The Best Classical Guitar?
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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
I think the best classical guitar is by Camillo Perrella, Bojano, Italy
Yes, Perrella makes some fine guitars.
For top-level professional instruments I personally recommend German guitars:
The German town of MARKNEUKIRCHEN and surroundings (Erlbach, Breitenfeld)
is an absolute hotspot for world class instruments!
Within just 2 square kilometers you can find – what I think are – four of the worlds best luthiers:
Frank-Peter & Markus Dietrich
Armin & Mario Gropp
The town Markneukirchen is well worth a visit. Here instruments have been built since hundreds of years. It’s an amazingly rich tradition and heritage. Still today the town is all about luthiery, with violin-makers, guitar-makers, etc.etc.
Regarding the guitar heritage: Did you know that C.F. Martin was actually born in Markneukirchen in 1796? He became an apprentice with none other than “Johann Stauffer” in Vienna and later found success and fame in the USA.
From 1877-1960 Richard Jacob “Weißgerber” was in Markneukirchen, exploring many types of guitars from romantic to Simplicio and Torres models: http://www.studia-instrumentorum.de/MUSEUM/weissgerber_index.htm
And today the heritage is continued by Joachim Schneider, Frank-Peter & Markus Dietrich, Armin & Mario Gropp and Eberhard Kreul.
If you ever go there, ask the luthiers to show you their photoalbums. You’ll see a who’s who of the worlds best classical guitarists. They’ve all been to Markneukirchen (and play Schneider, Dietrich, Gropp, or Kreul): Dimitri Illarionov, Carlo Marchione, Chen Zhi, Li Jie, Wang Yameng, Eduardo Fernández, Rémi Boucher, József Eötvös, Aldo Lagrutta, Vladislav Bláha, Abel Carlevaro, Bernhard Hebb, Evgeni Finkelstein, Miriam Fernández, Johannes Monno, Roberto Limón, Pal Paulikovics, etc.
Don’t forget Meng Su. She also plays a guitar from Markneukirchen (from luthier Gropp). http://www.mengsuguitar.com/
The Beijing Guitar Duo (Yameng Wang, Meng Su) also play German guitars (from luthier Matthias Dammann).
There are some amazing samples on youtube where they play some South American works on these 2 amazing guitars: checkout “Beijing Guitar Duo – Suite Retratos”!
In the mid price range I love guitars by Ross Gutmeier and Gregory Brandt.
My favorite statement is the last one. A master can make beautiful sounds on any instrument. Some are fetish obsessed in the guitar world. I always think there are other factors that make truly beautiful music. The craftsmanship of an instrument is a great contributor, but the musician and the instrument have to become one, and by this union they carry metaphysical elements into space that create a feeling of awe. That’s the moments all wait for during performances. One who can make or experience this is blessed and never the same.
I think the best classical guitar is … the one that when you play it makes you feel best. Therefore the sentence to complete should be: I think the best classical guitar for me is… Remember that the term “Best” can be very different for each of us. It would be like looking for the best attorney, or for the best doctor or for the best human being. Quite broad… isn’t it? I BELIEVE IT IS THE ABSOLUTELY WRONG APPROACH TO GETTING A GUITAR. To determine the best guitar for you… you need to figure out your budget and shop within that budget. If you do that, you’ll find the best guitar for you.
It may be good to know that price does not necessarily equate to the best…
Alfredo Figueroa is spot on .More expensive is not always better regarding guitars.
Well, I own many guitars.
Michel Bruck; excellent classical a great German master piece! 24K
Philip Woodfield, english builder 15K Costumed made
Jim Redagate; 24K a “WAVE+ ergonomic sort chello like, beautiful masterpiece
Dominique DeLarue $12,500K Amazing!!! French Folks
Casimiro Lozano 8,500K Strinking sound
Antonio Lopez 5K
DAVID J. PACE LUTHIER -EXCELLENT BUILDER WITH A GREAT FUTURE AHEAD..HE WILL BE ANOTHER MICHEL BRUCK, MATTIAS DAMMANN
Do you actually play these guitars? I know a few “big” owners who find all their guitar wonderfully sounding, but I wonder on what ground…
Of all the builders you mentioned I only tried a Redgate and a Lozano if I’m not mistaken.
The Redgate was loud and powerful with much bass of poor quality. And it was very tiring, like a hammer or gun shot on each note played (it reminded me of a poor Smallman) – as to Australian builders, I find the Price, Marty and Gnatek I tried/heard much better, more able to express music.
The Lozano I barely can remember it because it was so dull. Yours might be great as building consistency is a big problem, but as to “performances”, I doubt it could compete with your Redgate. Am I wrong?
Have you try a new guitar from Vietnam? build by luthier Cuong V4 model with lattice bracing. I played it among many friends that have Smallman, Benabe, and Ruck…After they heard my guitar from Vietnam. They asked where did I get mine and after they played my guitar. They were astonished of the tone, workmanship and playability. The price is 10X less. I don’t believe in expensive guitars will always give you good sound. Unfortunately it is all commercial. Pricing keep going up by hype and promotion from couple of famous players. Builders now are seeking for famous players to play their guitars so they can raise the price. People believe that the more expensive guitar the better.
