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Classical Guitar Lessons: Selecting A Guitar

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I'm often asked by,
by many people about how to select a
And you know, just through the course of
studying an instrument.
Depending on your age, or how many years
you study, it's,
it's important to select the right kind of
guitar at the right time.
You, you might be an individual looking to
upgrade your current instrument.
You might be a parent that's looking into
buying your child's first guitar.
Or maybe looking for an upgrade from their
current one.
You, you may be a young person that needs
to explain to your parents
the necessity for an upgraded guitar, and
thus a guitar of a higher cost.
So this is, this chat here is really for
all of you.
There are many factors to consider with,
with selecting a guitar,
but there are, you know, four basic
factors I think we can all agree on.
That you're considering, you're
considering the price range you're
considering the string length, that's the
length from the bridge to the nut here
the typical guitar is 650 milil,
The, the wood that makes up the top of the
guitar or the soundboard,
spruce versus cedar.
And that's kind of a personal choice more
often than not.
And also, the commitment level or interest
level of the individual student.
So, let's go into price ranges.
Price ranges, I have to say are fairly
accurate fairly accurate measure of quali,
the quality of the instrument.
And depending on the luthier, the dealer,
if you go through a, a dealer, a guitar
Those prices that the dealer sets or if
you go direct to the luthier,
their fees for their guitar are really
determined by
a regional, a national, or in, in some
cases in the really expensive instruments,
the really expensive concert instruments,
instruments, an international community
response to the luthier's product.
When a luthier is just starting out, the
prices can be on the low side and
occasionally you can even find a luthier
that's really within their building just
their first 40 or 50 guitars.
And they can be very, very good right
away, kind of a diamond in the rough,
and then you can find some really good
luthiers that,
really are in the 2 to $3000 price range
for a concert guitar.
Until of course, they develop a
If they are building really good guitars,
they will develop a reputation.
It's almost inevitable.
And then their price will go up.
That luthier's reputation depends on the
quality of the materials that they use.
The playability, particularly in the, in
the neck for the left hand.
The, a good projection of, of sound and
tone evenness of the, the sound and tone
the first string to the sixth string
should have a certain amount of evenness.
Some, some people like a guitar that's not
too even has a little bit more character.
A good amount of color and tamber from
ponticello to tostile.
Good craftsmanship and the vigual, visual
details like the rosette.
Some luthiers make their own rosette.
Some just use a premanufactured rosette.
You know, the purfling and the various
details around there.
Good craftsmanship is even in the, in how
the wood is, is cortisoned and
if it's, if it's, if it's cut just right
it will even have all these like
little reflect light really beautifully,
so some people are looking for that.
That's another example of craftsmanship.
Another factor there is the, the
reputation is,
goes down of course, if there's been any
reports of structural
problems like cracking or brace buzzes,
things of that nature.
For a starter classical guitar, I mean
I'd, I'd recommend Yamaha guitars.
I think for a factory made guitar from
$200 to $500
those are really quite okay to get started
There are other companies that make
guitars too, and you can use them.
But I've found that Yamaha is, seems to be
pretty consistent.
They're not going to be the same kind of
quality as a handmade guitar by
a good luthier.
Therefore, the price is not, you know, as
So it's good to get started on something
like that.
So, just for some,
some parents that may be reluctant to, to
buy that, that upgraded guitar.
It's, it's often difficult to understand
why a student needs a new guitar.
If their hands are getting around on it
fine you know,
why does one out grow it, how does a
student out grow a guitar?
And and what we often mean when we say a
student outgrows a guitar,
it's not really necessarily even in the
physical thing of it.
But they which they can, but also
musically a student's technical ability.
Their musical ability.
Their expressive ideas.
Their intellect.
As those progress their guitar becomes
more and more inferior.
It's not able to actually, you know, get
out what they're hearing in their ear or
what they're trying to do.
And that inferior guitar will eventually
stifle the student's progress and
So just like, just like any, anything in
there is a difference between a $1,000
a $6,000 guitar, and God forbid, a $15,000
They go up nowadays as high as thirty or
As long as you're dealing with an honest
dealer, a luthier,
those prices are going to be very accurate
and there really is a difference.
Just like a $15 bottle of wine versus a
$50 bottle of wine.
Price is relative to reputation.
There are various taste makers.
There are concert guitarists, teachers
that you know,
that often teach really high level
And there are students that are bringing
all these you know, good guitars to them.
