Classical vs Acoustic Guitar: The Key Differences

Classical and acoustic guitars may be strikingly similar; but to the trained eye, these two differ in physical as well as key features aspects.

Close your eyes and try painting an image of an acoustic guitar.

Now, do it again, but this time try picturing a classical guitar. Do you see two drastically different instruments?

If you’ve got little to no experience with guitars, chances are you’ll find it challenging to distinguish a classical guitar from an acoustic one. If you thought they look pretty much the same, you’re not alone!

Just like the way many of us believe that jam and jelly, highways and freeways, and emoji and emoticon are all the same thing, classical and acoustic guitars sometimes confuse some people as well. And it’s easy to see why—the two do share a handful of similarities at first glance.

In this article, we’ll be giving you a quick (but definitely informative) walkthrough of what sets the two guitar types apart—and of course, ultimately help you see which better suits the guitarist in you!

Classical and Acoustic Guitar Profile

Before anything else, we need to get our basics right.

Let’s first talk about classical guitars. Guitarists that are used to this type would tend to disregard picks. They’d prefer to use their fingers as classical guitar strings are based on soft and highly flexible nylon known for producing warm and raw tones.

Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, may be the most familiar to novice guitarists. It is, in fact, one of the best-selling guitar types globally. They are known to produce a crisp and clear sound as produced by their (sometimes coated) steel strings.

So what makes the two seemingly similar?

Of course, just like any guitar that you’ll encounter, the two would have six strings, a fretboard, and a set of tuning pegs. What makes them appear as “cousins” is their round, wooden bodies that are hollow. This hollow body (for the resonance of string vibrations) has a soundhole that is also present in both guitar types.

Moreover, the two are usually set to the same standard tuning of EADGBE (which you can learn more about in this article).

Physical Differences

On the surface level (that is the construction of a guitar), you can readily spot some differences – and these have bigger implications on your possible experience with the instrument.

So what are the physical differences between a classical and an acoustic guitar?

● Guitar Neck Size

Compared to classical guitars, acoustic guitars have narrower necks. Hence, you would also observe that acoustic guitar strings have smaller spaces in between. Needless to say, an acoustic guitar’s fretboard would also be slimmer compared to that of a classical one.

This would entail some impact on your guitar-playing experience (which we’d detail later in the article). But to provide a glimpse, you might find it more difficult to switch from chord to chord on a classical guitar’s wider fretboard – especially when you have small hands!

An upside for classical guitars, though, is that bigger spaces in-between strings make it less likely that you’ll mute your strings by accident.

● Truss Rod

Truss rods are generally absent in classical guitars and would be present in all acoustic ones.

But wait, what are truss rods? Well, they are rods (of course, can’t it be more obvious than that) that run along the bridge of the guitar. As you can imagine, steel strings can apply a significant amount of force to your guitar’s neck when strummed. A truss rod counters this stress, making sure that you’ll have your bridge intact.

How do you spot one? If you have an acoustic guitar, try viewing the soundhole longitudinally with the bridge facing away from you. You’ll spot a bolt!

As we know, classical guitars do not use steel strings and thus would not need such reinforcement.

● Body Size and Shape

On average, an acoustic guitar would be relatively larger compared to a classical one. Moreover, acoustic guitars tend to have a more curved back and thicker sides. This renders acoustic guitars to be slightly heavier.

● Fretboard Markers

If you’re on your first couple of weeks learning the guitar, you may be well-versed in this. Acoustic guitars generally have fretboard markers (typically at the center of the fretboard) to guide you. Classical guitars usually lack these markers, but a few have them.

● Guitar Bridge

A typical classical guitar’s bridge has a traditional wrap around it. Basically, threads are tied in a knot around the bridge to hold them in place. Conversely, strings are kept in place by pegs on the bridge of an acoustic guitar.

● Headstock and Tuning Pegs

A classical guitar’s tuning peg is made of metal and plastic, whereas a standard acoustic guitar’s entire tuning peg is made up of steel.

Differences in Key Features

Of course, the differences do not end solely on the guitar structure. The aforementioned differences have bigger implications on the individual guitar type’s key features.

Let’s see how these seemingly simple structural differences would mold your playing experience:

● The Strings

The strings on the classical guitar appear to be somewhat more transparent when seen, which is due to the use of nylon as the primary material.     Acoustic guitar strings, on the other hand, are composed of steel. These acoustic strings are occasionally coated with stronger material to improve sound or durability (depending on the manufacturer).

Nylon, as compared to steel, implores lower tensile stress and is easier on the fingers. Finger soreness is more common among beginners who start with acoustic guitars.

● The Sound

Classical guitars have a more evocative, pleasant, and soothing tone than many modern guitars (and often times sound more resonant). When compared to the other type, acoustic guitars sound more robust, strong, and piercing as steel strings sound twangy and rich when strummed.

● The Volume

When comparing their loudness, classical guitars tend to sound softer. Acoustic guitars are louder as attributed to their string type and construction. With the sound and volume, classical guitars seem more romantic, while acoustic guitars seem more captivating.

● Playing Techniques

As said, classical and acoustic guitars can be different structurally – which can affect the manner by which you’d use your strumming hand.

Rather than using a pick, a classical guitar is frequently played with the fingers. Several classical guitarists grow their fingernails for strumming to generate a stronger and more accurate tone. Due to higher tensile tension, a pick is preferred by acoustic guitarists.

Here is a short, sweet, and straightforward comparison between the two guitars:

Picking the Right Guitar for You: Final Words

In this article, we glimpsed over individual profiles of acoustic and classical guitars – giving the limelight on what makes them similar and different. Ultimately, we’ve put these edges and dents head-to-head and see how they’ll make your playing experience unique.

“So what’s the right guitar for me?”

After going through everything, you should now know that there is no “right” answer. A more accurate term would be “better-suited.”

Weighing pros and cons, we’ve come into a full balance. And that little weight needed depends on your situation – who you are as an artist, your experience level, your budget, and the genre you play.

Just like for a painter, there is no correct brush – all there is to do is choose the best-suited one for the picture you’d want on your canvas.

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Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.