I believe there are many great and hidden guitar builders that have equal quality and performance guitars with much lower price. Such as luthier Cuong from Vietnam. Of course, the good sound only the player can produce.
Hi I am very interest in getting one from Cuong in my next visit to VN.
If you don’t mind. Please tell me where I can find him
Though might want to know, since I visited him last time I was in Vietnam. I’ve owned and still a Ramirez 4E, Dieter Mueller double-top, and used to own a Ramirez 1A 1969, and Taylor and Gibson guitars. Here’s my thoughts on Cuong’s guitar. Well, not impressive at all. It was loud like a double or lattice top. It sounded like a banjo, and not a guitar. If I have to get one from him, it would be his traditional guitar. I almost did until he talked down on Ramirez guitars. Given that Ramirez are very nice Spanish guitar, Cuong’s guitar is never in that class of guitars, he shouldn’t be so ignorant 🙂 What’s your price range? I have to say, Ramirez 4E is great for it’s price range, but the Dieter Mueller is a bit more expensive ~15k. The German Mueller is an amazing classical guitar, it’s warm and sound like a guitar unlike some double-top and lattice guitars. The bass is amazing loud and balance with the loud thick sounding trebles. I found that trebles are always a trouble for a lot of guitars, especially the tradition……..but this Mueller rocks! chat with you later – Hien Q Pham
I NOW, ALSO OWN A JOSE RAMIREZ “CENTENARIO”
Now and soon. See my new guitar by David Pace…a Traditional Fan Braced with inner linings built with Port Oxford Cedar. Costumed built with Graf tuners! See it soon on FBook.
I ALSO OWN A RAMIREZ CENTENARIO 2011
Now and soon. See my new guitar by David Pace…a Traditional Fan Braced with inner linings built with Port Oxford Cedar. Costumed built with Graf tuners! See it soon on FBook.
I totally agree, we all should be able to feel good about our guitar, and what we play regardless of our level of expertise, and you still can get good deals I just bought a Yacopi guitar made by Fernando Yacopi in Argentina that blew away every other guitar I had, the exange of 4:1 Peso to Dollars help !
is an amazing guitar I should had pay the dollar no peso value and it would still be cheap!!
Years ago I sat in an auditorium with David Russell and another concert guitarist as they played the same piece on around 20-25 different guitars of contemporary builders. We were asked to judge the best guitar and were given a scorecard. After listening to about half of the guitars my ears got tired and all I could hear was that David made all of the guitars sound better than the other guitarist (who happened to have a lovely tone).
I also have done blindfold tests with friends and someone would play our concert guitars and many times we didn’t even recognize our own guitar but could definately hear the difference in tone of each player.
A good concert guitar makes a difference but I’ve played and heard many great and very expensive guitars that quite honestly dissapointed me considering their price.
If you can afford it, get a concert guitar that has an appealing sound to you and feels right and then work like hell coaxing the the most tone out of it that you can. Good tone is always endless hard work but it’s cheaper than spending $15,000 on a guitar that probably won’t have you sounding like Bream or Russell.
I think the best classical guitar is by Simon Marty – Sydney, Australia!!
>$10K – worth every cent, customised, beautiful tones, ease of playing, perfetc action!!
I think the best guitars come from Michael Thames (http://thamesclassicalguitars.com/). My guitar (2009 Thames) is really great, and just keeps getting better the more I play it. It’s very responsive, has a huge dynamic range, and a great sound. Michael’s guitars are very consistent, too. I’ve played three or four of his guitars and they’ve all been great. There are some recordings of the guitar on my website (linked above).
I have owned on Thames that was great but have played several that were duds. i sold mine and now own a Byers and Have a traphagen on the way and find them much superior to thames…but not cheap.
Thank you for sharing the Michael Thames guitar website. I listened to it and find it excellent. The sound and craft are just a delight. I think we are slowly approaching an era of classical guitar renaissance and the demand for the ultimate perfection in sound and craft will increase, and so the prizes, but with more quality that is justified.
In my opinion, the best guitars has to offer a huge dynamic range (from a true ppp to a true FFF), a homogeneous response on all notes (evenness), an excellent sustain (to make legato easy) and, preferably a “beautyful” tone colour and adequate ease of play – the latter being not measurable qualities in any way, but rather influeced by personal taste and technique. My favorite tone colour reference in traditional guitar building being a 10 year-old spruce-topped Antonio Marín Montero or an even older Aguado y Hernández or David Rubio.
Well, after testing hundreds of false and true concert guitars, I come back to an early choice – Jean-luc Joie from Bordeaux, France. His past model was lacked that subtle and beautyful tone colour which present do have now, even as new. Add this to all objective quaities mentioned above and you’ll have a wonderful guitar, even better than any Gnatek, Marty, Benito/Moreno, (Dieter) Mueller and obviously all good traditional guitars (Baarslag, Espinosa, all Marín from Granada, Friederich, Lowden, Gee, Dietrich…) I tried.
