Classical Guitar: History, Manufacture, and Technique

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

An Introduction to the Nylon-Stringed Guitar

Classical guitar is one of the best-known and loved music genres in the world. There is something quite classic and romantic about its sound, and it can be used in a number of ways. This article will review the history of classical guitar, how it is made, how it differs from steel-stringed guitar, and its unique method of playing.


The classical guitar as we know it today was developed in the late 19th Century. It has its roots in ancient times, with numerous guitar-like stringed instruments being made and played. Most classical guitars are much smaller than their steel-stringed counterparts. Their shape is based on designs of early romantic guitars from France and Italy. Strings are now commonly made from nylon with a fine wire wrap around the bass strings.

Works composed directly for guitar made their first appearance in the late 1700s, although they were derivative of compositions for other instruments. Classical guitar music came into its own in the late 19th century. Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) was considered the father of modern classical guitar. Andres Segovia (1893-1987) was the most popular classical guitarist of the modern era.


The backs and sides of most classical guitar bodies are constructed of maple or rosewood for resonance and durability. The soundboard is often made from cedar, spruce, or rosewood because of their resonance.

Contemporary classical guitarists often use what is called the “Smallman” design of guitar, which uses a balsa brace and can be played louder and with more sustain, but loses some of the tonality of Spanish (traditional classical) guitar.

The look, feel, and sound of an acoustic guitar are radically different from that of steel stringed guitars. Classical guitars are typically considerably smaller. Their necks are wider. Nylon strings are much softer and gentler on the fingertips than steel strings; this adds to the different feel. The sound is quite different; it is much “lighter” and quieter than a steel stringed acoustic being played with the same intensity.

Playing technique of the classical guitar

Classical guitar is typically played while seated, with the guitar on the lap and one foot placed on a footstool. Classical guitar is played with the thumb plucking from the top of a string downwards (downstroke) and the other fingers plucking from the bottom of string upwards (upstroke). A pick is never used. The fingers are always in contact with the strings.

Like with most other musical instruments, you can self-teach with the help of videos and books. But this is not a good idea for classical guitar. This is a highly stylized and specialized genre and needs more finessing than other styles of guitar playing do. It is highly recommended that you get one-on-one lessons with an instructor who is proficient in classical guitar.

This is much harder to play well than other genres of guitar, but if you work hard and keep at it, you can become quite a proficient player.


Classical Guitar is one of the most beautiful forms of music in the world. If you can master it, you will have accomplished a great deal, and will have years of enjoyment as a result.

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