The first time a steel string player picks up a nylon string acoustic they are sure to notice many critical differences that may cause them to rethink their interest in playing Classical guitar or makes them give up without really giving it a chance.
While a serious Classical musician will think nothing of spending up into the 4-figures for their Classical nylon string acoustic, most people who are only delving into the Classical or Flamenco repertoire, or would like to add traditional nylon string tone to their musical arsenal, usually look at guitars in a price range where their differences from steel string and electric guitars are magnified. Unfortunately, if you buy the cheapest nylon string in the guitar store -- you know, the one made from the cheapest possible laminates with half-inch-high action -- you are sure to end up hating playing the thing.
However, if you instead take a closer look at what many of today’s contemporary nylon string acoustic manufacturers are offering, you are sure to find some really great sounding and easy playing instruments in a manageable price range.
While a nylon string classical acoustic may look similar is size and color to its steel string counterpart, the fact is that certain structural differences between the instruments make the sound and feel very different. First of all, the sound board, which is what gives an acoustic guitar its ability to project its sound, is thinner, with different bracing underneath. Where the traditional steel string acoustic has X-bracing, most classical nylon string acoustics have smaller braces set in a fan-pattern.
The neck construction on your traditional Classical acoustic is also quite different. While your standard steel string has a strong truss rod built to stand up to 180 pounds of pressure, the string tension on a nylon string is usually only half that, which means that many classical acoustics don’t even have truss rods or any kind of neck reinforcement.
Another important difference is in the shape and size of the necks themselves. Anyone who has ever gone from a steel string guitar to a Classical Nylon String will notice the profound difference in neck width. The traditional nylon string guitar has a neck width of 52mm at the nut which is a hair over 2 inches, where a steel string or an electric will have nut width of 1.75 inches. This difference is significant as it changes the string spacing quite a lot, and the extra room is actually helpful when you begin playing Classical or Flamenco music with contrapuntal bass lines, but it does take time to adjust to.
Another significant difference is the scale length and neck profile. Classical nylon string guitars with a scale of 25.6” have a slightly longer scale length than your average Dreadnought or OM model at 25.4“ and a completely flat fretboard radius, giving their necks a much different feel. The larger, wider and flatter necks of Classical acoustics make them a challenge for steel string players to get used to.
Just like a steel string guitar, however, when it comes to tone, the most important part of any guitar is the top. When looking for a good nylon string acoustic, whether you are seriously pursuing classical or flamenco playing, or you are planning to add nylon string tone to your sonic repertoire, you should look for a nylon string acoustic guitar with a solid wood top. The most common top woods used in classical acoustics are Spruce and Cedar. Spruce generally has more volume and delivers greater projection, while Cedar is more mellow and warm.
Today classical acoustics are available with a variety of modern refinements that make them less difficult to get used to in terms of playability, like slim necks and shallow body depth, and onboard electronics that make them stage ready. Whether you are a serious classical guitar student, or just attracted to that sweet, mellow tone that you can get from a nylon string acoustic, there is a nylon string classical or contemporary acoustic that will be perfect for you.
Established in 1994, Ortega is a relatively new name in the world of classical acoustic instruments, and one of their stated company objectives is to break barriers without losing focus on the fundamentals of classical guitar making. This includes making their authentic acoustic instruments in Spain. By outfitting their classical nylon string acoustic guitars with a variety of modern features, like slim necks, a new 12-hole bridge system and an amazing new preamp system, Ortega is breaking barriers between traditional and modern guitarists in terms of sound and playability.
Ortega 12 Hole Bridge Demo
The Ortega Feel Series ‘slim neck’ (SN) Guitars are traditional nylon string acoustics with modern enhancements that improve player comfort and playability. The left handed Ortega R138SN-L features a highly resonant Canadian Spruce top with Mahogany back and sides and a decorative Maple body binding that makes the glossy natural finish really pop. The area where the most modern enhancements have been made is in the neck design. This Ortega Feel Series guitar features the SN ‘Slim Neck’ modern neck design which delivers the kind of comfort and playability you would expect from a modern acoustic or electric guitar in a nylon string classical acoustic. With a nut width of 48mm instead of the traditional 52mm, the neck is more narrow and easier to play.