Jean-Luc Joie makes the best classical guitars I know, with great consistency as I tried about 25 of his instruments.
I own a Stehpen Connor. In fact, the one Elliot Fisk plays might have my name in it as he was building it for me but then sold it to Fisk. I’m over it as Stephen sent me a great instrument.
My Connor sounds huge, fills the room with dark full sound. However, for these same reasons it’s a love/hate relationship. That big sound is very forgiving and is absolutely great for covering up insecurities. But I would exchange some of that sustain and big sound for a bit more clarity.
He does experiment a lot though, or at least used to, so there are many different types of Connors out there.
Is Connor the best? Well, I pretty much refuse to sell mine and woundn’t trade it for anything…if that says anything.
I agree with Adriana Rätsch-Rivera’s statement, “The craftsmanship of an instrument is a great contributor, but the musician and the instrument have to become one, and by this union they carry metaphysical elements into space that create a feeling of awe.
In a memorable performance, something mysterious and ineffable takes place, having far more to do with the performer than with the instrument. I can’t get out of my mind (and don’t wish to) an observation by a respected guitarist, whose name I’m sorry I can’t recall now. I read it many years ago. This musician simply pointed out that Segovia playing a $10 guitar would probably sound a good deal better than you or I playing a $5000 instrument. I believe it, and not just because it’s perhaps “convenient” to believe it.
A moment of revelation in my musical life came when, as a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old piano student, I sat by as a friend tuned our piano at home. Almost done with the job, he played. (He was also a trained classical pianist with lessons from some masters.) I was astonished at the tone he drew from that humble Knabe cabinet piano. It was full, rounded, and unforgettable (I can almost hear it as I write).
From then on, when I heard people say, as they often do, that a piano or harpsichord can only produce one kind of tone, regardless of the player — which, on the surface of it, sounds plausible — I knew that was false.
The player is the key ingredient.
In my teaching music for 17 years and playing/performing even more, I think everything boils down to the quality of the instrument played married with the performer playing it. We can go with as many name brands and custom luthiers making the finest guitars out there. I discovered long ago that not all instruments sound not play the same.
In 1993 I helped a HS student of mine with a tenor saxophone purchase. The family was able to afford an instrument in the $3K range. With this amount of $ to be spent I wanted to help the student and family make a good purchase. I went to the music store ahead of the family and had 5 of the same models (Selmer Super Action 80) out and played through all of them over the course of two + hours. I listened and evaluated each instruments tone, ease of playing facility and intonation.
Each instrument has its own tone, feel, dynamic response, personality and character. All were high quality instruments but in the end if I had the $ I chose one that had the best of all these qualities. When the student sat with me to play the same instruments, I asked him to listen and evaluate as I did. In the end, he picked the same one as I would have, based on the same qualities.
That said, the musician (provided they have a level of playing proficiency) should try 4 or 5 similar of two or three different brands/models. Each guitar, even the same make/model will have its own sound, feel and characteristics. Pick the one that feels comfortable in your hands and sounds great when playing.
David Daily builds the finest guitars – hands down!
You guitar is a very personal thing. I have a 2006 Smallman but I no longer play it. I’m lucky enough to have a father who is a luthier Ian Ward and have worked for years with him designing guitars. I have come to realise there are some small things which make a huge difference to your guitar and that the ease of playing and the way your guitar is set up is extremely important. The type of music you play and the way in which you play it will affect the decision you make when buying a guitar. I prefer to play a guitar with a consistency of sound between the different strings. If the high E string is brighter than the B and G this will change the sound mid melody when the melody is played crossing strings. Often music written for the guitar takes this into consideration as it is common for guitars to have this characteristic. When playing transcriptions you can also take this into consideration with your fingerings though having a consistent guitar will give you more of a piano like sound when playing arpeggios. Smallman guitars are very consistent there is little difference between the E, B, and G strings when using D’Addario strings compared to other guitars i’ve played. The strings also make a huge difference to your guitars sound. I only play one guitar in concert and for recording now, one made by my father. It has a very dark sound and I only play it with semi polished D’Addario recording strings which also have a dark sound making the guitar very very dark but also very sweet and consistent between strings and up and down the neck. It is a lattice brace guitar. The action you have your guitar set at also changes the sound a lot it seems that the higher your action the louder and more resonant your guitar which may or may not be an improvement to the sound. That is with an adjustable action guitar. I agree that a great guitarist will make any guitar sound quite good but I also feel that the memorable sound created by a guitarist such as Williams is directly related to the guitar and also having the guitar meticulously it’s set up. If your guitar has set up problems, for instance: your nut is higher than the first fret, making bar chords on the first fret difficult. Your action is to low on the basses so the