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Ask 100 different guitarists what they think is the best classical guitar and you will get 100 different answers. Unlike the violin or the piano, the fundamental construction of the classical guitar is still being developed and experimented with by hundreds of luthiers around the world. Whether it be by using new materials like carbon fiber, changing bracing patterns, moving the sound hole or even adding another one, modern luthiers are forging new paths in classical guitar building techniques.
It would seem, in an effort to cater to larger performance spaces and help in chamber music situations, that many luthiers are searching for new ways to improve the instrument’s ability to project. Greg Smallman was one of the leaders in the late 20th century in guitar innovation and made great developments in guitar projection. His lattice bracing technique, that has now been adopted widely throughout the world, gives a substantial boost in projection, but the resulting change in timbre is too much of a trade for some guitarists who preferred a more traditional , Torres style, sound. Other innovations like the Contreras double top, the Humphrey Millennium Bridge, the Steve Connor sound portal and the Smallman arm-rest are further examples of the new ideas that are being used in guitar building.
With so many differing approaches we are presented with a diverse array of instruments that have very unique and distinct qualities and, in my humble opinion, I think this is more of a blessing than a curse. Hypothetically, it would be nice to have a Stradivarius of the guitar, a singular maker that was renowned to produce a world class instrument. In place of having a consensus on the best classical guitar, however, we are left with an individual mission to find a guitar, a luthier, that suits us.
After being to many guitar festivals, I think I can say the some of the most popular ice breakers are: “what guitar do you have?”, “what strings do you use” and of course… “oh really, can I try your guitar?” It seems like some guitarists are on a mission to either replicate someone else s sound or at least get peer assessment of their own setup. In the end, its not such a bad thing, after all curiosity is a virtue, however, I believe that the sound that is produced from a guitar has more to do with the player and how they wield that guitar, than the guitar itself. It is tempting to think that if we were just to obtain a Smallman we would sound like John Williams, or perhaps a Dammann then we would sound just like David Russell. But its just not the case (I have tried David’s Dammann and, sadly, my sound was not transformed into something like his :). A good instrument will help to create a good sound and you should always aim to have the best instrument you can afford but in my experience a master guitarist can make even the most basic guitar sound amazing.
In response to a comment posted on this site:
Why are so many artists so reserved about recommending guitar brands or makers?
Is it because they are really not all that taken with what they are playing? I am currently looking for a classical guitar in the 5-6K price range. I would really appreciate help from more experienced players of classical music.
Can anyone help me?
I will offer some recommendations of what I think are some of the better classical guitars available. Of course, these recommendations are limited by the fact that I have not played all the classical guitars out there, and like I said, ask 100 different guitarists what they think is the best classical guitar and you will get 100 different answers…
Please give your own suggestion by completing the statement:
I think the best classical guitar is …
Mid Price Range – 5-10k
High Price Range 10k and up