Classical Guitar versus Steel String Guitars
About Glenn Sutton
As a professional guitar teacher with 25 years of experience (see guitarlessonspoway.com).
As one of the most popular instruments in the world, the guitar offers many variations, and each variation offers many sub classes. Once you’ve answered the question of electric verses acoustic and have chosen to play an acoustic, the next question is whether to choose a steel string or a classical guitar. While either guitar would still be considered part of the rhythm section, each offers a much different sound and is used to play different types of music. What are the major differences between the two guitars? Besides sound quality, the two largest factors are the structure of the guitar itself and the technique used to play it.
The steel stringed guitar, obviously, uses metal strings – typically steel wrapped in another type of metal. This means that the body and neck of the guitar must be able to withstand the higher tension of these stronger strings. Because the player will be playing chords, most likely strumming with a pick in order to protect the fingers, the fretboard is small enough to permit easier fingering. Using a pick also produces a richer sound than just strumming with the fingers. The fretboard is rounded in the back to enable hand maneuverability. The tuning keys face the side of the guitar, offering more leverage for the high tension of the stings when tuning them. Most steel string guitars have a plastic or fiber pick guard, located below the sound hole, which prevents scratches to the finish. Steel stringed guitars are generally made to be played using a guitar strap in either a sitting or standing position.
A classical guitar has a body that is shaped specifically to be played while sitting down and rarely uses a strap. The strings are constructed of gut or nylon, much softer materials than steel, so the body and neck do not have to be as strong. The fretboard is wider. The fingerboard is flattened and does not have inlays. The classical guitar creates softer tones than its metal-stringed counterpart.
The steel stringed acoustic guitar offers brighter pitches and a bolder, louder sound, so it is used to play folk, rock, country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, and even pop music. Because it can be played easily while standing or sitting, it is a bit more versatile than a classical guitar. It is a good choice for accompanying a vocalist or another instrument.
A classical guitar does not have a pick guard because classical guitarists do not strum with picks; rather, they pluck the strings with their fingers. The softer strings are much easier on the fingers and offer a smoother sound. The tuning keys of a classical guitar face towards the player and are often adjusted on the fly. Classical guitars are used to play classical music, as well as Spanish, Flamenco, Latin, and some older country and folk styles. The sound does not offer as much volume as a metal stringed guitar and is generally not used to accompany singers or louder instruments.
It’s all about the player
Just because you choose a steel string guitar over a classical does not mean that you can’t experiment with finger picking and classical styles (though you will have to build up stronger calluses!). Many people choose to play both types, depending on the music style or their mood. The most important consideration is picking the guitar that is best for your goals and musical desires.
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