Beginner Classical Guitar Buying Guide: How To Choose Your First Nylon String Guitar

This guide is about what guitar should you buy, or better said, how to buy a guitar. It will help you to choose your first nylon string guitar: a classical or a Spanish one.

How to choose your first nylon string guitar - classical guitar

It is also suitable for acoustic guitars and, even if you can get any valid idea, it is NOT a guide about how to buy an electric guitar.

(Click on this link if you still don’t know what type of guitar suits you best. “ The Important Things You Need To Know Before Buying Your First Guitar” )

That’s how the search of your new guitar begins!

You’ve decided to learn how to play the guitar.

You know that you need a nylon strings guitar – classical guitar. Or maybe an acoustic one.

You need to buy a guitar.


What guitar should you buy when you have no idea about guitars?

What guitar should you buy when you don’t know if you’ll be able to play it for more than a couple of months?

How to buy an adequate guitar with all the possible choices?

A good strategy is buying a “playable” guitar. One that fulfills the minimum requirements without making it the most expensive guitar in the market.

I’ll show you what is and what is not important when it comes to your first guitar.

3 Reasons to Buy a “Playable” Nylon String Guitar Without It Being a High-End One

  1. In these days there are classical guitars for under $200 that will perfectly work to begin and continue for many years (even your whole life if you take care of it).
  2. Anyway, at the beginning, being you who plays the guitar, it will be difficult for you to be able to point out any difference between an “acceptable” guitar of $150 and another one of $300.
  3. Take into account that the treatment you’re going to give to this guitar won’t be very careful, simply because you don’t know how to take care of it.

It’s very likely that you leave the guitar resting against the chair or against the wall (risk of falling and breaking) or on the floor (risk of scratching, kicking…) while looking for your lesson between your papers or videos.

Even if your guitar teacher tells you so, even if you read it in books, magazines or websites, not leaving the guitar resting in any manner is something that you’ll only understand when it fells and its head breaks. As it has happened to me and to other people I know.

What Guitar Should You Buy: Minimum Requirements of Your Guitar.

You look for a guitar that turns your playing-the-guitar adventure into a delightful odyssey. That allows itself to be touched and that has a nice sound.

Evidently, a low-end guitar will be different from a high-end one.

You can’t buy a cheap guitar and expect it to perform as a professional one. But if you’re reading this it’s because you don’t need a professional guitar.

You need a guitar that fulfills some minimum requirements.

I tell you that it needs to fulfill some requirements because not every guitar is good to begin with.

It’s a common mistake to think that any stick with six strings works for beginning to play guitar.

Probably the main reason of many beginners to quit learning how to play guitar is having a bad guitar.

The three minimum requirements that you’re going to look for in your guitar are:

  1. Sound
  2. That it doesn’t fret
  3. That is easy to press the strings

This Is How the Story Begins.

Put a limit on the amount of money you’re going to spend. Look at physical stores and websites to find out what the market prices are.

Having a clear budget in your mind, go to some guitar stores.

If you could go with someone that plays the guitar, it would be better.

If it’s a specialized store that only sells guitars, it would be perfect.

If it’s a music store and there are a lot of guitars, it would be really good.

These stores usually have someone among their staff that plays the guitar and that would be glad of testing the guitar you choose.

Avoid the stores that sell the guitar, but don’t allow testing it. Unless you have a person of trust that plays the guitar, who could go with you to buy it and who could be allowed to test it.

Run away from the hyper-markets where you put the guitar on the cart and you buy it.

Once you get to the store, ask for the guitars that adjust to your budget.

“I’d like to test a classical guitar for beginners… cheap… around $150… under $250…medium-end…”

If you’re lucky and they have different guitars that adjust to your budget, and you went to the store with that friend that plays the guitar, it’s the moment of testing them.

If you didn’t go with any guitarist friend, tell the store clerk that you would like to listen how they sound and ask him to play something with each of them.

