Best Nylon String Guitars

Updated July 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

26 Models Considered
9 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
156 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best nylon string guitars

Last Updated July 2020

If you’re planning to buy a guitar, one of the critical decisions you must make is whether you want one with nylon strings or steel strings. Beginners often find nylon strings easier to play than steel strings because they’re softer and gentler on the fingertips. However, you shouldn’t base your buying decision on comfort alone. Truth be told, all guitars create a bit of fingertip discomfort for the beginner at least until some solid calluses are formed! Rather, you should base your buying decision largely on the sound produced by a nylon string guitar and the type of music you want to play.

This buying guide on nylon string guitars will provide the information you need to find the instrument of your dreams. Read on to learn about the important characteristics of nylon string guitars and what to look for as you shop. To make shopping easier, we provide information about several of our favorite nylon string guitars for your information.

The neck of a nylon string guitar is wider than the neck of a steel string guitar. If you’re a beginner with small hands, keep this in mind as you select an instrument.

What is a nylon string guitar?

A nylon string guitar is also known as a classical guitar. These guitars are traditionally used to play classical and folk music. Of course, you can use a classical guitar with nylon strings to play any type of music you want, but generally speaking, you’ll get the best traditional classical or folk sound from a nylon string guitar.

Just by looking, you can discern a nylon string guitar from a steel string guitar because the first three strings (E, A, and D) are very light and pliable so light, in fact, that they look like plastic. The next three strings (G, B, and E) consist of an inner nylon core wrapped in wire. These two sets of strings are respectively called the trebles and the basses.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re buying a guitar for a beginner, consider purchasing a guitar that comes with its own gig bag. If the guitar you’re interested in doesn’t come with a bag, you could buy one separately.


Staff  | BestReviews

Nylon string guitars vs. steel string guitars

Before we explain the differences between nylon and steel string guitars, it’s important to note that the fingerings are the same regardless of which instrument you’re playing. For example, a G chord is played the same way on a nylon string guitar as it is on a steel string guitar. The differences between these two instruments lie in other areas.

Physical differences

Neck: Nylon string guitars differ physically from steel string guitars in several important ways. The neck of a nylon string guitar is wider, which means the fingers of your left hand will need to stretch farther to reach the frets. For beginners who are struggling to learn chords and for students with smaller hands, this is something to ponder. It doesn’t mean you can’t use a nylon string guitar, but you should probably try holding both types before you make a decision.

Body: The body of a nylon string guitar takes on the traditional guitar shape. There are usually no cutaways (indentations in the body that make your reach easier), and the body tends to be smaller than that of a steel string guitar. That said, you could always invest in a 3/4-size classical guitar if size is an issue.

Fret markers, tuning pegs, and truss rod: Nylon string guitars don’t usually have fret markers (white dots) on the front of the fretboard. The tuning pegs are positioned slightly differently (behind the neck) and tend to have open gears. And because nylon strings do not exert as much pressure as steel strings, most classical guitars don’t have a truss rod running through the neck to bolster neck strength, though some do.

Acoustic differences

The sound of a guitar with stretchy nylon strings is softer and darker than the sound of a guitar with stiff steel strings. The resulting music is mellow and less bright. Most people play classical guitar with their fingers rather than a pick. Playing fingerstyle allows you to achieve a rich, smooth sound and to finesse your attacks.

If you prefer to use a pick, you might feel more at home with a steel string guitar. In fact, many classical guitars do not have a pickguard to protect the body of your guitar from accidental pick jabs.

What type of music sounds best on a classical guitar?

As the name suggests, classical music is one of the best-served musical styles on a nylon string guitar. This includes the English Renaissance sounds of John Dowland (1563–1626), the jaunty Baroque compositions of Antoni Vivaldi (1678–1741) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), and the flashy and romantic flamenco sounds of composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901–1999), among many others.

If you like folk music, you’ll find no shortage of pieces for nylon string guitar, from the Celtic folk-fusion works of modern composer John Doan to the American folk songs made famous by strummer Pete Seeger and cultural icon Bob Dylan

Of course, you can play any type of music you want to on your nylon string guitar; it’s not against the rules to play rock music on a classical guitar! However, if you want to pair the best possible guitar with a musical style, it’s generally considered more aesthetically pleasing to pair a classical guitar with classical and folk music. 

EXPERT TIP

A classical guitar player needs a music stand to properly display their sheet music. Trying to read sheet music on a flat table or desk leads to poor posture, which can affect the quality of the sound and lead to bad playing habits.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Handmade vs. factory-made

Most classical guitars on the commercial market are made in a factory. While human hands are undoubtedly involved in the construction at some point, mass-produced classical guitars are not considered to be “handmade” guitars.

