are your goals? Are you anticipating a serious
hobby or majoring in music? If so, buy the best
solid top guitar you can afford. An inexpensive
guitar is a good choice if your goal is
casual enjoyment for a semester or so. Do you need to be
amplified for church or stage? If so, an
acoustic-electric classical will afford maximize
versatility. Before shopping, decide on a budget
so the dealer can show you guitars in your price
Eleventh Hour played by Peter Kun Frary on a Hirade TH90 (pickup plugged into mixing board).
to a classical guitar dealer if possible. Besides carrying
more models than a regular music store, they
have classical guitarists on staff, not
rockers or non-players, to help you select the
best guitar for your needs. Most importantly,
the sales staff can play the guitars while you
listen and pick the best sounding one. After the
sale, they can make adjustments and repairs and
recommend teachers, books and accessories. A good dealer
will keep your best interests in mind as they
want your repeat business and referrals.
Trying out a Guitar
Playability and sound differ between guitar
models and brands. Even individual
instruments of the same model may
differ considerably. Thus, the best way to
select a guitar is to play several
models in your price range one after the other.
If you are a beginner, bring an experienced friend to
help judge the construction, playing ease,
intonation and sound quality. A good salesmen
can play for you if you're short on musician friends. Learn
from opinions that differ from yours. However,
individual musicians value different things so
you are the ultimate judge of your
guitar is unique in feel due to variations in
neck thickness and shape. If the neck is
comfortable, the guitar will be easier to play.
The string height above the fingerboard—action—also influences playing ease. Action may vary according to personal taste and
playing style. High action is difficult to play
but allows buzz-free high volume playing. Low
action is easy to play but buzzes during
aggressive playing. A compromise between the two
is best for most players. Fortunately,
action can be adjusted to suit your needs.
you are a steel-string player, realize that
classical action is higher than steel-string
action due to the lower tension of nylon strings.
carefully to the timbre (tone color) of the
guitar. A balance between dark and bright is the
most versatile. However, timbre preference is
subject to taste and playing style. If your
right hand technique is on the bright side (long or unkept nails) a
dark sounding guitar will help balance your
tone. If you play without nails, a brighter
guitar will help bring out upper
An even balance between bass and treble string volume is preferable. Treble notes must be strong enough to stand
out in relation to the bass. The bass should be firm with a long sustain but not overwhelm the trebles.
single notes throughout the guitar's range and
listen to how they sustain. Treble string sustain should be even among adjacent notes and shorten progressively as you near the 12th fret. Play full voiced chords and judge balance and clarity. If it passes muster, play a classical solo and see if the elements of tone, balance, clarity and playability fit your technique and taste.
Finally, have someone play the
instrument so you can judge
overall tone and projection.
Grace Frary | Bach, Double in B Minor, BWV 1002 (Hirade TH5)
the difference in sound between a $300 guitar
and a $3000 one? Budget guitars are less
resonate and have a smaller tonal and dynamic
range than expensive guitars.
Peter Kun Frary | Johann Anton Losy, Allemande (Hirade TH8SS)
you are a beginning or advanced player, a
quality guitar is crucial to your success and
enjoyment. A fine instrument is easy to play,
exudes workmanship, and sounds resonant and
responsive. A quality instrument inspires you to
practice and excel as a musician. Buy the best
guitar you can afford and it will
enhance your learning and enjoyment.
the quality of workmanship in the seating and
polish of the frets, the binding between the top
and sides, and in the finish. In all
fairness, you get what you pay for.
Budget guitars cost less because cheaper materials
and lesser workmanship are used to trim costs.
Budget guitars should be playable but will have
finish defects, unpolished frets, messy
glue joints, unsanded bracing and poorly
adjusted action (the dealer will adjust the
action if needed). Premium quality guitars will
have a near perfect fit and finish of all
components. Even the interior bracing will be
neatly glued and sanded smooth.
purchasing a guitar, especially a used or budget
instrument, confirm that the tuning heads turn
smoothly and allow reasonable pitch control.
Fortunately, cheap or broken tuning heads are
relatively easy and inexpensive to
and bridge checks are essential when buying used
instruments. Strings exert 75 to 90 pounds
of stress on the bridge and soundboard of a
classic guitar. After a few years, especially in
hot, humid climates, structural damage may
occur. Check that the soundboard is not warped,
and that the bridge is not separating from the top (lifting
classical guitarists play instruments
handcrafted by individual makers, e.g., Fleta,
Hauser or Gilbert. Depending on the maker's
reputation, these guitars cost $3,000 to
$30,000. Guitars made by a specialized group of
builders in a small shop cost from $1000 to
$13,000 e.g., Ramírez, Hirade or
Asturias. For most people these instruments are
out of reach.
beginners are looking for an inexpensive guitar.
Buyer beware: guitars retailing for under
$100 are disappointing junk. Don't throw your
money away on an undersized toy, pay a little more and
get a real guitar. Cheap guitars have
unacceptable compromises in design, materials
and construction quality.
Fortunately, there are
many factory-made guitars costing from $150 to
$300 that make okay beginning
instruments. My favorite medium priced student guitar is the Takamine C132S, retailing for about $900 with case. The careful fret work, high level of quality control and solid cedar top should yield many years of enjoyment. If you're willing to compromise a notch or two on workmanship and materials, there are many decent solid top instruments from Takamine G Series, Cordoba, Almanza and La Patrie selling for $300 to $500.
Peter Kun Frary | Bach, Sarabande BWV 995 (Jose Ramírez 1-A)
You guitar will only last as long as its next bump, drop, splash or exposure to temperature extremes. Protect your investment by storing and carrying your guitar in a sturdy case. A hard-shell case offers the best overall protection. A decent quality hard shell case costs between $100 and $200.
Hard-shell cases are heavy and bulky so bikers and hikers may wish to trade some protection for a lighter load. Gig bags are lightweight backback-like cases made of fabric. The average gig bag costs between $25 and $75, with expensive models sporting thick padding, luggage grade fabrics, metal hardware, pockets galore and ergonomic straps. The fashion conscious plucker can purchase designer gig bags with exotic fabrics and leather. There are even sports and blue collar culture oriented bag designs like Body Glove and Dickies.
normally require little maintenance.
However, care in handling and storage
will protect your investment for many years to
Never expose your guitar to high heat and
humidity. For example, don't leave your
guitar in a hot car or in direct sunlight.
Typical heat damage consists of warped
soundboards and unglued (detached)
Never lean your guitar on furniture or the
wall. The guitar is unstable (the lower bout
is round) and can easily fall and be damaged.
Store your guitar in a case or on a
Wash your hands before playing. Dirt and oil
will clog and corrode the strings and
diminish considerably the sound and life of
Handle the guitar only by the neck. Squeezing
the top and body may damage delicate
Wipe your guitar off with a soft cotton or
mircofiber cloth after playing. Clean and
polish your guitar occasionally with a light
polish such as Martin Guitar Polish. Avoid
paste waxes as they build up
into a thick, vibration muffling
Check preamp batteries monthly. A leaking battery will quickly destroy battery contacts and circuit boards. Never leave a battery in a guitar when being stored for extended periods.
Finally, change strings periodically. While old dead strings won't harm your guitar, they reduce enjoyment, have poor intonation and make the most expensive tone laden instrument sound like it was made from cactus wood.
String Ties | Nylon strings and cedar top
DO NOT PUT STEEL-STRINGS ON A CLASSIC
GUITAR. The high tension of steel-strings will severely
damage the bridge and soundboard.