It’s really important that he plays exactly the same in each guitar he tests.

You only have to focus on which guitar has the sound that you like the most.

I repeat: he must play exactly the same in each nylon string guitar!

If you have many possibilities, ask him to play different guitars of different prices (always within your budget!). A cheap one, an average one and one of your budget price-cap can be enough if you look for adjusting the price.

Comparing a couple of guitars that you liked for their aspect and that are at your budget limit is another option if you are sure that you’re going to spend your budget price-cap.

Take into account that you’ll also need to buy a case, a tuner (indispensable), a guitar stand (highly recommended), an extra set of strings, a nut (you can buy it later),…

Your time has come!

You have listened to the store clerk or to your friend playing the guitar. One of the guitars has caught you attention.

Get the guitar whose sound like you the most and test it yourself!

I know you might feel inhibit. You don’t even know how to hold it!

Go ahead!

Imitate the clerk’s posture or that of your friend.

Hold the guitar and feel it.

Check that the guitar’s size adjusts to your own size (you have to be reasonably comfortable).

Especially if you’re testing acoustic guitars since they usually are bigger than the classical ones.

Hold it for a while and make a comment about anything that makes you uncomfortable. It’s normal that you feel “weird”, but express your feelings and resolve any doubt.

Having reached this point and knowing every beginner’s insecurities, you can ask your friend to do for you what I’m going to write next.

Or you can do it yourself. You don’t need to know how to play the guitar for doing it. It’s a couple of important things that you can check yourself.

If, for any reason, you can’t do it yourself (I know for some people it’s difficult to “act” in public), buy it, take home the guitar you’ve liked the most. Test it calmly, without the pressure of being on the store, and go back to the store if you find any problems.

The latter is not an advisable option, but what I mean is that you shouldn’t forget to check that your guitar has the minimum requirements.

Easy Checking of the 3 Minimum Requirements

  • That it’s easy to press the guitar strings

One of the factors that influences the most on the guitar’s “playability” for a beginner is the existing distance between the string and the fingerboard (the neck’s wood that is closest to the strings), which is known in the guitar argot as the “action”.

A guitar with “low action” is one in which the strings are close to the fingerboard.

The ideal guitar, from the point of view of comfort to play it, is one that has a “low action”. It’s easier to press the string against the fingerboard when it’s closer to it (low action) than when it’s far from it (high action).

The problem is that a too low “action” could produce undesired sounds when you play the guitar. The latter is known as “fretting the guitar”.

In concert classical guitars, a distance of 3mm on the first string and 4mm on the sixth string is recommended. (These measures are different on other types of guitar: around 2,5mm and 3mm on the flamenco ones and around 2mm and 2,4mm on the acoustic ones).

This distance (between the upper part of the metallic fret and the lower part of the sting) is always measured with the tuned guitar and in the twelfth fret.

An easy way to verify this distance is:

Put two 5 cents coins staked under the first string in the twelfth fret, resting on the metallic frets 11 and 12. The two coins lift 3,34mm. The string will graze or will be lightly elevated by the coins.

In order to check the sixth string, put under it two 50 cents coins staked. The two coins lift 4,76mm. The string will be lightly elevated by the coins. (If you want to check the 4mm, a 50 cents coin put next to a 1 dollar coin lift 4mm).

If the coins graze or lift the strings a bit, the guitar “action” is the recommended one.

If the coins get loosely in, the guitar has a high action and it will be more difficult to be played.

If three coins get in without grazing the string, try with another guitar.

If you can only put a coin and it barely grazes the string, check that the guitar doesn’t “fret”.

  • That the guitar doesn’t fret.

You’ve read that a low action guitar is easier to play, but if it is extremely low, it could “fret”.

What is guitar’s fret?

When you press a guitar’s string and instead of emitting a note that sounds clean and clear, it produces some kind of buzzing or snapping sound along with the note, you could say it “frets”.

Fretting could be produced by a bad performance of the guitarist (who has wrongly put his finger) or by the guitar.

