.

For absolute beginners and young kids, a $100 entry-level instrument will more than do the job, and will certainly allow you to see if this is the guitar style for you. Intermediates, or established players looking for a classical to use on recordings, may want to look around the $500 mark. This will get you an instrument of a certain quality, and with so many options out there you won't be short of choice. 

For professional players, you'll be looking at $600-plus, and if you can stretch to it, you'll want to go for an all-solid option. This will get you the richest and most complex tone possible.

Find out more about how we make our recommendations and how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides.

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Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 12 years of experience writing for some of the music world's biggest brands including Orange Amplification, MusicRadar, Guitar World Total Guitar and Dawsons Music. Chris loves getting nerdy about everything from guitar gear and synths, to microphones and music production hardware.

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