If you want a handmade classical guitar, you might be able to purchase one from a big-name brand, but you’ll need to read the fine print about the manufacturing process. Make sure the guitar has spent some time in the hands of a professional luthier, a person who handcrafts string instruments. A company may partner with a luthier for some or all of their guitar lines. If a classical guitar was made in a luthier’s shop, you can expect that it received a lot of extra attention and fine-tuning. The hands-on work that takes place in a luthier shop may be executed by a head luthier or an apprentice. Because of the extra labor, the price will be higher.

Action

The distance between a guitar’s strings and its fretboard is known as the instrument’s “action.” Each guitarist may have a degree of action low, high, or somewhere in between that they prefer. The lower the action, the closer the strings are to the fretboard and the buzzier the sound. The higher the action, the farther the strings are from the fretboard and the brighter the sound. You’ll have to press harder on these strings, which could result in fatigue and finger soreness.

Tonewood

Classical guitars are made of resonant wood called tonewood. When shopping for any guitar, classical or not, you’ll need to choose your tonewood or tonewoods (many guitars have one type of wood for the fretboard and another for the top). Common tonewoods include ash, cedar, basswood, spruce, mahogany, and maple.

As you can imagine, each of these tonewoods has different properties that affect a guitar’s sound. Spruce, a popular choice, is known for its resonance. Mahogany tends to produce a richer sound. Basswood is one of the cheapest options. If your budget is your top concern, you might wish to forgo tonal issues and choose the most affordable option.

EXPERT TIP

If you purchase an electric classical guitar, you will need to buy an amp and cord as well. Don’t forget to budget for these important accessories.


Staff  | BestReviews

Nylon string guitar prices

Inexpensive: You can purchase a student nylon string guitar for less than $100. The guitar may be 1/2 or 3/4 size, and it may be made of basswood in full or in part. You shouldn’t expect phenomenal sound quality or durability from an instrument like this. Still, a classical guitar for under $100 could be the workhorse a beginner needs to get a feel for playing classical guitar.

Mid-range: For $100 to $200, you can buy a nylon string guitar with decent tonewood, respectable action, and good tone. The instrument may not be perfect, but if you’re a hobbyist who loves to play at home or in a casual group with friends, you will likely be satisfied.

Expensive: In the world of guitars, you could spend anywhere from $200 to $2,000 on a choice instrument. In fact, you could spend more than that for a handmade classical guitar from a luthier’s shop. Professional performers and recording artists may want to go this route. If you’ve got your eye on a specific nylon string guitar from the expensive category, we suggest you listen to sound samples or, if possible, hold the instrument in your hands before making a purchasing decision.

Tips

  • Tune your guitar often. Because nylon strings are softer and more pliable, they tend to slip and go out of tune more easily than steel strings. To minimize the hassle, keep a guitar tuner on hand, and use it before each practice session.

  • Expect some fingertip discomfort when first learning to play a nylon string guitar. It’s true that you don’t need to push nylon strings down as hard as steel strings. However, you’ll need to develop calluses either way. A bit of discomfort is to be expected.

  • Protect your guitar with a padded gig bag and a guitar stand. The gig bag will keep your guitar safe from drops and dings when you’re traveling. The guitar stand will prevent it from tipping over at home when you take a break from practicing.

Your nylon string guitar will need a new set of strings every three months or so, depending on how often you play. For best results, plan to replace them after about 100 hours of practice. It’s a good idea to keep a set on hand at all times, just in case you break a string.

FAQ

Q. I want to put steel strings on my nylon string guitar. Can I do this?
A. You could, but you shouldn’t. The nut of a classical guitar is designed to accommodate thicker nylon strings. If you try to force steel strings onto the instrument, the strings could exert too much pressure and crack the neck. Even if the neck doesn’t crack, it’s likely to bend, irreparably changing your guitar’s sound.
 

Q. I bought a classical guitar, and the first three strings look like they’re made of nylon, but the thicker three strings look and feel like they’re made of steel. What gives?
A. The bass strings of a classical guitar are wrapped with metal wire, but rest assured that the core of these strings is still nylon. If you were to compare the bass strings of your classical guitar with the bass strings of a steel string guitar, you’d feel a difference. It’s true that the bass strings of your classical guitar feel thick and tough, like metal, but the bass strings of a steel string guitar are markedly different.
 

Q. I’m left-handed. Will it be harder for me to learn guitar?
A. No. Why should righties have all the fun? While it’s true that you should let your dominant hand do the plucking, you can purchase a guitar specifically for lefties. Another option is to simply flip the guitar over so the neck is in your right hand instead of your left. This may feel a little awkward, and some guitars are more conducive to this than others, so as a leftie, you should do a bit of research before you invest in a new guitar.

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