Are Classical Guitars Tuned Differently? Facts Explained


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Classical guitars are a lot different than acoustic and electric guitars. Even just their appearance sets them apart, never mind their sound and capabilities. But many guitar players wonder just how different classical guitars are when it comes to tuning. 

Classical guitars are tuned the same way as acoustic guitars to the standard high-E, A, D G, B, and low-E. If you’re used to tuning your acoustic guitar, then a classical guitar may be a challenge to tune by ear at first. That’s because they sound slightly different. 

Let’s take a closer look at classical guitars and what sets them apart from other guitars.

How to Tune a Classical Guitar 

Tuning a guitar increases the accuracy of your tones (Question: how long does a guitar stay in tune?). From the top, each string on your guitar corresponds to high-E, A, D G, B, and low-E. The strings are different in thickness and that’s why they can produce different sounds. You should pluck each string and move the tuner to hear the pitch get lower or higher. 

Here’s a demonstration of the different notes played on a classical guitar.  

You have two options when tuning your classical guitar: 

  • Doing it by the ear 
  • Using a tuner 

Until your ear has developed enough, tuning your guitar by the ear can be a highly inaccurate approach. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to rely on a tuner while you develop your skills. 

A tuner reads the vibrations on the guitar and tells you what note they’re closest to. You can use an app on your phone to pick up the vibrations and help you get the job done. You need to have the phone on your lap to increase accuracy. Moreover, do the tuning in a quiet place and avoid speaking so that your phone’s microphone doesn’t pick up audio from other sources. 

Clip-on tuners give you the most accuracy because they are attached to the guitar. This way, you eliminate the impact of external noise. Therefore, clip-on tuners are excellent for ensemble situations where you play with a band. Different tuners come with different functionalities, user interfaces, and levels of accuracy. 

How Is Playing Classical Guitars Different From Acoustic Guitars?

Classical guitars are easier to play for beginners because the strings are made of nylon instead of steel. They also produce a much different sound and can be harder to play for people with smaller hands or shorter fingers. 

String Material and Playability

One of the biggest differences between playing a classical guitar and acoustic guitar is that classical guitars have nylon strings (Question: can you put steel strings on a classical guitar). Nylon, the material used with electric guitars, is a lot easier on your fingertips than steel. Classical guitars are easier to play for beginners because the strings are less painful for those who don’t have guitar calluses

It also means that if you already know how to play acoustic guitar, the classical guitar will be easier for you because you already have developed calluses. Once you master the spacing issues with the wider neck of the classical guitar, your fingers will thank you for the break from steel strings. 

The string material isn’t the only thing that makes classical guitars easier to play. Classical guitars also have less string tension, meaning the strings won’t require as much effort to hold down as acoustic guitar strings. For beginners, it can be difficult to hold down chords on an acoustic guitar. So, classical strings are easier to work with. 

Sound Differences

Another huge difference between acoustic and classical guitars is the sound they produce. It doesn’t take a gifted ear for music to tell the difference between the two guitars. With the different designs and string materials, you can tell the difference in the sound fairly easily. 

Classical guitar sounds aren’t as common in popular music as acoustic guitars. However, there are still plenty of examples of classical guitars being used in music for reference. You’ll commonly hear classical guitars in Flamenco or other similar types of music. 

Nylon strings and the overall design of the classical guitar make it sound softer than an acoustic guitar. So, if you’re expecting the bold punch of an acoustic guitar, you may be disappointed. 

However, classical guitars have plenty of uses in music; they just aren’t as common in modern music. 

Do Classical Guitars Look Different From Acoustic Guitars?

Though they can look similar, close-up classical guitars look different from acoustic guitars. The necks, bridges, and tuning pegs are different in classical guitars, and classical guitars tend to be smaller than acoustic. However, most of the major differences come in how you play them. 

There are also slight variations in shape between the two guitars, but this may be unnoticeable to those who aren’t already familiar with the shape of either guitar. If you know what to look for, then you’ll notice that the acoustic guitar has a much more pronounced shape compared to the more subtle shape of the classical guitar. 

Let’s talk about some of the finer details that set them apart. 

