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5 Best Budget Classical Guitars in 2021 – Buyer’s Guide

Best Budget Classical Guitars

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Best Overall

Yamaha CG122MSH

My Rating:

4.7/5

Runner-Up

Yamaha C40II

My Rating:

4.5/5

Best For Small Hands

Cordoba Dolce 7/8

My Rating:

4.4/5

You might be a beginner looking for the smooth, easy playing-feel of nylon strings. 

Or maybe you’re an experienced steel-string guitarist looking to play with a softer sound for a change.

Whatever your playing-level, you and I both don’t have a lot of money to drop on a new guitar.

For me, money’s tight a lot of the time, so the affordable instruments are my favorites to look at. I’m really excited by all the great options available for those sweet-sounding nylon string guitars.

Here are the best budget classical guitars we could find, with choices ranging from solid-top stage-ready performers to super-cheap student models perfect for introducing your kid to music.

In this post, we’ll look closer at the following budget classical guitars:

Yamaha CG122MSH Classical Guitar, Solid Spruce Top
  • Solid Engelmann Spruce Top
  • 3-ply neck construction to improve durability against…
  • Low String Action
  • Rosewood Fingerboard and Bridge
  • Natural Matte Finish

Yamaha C40II Classical Guitar
  • Spruce top
  • Meranti back & sides
  • Rosewood fingerboard & bridge
  • Gloss finish

Cordoba Dolce 7/8 Size Classical Acoustic Nylon String Guitar, Iberia…
  • Solid Canadian cedar top
  • Mahogany back and sides
  • Lightweight, 7/8 size classical
  • 50mm nut width
  • Savarez Cristal Corum strings in High Tension, 500CJ

Ibanez GA35TCEDVS Acoustic/Electric Guitar – Dark Violin Burst
  • Spruce-topped mahogany
  • Mahogany back and sides
  • Onboard Fishman Sonicore pickup and Ibanez AEQ210T…
  • AEQ210T preamp system includes an onboard tuner
  • Smaller-than-average body style fits guitarists of all…

Yamaha CGS102A Half-Size Classical Guitar – Natural
  • Spruce top
  • Meranti back & sides
  • Rosewood fingerboard & bridge, natural finish
  • Strings scale 25.6 inches, body depth 3.15 – 3.3…

Every one of these classical guitars is here based on extensive research and 27+ years of experience on our team.

Let’s first look at these fine guitars, and at the end of the post, you can find the FAQ section that helps you to make the best choice possible.

Use the table of content to jump to the section you want:

Best Budget Classical Guitars

Best Overall – Yamaha CG122MSH

Sound

The Yamaha CG122 has two main things that give it an excellent tone: a solid top and a newly-designed bracing pattern.

This model actually gives you a choice between two tonewoods:

  • Opt for Solid Spruce in the CG122MSH for a bright, articulate sound
  • Choose Solid Cedar in the CG122MCH for a mellow, fuzzy warmth

Either way you go, you get a full-size classical guitar that sounds great. 

The hybrid bracing, which you can see a picture of here, increases both the responsiveness and the volume of the top.

This makes the CG122 series a louder, more pronounced guitar than your average classical.

Check how this guitar sounds:

Playability

The CG122 is built in the traditional style—a 4/4 body size with no cutaway and a 12th-fret neck joint.

Its nut comes in at just over 2-inches, giving you the wide string spacing required for true classical technique.

This might be a challenge for players with really little fingers, so be sure to explore your options if you’re worried about playing a wide neck guitar.

Quality

The only area this guitar lacks in—at least in my opinion—is the body wood.

Don’t get me wrong, having a choice between solid cedar or solid spruce is awesome. 

But the back and sides are made of nato, a cheap wood that will never sound as good as the heritage mahogany guitars.

Of course, replacing this body wood would raise the price quite a bit. Other guitars in this series, like the CG182S, do have mahogany bodies, but at more than 2x the price.

Summary

Pros

  • Solid top at budget prices
  • Full classical playability
  • Innovative bracing pattern for increased sustain and projection

Cons

  • Extra-wide nut can be hard to play with small hands

Give me enough time and I can find something to complain about in just about every guitar, but the best I could do for the Yamaha CG122MSH is wish for a better body wood.

By all considerations, this is an excellent axe and is in fact my #1 recommendation for budget classical guitars.

It sounds superb, plays beautifully, and gives you a choice of solid top in spruce or cedar at a very affordable price.

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or pro, you’ll love the stage-worthy tone of the CG122.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Runner-up – Yamaha C40II

Sound

Yamaha’s C40II is one of the best totally affordable classical guitars around.

