Do you ever find yourself confused about the different types of guitars? You may be wondering: Is a Spanish guitar similar to classical guitar? Are flamenco guitars and classical guitars different instruments?
These are the questions we are going to answer today.
Whether you’re a novice guitar player who wants to learn the instrument or just a curious music enthusiast, this article will inform you of everything you need to know about Spanish guitars. It will walk you through the basics, its differences from other types of guitars, down to tips on how you can play it yourself!
So, What Exactly is a Spanish Guitar?
A Spanish guitar is an acoustic guitar with six nylon or gut strings. If you’re wondering if that’s exactly what a classical guitar is, then you’re right. A Spanish guitar is also called a classical guitar, which is why people often use both terms interchangeably.
Nylon strings are commonly used for Spanish guitars, and this makes them easy to use for both plucking and strumming. The nylon strings also give a softer and warmer sound than steel-string guitars.
Aside from nylon, carbon fiber or composite treble strings for Spanish guitars have also become popular.
Fun fact: The strings of Spanish guitars were traditionally made out of sheep intestines called cat-gut.
The body of a Spanish guitar is usually crafted out of hardwood, such as rosewood. For the top, spruce or cedar is typically used.
You will often hear Spanish guitar in classical music, Latin music, flamenco, and folk music. Aside from these, you can also encounter it in other contemporary styles such as country, rock, jazz, bluegrass, and pop.
Is Spanish Guitar Only Made in Spain?
Although Spanish guitars originated from Spain, they are not exclusively made there. You can find numerous manufacturers of Spanish guitars all over the world.
But as its place of origin, Spain still remains the main hub. The brand Ramírez Guitars is one of the most well-known manufacturers in Spain. It has already spanned five generations of the Ramírez family producing Spanish classical guitars.
You may also find different types of Spanish guitars from major electric guitar companies, like Epiphone, Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson. Acoustic guitar manufacturers such as Taylor, Yamaha, and Ovation also produce them.
What is the Difference Between a Spanish and a Classical Guitar?
A Spanish guitar and a classical guitar mean the same thing.
As said earlier, people often use the terms “classical guitar” and “Spanish guitar” interchangeably. It’s because they refer to the same type of instrument: a lightly braced acoustic guitar with a medium-sized body, and a broad fingerboard.
The bridge of this guitar is meant to assist plucking with fingers. Its neck or body junction is at the 12th fret, and it is designed to use nylon strings.
Spanish Guitar vs. Acoustic Guitar
The term “acoustic” is generally accepted as a reference to steel-string acoustic guitars. In this case, the main difference between a Spanish and an acoustic guitar is the type of string that they use.
A Spanish guitar uses nylon strings, while an acoustic guitar uses steel strings. These two types of strings produce different kinds of sounds.
Still, both guitars are made of wood. They are mostly made of tonewoods such as spruce or cedar tops, mahogany or rosewood backs, and a variety of other wood types.
Spanish Guitar vs. Flamenco Guitar
Spanish classical guitars and flamenco guitars are actually different. Even though they may look extremely similar to the naked eye, you will notice their differences in their construction and sound.
Spanish classical guitar has a deeper body. They are made of thicker wood, which makes them heavier than a flamenco guitar. The thicker wood also makes it have more bass.
On the other hand, a flamenco guitar is made of thinner wood, particularly the top and sides. Because of this, it has a more percussive sound when using flamenco techniques. Its sound is also brighter and drier than a classical guitar, and it produces a deeper timbre.
What Makes a Spanish Guitar Sound Different from a Regular Guitar?
A Spanish guitar functions similarly to other acoustic guitars but it produces a unique, soft, and sweet tone that is unmatched.
The Spanish guitar is also much louder than an acoustic guitar. The sound it produces is fuller and with more depth, compared with an acoustic guitar which has a more metallic tone.
An experienced Spanish guitarist can substantially alter the timbre of the notes they play by using a range of right-hand techniques. At the same time, they can also use left-hand effects like vibrato, slides, and slurs to give the tunes a lyrical quality.
The “top” of a Spanish guitar works as a soundboard. This soundboard amplifies the vibrations of the strings like most guitars. The material used to make the top, as with other acoustic guitars, can have a significant impact on the instrument’s tone. For instance, Spanish guitars with spruce tops have a crisp and bright tone, but those with cedar tops have a warmer but less defined sound.
How to Play the Spanish Guitar
Here’s what you should know when learning to play the Spanish guitar.
- Traditionally, you can play the Spanish guitar with the right-hand fingers rather than a pick. You would want to grow your nails long to let the guitar produce a louder, more focused sound.
- A Spanish guitar is played while seated. You can place the Spanish guitar on your left leg that is raised with a footstool, while your right arm holds the guitar in place. This position allows for greater mobility and access to the strings and fingerboard.
- In plucking the strings, a plectrum or bow is commonly not used. Instead, you can use your fingers to produce a polyphonic sound. Spanish guitar music usually sustains two to four musical lines and voices.
- If you will play pop-oriented music, you can opt to play the Spanish guitar with a plectrum or bow.
- The fingerboard of a Spanish guitar is a bit wider than other guitars. This provides more space between the strings while plucking.
- You may use nylon string to give a unique, speckled, and rich color palette sound to the Spanish guitar.
- The Spanish guitar is usually intended to be played acoustically. However, electronic pickup systems have also been used in many products for live performances.
Brief History of the Spanish Guitar
The history of the Spanish guitar spans over four centuries. Its ancestor is the baroque guitar, and it dates back to the late 18th century. Historians mostly link the guitar from the Greek kithara lyre.
Some notable arrangers, composers, and Spanish guitar players in history include:
- Andrés Segovia (1893-1987)
- Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
- Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)
- Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710)
- John Williams (1941)
- Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)
Today, many contemporary artists continue to influence the music world with the use of Spanish guitar in their music. Such artists include Sting, Willie Nelson, Peter White, Eric Clapton, and Eddie Van Halen.
While different types of guitars may look very similar to the naked eye, their differences can still be vast depending on their construction or the sound it produces. Just like classical and flamenco guitars that share the same Spanish background, their construction actually has some important differences.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.