Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar (10 Big Differences)

Classical and acoustic guitars appear very similar. After all, these are both acoustic guitars, they look similar, they use similar playing techniques, and they can produce similar sounds, but if you look closer, you will find that there are significant differences between these instruments, and they are, in fact, completely different types of guitars.

Classical guitars have nylon strings that are gentle on the finger and produce a warm tone. They are smaller and less versatile than acoustic guitars. Acoustic guitars are versatile, have steel strings, are larger, are louder, harder on the fingers, and produce a well-balanced tone.

Understanding the differences between these types of guitars is critical for understanding what their uses are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and even for deciding which instrument is better for you. Let’s explore the major differences between the classical guitar and the acoustic guitar to highlight what makes each instrument unique.

1. Strings

Among the most obvious and most important differences between the classical guitar and the acoustic guitar are the strings that these instruments are equipped with. This is the most significant difference between them, and the strings are what define the sound and playability of each of these guitar types.

The strings that a guitar uses are what the guitarist plays, but they are also what gives the instrument its unique sound, feel, and tone. The strings on a guitar must work well to make the body of the instrument resonate, amplifying the sound of the strings and making the guitar audible, but also making the instrument sound as good as possible.

The strings on classical guitars are primarily made from nylon. The high three strings of this instrument are made entirely from nylon, and the low three strings of the guitar are made from a nylon core wrapped with a soft metal such as nickel or silver.

These materials stretch very easily and can therefore be held under low tensions and still be tight enough to produce musical notes when played.

Nylons strings for classical guitars are significantly softer and easier on the fingers than acoustic guitar strings, making this guitar easier to play in the beginning and easier to play with longevity.

These strings also produce a warm, mellow tone compared to acoustic guitar strings, but they are also less loud, and they do not last as long either.

Classical guitar (on the left) and acoustic guitar (on the right)

Acoustic guitar strings are typically made from a combination of steel and a softer metal such as nickel or bronze.

These strings are made with a hard steel core and are wrapped with nickel, bronze, or even more steel. These strings are known simply as steel strings, and they are what define the sound and feel of acoustic guitars.

Steel strings are typically far thicker, heavier, harder, and held at much higher tension than nylon strings. These strings are much harder to play, especially in the beginning, and they are much harder on the fingers as well.

Acoustic guitar strings are louder and more durable than classical guitar strings, and they sound much brighter, cleaner, clearer, and less muted than classical strings.

2. Guitar Body Size

The next most obvious difference between classical and acoustic guitars is the size of the body of these instruments. The body size and shape of acoustic instruments such as these are critical factors in how the instrument sounds and feels, and these guitars have different body designs to create the best sound possible in combination with the strings that they use.

The classical guitar has a slightly smaller body than acoustic guitars do. This is usually because these guitars do not need to be as loud as acoustic guitars, and they are generally smaller instruments overall.

Classical guitars all usually have the same body shape, have a deep curve in the body of the instrument known as the waist, and a wider top and bottom. There are not usually any body cutaways on classical guitars, and the bodies are typically made to be smaller than other guitars.

The smaller body of a classical guitar makes it easier to play, as it is easier to reach over the body while playing.

Acoustic guitars have larger bodies than classical guitars because they need to amplify the sound of the strings more, making the instrument louder, and the body needs to be large enough to accommodate the higher tensions that the steels strings put the guitar under.

This larger body makes the guitar louder, brighter, and more intense to listen to, but it can also make the guitar more difficult to play for smaller people.

3. Neck and Fretboard Width

Classical guitars have a smaller body than acoustic guitars, but the strings that they use are usually wider and require space than those of acoustic guitars, which means that these instruments have wider necks and fretboards by comparison.

The classical guitar neck and the fretboard are wider and flatter than that of acoustic guitars, and this allows the strings to be further apart, making finger articulation and accuracy easier on these guitars.

Acoustic guitars have narrower necks and fretboards, which means that it is easier to reach all of the strings with the fretting hand, but it makes accuracy more challenging.

This design is due to the relatively thinner strings on the acoustic guitar, but also because these instruments are often used for strumming chords, and having the strings closer together makes this playing technique far easier and more manageable.

4. Instrument Volume

The larger body shape, steel strings, and more resonant woods of acoustic guitars combine to make this instrument significantly louder than classical guitars.

Acoustic guitars are loud instruments, especially when they a played hard. The larger body of acoustic guitars means that they amplify the sound of the strings more than classical guitars do, and the steel strings are inherently louder as well due to the higher tension that they are held under.

Classical guitars sound far more mellow and quieter than acoustic guitars do. The nylon strings on these instruments are not as loud as steel strings, the smaller body shape of classical guitars does not amplify sound as much, and the general playing techniques used on this instrument are quieter than those of acoustic guitars.

5. Guitar Tone and Sound

The tone differences between these two types of guitar are significant as well. The tone and sound of each of the guitar types is the most important difference between them, and these qualities are why one guitar is chosen over the other and determines what music they are used to playing.

Classical guitars have a gentle, warm, clear tone that is created by the nylon strings. This makes them ideal for classical-type music and gives the instrument a unique sound quality that is unmatched by any other type of guitar.

