Once you decide to learn to play guitar, picking the right one can be a challenge. Most people have trouble distinguishing classical vs. acoustic guitar. They will look similar if you are a beginner, and you can hear them in the same music genres.
Still, these two instruments have many differences. If you pay attention to details, you will find they vary in visual appearance, the sound they produce, and your body posture during a performance.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Physical Differences
There are many visual differences between classical and acoustic guitars. Generally, the classical guitar is smaller and lighter than the acoustic one, although both instruments come in various sizes. The reason is that luthiers use harder and denser wood to produce an acoustic guitar.
This difference in mass can be very significant when you stand for a long time while playing. Therefore, tutors often recommend smaller classical guitars for children and younger students. However, you can find acoustic guitars smaller than classical, such as folk and parlor sized models.
Most acoustic guitars have a so-called dreadnought model as opposed to the standard classical guitar body. It is more profound than a classical instrument, while the acoustic guitar has cutaways to allow a player quicker access to higher frets. It is a rare feature among classical guitars.
The acoustic guitar has pegs holding the strings secured to the bridge. On the other hand, the classical model has a wrap-around bridge. That means the strings’ ends are wrapped around the bridge and tied in a knot. Still, you can find a few models that have ball-end classical strings.
If you inspect these two instruments closely, you will notice that a classical guitar’s neck is slightly longer and broader than the one on an acoustic type. The acoustic guitar’s narrow neck will make it easier for you to use techniques such as strumming and fingerpicking while playing.
A fretboard of a classical guitar is wider than the one on an acoustic guitar. Plus, the classical fingerboard is flat, gaps between strings are more extensive, and it doesn’t have fret dots at all. A typical acoustic guitar has fret markers on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, and occasionally on the fifteenth fret. These marks make it much easier for beginners to play.
The acoustic guitar has a plastic piece next to the right side of the soundbox. That piece has the role of protecting guitar wood from severe scratches when you play with a pick. Only a Flamenco guitar comes with a similar plastic shield called golpeador. A classical guitar misses this feature since most classical guitarists use fingers instead of a pick.
The acoustic guitar, similar to other instruments with steel strings, has an adjustable truss rod. It neutralizes the pressure that steel strings create for the guitar neck. This additional part is unnecessary on a classical guitar because the nylon strings don’t put so much pressure.
Materials used by luthiers for tuning peg classical and acoustic guitars are different. One reason that the acoustic guitar is heavier than the classical one is the entirely metal tuning spot. On a classical guitar, this part is made from plastic or a combination of plastic and light metals.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – String Material
An acoustic guitar is often referred to as a steel-string guitar, as well. Technically speaking, the classical guitar also belongs to acoustic guitars even though it has nylon strings.
However, these strings are softer, lighter to touch, and easier to pluck. Contrary, you can end up with callouses on your fingers after playing an acoustic guitar for the first time. That is why many guitar students start playing on a classical guitar and later transfer to an acoustic or electric instrument.
Keep in mind that treble strings, G, B, and high E, are made of nylon. On the other hand, the classical guitar often has silver-plated copper bass strings, E, A, and D, with a nylon core.
Acoustic guitar strings contain nickel and bronze with other metals. Thus, they are thin and more similar to electric guitar strings. If you touch them, you will feel they are tenser and sturdier than the classical instrument’s strings.
Plus, the difference in a string material creates a significant distinction between the sounds these two instruments produce.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Sound and Other Differences
The difference in timbre or the specific sound quality of classical and acoustic guitars can be a decisive factor in your instrument choice. The thickness and material of the strings make playing one or the other a completely different experience.
The sound of a classical guitar is mellow, smooth, and with a delicate resonance. Quite the opposite, the acoustic guitar has a sharp, bright tone that many describe as twangy and metallic.
Still, you can slightly alter these natural instrument sounds while playing. That way, you can perform a tune written for an acoustic guitar on a classical guitar and the other way around.
In general, you will get the most natural timber strumming or plucking strings near the sound-hole. If you play near the bridge, the sound will become tighter and more acoustic. Contrary, strumming close or over the fingerboard creates mellow resonance characteristic for a classical guitar.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Volume
If you try to play a solo on classical and acoustic guitar, the comparison will show you that the acoustic instrument has a much larger volume. It is louder than the classical one due to its larger size and steel strings.
However, the sound volume also depends on the wood the luthier uses for making the guitar. So, two different acoustic guitars can have uneven volumes, and a classical guitar can even outperform an acoustic one in some cases.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Technique
An acoustic guitar is a more versatile instrument than a classical one when it comes to playing technique. You can pluck the strings using strumming, fingerpicking, or any other way you want.
Although you can strum the strings on both instruments, it is rare for someone to use a pick on a classical guitar. After all, you can try it, but you will probably get a distorted, ruined, and dull sound.
In most cases, the classical guitarists use fingers and nails to pluck the strings. The nylon core is tender, so the harsh strumming goes better with strong steel strings on an acoustic guitar.
In some cases, you can hear guitarists playing flamenco music by strumming strings rapidly, but even then, they use fingertips instead of a guitar pick.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Genres
Both classical and acoustic guitars are used in various musical genres. Their sound specificity makes them particularly suitable for specific musical directions.
A classical guitar’s sentimental sound is more common in classical, flamenco, or Bossa Nova music. On the other hand, you can hear acoustic guitar more often in the country, pop, and folk music.
Although you can play both instruments, your music taste will determine the final choice between the two. If you love Gipsy Kings, for example, you will naturally opt for a classical guitar. Still, pick up an acoustic guitar if you enjoy Ed Sheeran songs.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Your Position
Once you pick up a classical guitar, you should put its body on your left leg and raise the neck to an angle that suits you. However, you need to play an acoustic guitar in an almost horizontal position.
Besides, most guitarists hold an acoustic guitar on their right leg. The hands’ placement also differs depending on the instrument you play.
Acoustic and classical guitar players hold the thumb level at different positions on the guitar neck. Plus, acoustic guitarists occasionally use the thumb to play the sixth bass string while the rest of the time it lays on or near the guitar neck top.
Contrary, a classical guitarist holds his left-hand low on the lower half of the guitar neck, supporting the index finger that way. This posture improves left-hand balance and makes playing the lower notes easier.
If you choose an acoustic guitar, you will probably use a plectrum or steel fingerstyle pick to pluck the strings. However, most players don’t use a pick on a classical guitar.
Instead, they play it with the three-fingers technique using a ring, middle, and index fingers. In most cases, guitarists don’t use pinky fingers at all. The only exception is flamenco music when the player strums strings rapidly with all five fingers.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar – Price
On average, a classical guitar is cheaper than an acoustic instrument. You can find models for beginners for $100 to $150. For a similar quality acoustic guitar, you need to set aside between $200 and $500, often without accessories.
This difference is due to the amount of material spent, type of wood, and accessories. However, don’t forget that you can also start with a used instrument for beginner classes. In that case, you can find both types of guitars for less than $100.
Classical and acoustic guitars look similar only at first glance. There are many differences in the visual appearance, sound, and playing style you choose. However, learning to play one of these instruments makes a transfer to another almost effortless.