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I play acoustic and electric, and want to get into classical guitar playing. I was wondering what is important to look for when buying a classical guitar? I know that personal "feel" is important, but are there any specific things I should look for?

Also, are there classical guitars that plug directly into an amp?

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Some parts of the shopping are the same as with all acoustic guitars.

  • Look for wood quality (Considering your price range...)
    • Solid top beats laminate. You'll notice the biggest improvement in sound here.
    • Solid wood back and sides beats Solid top only.
  • Guitars with purfling and binding are more expensive, and should sound better than guitars that are without. (This website shows purfling and binding being put on a guitar.)
  • Play every fret on every string just like you would on all guitars.

  • It is rare for classical guitars to have twisted necks, or warped necks. It can happen. If the frets do not appear parallel when looking at the fret-board form an extreme angle, then there is twist. (twist is bad)

  • Look at the saddle (Bridge), make sure it is not separating from the face of the guitar. (It's glued on, and sometimes if the guitar is misused it will separate slightly from the soundboard(face). (usually dried out, sometimes strung with the wrong strings). This is something that is more common in classical guitars. Sometimes it is OK for this to have been repaired. Look for it though and renegotiate the price if you find this to be the case. The quality of such repairs can vary greatly (Not just because of repair persons, but also the level of damage being repaired.)

  • Look for the face, or soundboard to be flat. A little rise in the area of the bridge is to be expected in older guitars, but if it is pronounced it could spell trouble. This is a sign of a dry guitar, and it can be a serious problem in and of its self.

  • Most guitars will be book matched, but look for it anyway for fun. If you are a sales person, its a wonderful empty point. "Look at how beautify book matched it is." This means that the top and back both have been cut as two thin pieces of the same piece of wood and folded out like a butterfly to match symmetrically on both sides of the guitar for an even tone and look. Some rare guitars will have the back made in three pieces, and you can decide for yourself if that is OK, but it is rare that those guitars have measured up for me (for what ever reason).
  • Classical guitars can be amplified just like acoustics, where it is an added feature you need to look for. There are two possibilities that are popular: piezo "pickups" (which are pressure sensitive slivers inserted under the bridge saddle), and contact, and other various types of microphones (see RockinCowboy's useful comment below). Some contact mikes can be applied to any instrument without installation.
    • piezos have a kind of jumbly rumble too the sound that is what gives Dave Matthews' Guitar a weird kind of rumble, but they are dependable and sound OK.
    • Mikes are better sound quality but carry feedback much easier.
    • many mix the two with some kind of controlled blending for the best of both under different gig conditions.
    • Note that true pickups (such as electric guitars have) will not work on a classical guitar. (The strings have very few magnetic properties, and will not alter a magnetic field enough to make a sound this way.).
    • Sometimes, especially with aftermarket installations, "pickup" systems such as these may introduce a rattle inside the body from the wires used. You can sometimes tell it's the wires, if you hear the wires tap against the body as you gently shake it. This can easily be fixed. If there is a rattle on a guitar you love, don't take it home until the store promises to fix it.
  • As with any acoustic guitar, give it some strums on a few chords and listen carefully for wood rattling. If there is a buzz or rattle coming from the body, it may be reparable. I wouldn't pay for such a guitar until the repair is complete and confirmed. Sometimes this rattle can show up when playing individual notes. Such rattles are more likely on expensive instruments where the construction is more delicate and at the same time more tensioned like a drum.
  • As always, when shopping for an instrument, play many different ones and listen to them. No two guitars sound exactly alike. Even the same model will be made from two different pieces of wood, and every tree has the potential to be a little different. Every guitar has some handling and a personal touch that can also effect the sound on all but the most basic of instruments.
  • Wood:
    • I know that they make cedar and spruce tops, as well as other varieties. I like Cedar, and it is a little more accepted in classical guitars, but the thing to note is that you should try both (and any others I have missed that are available) and see which you think you like best.
    • The back and sides and neck should be a harder wood, I think rosewood is the standard. I have never seen it to be maple for what ever reason, although it seems to be a decent choice on steel string acoustic guitars.
    • The fret board is usually either Rosewood, or ebony. My opinion is shared by many: Ebony feels better under your fingers. It is also often more expensive.
  • As with shopping for any guitar, look for fret wear and tear. It is less common, but entirely possible. It is more likely on the lower string side.
  • As with all guitars, if you glide your hand across the edge of the guitar neck and feel the frets, it is not necessarily a sign of bad craftsmanship, but it is a sign of a guitar that is too dry (a bad thing). This condition is more rare on classical guitars, but it does happen.
  • The seasoned classical guitar shopper may tap gently on the face of the guitar. They are listening for reverberation. A responsive reverberating sound full of string resonance is evidence of a high quality instrument. A cheaper quality guitar may have a little resonance, but ultimately sounds less drum like, less pretty and a little dead (close to drumming on a solid block of wood). (See @Yorik's good comment) Also look for a lack of rattling from loose parts.
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    Good comprehensive answer +1. I would add that contact pickups that stick to the soundboard and react to the vibration of the soundboard are different than dynamic microphone pickups that work the same way as a vocal mic (you can even talk into one and amplify your voice). Both types can be used on a nylon string classical guitar. But they are two different animals. I've used both. I prefer the dynamic mic inside the body for a more natural sound, but they are more prone to feedback. Some folks swear by the contact body sensors such as the ones made by K&K. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 17 '15 at 19:23
  • @RockinCowboy Good addition, I haven't had too much experience with the mikes. I hate calling them pickups even though we all seem to do it. I even did it in my answer. – amalgamate Dec 17 '15 at 21:21
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    Well - they do "pick up" the sound of the guitar and provide a mechanism whereby that picked up sound can be sent to an amplifier. So in that regard, they could in fact be considered a type of "pickup". Obviously an external mic would be more appropriately called a microphone. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 17 '15 at 22:33
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    On the low-end of pricing, "electrified" often is synonymous with "sounds bad when not plugged in." The better guitars sound awesome by themselves and many will even resonate when people nearby are speaking etc. The box is an amplifier and if you just hold the box lightly and it resonates while you talk next to it then it will probably be responsive and pick up more subtlety in your playing. – Yorik Dec 18 '15 at 17:30
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No matter what level you play at, it is important to actually visit your local music store and try a few. The best model or brand is the one that feels right in your hands. And only you can make that determination.

For your other question, yes. There are classical guitars with pickups installed. But electronics cost money; so, a hypothetical $500 acoustic/electric is probably a $400 guitar with $60 electronics that took an extra $40 of labor to install.

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The least of your concerns with a classical is pickups or microphones. I would never buy a classical with hardware on it, as a good classical absolutely needs to be properly set up with an external mic or two to capture the sounds and qualities of the guitar for which you are paying. If you are playing in an environment that requires pickups you may as well get a cheap classical for that purpose.

  • Other player's needs will likely differ from yours. Classical style guitars are used in so many genres and settings, many of which will not work so well with a microphone. I once recorded and mixed a technical metal album which had classical guitar on it - there's no way they are micing that live. But that doesn't mean there's no point in having a quality guitar, just because of a pickup. Better guitars with pickups sound and play better than worse guitars with pickups. – Todd Wilcox Jun 20 '18 at 18:29

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