How Much Should You Spend on a Classical Guitar?

How Much Should You Spend on Classical Guitar

Guitars vary massively in price, so it can be difficult to know how much you should spend on a classical guitar. In this article, I’m going to discuss approximate budgets based on the ability level of the player, along with their medium-term aspirations. This will give you a good idea of what to spend on a new classical guitar.

There are a number of factors that determine the price of a guitar. These include the materials it is built from, the workshop in which it is made (and by whom), as well as how much of the guitar is produced by hand.

One of the biggest factors determining the quality of a classical guitar is how much of it is made with solid wood. At the lower end of the market, guitars often have ‘laminate’ components (a low-cost piece of wood with a better quality piece of wood laminated on top). Laminate is cheaper to use in production than solid wood. Guitars made with solid wood produce a better sound and you will therefore find you tend to pay more for these instruments than those made with laminate.

Craftsmanship and country of origin also affect the price of a classical guitar. A good luthier knows how to get the best out of the materials at their disposal. Luthiers that are well established and have an excellent reputation tend to be able to charge more for their instruments, however you can still find some real gems from lesser revered luthiers, so price isn’t everything here.

Now that you have a little background information, read on to learn more about approximately how much you should spend on a classical guitar.

Beginners (Up to Grade 1)

Choosing the right guitar to start with is absolutely critical. The market is saturated with incredibly cheap instruments and if you don’t yet know what to look for, it can be tempting to buy one of the cheapest just to get started – big mistake!

The cheapest classical guitars on the market may look like real instruments, but a lot of them perform more like toys than musical instruments.

They are seldom made from ‘tonewood’, that is to say, specific types of wood that resonate to produce a good sound. Structural integrity is questionable at best and the sound is usually dull and lifeless.

Perhaps the worst part about the very cheapest classical guitars is that they are difficult and cumbersome to actually play. If you buy one of these guitars with the intention of learning to play classical guitar, you will struggle and it may even turn you off.

You may be able to tell from my scathing opinion of these imitation instruments that I’m not a fan. As a guitar teacher, I see way too many new beginners bring these things to lessons and attempt to make progress using them. They do nothing to excite the senses and offer a very poor first experience of the instrument for any new beginner.

So what should you look for in a beginner guitar that’s suitable for your first interaction with the instrument? Also, how much should you spend on a beginner classical guitar?

In terms of criteria, one of the most important things you should look for is a guitar with a ‘solid top’. This means the guitar has a solid piece of tonewood on the front where the soundhole is. The top is the part of the guitar that arguably makes the biggest difference to the sound (compared to the back and sides).

I’d also opt for a reputable manufacturer/luthier who also produces higher end guitars. Their skills and knowledge of how to make a decent classical guitar will at least be somewhat present in their budget range of guitars.

The above criteria should be your minimum requirement. Next, we need to look at your aspirations. Are you just wanting to try out learning to play the guitar, or are you determined to reach at least a certain level? Are you dedicated to making significant progress or is it just for a bit of light relief?

If you’ve decided to start playing classical guitar for a bit of fun and just want to see how you get on, I’d recommend finding an instrument that meets the above criteria and that fits within your budget. A good option would be an Altamira N90+. Altamira guitars tend to have quite a deep and satisfying voice, which is uncommon in budget classical guitars. They also play well and would see you through the beginner phase admirably.

If you’re a bit more serious about making progress and can see yourself putting in a fair amount of work, I’d recommend stretching a bit further to something that will reward your ears with a more musical sound. A good choice would be an Altamira N100+ (£225), or if you can afford to spend a bit more, an Antonio Sanchez 1005 (£320) or  Antonio Sanchez 1015 (£420). The 1015 guitar would also bridge the gap into intermediate territory, so you may not need to upgrade again for a long time.

Depending on what you’re looking to achieve in the medium term, I would suggest a budget of between around £200-£420.

Intermediate (Grade 2-5)

When you reach around grade 2, you may wish to upgrade to something which will allow you more room to grow musically. By this stage, you will have a sense of how your technique affects the sound of the guitar. You should have begun experimenting with more extreme dynamics (compared to the early stages of learning) and will have begun experimenting with natural, ponticello and tasto positions (to create different tones/musical characters).

In order to continue improving your classical guitar playing, you need an instrument with a wider tonal palette that can also cope with being pushed louder as you expand your dynamic range.

How much should you spend on a classical guitar if you’re an intermediate level guitarist?

Again, we should consider your aspirations for this stage of learning before getting into recommended budget. Having picked up the basics, are you keen to learn more and push yourself to new heights? Or are you content with playing new pieces at the same level, and not concerned about pushing your musical boundaries much further?

