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Buying a Classical Guitar

Looking to buy a new or secondhand classical guitar?

Guitar shopBuying a guitar should be an exciting experience, whether it be buying the first instrument or trading up to a more expensive model, new or second-hand. Here’s a checklist of the things you should look out for and test before parting with any of your hard-earned cash.

 

 

Size

The guitar should be comfortable to play and not be unwieldy. A good test is to try and place all 4 fingers on the 1st-4th frets of the 1st string, and/or try to play a barree chord of f major at the first position, if not, chances are the guitar will be too big for you. Guitars are typically denoted in scale length and width (at the nut-located at the top of the guitar, where the headstock meets the neck). Standard sizes are 654mm for scale length (that is from nut to 12th fret, the point at which the neck joins the body of the guitar) and 52mm for width, however 2-3mm variations either way are also found. Experiment first and don’t just buy on looks, otherwise you may cause yourself problems later.

Neck

Check that the neck is straight and true and not warped. Sometimes, guitars are deliberately made with angled or bowed fretboards. These are primarily to suit the specific requirements of a certain player. Also check that the back of the neck is comfortable as these come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses from almost semi-circular to flat-bottomed shallow designs. To check suitability play all the strings in turn at a range of positions moving laterally forward and back across the neck i.e. 5th position 1st string, 5th position 2nd string etc.

Fretboard

Here you should be checking for 3 main areas:

1. Efficiency of action
2. Correct fret-spacing
3. Fret-finish quality.

Check the action on the fretboard, that's the distance between the string and the fretboard, by playing each of the strings in turn up and down the neck, i.e. starting with 1st position 1st string (i.e. treble) working to 12+position on the 6th (bass) string. If you detect any buzzes chances are either the action is too low at a certain point, or the neck has become warped. Also check that the action is comfortable for you.

Typically the lower the action the lower the volume projection from the guitar, so there are trade-offs to be made here (that’s why, for example, electric guitars (which obviously use sound amplification) have comparatively much lower action that classical guitars for this very reason.

It’s worth taking a tuning aid-fork or electronic tuner with you to do a simple check on fret spacing. It has been known even for concert guitars to have inaccurate spacing of frets, resulting in uneven octaves and the like. To perform this simple test, once in tune, compare the open 1st E-string with the 12th position 6th E string-they are one and the same and therefore should be in perfect unison. You can also just do a quick test by playing the 1st position strings FA#G# etc. with their octave counterparts at the 13th fret and checking against your tuning aid too. Fret-finish is simply checking along the outer edges of the fretboard that there are no jutting or rough edges which could snag fingers etc. on. On older guitars fret position with respect to neck is a good indication of how the guitar has been kept.

For example if frets sit inside the edge of the board, this means the fretboard has shrunk and therefore been kept in an overly dry environment-relatively to that in which it was made. Conversely if they jut over the guitar has been kept at excess humidity. Typically humidity levels of 40-65% are deemed optimal, and will depend on location and climate (if you live in an area of extremes of temperature invest in a humidity gauge to check for this).

Tone

Does the tone sound clear and true? Obviously with cheaper guitars, don’t expect the earth (contrary to some peoples’ belief, decent guitar strings won’t make a cheap guitar sound like a concert model either). Also note that the wood used in the top will have an effect too, particularly on more expensive guitars, with cedar producing a more immediate effect that spruce which takes longer to open up (check out our article on tonewoods, click here).

Body

Lastly, check the back and the front of the guitar (bridge secure and well glued.) In more expensive guitars, the back will be made up of 2 matched parts to ensure evenness of grain. If you are buying a guitar with a single piece back, check for evenness of grain as this will indicate stability of the guitar. Finally check that the tuners on the headstock of the guitar move comfortably but not too freely.

If they don’t chances are the rollers (the rolls the strings are tied round are either too tightly position in the holes of the headstock or that there is too much play around them). Forcing the tuners overtime, for example, could result in the headstock becoming cracked and damaged.

 

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