Acoustic Vs Classical Guitar: Making the Right Choice

Are you considering picking up a guitar for the first time, or looking to expand your musical arsenal? You’ve probably heard the terms acoustic and classical thrown around, but what’s the real difference between the two?

And more importantly, how do you choose which one is the right fit for you? Fear not! I have crafted this comprehensive guide to help you navigate the intriguing world of acoustic vs classical guitars.

In this article, I will dive deep into the nuances that set these two instruments apart. Exploring their histories, construction, sound, and playing techniques.

By the end of this musical journey, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision that suits your tastes, goals, and preferences. So join me as I compare these two beloved members of the guitar family.

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History and Evolution

Are you ready to embark on your quest to choose between an acoustic and classical guitar? Understanding their historical roots will give you valuable insights into their distinct characteristics.

Let’s travel back in time to discover the origins of these two instruments and trace their development through the centuries.

The Acoustic Guitar

Steel String Acoustic Guitar.

The modern acoustic guitar, with its steel strings and signature sound, has a fascinating history! One that spans continents and even centuries. Its ancestors can be traced back to the Middle Ages, with stringed instruments like the lute captivating audiences with their enchanting melodies.

However, it wasn’t until the 19th century in America that the acoustic as we know it today began to take shape. Guitar makers like C.F. Martin pioneered innovative designs and materials.

Ultimately leading to the steel-stringed, flat-top guitars that are now popular across the globe.

Classical Guitar

Classical Guitar.

The classical guitar, on the other hand, has its roots deeply planted in European tradition. The instrument evolved from the early stringed instruments of the Renaissance, such as the vihuela and the baroque guitar.

It was in the hands of the Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado in the mid-19th century that it received its modern form. Thus making this design known as the Spanish guitar.

Torres revolutionized the instrument’s design, including its size, bracing pattern, and string materials. Essentially establishing the groundwork for the nylon-stringed classical guitars we know and love today.

Key Developments and Innovations in Guitar Design

Both acoustic and classical guitars have undergone significant transformations since their inception. This is all thanks to the work of skilled luthiers and inventors.

As we’ve seen with the Martin and Torres designs, innovations in materials, construction, and technology have shaped its sound and playability. From the addition of frets and adjustable truss rods to the development of modern pickup systems for amplification.

These advancements continue to expand the possibilities for guitarists and redefine the boundaries of what these instruments can achieve.

Differences In Construction and Components

Now that we’ve explored the historical roots of acoustic and classical guitars, it’s time to delve into their anatomy.

By examining the materials and construction techniques used in each type, we can better understand how these factors contribute to their distinct sounds and playing experiences.


The choice of materials plays a crucial role in the sound and feel of a guitar. Let’s take a closer look at the key components of these instruments, this way we can see how they differ.


Both acoustic and classical guitars use a variety of tonewoods for their construction. With each wood type imparting its unique sonic characteristics. Common woods for acoustic guitars include spruce, mahogany, and rosewood.

While classical guitars often feature cedar, cypress, and rosewood. The choice of wood affects the resonance, sustain, and tonal qualities. This makes it an essential aspect of the instrument’s overall sound.


Nylon Guitar Strings.

One of the most noticeable differences between acoustic and classical guitars lies in their strings. Acoustic guitars use steel strings, which produce a bright, crisp sound and offer more tension.

In contrast, classical guitars are strung with nylon strings, resulting in a warmer, mellower tone with less tension. The choice of string material greatly impacts the playing experience. But also the musical genres and techniques associated with each type.


Both guitars share some hardware components, such as tuning machines and bridge pins. But there are subtle differences in design and materials that can affect playability and tone.

Acoustic guitars often feature adjustable truss rods and more robust hardware to accommodate the higher tension of steel strings. Whereas classical guitars have simpler, more traditional construction due to the lower tension of nylon strings.

Build and Design

Apart from the materials used, the construction of acoustic and classical guitars also differs in several key ways. This contributes to their unique playing characteristics and sound.