overall action has to be very high. Your saddle is miss placed making you slightly out of tune. Your frets are high making it harder to play. Your strings are too close together making your hand cramped especially if you have big hands. These are all things to take into consideration when picking a guitar. If you have big hands i would highly recommend buying a guitar with a wide spacing between the strings if you have the choice. Having a guitar with a lot of sustain is not always a good thing. My Smallman has a lot of sustain but I find that it makes it harder to play a moderate tempo singing melody (especially in 19th century music) because i have to constantly cut base notes and harmony notes which are ringing over the top, and each melody note itself doesn’t have time to live and die before the next one comes (or at least have some shape) and even when you take care to cut all the unwanted bass harmonies it gives the piece a certain feel i don’t love. But when playing some modern pieces written with this sustain in mind the Smallman can sound fantastic. 19th century guitars tend to have a lot less sustain than 20th/21st century guitars though some of them are surprisingly loud. The guitar I play made by my father is loud, has a relatively short sustain, is very dark, has very clear sound on the treble strings above the 12th fret (this is characteristic of good lattice brace guitars). It has a consistent colour between the different treble strings though the E is a little brighter (i’m might see if i can find a darker sounding string brand for the E). It is consistent in volume up and down the fret board when playing chromatically from top to bottom on a single string (no guitar is perfect but on some guitars 3 or 4 notes stick out like a sore thumb). I keep the frets very low like an electric guitar, this makes it easier to play but I will have to change the frets more frequently. I have an adjustable action so when playing Bach I play with a very very low action this makes ornaments much easier and i don’t need the dynamic range a high action enables. Most pieces i have a pretty low action but I rase the action for pieces with rasgueados. The saddle has six small pieces of bone not just one this means I can adjust the action not just overall but also of each string. My string spacing is also nearly two centimetres wider than standard at the saddle and standard at the nut. This is unusually wide but fits my hands and technique very well and makes tremolo very easy. There’s a bit about my guitars and what i would think about when buying a new one. If you would like to see/hear my guitar you can on youtube though some videos i used a pretty average camera mic in the back of the room so there’s too much reverb. The videos with my good guitar are tom ward el colibri, fantasy, paganini 24, dansa brasiliera. cheers
Just like you, I think ease of play and evenness are very important. That’s partly why I play a 63 Joie (I have small hands).
As to evenness, I would like to add that not only height of strings but also the type you choose for each of them is very important too. If you don’t want the D’Addario tone colour (like me) and prefer “carbon” strings, you should consider mixing 2 HT Alliance with a MT Knobloch. Mixing brands and supposed tensions (generally only high or normal) can help you a great deal. Most D-string have a very higher real tension than others basses in the same pack… As I am not a D’Addario fan, I’m not sure their D has a very different tension… But most, definetely.
Unfortunately, unlike yours, the only experience of a Smallman I could have was a very bad one. I must say the strings were very high and all high tension Alliance trebles with the typical over-tensioned E-string. But it was the most uneven instrument I played in my life (out of more than 700 “concert” instruments) and with a generally low sustain with some exceptions because of the tremendous unevenness…
As to sustain, I can’t agree it isn’t always good. You may have too long basses (compared to the trebles) on your guitar with your strings but you could try to fix that. I always prefer to be able to have a very long note (treble or bass), even if it means more work when I don’t want it. It makes legato and beautiful singing possible. It’s a bit like a piano pedal. Which pianist wouldn’t want one?
And if you play with low strings, it means you have more sustain than with a higher set up…
BTW, Could we have met in Coria by any chance?
What is the height setting of your smallman at 12th fret from string to fret.
I just saw that i almost wrote a book! and it’s full of typo’s. It’s hard to write in this little rectangle :-/
As a teenager (many years ago!!!) I longed to be able to afford a Ramirez after attending an Alirio Diaz concert at Sydney Conservatorium. Then Fleta caught my attention after attending a John Williams concert at Sydney Town Hall. And so it went on till I realised it wasn’t the guitars; it was the player.
As an adult I got to play( not own) Jose Ramirez, Ignacio Fleta etc but never sounded anything like I’d imagined or dreamed. One amazing player I met picked up my old Vincente Tatay ( read ‘old’ as ancient) and made it sound ‘like a million dollars’ when he played Tarrega’s Estudio Brilliante. I was stunned. As my son has often reminded me “It’s primarily the player dad, not the guitar”. Drats!
You folks really crack me up. I’m sure, given we all had a few whiskeys, got to know one another, one of you could pick up an old Yamaha G-50 and make it sound better than any of the aforementioned. I am of the strict opinion that the artists mood, and whether or not the day is good for them, makes the instrument fine. I myself have some wonderful days with Alvarez.
Having read the threads, may I please ask: I play guitar and I am just beginning to study classical guitar. Not able to spend thousands of dollars to purchase a quality classical guitar, what is available on the racks that will do or has the built-in quality to (1) give me a larger sound and (2) not feel or look like a student guitar? Is this a silly question?