Acoustic guitars are much more versatile and dynamic. The sound and tone of this instrument are very bright, well-rounded, rich, and interesting.

This type of guitar is used for a much broader range of musical styles due to the more versatile tone of the instrument. Every acoustic guitar sounds very different from one another depending on the size, shape, and woods of the instrument, as well as the string type and thickness.

Acoustic guitars have a more contemporary tone and are therefore generally seen to be more versatile and useable than classical guitars, which are more focused on the niche genres of classical music, and sometimes more mellow styles such as jazz.

6. Musical Styles

The sound and tone differences between the classical guitar and the acoustic guitar lead us to identify the different musical styles that these instruments are associated with.

Classical guitars are clearly designed for classical music, but these instruments are very old and are therefore used for a host of various styles that include classical, flamenco, Latin style music, Mediterranean music, Arabic music, jazz, and many others.

This type of guitar is a more traditional instrument and is therefore used in more traditional styles of music, but the soft and mellow tone has led to the use of classical guitars in styles such as jazz and country as well.

Acoustic guitars sound more contemporary, louder, and more versatile. This means that these instruments have been adopted by almost all musical styles, including rock, blues, jazz, country, folk, pop, and are even used by some metal bands as well.

This instrument is highly versatile, but it is younger and used for more modern styles of music. This instrument is very popular internationally and is well-known for being able to play in almost any genre of music, making it ideal for the guitar player who enjoys playing across all styles.

7. Playing Techniques

Every type of guitar is versatile and can be played with a host of various techniques and methods, but these instruments are at their best with specific playing styles and techniques.

Classical guitars are ideal for finger-picking techniques and playing styles. These methods complement the mellow and gentle tone of the instrument and are generally considered to be the standard techniques for this instrument.

Acoustic guitars shine when played with a plectrum, but they are excellent for fingerstyle as well, albeit a different type of fingerstyle than what is used for classical guitars.

These guitars are ideal for strumming and various rhythmic and percussive techniques, as well for playing picked melodies and harmonies. The large size of acoustic guitars provides a wider pitch range as well, which makes more room for more complicated playing techniques.

The fingerstyle techniques used on classical guitars are not ideal for acoustic guitar playing, and vice versa, simply because the strings are different, but there is some cross-over between the techniques used for each guitar.

Both guitars can be played with a pick, but classical guitars are not designed for use with a pick and tend to sound a little harsh if a pick is used without experience.

8. Learning Difficulty and Challenges

The discussion of the main playing techniques associated with these guitar types leads us to identify the learning challenges of these instruments, as well as how difficult they are to play compared to each other.

The truth is that the steel strings on acoustic guitars make them significantly more challenging to play, especially in the beginning. The metal strings are hard on the fingers, they hurt the fingers, and they can cause fatigue to set in very quickly.

Playing an acoustic guitar requires time to build up significant hand strength and stamina. The plucking hand also suffers from these challenges, which means that every aspect of the acoustic guitar is challenging in the beginning stages of learning the instrument.

The classical guitar is far easier to play simply because the strings are softer and much less hurtful to play. These strings are easier to press and easier to play for a long time, which makes practicing easier as well.

The wider string spacing of classical guitars does require more dexterity and accuracy with both hands while playing, but this is a small challenge compared to the pain that can occur while learning to play the acoustic guitar.

9. Universality

Universality is an important comparison to make between these instruments. The universality of an instrument is the range of music that can be played with it, how useful it is overall, how many songs there are available for the instrument, and the genres that the instrument can be used in.

The acoustic guitar is a far more versatile and a far more universal instrument than the classical guitar. This instrument is more dynamic and can be used in a wider range of styles and genres, there are more contemporary songs written on this instrument, and there are more contexts in which this instrument can be played.

The classical guitar has become a very niche instrument and is only usable in certain circumstances or for solo practicing and playing. There are few circumstances in the contemporary musical world that call for the use of a classical guitar.

This means that the acoustic guitar is a better option for the budding guitarist who wants to be as versatile as possible and have as many opportunities to play as possible.

10. Guitar Enjoyment

The final comparison that must be made between these two instruments is how enjoyable they are to play. The reality is that the more you enjoy playing your guitar, the more you will want to practice, and the, in turn, the better guitarist you will become, so how enjoyable a guitar is to play is an important factor.

Acoustic guitars are more difficult to play, but they are more versatile and provide a wider range of genres and songs to play.

Classical guitars are easier to play, but they have a more limited range and possible repertoire.

This means that the guitar that is more enjoyable for you is the instrument that will allow you to play the music that you enjoy. The fact is that there is no way to measure how fun a guitar is to play except subjectively, so you have to decide for yourself which instrument is more fun, mainly based on the music that can be played on the instrument.

If you enjoy playing blues, rock, and country, then an acoustic guitar will be more fun for you. If you enjoy classical, Spanish, or Latin music, then a classical guitar is the ideal instrument for you.

Conclusion

Both the classical guitar and the acoustic guitar are excellent instruments that are both versatile and fun to play, but which instrument is right for you is determined by what you want to play on the guitar.

If you are considering which instrument to learn, take the time to experiment with both and choose the one that feels good in your hands, and determine what type of music you want to play on your guitar. This will always help you to make the right decision for you!