Body Shape and Size

Acoustic guitars come in various body shapes and sizes. From the compact parlor, to the larger dreadnought and jumbo models. These differences in size and shape can affect the instrument’s volume, resonance, and tonal balance.

Classical guitars, on the other hand, tend to have a more consistent, standardized body shape. This is characterized by a smaller, more rounded profile that facilitates their signature warm and intimate sound.

Neck and Fretboard

Another distinction between them is the neck and fretboard design. Acoustic guitars typically have narrower necks and thinner fretboards. Making them more comfortable for some players, especially those with smaller hands.

The classical designs feature wider necks and flatter fretboards. This can facilitate fingerstyle techniques and complex chord fingerings. But may be less comfortable for some players.

Bracing and Soundboard

The internal bracing and soundboard design play a crucial role in shaping the guitar’s sound. Steel-string acoustics often features X-bracing. This allows for greater volume and projection while maintaining structural integrity.

Classical guitars, however, typically employ fan bracing. It contributes to their rich, warm tone and responsiveness. These differences in bracing patterns contribute to the distinct tonal characteristics of each type.

Sound Characteristics

Understanding the unique sound characteristics of acoustic and classical guitars is key. It will help you determine which instrument best suits your musical preferences and goals.

Let’s dive into the tonal differences between these two designs and the factors that influence their distinct soundscapes.

Acoustic Sound

Acoustic guitars, with their steel strings and variety of body shapes, produce a bright, crisp, and powerful sound. Some people describe it as being more metallic or twangy sounding.

They offer a wide dynamic range and are capable of cutting through the mix in ensemble settings. The specific tonal qualities can vary depending on the guitar’s materials and construction. Some models emphasizing bass frequencies, while others focus on treble or midrange tones.

Classical Tone

Classical guitars have nylon strings and more standardized body shapes. They are known for their warm, mellow, and intimate sound. They are highly responsive to the nuances of fingerstyle techniques and excel in producing intricate, expressive melodies.

The nylon strings also lend a softer, more delicate touch to the sound. This makes classical guitars well-suited for genres that require subtlety and finesse. You won’t find any metallic or twangy tones from nylon strings.

Playing Techniques and Styles

Acoustic and classical guitars not only differ in their construction and sound, but also in the playing techniques and styles associated with them. Let’s explore the common techniques used for each type of guitar and the musical genres they are often linked to.

Woman Playing an Acoustic Guitar.

Acoustic Guitar Techniques

The acoustic is known for its versatility and dynamic range. This makes it well-suited for a wide variety of musical genres such as folk, rock, country, bluegrass, and singer-songwriter styles. Acoustic guitar players often employ techniques like flatpicking.

It involves using a pick to strum or pluck the strings, producing a bright, percussive sound. Fingerpicking, or fingerstyle, is another popular technique. This is where the strings are plucked directly with the fingertips or fingernails.

It allows for greater independence of the fingers and intricate, polyphonic textures. The acoustic guitar’s bright, crisp sound and ability to cut through the mix make it a popular choice for both solo and ensemble playing.

Classical Styles

In contrast, the classical is primarily associated with fingerstyle playing. This is where the nylon strings are plucked with the fingernails or fingertips. This technique provides a wide range of expression and dynamics.

But also the ability to play multiple voices simultaneously. Classical guitarists often use rest-stroke and free-stroke plucking techniques to achieve different tonal colors and articulations. The rest-stroke involves plucking a string and allowing the finger to come to rest on the adjacent one.

It produces a full, more powerful sound. The free-stroke, on the other hand, involves plucking a string without touching the adjacent string, resulting in a lighter, more delicate tone.

The warm, intimate sound of this guitar makes it ideal for intricate, melodic playing. But also for genres that require subtlety and finesse. While it’s most commonly associated with classical music, it can also be found in other genres such as flamenco, bossa nova, and Latin styles.