A lot of times I'm finding out about
really good luthier's,
young luthier's from my students.
So these are the,
the various taste makers in the community
that, that make this determination.
And so just as an experienced palate can
determine different qualities of wine or
Developed and experienced ear will over
time discern the differences between
the qualities of these guitars and
therefore their price ranges.
Usually like the top is, is really a big
factor there, cedar and spruce.
Are the two choices mainly for the sound
That's mainly a personal taste issue.
I mean if you like darker sounds,
warmer sounds cedar maybe something that
you want, you want to look to.
Spruce is som, sometimes not as dark or
But the upside with spruce is that you
often you get more clarity, you get more
sustain per note.
So there's often a tradeoff between the
I, I don't necessarily think that one is
better than the other,
it's just what you're really looking for
in all those those those factors.
Clarity, color, sustain,
sustain of each of the individual notes.
And then of course there are the various
approaches to building
your traditional fan brace.
And that's, a fan brace is just anything
from seven or
nine strips of wood that are underneath
the top in a fan.
That's why they call it a fan brace.
And that's the traditional Spanish way of,
of bracing the top so
that the, the sound transmits evenly
through the top.
There are some newer trends of the last
20, 30 years.
A lattice brace,
and a lattice brace guitar is basically a
top that has very thin
strips of wood all along in a grid-like
fashion glued underneath the top.
That allows the luthier to build to make
the sound board much thinner than
they would normally have to.
So they often, lattice brace guitars have
a very heavy and thick back and
sides, and a very light top that you don't
want to hit too much with gulpays and,
and, and tapping and percussion and that
sort of thing.
And now the newest trend of the last I
don't know 20, 25 years is laminate tops.
Other names for these tops are double
tops, sandwich tops laminate top really
describes it well, it's actually like two
strips, very thin
strips of wood with, with is sort of the
pieces of bread, and meat in the middle,
is often some kind of synthetic material
like in, in the case of.
The guitar I play, which is a double top.
And there's a sheet of Nomex, which is a
synthetic material.
It's, it's very light, but very strong.
And they drill a lot of holes in it like a
honeycomb kind of thing, and
then they put the two strips of, ver,
they put the two very thin tops on either
side of it, hence sandwich or double top.
They found that there's been a lot of
improvements in volume with these,
with these instruments.
So, these approaches again according to
your tastes have varying degrees
of improvement in the color
the projection sustained from note from
individual note to individual note.
I mean, sustain can be an important thing
that you're looking for if you're,
if you're playing a lot of, a lot of Bach
Clarity, same thing.
All depending on the guitar and the
individual luthier.
For those of you that have smaller hands,
I've taught a lot of female guitarists of
all ages.
And some, some of them can have quite
small hands, so consider
but also also boys and men with smaller
hands, same, you know, same thing.
It's, consider, you know, string lengths
that are shorter
than even the standard 650 millimeter,
which this is.
This is just a standard 650 millimeter
even though my fingers are,
are quite long.
I've seen several 630 millimeter and
640 millimeter string lengths which were
perfectly fine instruments.
Another thing lastly, consider the
interest level of the student.
Whether you're a teacher that's talking
with the student and the parent, or
a parent considering an upgrade I'll just
give you two hypothetical and
contrasting examples.
The first example, if you, if the student
is studying for
five years, practices like three, four
hours a day, progressing rapidly.
You know, and they need this new guitar,
and, you know,
their current guitar is a Yamaha that's
like $300 to $500, you,
I think as a guitar, a student model
guitar in the $3,000 to $4,000 range or
even a concert guitar in the $5,000 to
$6,000 range would be ideal.
Provided that the guitar, and the teacher
can determine this,
rather the guitar is musically ahead of
the student, so that the student has to
kind of reach to find all the wonderful
things that that instrument can do.
Contrasting example.
If you have, if there's a student that
rarely or never practices, shows little
enthusiasm, and you don't have a lot of
disposable income or cash lying around.
And yet it's time for, you know, to
consider a new instrument or,
or maybe the student really,
really wants a new guitar cuz they're sick
of their current guitar.
They're sick of their current Yamaha, $400
But, but they never practice, you know
depending on the situation,
maybe wait it out a couple years before
spending $5,000 on on a new instrument.
So that's my two cents on, on selecting a
guitar, selecting an instrument.
I hope, I hope that it's that's it's
useful and helpful to you.