Sometimes they get confused as being the same thing but there is a difference between a classical and an acoustic guitar.
The following are the main differences between the two types of guitar.
Acoustic guitars have steel strings.
Classical guitars have nylon strings.
This is one of the most significant differences, but not the only difference, between acoustic and classical guitars.
Acoustic Guitar Steel Strings
When we say steel strings there are different types of steel strings and the bass strings on an acoustic guitar are usually wound in another material.
You can also get different gauges of steel strings. The gauge of the string is basically the thickness of the string.
Different gauge strings will have different tones and feel different to play. Generally thicker gauge strings will have a fuller sound and produce more volume and thinner gauge strings will be easier to play and cause less finger soreness.
Learn more about steel strings, the tonal qualities and feel of different materials and how to choose the best steel strings for you and your guitar at the link below.
Classical Guitar Steel Strings
Classical guitars have Nylon strings on them. The core “nylon” part of the string can be made from different materials and each material will have a different feel and a different tonal quality.
The treble strings are unwound and the bass strings of classical guitars have windings and those windings can be made with a few different materials.
Nylon strings, like steel strings also come in different gauges – but it is the tension of Nylon strings that tends to make more difference to the tone and feel.
For more details on Nylon strings and the different feels and tonal qualities depending on material and tension, check out the link below.
Size and Shape of the Body
Classical guitars have a smaller shape and a different size to acoustic guitars.
This is a bit of a generalization as acoustic guitars come in a large variety of different shapes and sizes and so do classical guitars. But typically speaking classical guitars are smaller than the average acoustic guitar. And they have a different shape.
This different size and shape also produces different tones.
Classical guitars are mostly used for, and suited to, classical music, Spanish music etc – music that typically has a lot of fingerstyle playing involved (strumming and flat picking is also done with a classical guitar but finger picking is a big part of playing a classical guitar).
For this reason, and because of the size of the strings (the treble strings are thicker than acoustic treble strings), classical guitars have wider necks than acoustic guitars.
The wider necks enable the fretboard to house the thicker strings and also the extra space makes it more suitable for finger picking.
Acoustic Guitars tend to have neck widths between 1.69” (43mm) and 1.81” (45mm) whilst there are some that are also as narrow as 1.61” (41mm) and as wide as 1.88” (47mm).
Classical Guitars, on the other hand typically have a 2” (51mm) neck width.
Different Tone Woods
Cedar is the most popular top wood for classical guitars. Engalmann Spruce is also common. That’s not to say that there aren’t classical guitars made with other tone woods but these are definitely the most common.
For acoustic guitars there are many different tone woods used depending on the guitar and the sound that is sought.
Check out the link below to see what the most common tonewoods are for acoustic guitars.
Because steel strings produce more tension than Nylon strings, acoustic guitars typically have a steel rod running through the neck of the guitar. This rod is known as a truss rod. The truss rod helps to keep the neck straight.
Classical guitars don’t typically have this as Nylon strings don’t produce enough tension to warrant it. Though with high tension nylon strings there is extra tension and this might be too much for some classical guitars, especially older ones. In this case it’s sometimes recommended to loosen off the strings after playing to reduce the tension on the neck.
Thanks for Reading
I hope this post has helped you to learn the difference between a classical guitar and an acoustic guitar.
If you have any questions or if there are any other differences that I’ve left out here let me know in the comments section below.
Looking for an acoustic guitar but not sure what to get? Check out some of our reviews at the link below to narrow your choices.