It’s an updated version of their popular C40 model, the same owned by GuitaristNextDoor’s very own Teemu. You can read his full review of the Yamaha C40 here.

Teemu’s owned the C40 for 13 years and finds it a great fingerstyle axe for the ringing melodies of “Für Elise” and the dominant bass lines of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. 

Because of its laminate top, it could stand to be a bit brighter overall. 

But Teemu says his C40 is articulate and responsive enough for anything from classical standard to Metallica’s “One”.

Check how this guitar sounds:

Playability

Me and Teemu are in the same camp when it comes to hand-size and playability: we both have smaller hands but can still manage on a full-scale classical.

The C40II’s 2-inch nut, rosewood fingerboard, and full-size body give you the traditional classical guitar playing experience.

It’s the guitar of choice for players on a budget who want to develop perfect fingerstyle technique.

If a full-scale guitar is a bit uncomfortable for you, you might benefit from using gear that aids your posture. Check out our recommendations for classical guitar supports and classical guitar cushions to help you wield a 4/4 guitar.

Quality

When I asked Teemu what his favorite thing about the C40 is, he said it’s “the value you get for the money you spend. It’s really a bargain, and the quality of the C40 is great”.

In my own experience with Yamaha guitars, they don’t sell any duds.

I’m sure you’re wondering what the main difference is between the C40 and the C40II, and the answer is there isn’t much of one.

As far as I can tell, the C40 was exclusively made with a meranti back and sides. The C40II is made with “locally-sourced tonewood”.

Most often, I think you’re still getting meranti, a low-cost alternative to mahogany.

Depending on what’s available to Yamaha at the time, you might end up with other mahogany-alternatives like sapele or nato.

Summary

Pros

  • Very inexpensive full-scale model
  • Responsive, articulate tone
  • Lightweight and well-built for easy playability

Cons

  • Often ships with damage

No matter what tonewood they choose for your C40II’s body, the result is guaranteed to be a great starter acoustic with all the tonal and playing features that make a classical guitar a timeless instrument.

Teemu’s loved his own for over a decade and hopes to never get rid of it.

So if you’re looking for a full-size budget classical that can last a lifetime, the C40II is the best bargain option.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Best for Small Hands – Cordoba Dolce 7/8

Sound

The Dolce by Cordoba is a beautiful handcrafted classical guitar that delivers traditional nylon-string tones.

Cordoba combines classic fan bracing with the historic cedar + mahogany tonewood combo in this model for a sound like what you would have heard in 19th-century Spain.

Its voice is clear, responsive, and plucky—warm and round while bright, with lots of overtones and lengths of sustain.

The size reduction scoops the Dolce’s bass just a bit, but the tonal balance is still nearly flawless.

Check how this guitar sounds:

Playability

7/8 is a great body size for adults that are on the shorter side. 

It’s not kid-sized, but the body, scale length, and neck width are all reduced to make the Cordoba Dolce more comfortable to play.

The neck isn’t so thin that it changes the classical guitar playing experience—1.96-inches compared to the standard 2. 

But this one-millimeter shortness makes a noticeable difference in being able to wrap your fingers around the fretboard. 

At the same time, you have plenty of string spacing for detailed fingerpicking patterns.

Quality

So we’ve already got:

  • A solid cedar top
  • Historically-authentic construction
  • Handcrafted quality
  • Small-hand playability

What’s more, the Dolce is made with a real bone nut and saddle for increased resonance and sustain.

Is there any issue with this nylon-string axe?

Unfortunately, yes—and depending on how you feel about it, it could be a deal-breaker.

Sometimes, due to a weakness in the plastic tuning machine knobs, they can simply break.

If this happens, there may be a chance of manufacturer replacement, but it could be up to you to buy and install new knobs.

Otherwise, this would probably be my top-rated budget classical guitar. But this chance of malfunction is more than I’d personally want to deal with.

Summary

Pros

  • 7/8-size is a good choice for small-bodied adults
  • Handmade with a solid cedar top
  • Traditional bracing and tonewood combo for vintage sounds

Cons

  • Slightly weak bass response

Ranking as the top budget option in our review of the best classical guitars for small hands, the beautiful voice and easy playability of the Dolce are hard to beat at this price.

If those tuning knobs hold up, the Cordoba Dolce 7/8 is sure to be a guitar you’ll love for a long time.

Its traditional construction, blending quality woods with tested bracing methods, makes for a guitar that outperforms most others in its category.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Fastest Playing- Ibanez GA35TCEDVS

Sound

Considering this is another budget guitar with a laminate top, I don’t know how Ibanez managed to make the GA35TCE sound as good as they did—but boy is this a beautiful nylon string guitar.

