Beginner or not, the case for the classical guitar

 

I’ve owned many classical guitars and have always advocated that a classical guitar in reasonable condition is a great first instrument for most students. Sorry to all you Jimi clones out there who have decided that electric guitar is the only way to go but I have to give the classical guitar its due. With absolutely no shame and much gratiude, I happily acknowledge the debt that I have to my seventies Suzuki nylon string, which I hammered daily, nightly and any time in between. In its later life it even earn’t the scars of battle – or is it the rites of passage? – showing deep plectrum scrapes that eventually appeared on both sides of the soundhole and reminded me of the many great nights where food, wine, song, love and laughter were the only necessities. Eventually it was passed on to a student who hopefully has passed it on down the line. At least that is the dream. One thing that I can certainly say is that the beaten up old box of wood and strings never let me down.

So why choose a classical guitar for your first instrument? Let me stress at this point that no guitar will ever be the best option for everybody but here are some of the reasons why a classical guitar can contribute to a positive beginning for many novice guitar players.

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It has a nice wide neck for finger placement, it is easy to cart around, it hurts tender fingers far less than do its steel string counterparts and because of its size it fits comfortably on the body. I also believe that because of its wider neck width it can aid in developing finger strength and dexterity. From jazz to blues to flamenco to classical and, yes folks, even very cool versions of rock classics, the good old classical can be a guitar player’s reliable no frills go-to instrument. It always sits nice and handy in the corner ready for action. I wonder how many thousands of times Willie Nelson’s beaten up old classical has helped him to write another hit – and if you didn’t know about Willie you should check him out because he is one of the master songwriters of the last 50+ years.

The case for this often maligned instrument has been made even more compelling in recent years because of the influx of so many well made and relatively inexpensive models coming out of the better Chinese guitar factories. Now for no more than $250 you can purchase a solid top classical guitar that in addition to the top will also have a quality laminate on the back and sides and very reasonable geared machine heads. If you go for one of the  instruments in the $200 and upwards price range you will even get a bone nut and saddle!

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The guitar photographed here was hand built in 1979 by one of the important Japanese luthiers, Hiroshi Komori. It has his maker’s stamp on the label and a beautiful spruce top with jacaranda back and sides (jacaranda has been used quite often by Japanese luthiers and is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Brazilian rosewood). I have not owned this guitar forever but like all great guitars I feel connected to it, almost like it was made for me. Check out the lyrics to Neil Young’s “This old guitar”- you’ll get the picture. Neil is referring to Hank William’s old pre-war Martin which Neil now has in his possession but he could very well be talking about my Komori or any other well loved and treasured instrument. The good ones certainly have a special character and like Neil’s ‘old guitar’, even though the Komori is an expensive instrument, just like my old Suzuki used to do, it leans comfortably against any wall and is rarely in its case. Every now and then it winks at me and demands to be played … Go figure.

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