If you’re content with the level you’ve reached and just want a new guitar that will give you a shade more dynamic and tonal quality, you may get away with an Antonio Sanchez 1015 (£420), as recommended at the top of the beginner range. These are incredibly musical guitars that punch above their price tag.

If you’re keen to go a bit further and would like to push yourself, it would be worth considering an Altamira N400+ (£539), an Antonio Sanchez 1020 (£540) or a Paco Castillo 204 (£655).

The Altamira N400+ is an all solid wood guitar (less common in this price range).  The bass is typically deep, as per most Altamira guitars, but you’ll also get a sweet treble sound too. This should give you a bit more room to explore your musical options.

The Antonio Sanchez 1020 is a step up from the 1015 model mentioned earlier. In addition to the solid top, you also get solid sides made with Indian Rosewood (a popular choice in high-end guitars). The sound of these guitars is truly superb for the money and they’re a pleasure to play.

If you’re looking for a very playable guitar that is easy under the fingers and naturally quite expressive, the Paco Castillo 204 would be a good option. This guitar draws you in and almost forces you into playing musically; a truly magical quality in a guitar!

If you’re upgrading to an intermediate guitar, the minimum I would recommend spending is £420 (Antonio Sanchez 1015). If you want a bit more room to grow and you can afford to push to boat out, I’d spend as much as £655 (Paco Castillo 204).

Advanced (Grade 6-8)

When you reach grade 6 standard, things are starting to get serious. You’ve caught the classical guitar playing bug and are usually hell-bent on at least getting to grade 8. At this point, we can put aspirations aside. We all know that you’re going to carry on pushing yourself to develop into a better musician, at least until you’ve reached grade 8. So how much should you spend on a classical guitar that meets your needs?

Well, from grade 6 onwards, I expect my guitar students to begin to express themselves a lot more musically. It’s one of my biggest expectations at this level. It’s no longer enough to just play ‘ponticello’ and observe the ‘mezzo forte’ mark in the music. You need to convince whoever is listening to you that playing ponticello and mezzo forte at that moment in time is the only way to play because something deep in your soul makes you do it.

At this level, it’s all about character and expressing yourself fully. If you’re going to do that, it’s likely that your minimum requirement will be a guitar that is made of solid woods and does not use inexpensive wood laminate (laminate being typically used for budget and mid-range guitars).

A classical guitar made with solid wood tends to have a more authentic and rich sound compared to guitars that use laminate.

Laminate can sometimes produce a ‘thwacky’ sound that lacks true depth when compared side by side to an all solid wood guitar. Solid wood guitars somehow have more substance to the sound, meaning the characters you portray through your playing come across more authentically. It’s kind of like watching a theatre production live as opposed to watching the same thing on tv. A live performance is as real as it gets. Even if we watch something on the latest spec television screen with the very best cinematic sound, it’s still just a moving picture and part of us knows it.

There are numerous types of woods used in classical guitars at this level. Far too many to get into any real depth in this article, but I may cover the topic at a later date.

That being said, some of your main options are generally spruce or cedar for the top and most likely Indian Rosewood for the back and sides (although luthiers are slowly starting to move towards more sustainable options). The biggest decision you’re likely to make is choosing between a spruce top or cedar top, as they tend to have different tonal characteristics.

So how much do you need to spend on a classical guitar that will see you safely through the grade 6-8 stage?

If you’re limited by budget and want the most affordable guitar that would see you safely to grade 8, I’d strongly recommend the Antonio Sanchez 1025 (£705). This is a beautiful little solid wood guitar with a sparkling voice and a wide tonal palette.

If you are able to stretch a little further then you can’t go wrong with either the Amalio Burguet 3M (£945) or Antonio Sanchez 1030 (£960). Both are available in spruce or cedar top. Both are very musically balanced instruments that give you plenty of scope to play expressively.

If you’re in the market for a handmade classical guitar but don’t want to break the bank, the Adam Welchman classical guitar (£995) would be an excellent choice. Completely handmade from scratch here in the UK.

For those with a little more budget, Amalio Burguet best selling 2M classical guitar would be a fine choice. A supberb instrument worth every penny of it’s £1,395 price tag.

To summarise your choices:

All of the above are excellent guitars, perfectly suited to a grade 6-8 classical guitarist.

Conclusion

Buying the right classical guitar will have a huge effect on how well you develop and how much you enjoy playing. Choose the right instrument and you’ll set yourself up for years of enjoyment.

All of the guitars mentioned in this article are available from the CGA guitar shop. If you found this article useful and would like to support a small business like ours, we’d really appreciate it if you bought your next guitar from us. If you want to know why it’s a good idea to buy from us versus one of the big retailers (yes, there really are some good reasons that benefit you directly), then please check out our post: Why Buy From a Classical Guitar Shop

I hope you’ve found this post to be interesting and informative. If you have any feedback or would like any further advice, please leave a comment in the section below.