You are very beginner and you don’t know how to buy a classical guitar? The first thing we want to emphasize is that you should not buy a bad quality guitar just because the person who is going to play it is a beginner and he still doesn’t know how to play it. I think that’s a very common mistake.
It’s believed that the guitar learner will start a difficult path; he might lose his enthusiasm and his will power, so he’ll get tired after his first try. As he doesn’t know if he’ll continue his guitar learning and training, he usually chooses a “low-end guitar”, one as cheaper as possible. Our first advice is that you shouldn’t skimp on the instrument quality. You could delimit the price, so you don’t start with a concert guitar made by a well-known “luthier”, but with a study guitar.
The reason of this remark is that it is already difficult to adapt an instrument as the guitar, where with we lack strength and elasticity with the fingers, the notes sound bad because we don’t press the strings correctly, etc.
If we add that the instrument itself has a muffled sound (given its low quality); that it doesn’t hold the notes; that its frets have a bad finishing and disturb your hand when you slide it through the neck; that even if you press correctly a fret, it will sound bad because the guitar is not correctly set-up (setting the intonation); that there is an excessive separation between the strings and the fingerboard which complicates the performance, and a long list of factors; so what is supposed to be an exciting adventure of discovery ends up being a difficult and unpleasant path, where few people would dare to get to the finish line.
Our advice is that we should try to follow the nicest path to learn and in order to get it, it’s better to have an instrument that’d be our ally: docile, pleasing to the ear, that lets itself to be played and that could transform the hard studying times into nice moments.
Now we describe specific aspects that you should take into account when it comes to choose a classical guitar to start with (you can read more my guitar buying guide if you are very beginner: Things You Need To Know Before Buying Your First Guitar )
1° – How To Buy A Classica Guitar – The First Thing To Consider: The Sound
It is recommended to test different guitars, the tuned ones at the store. Sit calmly and play one by one the strings in the air, try to hold the sound, its tone, its brilliance, the length of sound, the volume; in short, note whether it “sounds” good for your ear or not and which one sound’s you liked the most. Test different guitar brands and prices. You can even ask an employee to play the same piece in those guitars you liked the most so, even if you don’t know how to play, you’ll better value and compare the guitars.
2° – Frets:
Check one by one the frets. You don’t need to know how to play the guitar in order to do so; you only need to press strongly one by one each guitar string with one finger of your left hand (if you’re right-handed), until you get to the 12th one. You start with the thickest string, the one on top, and you press in the first fret the space between the nut that guides the strings and the first metallic bar or fingerboard’s fret. Once pressed, holding and maintaining that pressure, use the thumb of your right hand to press the string. Listen to the sound. Notice if it sounds good for your ear (or it doesn’t) or if you hear a vibration (something like a “dirty” or distorted sound). If it has a pleasant sound and you don’t notice any vibration, that fret or that note is fine. That vibrating or distorted sound it’s known as “fretting”.
You should check this with every fret and with every string. Imagine that you’re buying a piano and you’re testing one by one each key in order to check that all of them are fine and that all of them sound. Nobody would buy a piano wherewith one of its keys didn’t sound, right? If you find out that any of the notes you checked doesn’t sound fine, you should discard that guitar and ask the clerk for a different one, because a well-made guitar must sound correctly in each of the notes you pluck fret by fret, no matter the price and the quality of the used materials.
3° – Fret’s finish:
You should make sure that your finger won’t hook nor get a scratch when it grazes by a metallic fret in the lower part of the neck. If this happen it’s because the ends haven’t been filed and smoothen adequately, so they stand out. This is an inconvenient when choosing a guitar. Then again, ask for a different guitar and discard this one.
4° – Space between the strings and the neck:
The space that separates the strings form the neck is important and it should be taken into account when choosing a guitar, because the comfort of the performance will depend on it. This space is known as “action”, that is to say, a guitar with a “low action” is the one in which the strings are close to the fingerboard, being more comfortable to be played than “high action” ones. To sum up, playing a “low action” guitar is more comfortable for beginners, but you must be careful, because if it is too low, it could fret as we said before.
The recommended distance for a concert classical guitar is 4 mm in the 6th string (the thickest one) and 3 mm for the first one, measured in the 12th fret and with the guitar correctly tuned.
With time and practice you can decide what kind of “action” suits you best or you like the most, because a higher action gets more intense sounds.
5° – Head:
Even if we can’t appreciate the internal construction of the head, its external aspect and finish will give us an idea about its quality. Let’s think that this part of the guitar, along with the bridge, support all the string’s tension (which is not a small thing). They usually start failing in a short time, jumping backwards when you tune the strings, which makes this tuning impossible.
There are different types of heads. Some of them allow more precision when tuning and some of them, less precision; but the essential thing in this subject is that its quality allows supporting a regular use of the guitar, without giving you more problems.
6º. Neck – fingerboard:
A checking that should always be done is taking the guitar by its body and lining it up at your eyes’ height, looking from the bridge towards the head. In this position you carefully look at the line that describes the fingerboard, which should have a light upward inclination, but that shouldn’t be bent. Generally, if there is an upward curvature, it means that this guitar has been in the store for long time and its neck is suffering over time with its tense and unused strings. Put that guitar aside and ask for a different one without hesitation.
It’s important to check the unions of different parts of the guitar, because they’re another hint that will allow you to find a guitar of an acceptable quality. When we say “unions”, we talk about the union between the head and the neck, the union between the neck and the body of the guitar, the bridge and the top, the rosette that decorates the sound hole, etc. If you see that there is any defect, irregularities in the unions, tiny holes, glue messiness, rests of glue, etc., ask for a different guitar.
It’s recommended to ask what woods were used to build the most important parts of the guitar, because the price will vary significantly depending on the woods used (exotic, common or standard). But don’t think that the fact of using exotic woods will automatically make it a better guitar. Essentially, you have to check that the type of wood used for building the neck, the fingerboard and the bridge is a resistant one, like ebony or cedar-like.
This is a very personal aspect that varies according to many factors, as the purchase power, the preference of buying new or used products, the predilection for a certain brand or manufacturer, the advertising influence, advices, etc.
What we recommend you how to buy a classical guitar, regardless your circumstances, is not letting you dazzle by a famous brand or by a guitar signed by a renamed luthier and take into account all the previous aspects and advices.
It is also recommendable to go to a big store for early ideas, because there you’ll see different types and varieties of guitars for you to test.