When I first saw it, I thought it might be too bright because of its thin body. 

And, while I was right that it doesn’t have much low-end, the balance between the ranges is really sweet. 

The mids are thick enough to drive your bass lines, and the highs are soft and smooth rather than cutting.

Check how this guitar sounds:

Playability

If your small hands are holding you back from playing classical guitar, the Ibanez GA35TCE can really help you out.

Its nut is a whole 4mm shorter than the standard classical neck. I guess you can expect that from Ibanez, being that they’re known for their fast-playing guitars.

The neck is very thin down the whole length, but the fingerboard radius is still flat so you still get at least some bit of traditional classical playability.

Unlike most classicals that have a neck joint at the 12th fret, the GA35TCE gives you a full 14 frets free of the body. 

The cutaway gives you further access almost all the way to the 20th fret! If you wanna get some fingerstyle action going in the highest ranges, this is the guitar for you.

Quality

Not only is the GA35TCE made with authentic Spanish fan bracing—its electronics come equipped with both a 1/4-inch and a balanced XLR output.

A singer-songwriter’s dream when playing in small coffee shops, this and the onboard preamp let you plug directly into the venue’s PA system to play loud and clear.

Blending the best of classical guitar tone with modern playability and electronics, the mix of old and new is finely executed in the GA35TCE.

Summary

Pros

  • Acoustic-electric classical with a cutaway body
  • Thin body design adds comfort and intimacy to playing-feel
  • Traditional Spanish fan bracing for vintage classical tones

Cons

  • Modern body shape and narrow nut take away from classical feel

As good of a guitar as this is, it’s not the best choice if you want the “full classical experience”.

Some players want to train in the true classical style, carrying on an almost 200-year tradition. For those guitarists, this guitar isn’t it.

But if you’re looking for a fast-playing modern take on the traditional nylon-string acoustic, the Ibanez GA35TCE is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Best for Kids – Yamaha CGS102A Half-Size

Sound

Yamaha’s CGS102A half-size guitar is a great classical for kids for many reasons—one of which is how quiet it is.

Ask my poor mom, when your kid is learning music (heavy metal bass guitar in my case), the first few years are a headache.

This 1/2-size nylon string guitar sings softly without compromising on overall tone. It’s quiet while still maintaining a surprising amount of bass in the mix.

There’s not much sustain in the CGS102A, but it’s got the tonal balance and response a beginner needs to learn the basics.

Check how this guitar sounds:

Playability

With a nut width more commonly found on steel-strings than classicals, you’ll have a great time playing the CGS102A if you have small hands.

The nut being smaller does make the string spacing for your picking hand more narrow. 

This means it’s a bit harder to play fingerstyle if you have more average-sized hands. It can be a real problem for players with fat fingers.

So unless you’re on the smaller side, the playability of the CGS102A might not be ideal. 

If you’re having a hard time finding a guitar you think will hold up to your big hands, we’ve checked out the best acoustic guitars for fat fingers that might have what you’re looking for.

Quality

Coming from Yamaha, you can trust you’ll get a well-made guitar no matter how cheap its cost.

They made the CGS102A as the ideal student model. 

Despite its laminate spruce top, it sounds good—at least good enough to learn on. 

And it’s so inexpensive that music teachers can afford to buy multiple for their students.

Lacking the problems many starter guitars face—sharp fret edges, poor tuners, bad intonation—the CGS102A gives you a dependable little classical guitar for just over $100.

Summary

Pros

  • Small size great for kids or for travel
  • Narrow nut width ideal for small hands
  • Dependable construction at a low cost

Cons

  • Small string spacing increases finger-picking difficulty
  • Very quiet sound

Because it’s so small, I recommend this as the best classical guitar for kids (8-12 years old) more than I do for adults.

But this mini body size paired with its good build-quality and tone make it a fine choice for a small travel guitar as well.

With Yamaha quality at such a low cost, there will be no money lost with the purchase of the CGS102A.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

The Verdict

It’s pretty easy to tell that the Yamaha CGS102A is not going to be much of a competitor against the other guitars on this list.

While it’s the best classical guitar you can get for children and maybe travel, its weak voice won’t entertain more serious players for very long.

As much as I love the Dolce’s construction and tone, the Yamaha CG112MSH sounds just about as good without the worry of breaking tuning knobs.

Plus, you get your choice of top tonewood at almost a $100 discount.

By most measures, I’d say the Yamaha CG112 is the best budget classical guitar in 2020. 

 

FAQ

What Should I Look for When Buying a Budget Classical Guitar?

Buying a budget classical guitar isn’t much different from buying any other acoustic.

You want to find a blend of good tonewoods put together in a dependable construction, plus comfortable playability and of course a great sound.