The left handed single cutaway Ortega R138-L features a highly resonant Canadian Cedar top with Mahogany back and sides and a decorative Maple body binding and a gorgeous Ortega Signature mother of pearl Rosette.This Ortega Feel Series guitar features the SN ‘Slim Neck’ modern neck design with an ample Venetian cutaway which allows unfettered access to the frets usually locked in where neck meets the body, and the enhanced playability of a slim neck that you would expect from a modern acoustic or electric guitar. With a nut width of 48mm instead of the traditional 52mm, the neck is narrower and easier to play.
The lefty R138-L features Ortega’s new 12-hole walnut bridge system which helps to reduce string tension and sweeten the overall tone of this traditional nylon string acoustic. The 12 hole bridge design also decreases the likelihood of string breakage and makes string replacement much easier. And with built in ORTEGA MagusPro-NL electronics, this gorgeous classical acoustic comes stage-ready with Ortega’s proprietary preamp, featuring a built in tuner and 3-band EQ designed to support the natural nylon-string tone of their classical instruments.
Kremona carries their long history of traditional workmanship and handcrafted excellence into the 21st century, using only the finest local building materials available, as well as imported materials that breathe new life into Kremona’s ever expanding line of instruments. New materials and methods are continually improving the looks, feel and playability of Kremona’s line of handcrafted guitars. This expansion has led to innovative and great sounding acoustic electric nylon string classical guitars, and a brand new line of steel string guitars that are really making waves in the international market. Kremona’s main goal is to produce instruments of incredible quality, with flexible production methods, to build on their already successful history of custom projects. We profiled Kremona Guitars in July; you can read that article here.
In 2014 Kremona created two new signature models for jazz guitarist Lulo Reinhardt, grand-nephew of Gypsy Jazz legend Django Reinhardt. The Lulo Reinhardt Signature Series guitars are built with an exotic look and familiar tone, perfectly suited to Lulo Reinhardt’s style of Jazz.
The lefty Lulo Reinhardt Damien features a solid European Spruce top with a Bulgarian Walnut back and sides and a Honduras Cedar neck with dual action truss rod, Rosewood fingerboard with 500 mm (19”) radius. Hardware components include a Rosewood Montmartre-styled bridge, authentic bone nut and saddle, gold tuning machines and decorative hand inlaid wood binding and Ars Minima rosette. The Venetian cutaway body gives you access to the Walnut fretboard beyond the customary 14th fret and an LR Baggs Element Active preamp makes this gorgeous nylon string ready for the stage or the recording studio.
The left handed Kremona F65CW-SB is handcrafted with a solid German spruce top and solid Indian rosewood back and sides giving it a great tone and nice projection. The lefty Fiesta F65CW-SB is a stage-ready lefty cutaway equipped with a Fishman preamp and dual-source pickup system. The left handed Fiesta F65CW-SB offers a balanced sound making it versatile enough to cover anything from classical to jazz and pop or anything else you may want to toss at it.
Córdoba is working to guide the evolution of Classical and Contemporary nylon string guitars by blending traditional craftsmanship with modern developments that give Cordoba guitars their traditional tone and modern playability. Every Córdoba is handmade, lightweight and responsive, and a direct descendant of the Spanish tradition.
The C10 Lefty is an all-solid Spanish style guitar featuring a Canadian Cedar top with Indian Rosewood back and sides. The C10 is built with the traditional fan bracing and Spanish heel construction that allows full vibration of the soundboard to resonate throughout the entire body. Handmade in a small boutique workshop, it's the perfect choice for serious classical guitarists, or any player looking to upgrade to a concert-level nylon string guitar at a surprisingly affordable price point.
Built with a solid European Spruce top, Rosewood back and sides, the lefty GK Studio Negra features a soft Venetian cutaway that gives you access to the neck beyond the 14th fret, where the neck meets the body. The slightly shallower body depth and tonewood combination give this Cordoba a robust tone with a striking contrast between strong bass tones and a bright snappy treble sound that is perfect for Flamenco. With a slightly shallower body depth, a thinner neck and a Fishman Presys Blend preamp system, the lefty GK Studio Negra is the ideal nylon string for gigging.