If you're passionate about the look, feel, and playability of classical guitars, you might be interested in learning about the cream of the crop of these exquisite instruments. Whether you play classical, jazz, or flamenco, you are likely to find the instrument of your dreams when you explore the realm of high end, nylon string guitars.
Qualities of a High End Classical Guitar
The definition of a high end nylon string guitar includes numerous factors, each of which is vital. These factors must work with one another in a balanced way to result in an upscale instrument that any musician would be proud to call her dream guitar.
Crafted by Hand
Top quality classical guitars are individually handcrafted by highly skilled luthiers. In the hands of master luthiers, no shortcuts are taken in body construction, fret placement, or components like tuners, saddles, and nuts. All components are of the highest quality. Expert luthiers invest time in making sure everything is put together to best advantage for superior tone, durability, playability, and responsiveness.
High Quality Tonewoods
The best classical guitars use only the highest quality solid tonewoods for the sides, back, top, neck, and fingerboard. You won't find laminates used in high end instruments. Laminates are a means of making mass-produced guitars more affordable, but skilled luthiers know it takes solid woods. such as rosewood, mahogany, and spruce, for an instrument to sound its best.
Because of the top notch tuners used in their construction, upscale classical guitars are known for their tremendous ability to stay in tune, whether open tuning or while a guitarist is fretting. Cheaper guitars might stay in tune with open strings, but they can sound less tuneful as a guitarist works her way up the fretboard. If you choose an upscale classical guitar, you can have confidence in its ability to stay finely tuned throughout, no matter where you're playing on the fretboard.
Tone, Projection, and Dynamics
The consensus among classical guitarists seems to be that the warmer the tone, the better. If you choose a top quality classical guitar over a mass-produced model, you'll be rewarded with a rich, warm tone capable of great projection, nuanced intonation, a broad range of dynamics, and tremendous resonance.
A high end, nylon string guitar is, quite simply, a work of art. These exquisite instruments embody almost as much appeal for their incredible looks as for their sound and playability. Each handcrafted classical guitar is a one-of-a-kind instrument with a uniquely beautiful appearance.
Upscale Classical Guitar Models
Since upscale classical guitars are individually handcrafted by master luthiers, you won't be able to walk into your local music instrument store and pluck one off the rack. Top quality guitars are often sold online, though, and you might need to contact the individual luthier for information about available models or custom builds.
Thames Classical Guitars
Michael Thames has been crafting classical guitars for over forty years from his shop in New Mexico. Over those decades, he has produced around 800 of these exquisite, one-of-a-kind instruments, and he continuously works to develop and refine his unique approach.
- High End Features - The rosette is one of the most beautiful aesthetic components of a classical guitar, and Thames constructs and dyes each rosette himself. The sides of Thames' guitars are constructed of rosewood and mahogany, with mahogany on the interior of the sides and rosewood on the exterior. He utilizes hot hide glue on critical components since he has found it heightens a guitar's harmonic resonance. For soundboards, Thames uses top quality western cedar or European and Italian spruce. His wood choices all play a role in producing a delightfully warm, balanced tone with plenty of sustain.
- Models and Pricing - You can view available guitars on Michael Thames' website, or you can contact him directly if you have questions about his instruments or if you want a custom build. His latest model, priced at $7,800, is a DT guitar with sides crafted from East Indian rosewood that has been aged for 45 years. The guitar features a French-polished top, and its sound has tremendous dynamic range and lots of volume.
- Reviews - Matt Palmer, an internationally renowned classical guitarist who has been praised by music critics for his virtuosity and expressive style, plays one of Michael Thames' handcrafted guitars. Theophilus Benjamin, one of India's best known classical guitarists, also uses a Michael Thames instrument as his concert guitar and praises it for its outstanding sound and volume.
Douglass Scott Classical Guitars
Douglass Scott is a Canadian luthier who crafts guitars that are nothing less than works of art. He focuses on building top quality concert instruments for classical, jazz, and flamenco artists. His guitars are prized by composers, collectors, and conservatory teachers and students. Contact Scott if you're interested in purchasing a guitar, or you can browse through currently available instruments.
- High End Features - Douglass Scott builds all his guitars from top quality woods that have been aged over a number of years. For his soundboards, he uses western red cedar or spruce. For the sides of his guitars, he offers a choice of European maple or Indian rosewood, but you can inquire about other possibilities. Scott's guitars feature mahogany or Spanish cedar necks, ebony fingerboards, and Gotoh 510 tuners. If you wish, you can also get extras, such as an elevated fingerboard, a sound port, and an arm rest.