The Necks

Classical and acoustic guitars both have six strings, but their necks are different. A neck on a classical guitar is wider than the neck of an acoustic guitar. It means there’s more spacing between each of the strings because there’s more room on the neck of a classical guitar to spread them out. 

There are both advantages and detriments to a wider neck like those on classical guitars. A major disadvantage is that it’s more difficult to play on a wider neck. Your fingers have more space to cover to play notes. So, you may struggle to play a classical guitar as quickly as an acoustic. 

If you learned to play acoustic guitar before classical, you may struggle to reach each string because the neck is wider. Using the same hand placement won’t work on a classical guitar because the neck is so much larger. So, you’ll need to relearn to play many notes to excel at playing classical guitar. 

However, this larger neck can be an advantage, too, since it gives you the ability to space out your fingers more. This bigger space allows you to refrain from accidentally muting strings. 

If you’ve played acoustic guitar, you understand how easy it can be to accidentally mute strings as you play more complicated chords. It happens because the strings are so close together. So, muting a string is a lot more difficult to do when playing classical guitar because of the extra room on the neck. 

The Bridges

The bridge on an acoustic guitar is constructed a lot differently from a classical guitar. The strings are held on to each type of guitar differently. Acoustic guitar strings have pegs used to hold the strings in place. This makes it easier to string an acoustic guitar compared to classical. 

Instead of having pegs to hold the strings in place, a classical guitar bridge requires them to be tied. This feature is nothing new to guitar players, as strings need to be tied at the top of an acoustic guitar. However, it can be a pain to have to tie strings at the top and bottom of a classical guitar.

Tuning Pegs

On the headstock of acoustic and classical guitars, you’ll notice glaring differences. The tuning pegs of classical guitars are set up differently from an acoustic guitar. Upon first glance, you’ll notice that classical guitars have open windows where the tuning pegs are. In acoustic guitars, the headstock is a whole, solid piece. 

Looking at the tuning pegs a little closer, you’ll notice even more differences than just their appearance. Acoustic guitar tuning pegs are made completely of metal. Classical guitar tuning pegs are a combination of plastic and metal. 

Is It Better To Learn Acoustic or Classical Guitar as a Beginner?

As a beginner, it’s easier to learn a classical guitar than an acoustic guitar. It’s better for beginners, especially children because classical guitars come in many different sizes. 

Not only are classical guitar strings easier on your fingers, but the wide neck also gives you more space between the strings. It’s a lot more difficult for classical guitar players to accidentally mute strings when playing chords than acoustic guitar. 

Children will have a lot more options for classical guitars because you can get them in many different sizes. On the other hand, an acoustic guitar may be too large for children to hold and play. If you want the best option to get your young child started in guitar playing, classical is the way to go. 

One important aspect sometimes disregarded in learning a new instrument is actual interest. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to learn classical guitar first, but it’s important to decide if you like it. One of the biggest reasons that people stop learning to play any instrument is the loss of interest. 

You’re a lot more likely to lose interest in playing an instrument that you aren’t passionate about. If you prefer the sound of an acoustic guitar compared to a classical guitar, it’s important to learn acoustic guitar. If a classical guitar doesn’t hold your interest, then move on to acoustic or electric. 

Loss of interest in the classical guitar can be pretty common because it’s not used in modern music often. In fact, if you try to learn modern songs on a classical guitar, it won’t sound right because of how different classical and acoustic guitars sound. So, always choose to learn the guitar that’ll bring you the most satisfaction. 

If you want to learn classical guitar playing or are just passionate about guitars or music in general, then there’s nothing wrong with learning classical guitar. It can help you create unique and beautiful sounds. However, if you’re just looking for a catalyst to get to acoustic or electric guitar, then start with them. Otherwise, you may quickly lose interest. 

Final Thoughts

Classical guitars are tuned the same way as acoustic ones with standard tuning. But their other differences are glaring. While there’s a debate about whether classical or acoustic guitars are better, we can all agree that they both have unique sounds that have made major impacts on music. 

Whichever guitar you prefer, make sure you give classical guitars the attention they deserve. We may not hear them often in modern music, but classical guitars are still a vital part of creating music.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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