The difference between classical and acoustic guitars: how to choose one

If you are thinking to learn how to play guitar or you are simply buying a new model, you probably want to know what is the best for you.

The main categories in which we can divide the guitars are three: classical, acoustic and electric. The first two are different from the third because they have a harmonic case that amplifies the sound naturally, in the last instead of the case there is an electric amplifier.

There are also several variants of these basic models, and they also have differences in customization: each artist chooses the most suitable model for its style or it starts with a standard guitar and customizes it according to its own needs.

In this post, we will focus on the difference between classical and acoustic guitars, as they are more similar to each other for their shape and sound features than the artificial amplification models.

The classical guitar has a sound different from the acoustic one: this is due to the differences in the materials that compose the two instruments and to their shapes.

Strings: the difference between classical and acoustic guitars

The main difference between classical and acoustic guitar is in their strings.

In the classical, the 6 strings are made of nylon or silk: the first three are of nylon; the others are of nylon and covered with a thin metal layer. The acoustic guitar strings are all of metal.

The classical guitar strings are also softer and you can sound pinching them with your fingers, while those of the acoustic guitar are very hard and you can hurt yourself if you are not well trained. Usually, to play these strings it is preferable to use a pick and they will emit sounds just touching them.

Aesthetic differences in this two guitar types

The difference between classical and acoustic guitar: how to choose?

Aesthetically there is a difference between classical and acoustic guitar: in addition to the strings, the two guitar types differ in their necks. The classical guitar neck is slightly wider than the acoustic neck.

For this reason, the first one is best advised for those who have to learn how to play because a wider neck offers a greater distance between the strings, allowing you to press them more easily to make the chords.

In addition to the different width, the neck also has a different number of frets: the classical guitar usually has 19 frets, while the acoustic guitar 20. There are however guitar models with different fret counts.

Another difference is that there is a heel between the harmonic case and the classical guitar neck that is not present in the acoustics because the nylon strings exert more tension than the metal ones.

The strings are also fixed in a different way on the headstock, and the mechanics differ between the two models.

In the acoustic guitar usually, the mechanics are laterally on the same side and mounted rearwards on the headstock; in the classical guitar, the strings are knotted on two mechanics located on each side of the headstock, consisting of three keys.

The acoustic guitar harmonic case is usually bigger than the classical one and is characterized by the presence of the pickguard near the hole, which is used to avoid ruining the instrument by scratching it with the pick.

Some acoustic guitars also have a recess at the bottom of the harmonic case to allow you to easier reach the higher frets. This particular model is called cutaway.

Sound and posture

The different strings materials give different sound characteristics to the two guitar types: nylon has the hottest sound and it is mainly used for classical music and flamenco; the acoustic guitar has a cleaner sound and is suitable for strumming.

Even the posture to keep while playing varies according to the guitar shape and to the technique you choose to make the strings vibrate.

The classical guitar is usually played by sitting, holding the left foot on a small stool, to keep the left leg up to sustain the harmonic case, that is kept parallel to the bust, on the leg: guitar does not need to be supported and the neck is facing upwards.

The right arm must rest on the upper instrument side and the right hand must lie dead in front of the hole; the left hand instead is placed on the guitar neck: the thumb is usually opposite to the middle and the ring fingers and it rests with the fingertip on the virtual line that divides the neck halfway, to have the other fingers free to articulate; these latter crush the strings vertically, like a gavel.

The acoustic guitar is usually held in the arm, resting on the right leg and with the neck lowered; the right-hand does not necessarily rest on the sideband and the left one keeps as much as possible the hammer fingers while the thumb can emerge from the top of the neck creating a point of support.

Classical or acoustic guitar?

Knowing the difference between classical and acoustic guitars helps you to choose the model that suits your needs, but the choice also depends on your experience level and on the kind of music you want to play. Music gender will affect your search for different types of sound.

The classical guitar is definitely more suitable to get familiar with the instrument, but the acoustic one is definitely a tool that offers more possibilities with its different models.

[Photo credits: Steven Tyler PJs, Andrew Gustar]