The Classical Guitar is one of the oldest instruments in terms of evolution, however it really found its current form with the great Spanish Masters, Fernando Sor, Ferdinando Carrulli, Matteo Carcassi, Mauro Giuliani, Isaac Albeniz, Dionisio Aguado, etc. These composers and players were the foundation of the modern Classical Guitar with its distinctive broad body and bulging pear shape. These great artistes all lived in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s and between them laid down the largest part of the currently played and recognized Classical Guitar repertoire.
So good was their mastery and skill at composing that even some of the recognized Great Classical Composers notably Beethoven and Schubert wrote works specifically for the Guitar! Beethoven once commented “The Guitar is a veritable orchestra unto itself”. Fur Elise was written as a classical guitar piece for his niece who was learning to play.
“Many of the celebrated Vienna composers were familiar with the guitar and played it as an accompaniment to songs. Both Schubert and von Weber were players and both published a number of songs with guitar accompaniment. In The Guitar and Mandolin (Schott, London. Revised edition 1954), P.J. Bone wrote, “The majority of Schubert’s accompaniments were conceived on the guitar, and only afterwards did he set them for the piano, and many of his early songs were originally published with guitar. Many of his accompaniments show clearly and indisputably the influence and character of this instrument; they are in truth guitar accompaniments.”” Frederick Noad, The Classical Guitar (Ariel Publications, New York, 1976).
The deep body and rigid sides of the Classical Guitar have been specifically designed to amplify the sound and to produce the deep rich tones that we associate with today’s instruments. The design gradually evolved from early stringed instruments that probably made their way across the globe from India and Africa, via Arabia and finally to Spain where the modern Guitar finally took shape. There are of course many cousins such as the Banjo, Lyre, Lute, Mandolin and Ukulele to name a few.
The size and portability of the guitar made it a very popular instrument and early versions were played and were popular as far back as the Elizabethan era and even earlier in the UK. It is hardly surprising therefore that when electricity made the amplified electric guitar a possibility the instrument began a second career as the instrument of choice for Rock Bands, Country Musicians and bands in general.
The Classical Guitar is plucked with the finger nails of the right hand and the notes are selected with the fingers of the left hand, on the fret board, which is usually made of a hard wood such as Rosewood or Mahogany, the body is made of softer woods to allow for the shaping, Spruce is often used. The Face Board should be solid. many cheaper instruments are plywood faced, which can degenerate with time, so these should be avoided. The strings are nylon with the base three (typically) being wound with metal. Some brands of string wind the G and B strings with finer nylon (Saverez for one), this is to give the string a more consistent width and therefore purer sound for each note, nylon tending to stretch with age and thereby distorting notes due to the variations in string width.
Strings typically last from one to four months depending on the use of the instrument and quality of the strings used, as well as the physical attributes of the player! Sweat and body oils can change the string life noticeably.
The Classical Guitar is a great choice for your first instrument since the wider neck makes it easier to avoid left hand fingers touching the wrong strings, the nylon strings are also easier on the left hand finger tips. Finally the classical guitar is played ergonomically. The position is seated on a square backed chair with the left leg supported on a foot stool so that the guitar rests on the left thigh, the inside of the right thigh with the top of the body resting on the lower part of your chest. The fret board should make an approximately 45 degree angle to the ground, this leaves the left hand totally free to move up and down the fretboard, the left hand plays no part in supporting the instrument.
The main difference between a classical guitar and a steel string guitar is in the strength of the instrument a steel string requires much higher tension to tune than does nylon so a Classical Guitar should never be strung with steel strings, this could break it in two. The bridge of the Classical Guitar includes a plastic insert over which the strings pass they are then threaded through a hole and are twisted over the string two or three times and the loose end is passed along the bottom of the bridge plate and held in place by each subsequently threaded string. You string from base E to treble E in sequence (E, A, D, G, B, E). A steel strung guitar uses some form of peg to anchor each string and this is the easiest way to tell the instruments apart.
In order for children to learn to play before their fingers are fully developed Classical Guitars are made in 1/2 (4-8) and 3/4 sixes (9-12) as well as full size. There are copious amounts of guitar sheet music available on line and even teaching and lesson systems. The biggest plus of all is if you learn to play classical you can play anything!
Just to get you started I have included Classical Guitars for all ages of players along with my favourite strings and music books to get you started. Please bookmark the site and visit often, for more inspiration from some of the world’s best teachers and players, the site is updated regularly. Thank you.
Great places to find well priced guitars are Amazon.com and eBay, in the UK John Lewis and other stores carry quality starter instruments.
John Williams Plays Asturias
I chose this video because John has the almost perfect position for playing Classical Guitar, you do not need to be this good until you have practised 8 hours a day for 30 years!
Contrast the playing and position to that of Andres Segovia probably the greatest ever Classical Guitarist.
Andres Segovia Plays Asturias
Asturias is one of the greatest compositions of Isaac Albeniz.