“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” - Jane Swan
Choosing your guitar in a shop or online can seem like a herculean task at times.
So how do you decide between a classical guitar and a folk guitar?
Guitars, despite what many may think, are still growing in popularity.
Would you like to start guitar lessons?
Here’s our advice for choosing classical guitars and folk guitars.
What Is a Classical Guitar?
Classical guitars, like most others, has six strings. The main difference between it and electric guitars, folk guitars, and electro-acoustic guitars is that the strings are nylon.
The three highest-pitched strings are made of nylon while the three lowest strings are made of nylon wrapped in metal. Similarly, there are 12 playable frets on the neck.
The neck of a classical guitar is thicker than that of a folk guitar and there’s more space between the strings so your fingers will be farther apart when playing.
Classical guitars are often also known as Spanish guitars.
Because the classical guitar was invented in Spain and is designed with flamenco music in mind. Flamenco guitars are very similar to classical guitars but they have a thinner and lighter neck. The sound is also very different. An Andalusian flamenco or gipsy guitar will have a brighter sound than a classical guitar with a sound that approaches that of a folk guitar.
The strings are also very close to the fretboard which allows the guitarist to quickly move around the neck. A lot of guitarists play classical guitars as soloists and there are plenty of musical genres that can be played with these types of guitar.
These acoustic guitars were invented at the dawn of the 19th century.
Find out more about playing the guitar.
What Is a Folk Guitar?
A folk guitar is usually larger than a classical guitar and has six metal strings. The higher strings are often made of steel while the lower strings are wrapped in bronze.
The neck, unlike a classical guitar, has 14 playable frets. There are 7 more frets on the body. Folk guitars have a thinner neck than classical guitars and are usually easier to play.
On the other hand, this type of guitar is still quite difficult to play for beginners. After all, metal strings can hurt your fingers if you haven’t developed callouses.
Folk guitars are acoustic and include several different types of guitar:
- Dreadnought guitars
- Jumbo guitars
- Electro-acoustic guitars
- Manouche guitars
Dreadnoughts are huge, imposing guitars with a big sound. They’re often sold to beginners.
Jumbo guitars are rounder with richer bass tones.
Electro-acoustics are folk guitars with mics or pickups allowing you to plug them into an amp. You can use them to play acoustic guitar at home and perform on stage with a PA system or amp. The steel strings are good for contemporary music like pop and rock. It should be noted that the strings provide a different sound to classical guitars.
You can get different sound boxes, necks, and bridges can all provide different sounds on folk guitars.
The Differences Between Different Guitars
If you’ve never played the guitar before, you might struggle to tell the sound of two guitars apart. You’ll soon get the hang of it.
Each instrument has a different sound. The differences between classical and folk guitars will help you decide on which is the best for you to buy. They can affect the comfort, playability, sound, and look of the instrument.
A more experienced guitarist might even take the wood of the body and neck into account. The tone of mahogany is different from spruce and a rosewood fingerboard feels different from a maple fretboard.
A classical guitar has 19 frets with 7 of them on the body. Its neck is shorter than a folk guitar. The width of the frets makes finger placement easier, especially for beginners.
A folk guitar neck, on the other hand, has 21 frets and is longer from bridge to nut. Its neck is closer to an electric guitar’s neck than a classical guitar’s neck. There are more playable frets than on a classical or flamenco guitar. This makes them better for beginners to play.
I recommend you opt for a cutaway guitar as you’ll have more accessible frets. This allows you to play the 15th to 21st frets on the guitar.
The strings on a classical guitar are made of nylon. They’re more flexible and easier on your fingers than metal strings and are recommended for beginners. Nylon strings offer more nuance to players as you get more control over them when playing your guitar.
Folk guitars have metal strings. They can hurt your fingers if you don’t haven’t developed callouses yet. Folk, jazz, or electro-acoustic guitars are often played with a plectrum and used for rock, pop, gipsy jazz, or blues music.
Learn about the different ways to hold a guitar.
Which Instrument Should You Choose to Start Playing the Guitar?
So how can you choose the right guitar for the style of music you want to play?
The first things to consider when buying a guitar:
- Value for money
- The type of music you want to play (classical, flamenco, rock, pop, jazz, blues, etc.)
- Physical fitness
- The techniques you’ll be using (picking, strumming, fingerpicking, etc.)
- The sound
- Whether or not you’ll be using an amp.
You should choose an entry-level guitar if you’re just starting to play. There’s no point in getting an expensive Ibanez or Gibson thinking you’ll immediately be able to play like Hendrix or Pink Floyd.
In terms of sound, you can play also any type of music with these two main types of guitar. You need to remember that classical guitars have a softer sound. They’re good for flamenco, classical music, tango, and bossa nova.
The sound of a folk guitar is more percussive. It’s better for barre chords and music like rock, blues, country, pop, manouche, etc. At the very beginning, it can seem easier to play than a classical guitar.
To learn which guitar you should get, we recommend that you go to a music store.
You need to feel comfortable with the neck and the size of the body. Similarly, the body shape can affect the playability, especially when you're sitting down. There's a big difference between sitting with a Fender Stratocaster to a Gibson Flying V, for example.
You also need to think about the weight of the instrument, especially for younger guitarists.
Don't forget to keep your guitar clean.
Have you chosen your guitar?
Next, you can look at the wood used, the length of the neck, and the music you want to play with it.
If you'd like to learn more about how to play the guitar, there are plenty of useful resources online. You can find tablature sites to show you how to play certain songs as well as video tutorials on sites like YouTube. However, if you prefer to be taught how to play, you should consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced guitar tutors on Superprof.
There are three types of guitar tutorial available: face-to-face, online, and group. Each of these come with their pros and cons and it's really up to you to choose which one works best with your learning style and your budget.
Generally speaking, face-to-face tutorials are the most effective as they're just between you and your tutor. Your tutor can focus all their time and energy on you during the tutorial and also plan the tutorials with you in mind. However, this bespoke service comes at a cost and while guitar tutors don't tend to charge a fortune, face-to-face tutorials are usually the most costly type of tutorial available.
Online tutorials are similar to face-to-face tutorials in the respect that they're just between the tutor and the student but their main difference is that the tutor won't be there with you in the room. Instead, they'll be teaching you remotely via webcam and video conferencing software. While these types of tutorials tend to be cheaper than face-to-face tutorials, they do have the disadvantage of not being as effective for hands-on subjects.
Finally, there are group tutorials. With several students in a single tutorial, you won't get as much one-on-one time with your tutor and there's no guarantee that the tutorials will be tailored to you; there are other students that need to be taught, after all. With all the students footing the bill, these tutorials tend to work out the cheapest per student per hour.