I don’t know this answer, Steven. Franz Liszt would have you mill through some stores and find the one with a voice, and a personality to which you would be compelled to dance. If it is in your wallet, you should buy it. Just like notes are just ink, guitars are just wood. You are the interpreter and the sound. If you simply take advice and act accordingly you might wind up with a canoe paddle with a bridge. Chris
As to sound quality for tiny budgets, I can recommend Kantare guitars. Avenness, power and sustain are excellent for the price (try the cheapest model L100C – around 300 euro). The tone colour is a little too bright to me, but a great value for money. As to feeling or looking as a student guitar, well sorry, you can’t have everything for little money. But I would definetely go four sound (and playability, which is OK) first.
More expensive but with a more “mellow” tone colour and great evenness, power and sustain too: the whole Jean-Luc Joie range (Alegría, Aldeca, Alma) starting at around 1300 euro. And they look nicer too. Playability is OK too.
Check out luthier Cuong guitar from Vietnam. 10x cheaper then smallman and sound and feel like smallman. Check out his V4 lattice bracing. I had one and after 3 hours of playing I ordered another one. with Cedat top. My other was spruce.
I love it. I played this guitar more now than my Benabe and Marty.
No one brand name is repeating itself for tonal quality. Price is not a good measure. I listen to the song and decide if it comes across well. As a rule, those few guitars out there that have Harmonic Resonance like the Simplicio are by far the best. They have no falsetto notes above the 10th fret. They are loud and the sound is melodious. They carry across vast audiences without appearing to be loud to the performer. This guitar surrounds itself with joy.
I shall be 90 years old this year and I have been doing research into the science of the guitar for over 30 years. I have playde one Ramirez that spoke for itself but only that one. All since then have had a silent E-1 at the 12th fret. That is where the note becomes a 2nd harmonic on the speed of sound and becomes confused. Only by reinforcement from F# can it overcome this condition. Most luthiers do not get it – millimeters are wavelengths and the dimensions of the box are sacred. Everything in there has to fit with the speed of sound, either directly or as a harmonic. AWAKEN!
Joe, through all of your research have you settled on a brand of string. And is there tonal consistency among strings with respect to voiced length, time of year, humidity? I say this because I adore the day I restring, and I find they reach their “sweet spot” either with in hours or a day or two of restringing. Tonally, I am becoming more interested in strings for that lovely time when the sweet spot remains with the instrument.
Sorry Joe, but you obviously the recent brands I mentioned. No other brand I know can repeat itself for tonal quality, so I can partially agree with you.
And strings do indeed change the final result.
I can say that it’s not THE GUITAR SOUND that is important, but its how PLAYABLE and COMFORTABLE it is. You spend many hours practicing with it so be aware that a good soundng guitar might be a right pain (and injure you; remember R.S.I./M.O.S.??). All guitars have a variety of sounds within them. You just need the technique, skill and confidence to exploit the possible sounds within your instrument. Second in importance, how VERSATILE it is. So, in terms of how convincing your instrument will be when playing Bach, Webern, Beatles, Koshkin, etc. Moreover, certain makes and tensions of guitar string may aggrivate your action/string-height and over-stress the neck. You need to satisfy YOUR requirements:
E.g., How many frets do you need?
Cedar or Spruce?
640? 650? 660mm?
My favourite guitars that I own are:
Manuel Contreras II double-top (spruce-rio) 650mm, 20 frets. Projection is excellent, sound is slightly biased towards the treble and to a lesser extent, the bass. Not so much mid-range. Gives you confidence in concert without a microphone.
Stephen Hill (spruce-rio traditional fan-strut system) 650mm, 19 frets. Great sound, very comfortable. More mid-range and balanced sound. This guitar records really nicely, and has a genuine sound. My main guitar
That said, one of the nicest guitars I played was by Kohno and I now wish that I bought it when I had the chance.
Beautiful 1979 Kohno #30 of Brazilian Rosewood w/ spruce top going up on Heritage Auction Beverly Hills Feb 4-5, 2012. Signed M Kohno. Being sold with custom Mark Leaf case so it should travel well. Sounds as nice as it is pretty if you are thinking of tracking down a Kohno. I inherited it from a friend and since I don’t play I am finally letting go of it. Was purchased by my friend in the late ’80s from a luthier/ classical guitar teacher who was cash strapped at the time.
Tip for top performer instruments: MARKNEUKIRCHEN in Germany
Germany has long been known for outstanding luthiery and I don’t think it’s chance that even Segovia – a Spaniard – played a German Hauser guitar.
Today there are numerous top luthiers in Germany.
A special tip is the small town MARKNEUKIRCHEN and surroundings (Erlbach, Breitenfeld) !
Here you’ll find top luthiers in one area:
***Mario Gropp, Eberhard Kreul, Joachim Schneider, Frank-Peter Dietrich
Here you can visit one area and try numerous world-class instruments, played by top performers worldwide…
The luthiers are also very friendly. Just make an appointment and meet them at their workshops.
