choosing classical guitars
Guitar Talk

Frequently asked questions & answers

What is the difference in sound between spruce and cedar?

Classical guitars with cedar soundboards tend to have a very open sound and play in quickly. The tonal color of cedar affects the entire tonal palette of the instrument. I think of it as being similar to the way a colored lens filter tints an entire photograph. Classical guitars with soundboards of spruce tend to be more transparent, have more clarity, and yield a broader range of tonal variation. Guitars of spruce and cedar can be built to sound brighter or darker, regardless of the type of wood used.


Does Brazilian rosewood make the best classical guitars?

No. Acoustic guitars can be built with various other woods that work as well as Brazilian. High quality Brazilian rosewood is scarce and its price has become exorbitant. Most of the wood available is of a lower quality and will make an instrument more prone to cracking and warping. Brazilian rosewood is a beautiful sounding tone wood, but other woods that often equal it in beauty are more stable and far less expensive.


What woods do you recommend for back and sides?

My standard classical guitar models use East Indian rosewood. This wood is of high quality and reasonably priced. East Indian rosewood makes great sounding acoustic guitars and it has an excellent resale value. If you are interested in something unusual, numerous other exotic hardwoods work well for guitar construction.

Figured maple can be used to make strikingly beautiful guitars. My first choice is hard maple, sometimes called rock maple. It comes from the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. This wood has the highest density of the maple family and it is an exceptional tone wood for classical guitars. Maple from the West Coast of the United States and Canada is called big leaf maple. It is lower in density than other maples. From my experience it should be avoided in classical guitar construction.

Red and European maples, as well as cherry and walnut, also work very well. Below, from left to right, are samples of cherry, figured maple, and East Indian rosewood.


cherry classical guitar woodmaple classical guitar woodrosewood classical guitar wood

What string length is best for me?

The most popular string length for classical guitars is 650 mm. I recommend 650 mm. unless you have small hands or other reasons to prefer a shorter scale length. In that case, I recommend a 640 mm. or 645 mm. string length. Longer string lengths of 660 and 665 mm. are for players who prefer a longer scale. Since most players find long-scale guitars difficult to play, classical guitars with string lengths of 660 mm. and greater may have a lower resale value.


Reduce your string cost by half!

The bass strings on a classical guitar often go dead before the trebles. The strings are usually not worn out. The windings are dirty. Remove the bass strings only. Loosely coil them and place them in a large basin, bathroom sink or whatever. Submerge them in room temperature water. The water can be lukewarm but NEVER HOT. Hot water will cause nylon guitar strings to play out of tune.

Add about 1/4 cup of ammonia to the water and let the strings soak for about fifteen minutes. More time won't hurt them. The ammonia and water mixture breaks down crud that has built up between the windings on the strings. Put a washcloth in the water and pull each string through it a couple of times. Rinse the strings under cold water. Pull them through a dry towel and put them back on your guitar.

The cleaned basses often sound better than they did when new. They don't squeak as much and they don't need to stretch out like new strings. The washed strings also work well for recording because they are somewhat smoother since they have been played in and they have a lively, clear sound.


Will a classical guitar with a 640 mm. string length sound as good as a 650 mm. scale?

There may be a small difference in power and sustain, but with a responsive guitar this will be negligible. If you can play your 640 mm. guitar with greater ease, it will sound better to you.


What is the best humidity for my guitar?

I keep my shop at 50% relative humidity. A range of 40-70% should be quite safe for acoustic guitars built at 50% relative humidity.


What strings will sound best on my instrument?

Each classical guitar player should experiment with various strings to find which ones are best suited to his or her technique and guitar. In general, nylon trebles have a sweeter tone than composite ones. A medium or low tension string puts less tension on the soundboard and will frequently provide a greater range of tonal color. When a guitar is new, you should play it in for a few months with any brand of good quality strings. After the guitar has had time to settle in, start experimenting with various string brands and tensions to see what works best for you. I personally like Savarez New Crystal Corums, Hannabach, La Bella 2001 Professional Series, and D'Addario Pro Arte strings. Read my newsletter article on How to Select the Best Sounding Classical Guitar Strings for Your Nylon String Guitars in the October issue of the Classical Guitar Express.


What is the best finish for classical guitars?


Various players, luthiers, and classical guitar dealers have their personal opinions and preferences when it comes to finishes. From my experience, nitrocellulose lacquer, water-based lacquers, conversion finishes, French-polished shellac, and varnish all work well as long as there is only a thin coat on the soundboard. I have built guitars which are regularly used in concerts with all of these types of finishes.

For my classical guitars, I prefer a varnish finish. It has excellent acoustic properties, beauty, and superior durability. I have French polished many guitars and offer this finish as an option.


Do you offer different guitar models?

Yes, there is a smaller body model #1 of my own design which is similar in size to the concert guitar guitars of Antonio Torres and Herman Hauser, Sr.

The larger body model #2 is similar in size to the larger Spanish guitars which started coming out of Spain in the 1940s. This model is what most players would regard as a standard sized classical guitar.


Once I have ordered a guitar, can the price increase?

No. The price is locked in at the time you order.


When I order a guitar, when will it be done?

The time varies depending on my customer list. Contact me and I will give you an estimate.


Once a guitar is ordered, can I still make changes?

Yes, features can be changed up until the time construction begins.


Do you build custom guitars?

All of my guitars are custom built for each player. Contact me to let me know what features you're considering.


Do you sell through dealers?

Rarely. I always have orders. My customers are great and I like dealing with them directly.


I don't know If I play well enough yet to order a really good guitar.

An inferior instrument can hold you back. It's a pleasure to have a guitar that plays well and sounds great.


How do I order a guitar?

A $350.00 payment secures your position on my customer list with an estimated delivery date. The $350.00 is credited toward the total cost of the guitar. Half the balance is due when I start building your guitar and the remainder upon completion. VIsa and Mastercard accepted


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To discuss ordering a guitar contact me at
607-387-3875
or e-mail   tom@classicalguitarbuilder.com


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