- Models and Pricing - Douglass Scott's guitars are available in three models: the Concert Classical, the Concert Short Scale, and the Modern Terz. The Concert Classical, Scott's flagship model, costs $6,200 and is available in scale lengths from 640 to 660 millimeters. Scott created the Concert Short Scale for musicians with smaller hands, and its scale lengths run from 613.5 millimeters. The Modern Terz, which costs $5,900, is Scott's present day interpretation of the Terz guitar, a smaller scale guitar that was popular in the early nineteenth century.
- Reviews - Bradford Werner, a classical guitar teacher at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in British Columbia, also runs a website, This Is Classical Guitar, and gives private lessons. He praises Douglass Scott as an innovative luthier who thinks outside of the box when it comes to guitar design. Werner notes Scott's fan brace design results in louder, punchier guitars than those of other luthiers who use a doubletop or lattice framework. He recommends Scott's guitars for their exceptional cleanness and clarity of tone.
Lowden Jazz Series
Based in Downpatrick, Ireland, Lowden Guitars produces both nylon string and steel string instruments. George Lowden started making guitars in 1974, and over forty years later, he's still going strong as a luthier with a dedicated and highly skilled team. Lowden Guitars' handcrafted instruments are one-of-a-kind creations of uncompromising quality. You can sometimes find these guitars for sale online, or you can look for a dealer near you.
- High End Features - Lowden and his team craft their guitars using hand tools, such as knives, planes, spokeshaves. and chisels, so as not to introduce any extra stress into the creation of their instruments that will deaden the sound. These luthiers use only the highest quality tonewoods for just the right amount of vibration and resonance for a balanced, pure tone, and they hand split all the wood that's used for the soundboards and bracing in their guitars.
- Models and Pricing - The Jazz Series guitars, which retail for around $5,500, are stunning examples of high end, nylon string instruments. These concert classical guitars feature an S cutaway and are available with either spruce or cedar soundboards. They also have slimmer necks than typical classical guitars and cambered fingerboards for increased playability for all kinds of styles, whether classical, jazz, or flamenco. These guitars are fitted with Fishmann Matrix Infinity pickups.
- Reviews - Music Radar includes the Lowden Jazz Series S25J in their list of the eighteen best nylon string guitars in the world, lauding the instrument's appeal to both nylon string guitarists and steel string guitarists. Mandolin Brothers describes the S25J as having a luscious sound with a lengthy sustain and an "airy presence."
Kenny Hill Signature Guitars
Master luthier Kenny Hill has been quoted as saying there are two kinds of guitars, one that people want to play and one that people don't want to play, and that he wants to build the kind people want to play. He has been doing exactly that since the 1970s: crafting top-notch instruments of exceptional playability. Kenny Hill distributes guitars through dealers across the United States, or if you wish, you can contact him directly about guitars in his showroom.
- High End Features - Kenny Hill offers instruments with either spruce or Western red cedar soundboards. Other high end options from which you can choose include French polish, a truss rod, a custom short scale, a standup model with a gentle taper that makes the guitar easy to play while standing, and guitars with double tops, for which Hill uses a thin layer of spruce with a thin layer of cedar to add nuance and complexity to the sound.
- Models and Pricing - Hill Signature Guitars are Kenny Hill's pride and joy, and he calls this custom-made series his company's finest guitars. A Hill Signature Guitar will cost you around $7,500, and it features a double top composed of spruce and cedar, an elevated fingerboard that makes the higher register of the instrument more accessible, an Alessi, Sloane, or Gilbert tuner, sound ports, and a dual action truss road. For the framework of the soundboard, you can choose either fan bracing or lattice bracing, whichever you prefer.
- Reviews - The Guitar Site ranks the Kenny Hill Signature Guitar as the ultimate boutique instrument on their list of the best nylon string guitars. This model is praised for its exceptional tone, quality, and appearance. The Guitar Site gives a hearty thumbs up to the double top, which makes the Kenny Hill Signature model both pleasantly lightweight and incredibly responsive to the virtuosic playing style of accomplished classical, jazz, and flamenco guitarists.
Chris George Custom CE-N
Based in the United Kingdom, Chris George has been making guitars for over forty years, many of them acoustic and electric, and he won the prestigious Guitarist's Choice award from Guitarist Magazine for his work. He also appeared on the shortlist for the MIA award for Best Acoustic Guitar of the Year in 2013. It turns out that Chris is skilled and innovative when it comes to making classical guitars, too. You can contact him directly for a custom build.
