The Difference Between Acoustic And Classical Guitars

Classical guitars are an old style of guitar used to play classical guitar repertoire. In modern day they are often used in Latin and jazz genres of music. The acoustic guitar is relatively new and is used in pop, country and rock genres. The main differences between these two types of guitars are the shapes of the body, strings used, and playing techniques. If you are looking to purchase a guitar for yourself, decide what style of guitar you’d like to get into, or learn about the instrument you already possess, look no further! We discuss all the adamant details of the difference between acoustic and classical guitars.

differences between acoustic and classical guitars

Strings

Both styles of guitar use different kinds of string. You do not want to get these two mixed up! You cannot put steel strings on a classical guitar and vice versa! Let’s look more into the two different kinds of strings…

Nylon Strings

Classical guitars use nylon strings. These types of strings are slightly thicker and have lower tension. They are very round and clear in appearance, and are quite soft on the fingertips.

Steel Strings

Steel strings are often made from various metal materials such as bronze or nickel. Steel strings sound bright and resonant, and are a bit harsh on the fingertips.

acoustic vs classical guitar

Body Size and Shape

While both guitars’ shapes may look similar at first glance, there is nuance that really sets both guitars apart.

The classical guitar body is round like a peanut, traditionally they do not include cutaways, which gives them a rich deep tone. 

Acoustic guitars are also round and resonant, but often include a cutout and a flatter body. 

Tuning Pegs

The tuning pegs on a classical guitar turn inwards towards the player. The pegs are often made from plastic.

On an acoustic guitar, the pegs point outward. The pegs are made totally from metal.

Both types of guitar require the strings to be wound around the peg.

Bridge

Classical guitars often have a tie block at the end of the string to tie them up, this takes a lot of practice to get right.

Acoustic guitars have string pegs that fit the string, or sometimes have ball end strings that don’t require any tying.

Neck Width

The neck of a classical guitar is wider and thicker. This means that the strings of this type of guitar are more spread apart, making it optimal for finger picking. 

On an acoustic the fretboard is thinner and the strings are closer together making this choice optimal for strumming chords and using a guitar pick. Finger picking is still possible on an acoustic and many artists utilize fingerpicking as an additional playing technique.

The fretboard

Classical guitars may have little to no fret markers. Some models do include some small dots on the top of the fretboard for only the guitarist to see. Typically it is only one or two, while many models still include none. Using white out or tape is common practice for adding fret markers to the top of your classical guitar’s neck without damage.

Acoustic guitars on the other hand, almost always have their fret markers on the 3rd 5th 7th 9th and 12th frets. This includes on the top and along the front of the fretboard.

classical vs acoustic guitars

Playing Technique

Another major difference between acoustic and classical guitars is the playing technique.

Finger picking 

The classical guitar is mostly played by plucking the strings with the nails. The chord tones are often arpeggiated rather than strummed, but that depends on the genre.

Using a Pick

Using a pick is the most common playing technique on the acoustic guitar. This allows the player to strum the chords.

Playing Posture

Classical guitar players sit with the guitar on the left knee and point the top of the neck up at eye level. They prop up the guitar by using a footstool or a tappert device.

Acoustic players usually sit the guitar on their right leg and lean over. They might also stand up and use a strap. 

steel vs nylon string guitars

Sound Volume and Tone

Each type of guitar will have a vastly different tone and sonic quality, let’s explore some sound features of classical and acoustic guitars.

The color palette of a classical guitar is quite expansive, which gives it the nickname of the little orchestra. 

Typically they have a warm and resonant tone. 

Acoustic guitars often sound bright and twangy. 

nylon vs steel string guitars

Genres and Styles

A major deciding factor for purchasing your guitar is the style of music you want to play. Here are some popular genres that use classical or acoustic style guitars.

Genres That Use Classical Guitar

  • Classical
  • Bossa Nova
  • Latin Genres such as Mariachi and Trio
  • Jazz
  • Flamenco

Famous Nylon String Players

  • Segovia
  • Ana Vidovic
  • John Williams
  • Joao Gilberto
  • Baden Powell
  • Paco De Lucia

Genres That Use Acoustic Guitar

  • Country
  • Folk
  • Pop
  • Rock

Famous Acoustic Guitar Players

Similarities Between Classical and Acoustic Guitars

Related: Standard Tuning In Guitar: How To & All You Need To Know

Frequently asked questions

Is a Classical better than acoustic?

There is no better or worse. You should pick the guitar that inspires you! Thinking about what genres you would like to learn, or which guitarists influence you the most will help you make your decision!

Is classical or acoustic easier to play?

Both instruments are easy to learn, but difficult to master. They can vary from easy open chord songs to intricate pieces, and intense guitar solos. 

In terms of physical build, the thicker neck of a classical guitar might be difficult on small hands, but the high tension and rough steel strings might make a beginners finger tips sore quickly. They have their individual quirks and at the end of the day neither are more or less easy.

Can you use a classical guitar as an acoustic?

The answer is yes! Nylon string guitars are often used to play acoustic songs. They are loved for their mellow tones. However, you should never try to put steel strings on a classical guitar. The high tension steel string can damage the guitar.

Can you play rock on a classical guitar?

Sure! The world is your oyster.

Do classical guitars have the same chords as acoustic?

Yes! The layout of all the notes on the fretboard is exactly the same. In fact many basic chords are used frequently in classical guitar repertoire.

difference between acoustic and classical

Conclusion

The main difference between acoustic and classical guitars is the strings used, body shape, and genres of music. Classical guitar uses nylon strings, while acoustic guitar uses steel strings. Classical guitars are very round and don’t usually include a cutaway, while acoustic guitars do. Nylon string guitars are used in genres of classical, jazz, and latin music. Acoustic guitars are used in pop, rock and country. 

Which guitar inspires you the most?

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