This sounds like a lot to ask for in an affordable guitar, but you’d be surprised at how good an axe you can get for just a couple hundred bucks.

Here are the main things you’ll want to look for when choosing the best budget classical guitar for you:

Overall Quality

When you’re shopping for a new guitar, you might be tempted to go with the ultra-low-cost models, but some of the best “deals” you’ll find aren’t really deals at all. A lot of the time, these guitars are no better than toys.

We don’t include any guitars like that in our reviews—they might be inexpensive, but they’re high-quality classicals nonetheless.

That means you won’t run into common problems found in “cheap” guitars. No sharp fret edges, no loose hardware, no warped and twisted necks.

In the best budget classical guitars, you’ll find:

  • Stable tuning machines
  • Good intonation after proper set-ups
  • Properly fitted frets
  • Smooth-playing necks
  • Dependable construction

Tonewoods

Solid vs. Laminate

The soundboard, or top, of your guitar, will either be solid or laminate.

Solid tops are considered superior in just about every way. They’re more resonant, they give you more sustain and volume, and they even sound better with age.

The main downfall of solid tops is the price, but there are many budget classical guitars made with these higher quality tonewoods.

Laminate tops are basically made of plywood—easy to work with, easy to mass-produce, and cheap to source. 

Although more affordable, laminate top guitars are said not to resonate as well as solid tops. But they still make great beginner axes.

If all the other parts of the guitar are done right, it can be hard to notice the difference between the two.

You can read a thorough explanation of guitar tops here.

Cedar vs. Spruce

Classical guitars are traditionally made with either cedar or spruce tops. Read here for a more detailed description of how these woods affect your sound.

Cedar tops are known for their warm, earthy tones. In general, they produce a more mellow, rounder-voiced guitar.

Spruce tops are the most common because of their tonal balance and clarity. They’re considered to be the brighter, more brilliant of the two tonewoods.

Body Size and Shape

Because budget guitars are made with beginners in mind, you can find affordable classical guitars in a wide range of body styles.

In addition to the regular full-size classical body shape, you have a choice among 7/8, 3/4, and 1/2 body sizes too.

There are even budget classical guitars with cutaways, one of my favorite options!

What Size Classical Guitar Should You Get?

With so many different body types to choose from, it can be hard knowing what size classical guitar is best for you.

If you’re stumped about what the different sizes mean, this guide to 10 common guitar sizes should clear things up.

The classical guitar body size is already significantly smaller than a dreadnought, so chances are that a full-size (4/4) classical guitar will be fine for you.

Most adults and children over the age of 12 will be able to comfortably play a 4/4 guitar. And if you’re very tall, you probably don’t want to go any smaller than this.

Now, there are exceptions to this. My friend Sunny, for instance, is herself hardly taller than a dreadnought acoustic. She’s much more at home with 3/4 and 1/2 size classicals.

Children under the age of 12 will be most comfortable on these reduced-size guitars, the smallest 1/4 best-suited for 2-5-year-olds.

Take a look at this guitar size guide for a comparison between height and guitar size to help you pick the best classical guitar for you or your kids.

Can You Play Classical Guitar Without Long Fingernails?

If you couldn’t play classical guitar or fingerstyle without fingernails, I’d be totally out of luck.

For whatever reason, my nails break pretty easily, so I’m never able to grow them long enough to fingerpick the traditional way.

Thankfully for all of us, you don’t have to go to a strict professional teacher to learn to play classical guitar these days.

The benefits of playing with long fingernails include:

  • More tonal variation—hard metallic attacks or gentle, warm strokes
  • Greater volume
  • More dynamic control
  • Playing accuracy

But these are the finer points of classical guitar technique—these are the things to focus on in your advanced stage after mastering all the basics.

And even then, there are many masters who never play with long fingernails, such as one of the greatest classical guitar composers of all-time, Fernando Sor.

So, while there are benefits to playing with nails, you don’t need long fingernails to play classical guitar.

 

Conclusion

These affordable classicals are great starter guitars, but you don’t have to be a beginner to enjoy a budget axe.

With options ranging from ultra-affordable laminates of all sizes to traditional solid spruce cedar guitars, you’ll find a guitar in this list to please players of any skill level.

I’m much more of a steel-string player than a nylon-string enthusiast. But after taking a closer look at these best budget classical guitars, I think I’ll be adding one to my arsenal pretty soon.

Author: Tommy Tompkins
Author: Tommy Tompkins

Playing guitar since 2004. Primarily an acoustic guitarist who plays and writes traditional American folk music, with a background in melodic metal and a solid foundation as a bassist. You can contact Tommy via:

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