Ease of Learning and Playability

For both beginners and experienced players, ease of learning and playability are important factors to consider. Each type of guitar offers unique advantages and challenges that can affect your progress and overall playing experience.

Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitars are often considered easier to learn for beginners due to their narrower necks and thinner fretboards. This can be more comfortable for those with smaller hands or limited finger strength.

The steel strings, however, may be tougher on the fingertips. Requiring some time for players to build calluses and get used to the tension.

The versatility of the acoustic allows beginners to explore a wide range of musical genres and playing styles. All from strumming simple chords to fingerpicking more complex patterns.

They are also well-suited for learning various techniques such as flatpicking and fingerpicking. All of which can help players develop their skillset and adapt to different musical situations.

Classical Guitar

Classical guitars, with their wider necks and flatter fretboards, can be more challenging for some beginners. Particularly those with smaller hands or limited finger strength. However, the nylon strings are softer and gentler on the fingers. This makes it easier to practice for extended periods without discomfort.

One of the key advantages of learning on this instrument is the development of fingerstyle techniques. They can provide a strong foundation for playing other guitar styles as well.

Classical guitar repertoire often emphasizes intricate, polyphonic textures, encouraging players to develop finger independence, precision, and control.

Making a Decision: Which Guitar is Right for You?

With a deeper understanding of the differences between acoustic and classical guitars, it’s time to consider which instrument is the right fit for you. Making this decision involves taking into account your personal preferences, musical goals, and comfort levels.

Personal Preferences and Musical Goals

Start by reflecting on your musical tastes and the genres you would like to play. If you’re drawn to folk, rock, pop, country, bluegrass, or singer-songwriter styles, an acoustic guitar may be the ideal choice.

Using a pick and a preference for strumming patterns is also a good indicator that this is the best options for you.

On the other hand, if flamenco, bossa nova, or Latin music resonate with you, a classical guitar could be a better fit. Consider the playing techniques and styles that interest you as well.

If you’re intrigued by fingerstyle playing and wish to develop intricate, polyphonic techniques, then this is the best choice.

Comfort and Playability

Before making a decision, it’s essential to try out both kinds of guitars. Atleast to determine which one feels more comfortable in your hands. Pay attention to the neck width, fretboard shape, and string tension, as these factors can greatly affect your playing experience.

For those with smaller hands or limited finger strength, an acoustic guitar’s narrower neck and thinner fretboard might be more comfortable. However, keep in mind that the steel strings can be tougher on the fingertips.

Conversely, the classical guitar’s wider neck and flatter fretboard may be challenging for some players. But the softer nylon strings can provide a gentler playing experience.

Budget and Instrument Quality

Lastly, consider your budget and the quality of the instrument you plan to purchase. Both designs come in a wide range of prices and quality levels.

Generally, you can find entry-level models of both for around $100 to $300. Higher-end models can range from $1,000 to several thousand dollars. The price often reflects the quality of materials, craftsmanship, and sound.


In conclusion, choosing between an acoustic and a classical guitar involves careful consideration. Explore your personal preferences, musical goals, comfort levels, and budget.

By taking the time to evaluate and understand the unique characteristics of each instrument, you can make an informed decision. One that will ultimately support your growth and enjoyment as a guitarist.


Can I play classical music on a modern acoustic?

Yes, you can play classical music on a steel string acoustic. However, the tone and sound characteristics may differ from those of a classical instrument with nylon strings.

Are nylon strings easier on the fingers than steel?

Yes, nylon strings are generally easier on the fingers than steel. This makes classical guitars a more comfortable option for beginners.

Can I use a pick on a classical guitar?

It’s possible to use a pick on a classical guitar. But traditional techniques involve fingerpicking. So try using the fingers to pluck the strings in this case.

Is it possible to switch between acoustic and classical playing styles?

Yes, many guitarists switch between acoustic and classical guitar playing styles. However, it may take some time to adapt to the different techniques, strings, and neck widths.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!