Skip to main content

The 8 best classical guitars 2022: nylon-string guitars for every budget

Included in this guide:

The 8 best classical guitars 2022: 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 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.

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
Launch price: $699/£779
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
Launch price: $699/£649
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
Launch price: $1,299/£1,195
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
Launch price: $149/£149
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
Launch price: $419/£399
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
Launch price: $1,699/£1,585
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
Launch price: $1,495/£1,399
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
Launch price: $529/£499
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: 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 either classical or flamenco styles. These genres require a guitar that is geared towards the unique techniques involved, and ‘normal’ steel-strung acoustics simply wouldn’t provide enough finger real-estate in which to work your magic. 

How is a classical guitar different from an acoustic guitar?

Classical guitars differ from standard steel-string acoustic guitars in several ways, not least in the expanded width of the neck – up to 2” - to accommodate more complex fretting shapes.

You’ll also find differences in the construction, body shape, and weight distribution. Bracing – the method of providing rigidity to the body – is usually lighter in weight and arranged in a way to enhance the guitar’s resonance, while classical and flamenco guitars also tend to have a shallower body depth than you’d find on, for example, a dreadnought acoustic. 

Within the sub-genre, you’ll also find differences between flamenco and classical nylon-string guitars, with flamenco versions often featuring a reinforced plate to protect the body when percussive techniques are used. The neck on a flamenco guitar also tends to be flatter too, which allows for the playing action to be lower.

Regardless, the best classical guitar for you is the one that allows you to achieve your playing goals.

As well as classical and flamenco nylon-string guitars, there are also hybrids that utilize some of the features and aesthetics of ‘regular’ guitars – like narrower necks – which provide a good middle-ground to anyone seeking the warm, mellow sound of nylon, but who doesn’t want to completely change their playing technique.

Regardless, the best classical guitar for you is the one that allows you to achieve your playing goals. These are specialist tools and have certain characteristics which perhaps don’t lend themselves to playing crossover styles, but in the right hands, a good nylon acoustic is a sight to behold. Here’s a look at some of the best classical guitars in the world today. We have standard classical guitars, flamenco guitars, and hybrids, plus acoustic-electric options too.

Are classical guitars good for beginners?

For most of us, our first experience with a classical guitar was in a classroom, when we were first picking up the instrument - but are classical guitars a good option for budding players?

While the technique of playing a nylon-strung guitar is slightly different from a steel-strung one, the skills are most definitely transferable. The smaller, lightweight body can be easier for young kids to hold, and the softer nylon 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, it can be more challenging, so it's worth bearing it in mind. 

It's also worth noting the differences in tone. Classical guitars are not designed to be strummed like their steel-strung cousin, so they can sound a little lacking in the tone department when you attempt to play it like a bog-standard acoustic. This can result in a rather uninspiring experience for a beginner - so, if you are planning on strumming your way through a bunch of cowboy chords, best to stick to a normal 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 out of 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 recording, 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 the professional players, you'll be looking at $600+, 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. 

Chris Corfield

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.