There are many reasons why a guitar could fret, but you don’t care about any of them at the moment.

The only thing you want to do is to make sure that the guitar you take home doesn’t fret because of the guitar itself.

So when you’re playing the guitar at home and any note sounds bad, you’ll know that you need to improve your performance.

This is very different to have a guitar that frets and that will sound bad no matter what you do. The latter doesn’t give you any clue to improve your technique to sound good.

These are two audios to help you to identify the fretting sound compared to a clean sound:

Clean sound

Fretting sound

Back to work.

You’ll check yourself that the guitar doesn’t fret!

Hold the guitar the way the clerk did.

Press strongly with the index finger of your left hand (the right hand if you’re a lefty).

On the sixth string. The string that is closest to the sky and further to the ground.

On the first fret. The space between the part in which the strings rest (the nut), that part that also separates the guitar’s long stick (fingerboard) from the wood that has the tuning pegs in which the strings are held, and the first metallic part embedded in the fingerboard.

As closely as possible to the metallic part embedded in the wood. Always next to the metallic fret that is closest to the guitar’s body, to the guitar hole (sound hole).

With the thumb of your right hand (the left hand if you’re a lefty) you’re going to pluck the string that you’re pressing with the other hand.

At the same height of the guitar hole (sound hole).

Rest the finger (or the nail if it’s long) on the string.

Press it lightly down, let the thumb slips and let the string out.

The thumb rests on the next string while you listen to the sound you just produced.

If the sound is clean and clear, you do the same in the same string but in the second fret.

If it “frets”, make sure that your left hand finger is pressing strongly and close to the metallic fret that is closest to the guitar’s sound hole. Check that it’s your guitar’s “fault”, not yours.

Repeat the process in every fret until the twelfth one.

Change the string and check the twelve frets.

Test the six strings.

When you have checked all the frets, it’s possible that you find some of them in which the string “frets”.

Comment it with the clerk.

Sometimes changing the string solves the problem.

Let the clerk be the one that solves the problem.

Your mission is to get home with a guitar that doesn’t fret!

  • Sound

You have chosen your guitar thanks to the sound you liked when the clerk played it.

If you want to check the sound difference between two guitars you can do this:

Without resting your left hand on any string, pluck the sixth string with the thumb of your right hand at the same height of the guitar’s sound hole (the guitar’s hole).

Pay attention to the sound.. To the timbre, the tone, the brilliance, the length of time the sound takes to disappear, how much you like it…

Change the guitar and press the same string.

Do the same with each of the six strings.

If any of the strings (or all of them) has little sound; the string’s sound is suddenly lost or it disappears immediately, it’s highly likely that you never make that guitar sound good. Forget about that guitar.

The guitar whose sound you like the most is the one that you have to take with you.

Other Things to Check.

If you buy the guitar in a professional store, it’s highly likely that you don’t find the things I’ll talk about next, but take a look at the guitar’s finish.

At the details that catch your attention.

Slowly slip your hand upward and downward through the fingerboard, with your fingers touching its lower part in order to check if every time you pass by a metallic fret your fingers hook or get a scratch.

If that’s the case, change the guitar.

Take a look at the assembly of the guitar’s parts and check that there’s not glue messiness, blows, cracks, scratches… obvious defects.

 What Guitar Should You Buy and the Big Question.

Although you’ve arrived to the end of the article, I know you still don’t have an answer to an important question.

It’s every beginner’s question: The big question.

What guitar brand do you recommend me to start with?

If you’re a follower of this blog you already know the answer!

Make sure that your guitar fulfils the minimum requirements I just talked about and forget about brands.

I assure you that you’ll have a good start with the guitar, no matter the brand that fulfils these requirements.

You already have your guide to go shopping with a couple of ideas that will help you to know what guitar you should buy, or better said how to buy a guitar.

I hope it helps.

Good look and leave a comment if you have any question!

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