But Germany has many more top luthiers in other towns:
Karl-Heinz Römmich, Kolya Panhuyzen, Bernhard Kresse, Fritz Ober, the Hausers, Sebastian Stenzel, Matthias Dammann, Gernot Wagner, Michael Brück, Angela Waltner, Thomas Eichert and many more
Of course Germany is also well known for many fine guitarist (Tilman Hoppstock, Duo Sonare, Franz Halász, Stephan Schmidt, Hubert Käppel, Thomas Müller-Pering, …), so it seems fitting that there are good luthiers there as well!
I tried instruments of many builders you mention (Römmich, Panhuyzen, Kresse,Gropp) heard others (Damman, Wagner) and even owned one (Dietrich) + another you didn’t menton (Eichhorn). Most were nice indeed, but i wouldn’t say they were top-class…
My current references are Australian John Price and French Jean-Luc Joie. The only Price I could try was extremely homogneous and had all top qualities for performance (projection, sustain, dynamics). Lacked just a little “classical” sound colour but much less than any other Australian guitar I tried (Redgate, Marty, Gnatek, Smallman). The last Joies I tried were as good as the Price, adding a wonderful tone colour and real basses you can’t find on any other guitar (at least I didn’t find any other).
BTW, wasn’t Halasz paying an Australian guitar (a Marty if I am not mistaken)?
Another town with many quality builders is Granada: the many Maríns, Ana Espinosa, René Baarslag, John Ray, a.o. I owned a Paco Marín and a Ana Espinosa. Very nice too.
Actually Franz Halász is currently playing a Matthias Dammann guitar.
benito says: “Most were nice indeed, but i wouldn’t say they were top-class… ”
Were you drunk? 🙂
Seriously, there are more world-class luthiers in Germany, than in any other country.
Frank-Peter & Markus Dietrich
The competition amongst luthiers is high, and they produce instruments with tonal beauty, that I have not come across anywhere else.
I also recommend Germany.
Superb luthiers. They’re all really good… perhaps because they have such a rich tradition… German luthier schools also have a very high level. Personally I recommend Kreul.
Even Abel Carlevaro trusted Kreul with his “Carlevaro-model guitar” preferring him to Contreras. Personally the Carlevaro-model guitar is nothing for me… I prefer the traditional models that Kreul: wonderful performer’s instruments.
Yip Germany is a good tip.
There are a number of superb luthiers there:
Frank-Peter & Markus Dietrich
and many more top worldclass luthiers.
Yes certainly Germany – all the way!
Even Segovia played a German guitar, calling it “the greatest guitar of our epoch”!
In the words of Richard Bruné (from his article “Cultural origins of the modern guitar”):
“In 1924 Segovia met Hermann Hauser in Munich Germany, and allowed Hauser to take measurements of his Ramírez guitar. According to Segovia, it took Hauser 13 years to make the “Guitar of our Epoch” as Segovia called it. While Hauser was not the first non-Spaniard to make Torres model guitars, he was certainly one of the best, as he brought a sense of refinement and detail that was entirely appropriate for the classical guitar.”
these UNREAL prices blow my mind. i’ll bet the best guitarist can make the cheapest guitar sound better than a beginner on a top-shelf guitar. i’ll stick to my under $500 guitars and i won’t worry and i’ll be happy.
if you had to do a show with a $500 guitar, can you do it? i’ll bet you can! try it and then go feed some poor people.
The best sounding guitars are from Germany, in particular those made by Richard Jacob “Weissgerber” (1877 – 1960).
Timo Korhonen plays a “Weissgerber” guitar from 1928. What a beauty, with the most amazing sound. Korhonen recorded Bach and works such as “Mano a Mano” on it!
Well I like Granada-based guitars….
I own a Antonio Marin Montero, its excellent, responsive, only small think I can think of is a bit of non-egality between strings….very powerfull basses, real spanish sound.
Ny other guitar is Jonathan Hinves, also based in Granada. His guitars have the best trebles i’ve ever tried and heard of…!! Basses are less strong compared to Marin. Egality is fantastic though…
Antonio Raya is what I would call a mix of the two guitars above. My old maestro plays it, and it is very close on a perfect “spanish” guitar….
I found that a Lester Devoe “Paco de Lucia model” flamenca negra is an amazing concert classical as well as flamenco instrument, built in the old style with beautiful materials and impeccable workmanship. Since I am no longer a classical guitarist, but one who plays a large variety of styles, from jazz to bossa-nova to classical and flamenco, the Devoe is the only one that gives me the ease of playing and the tonal variety necessary for my recordings and concerts. Having said that, I have also become somewhat obsessed with the 7-string guitar, and have found that Chinese-made Bartolex guitars are very good values, although some time and a few bucks need to be invested to bring them up to the level of fret-work and smoothness of the “biggies”. Even so, for about $1600 plus another $400 in work by a good luthier, one can have a very good 7-string guitar.
I bought a De Jonge Chelsea guitar ( a Candaian Luthier) last year and the sound is beautiful. Each string can be distinctly heard and it’s a very well balanced guitar with ample volume. I’ve had people listen to it and in their opinion sounded as good as a Smallman. But as is said above there are 100’s of varying opinions.
The angst on the expense of a quality classical guitar has often ammused me. For the record – I would also suggest a good look at the Australian makers – though their more modern, clear voices tend to turn some off. On to the price point – Classical Guitarists are still struggling to compete as classical musicians (ie. bad readers, bad at playing with other people, etc.). I’ll add one other slighted perspective – the cost of our instruments.
Oh sure, if you buy a Ruck, Hauser, or Fleta, etc. – especially if somebody famous touched it – you might break $50K. But you can as a rule – outside of flavors of taste, get a truly world class instrument for around $10K. Compare this with a violiin. A crappy fiddle might be 10-20K and then a modest bow will run another 15K. World respected violins routinely break six figures – really exceptional instruments are hundreds of years old and in the millions. Pianos are also very expensive. So relative other classical instruments of professional grade, guitarist get out cheap.
I know you all talk about very high-end and expensive guitar, but to a newbie like me, some idea about mid-range? I personally prefer Cordoba guitar, with price range from $300-$1000. With $400 i bought a C7 Cordoba and it’s solid cedar top with laminate Indian rosewood back and side. And the sound to me is very good and the guitar is responsive. I came from Viet Nam and I tried some hand-made vietnamese guitar, but i have to say the quality of those guitar are not very consistent . If lucky you can find some for cheap enough price and good enough quality. But after 1-2 year the sound goes bad. That’s my experience 🙂
For good players… only guitars that are “Made in Germany” have the highest standard of quality in tone, volume and playability that will meet your highest needs, in my opinion.
Luthiers such as Fritz Ober, Christoph Sembdner, Dieter Müller, Hauser, Armin & Mario Gropp, etc.
As was stated previously: Segovia also favoured German guitars and called his German Hauser: “The Guitar of our Epoch”.
After 50 plus years of playing, I have played and owned many fine classical and flamenco guitars. Today I own Ramirez 1a’s, Kohnos, a german Armin Hanika of the 80’s, and others. Each has its own particular sound quality that I find very pleasing. Some have beautiful singing trebles, some are cannons in the basses for example. But recently, I took delivery of a flamenco negra built for me by a luthier named Johnny Walker who is located in the US state of Oklahoma.. This guitar is of rosewood with a spruce top. The top design is from the 1951 Marcello Barbero instrument used by Sabicas to record his album of 1957 called Flamenco Puro. Even being brand new, it is absolutely superb. It incorporates every quality of all my other guitars rolled into one. It may be classified as a flamenco negro, but to me it is an enormously responsive classical. Its price?, $2500.00. Unbelieveable? To me, yes, absolutely. But most important, the materials used to create any classical guitar by a master luthier only cost so much. Above and beyond that, very high prices are only a reflection of what guitarists will pay. I don’t believe for example that Mr Walker only has 1/4 the talent of another luthier charging $10,000.00, or 1/8 of another charging $20,000.00, and so on. If some of you log onto his website, contact him, and perhaps eventually buy from him, I am sure you will be amazed.
I would like to recommend guitars from the italian guitarmaker Renato Barone, Valtellina.
I now play his new Grandconcert model “Amaranto” from 2010 with spruce top and satinwood back and sides. It´s almost perfect! Like the sun! Barone also build instruments in cedar top in combination with brazilian and indian rosewood etc. I know several swedish and italian guitarplayers who has recently changed to Barones instruments.
I promise – that guitarmaker is a true alchemist! The sound turns to silver and gold!
Hey Guys! If you’re looking for broadcasted masterclasses for classical guitar and archived recorded guitar masterclasses, festivals, and workshops then check out http://www.musicconservatopia.com
They also offer private online lessons with only concert level guitarists.
And if you’re in the market for a high-end classical guitar check out http://www.salondeguitare.com
I have always thought the best classical guitars are from Spain and Italy although i’m well aware there are exceptions. I have a 1965 eko p12 made in Rencanati Italy and it’s a spectacular guitar beyond belief. what a sound and so easy to play. It’s a delight in my musical life.
I think the best gutars are from spain or mexico
The best guitar is the one I have in my hand and responds to the song I am playing. If the strings are good and my mood is appropriate then I can make Capricho Arabe jump out and take me to another place even nicer than the one I am in. I have 6 classical guitars and my favorite is my spanish Marzal. But it all depends on my mood and what piece I am playing, Good discussion by the way folks.
I have been playing for many years and am in the market for a new guitar. I am very interested in reading what others think about various guitar designs. Since I am a retired engineer I tend to think that large companies with large R&D budgets have the better statistical chance of making the best bang for the buck product when compared to an individual. I feel confidant that the reviews of I have just per used are accurate and that individual inspiration has cracked many molds. Right now I am leaning towards purchasing a Yamaha ncx2000r
James, if you haven't done so, please spend time on UTube watching the video of John Williams' visit with Smallman in Australia. It is a small segment of an hour review of John's life and work. Smallman has an innovative bracing system among other innovations. Do some research on the double top innovation. Here's a place to start: http://www.classicguitar.com/doubletop_article.html. For the engineer, strength and durability must be balanced with the song of the individual instrument. Go with the song, James. Best, Vance
This is an interesting discussion. I too think Gutmeier's guitars are fantastic and he is a great up and coming maker. If anybody is on the market for a new guitar – I am considering selling my Gutmeier. It is a truly unique instrument – he built it while repairing Manuel Barrueco's Ruck and has a unique bracing system that he has not used on other guitars. It was also one of the first to use the Ruck soundports. The result is a loud, clear tone with ridiculously pure bass resonance. The guitar is Cedar top with pleasantly bright trebles and a huge tone pallete. If anyone is interested message me through Facebook – I am asking a reasonable price since I put a few signs of wear and tear under the soundhole (lot's of Rodrigo and Turina…)
I have tried several types of guitars, but to me the Pimentel from Albuquerque has the best projection sound.
where can I find a Pimentel?
And the countdown begins for Nuestra Musica….
Hasn't Willie Nelson played an old Martin Classical guitar since 1960…cost was $500…..what a bargain and great sound!
I had Pimentel build a guitar for me in 1992 at the recommendation of my professor, Mario Abril. Mario made the recommendation in 1969, but war and life got in the way…. I regret waiting so long. Roberto's work is exceptional and his guitars are an outstanding value. You can contact the Pimentel brothers online at http://www.pimentelguitars.com. Ricardo's acoustical guitars are also superb. Visit their shop in Albuquerque.
Hi, what`s the the price for a Hinves? Best Christian
For my two cents, the best classical guitars being made right now are made by Jean Cavalié of Guitars Cavalié. He’s the luthier who invented the JC Proprietary Hybrid Soundboard. Some of his soundboards are on some famous guitars – although he’s not legally allowed to mention names as he was sub-contracted to build these guitars 🙁 Hands down I have never played a classical with more warmth and sustain, not to mention tonal balance across the fingerboard and an incredible dynamic range. Playing one will make you shiver and shake. If you really love the classical guitar you have to try one of these things out – it will change your life.
I found my favorite classical guitar in a secondhand store for 200$. 🙂
It is a Masaru Matano Clase 400 from 1981.
I compared it with a lot of master instruments in the 4000-8000$ price range but not one could beat that warm and soulfull sound of the Masaru Matano!
Does somebody have a similar experience with this Brand?
Masaru Matano established the Asturias factory in Japan, sold it, and disappeared. It was rumored then that the luthier would produce fake famous brands somewhere out of Japan.
His disappearing was in 1982… So not so long after building my guitar.
I do have a Matano 400 from 1978. I’ve played it against the Ramirez original 1-A and could not spot any difference. Maybe the action is a little higher in my Matano. Sound-wise (with the same strings) the Matano is bouncier and with stronger basses (again, maybe the action). All in all, a fabulous instrument for the price.
I think one of the best fine guitars 100% hand-made, Granada traditional style is GIL DE AVALLE guitar.
I recently had a guitar custom made by Johnny Walker. It is a fabulous guitar, beautiful with great tone, sustain, and volume. It has a very close grain Englemann Spruce top with Cocobolo back and sides. The entire instrument is beautifully French polished. 640 mm scale, 34 inch radius fingerboard, and string spacing of 41 mm at the nut and 57 mm at the saddle. It is intoned at both the nut and saddle and plays perfectly in tune over the entire fingerboard. His guitars are an incredible value considering they are hand made to order. I am ordering another for jazz music with a jazz style fingerboard and a cutaway.
I own several Pimentel Grand Concerts Two Brazillian RW with German Spruce Tops and an Ebony with German Spruce Soundboard. Each has its own character but they are wonderful sounding instruments with good projection and great balance in sound. On top of great sounding instruments they do some of the finest inlay work in the world. True works of art with concert quality sound. These are truly custom handmade instruments. Everything on the guitar is made by the brothers/owners own hands except for the tuners and the strings. I also have a Pimentel Jazz Fusion which sounds great and plugged into an amp is one of the most versatile guitars I have ever played. This nylon stringed beauty can do it all ( classical, jazz, blues, to pop). True Master Luthiers
the country of Fritz Ober, Karl-Heinz Römmich, Kolya Panhuyzen, Christoph Sembdner, Dieter Müller, Hauser, Armin & Mario Gropp, Andreas Kirmse, Kazuo Sato (yes he’s living in Germany), Michel Brück, Matthias Dammann, Sebastian Stenzel, Bernhard Kresse, Angela Waltner, Frank-Peter Dietrich
and many more (link1, link2)
For me depend on the repertory. What sound the composer want.
And go out, play chamber music and found that in fact classic guitar player are bad musicians. Try this give the score to a symphony. Orchestra player. Play for him. And tell us his opinión.
The Best Classical Guitar?
You answered yourself 🙂
Ask 100 different guitarists what they think is the best classical guitar and you will get 100 different answers.
In middle class I like Hanika guitars http://elcoda.com/hanika-gitarren.html