- High End Features - The Chris George Custom CE-N is crafted from solid rosewood and spruce and features a cedar neck whose shape was inspired by a Juan Alvarez concert classical guitar built in 1968. The CE-N has a fan-braced framework, and the body is joined to the neck by means of a dovetail, which is a feature more typical of steel string acoustics. This is a truly hybrid and original instrument that blends elements of classical design with elements of acoustic and electric guitars.
- Models and Pricing - Available for about $3,500, the Chris George CE-N, a custom-designed cutaway electro with nylon strings, is one of the most innovative classical guitars that has ever been designed. The CE-N has an Aura pre-amp which lends a great deal of onboard control over your tone. With its body depth reduced by 25 per cent, the CE-N results in much less feedback and brooks no compromise in its warm, nylon sound.
- Reviews - The Chris George Custom CE-N is included in Music Radar's list of the world's eighteen best nylon string guitars, and in guitarist Dave Burrluck's review for the website, he writes that this fascinating guitar is a winner with its hybrid design elements, its balanced tone and punchy volume, and its flexible sonic palette available via the Aura pre-amp. Chris George writes that he designed this unique model to produce a Spanish sound with minimum feedback.
Taylor Jason Mraz Signature Model
Founded by Bob Taylor over forty years ago, Taylor Guitars has become the number one acoustic guitar manufacturer in the United States. Taylor Guitars produces high end steel string and nylon string models that are played by famous artists, such as Jason Mraz and Taylor Swift.
- High End Features - Taylor's nylon string guitars are known for their warm, classical tone as well as for having a narrower neck that enhances their playability. They feature single cutaways and tops and sides made of high quality tonewoods like mahogany and cedar. Taylor's classical guitars offer onboard electronics such as ES-N pickups to enrich their sonic possibilities.
- Models and Pricing - Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who has won two Grammy awards, collaborated with Taylor Guitars to create the Jason Mraz Signature Model, which costs around $3,200. This grand concert model incorporates non-traditional elements into its design, such as a rosette composed of zodiac symbols and a fretboard inlay that reads "Be Love." The top of the guitar is crafted from Western red cedar, and the back and sides are made of Indian rosewood.
- Reviews - The Jason Mraz Signature Model is included in The Guitar Site's list of top quality classical guitars, winning high praise for combining workhorse durability with beautiful looks that could qualify it as a museum piece. Chorder also gives this instrument a glowing review, saying the Jason Mraz Signature Model is one of the finest pieces of luthiery available anywhere. You'll love the warm, expressive sound of this guitar, which is suitable for a wide range of fingerpicking styles from the simple to the complex.
Johnny Walker Grand Concert Model
Based in Oklahoma, Johnny Walker is a master luthier who constructs world class nylon string guitars in the classical and flamenco traditions. He got his start as a classical guitar student who built his own guitar, and he has been handcrafting guitars ever since. His instruments have an excellent, resonant tone with plenty of volume, harmonics, and sustain. Contact him directly if you're interested in a guitar.
- High End Features - Johnny Walker custom designs and builds guitars according to what his customers want and need. If you work with Johnny on a guitar, you'll be able to choose from a variety of top quality tonewoods for the back and sides, such as Monterey or Spanish cypress, Cocobolo rosewood, or black walnut. His guitars have either spruce or cedar tops with mahogany or Spanish cedar necks. Each guitar has a Gotoh tuner and is French-polished.
- Models and Pricing - Johnny Walker's Grand Concert Model is his highest end classical guitar, and it costs $4,200. Johnny describes it as the culmination of his experience as a luthier. He likes to construct the Grand Concert Model with Cocobolo rosewood on the head plate, sides, and back, but customers may also choose from other rosewoods or even blackwood. The neck is made of mahogany, and the guitar is constructed on a fan braced framework. The fretboard is made of ebony, and you can choose the scale length you want.
- Reviews - On classical guitar forums, owners of Johnny Walker guitars heap praise on these fine instruments. One owner says his Johnny Walker Grand Concert guitar has a "beautifully sweet sound" and lends itself well to playing Flamenco styles. Other owners comment on the excellent workmanship of Johnny Walker instruments and laud Johnny as a "meticulous builder" of old school classical guitars. Musicians who own these instruments agree that they are an "incredible value."
Cordoba Master Series Hauser
Cordoba Guitars has been around since 1997, and in the two decades of their existence, they have sought to develop and refine the classical guitar in the modern age. Cordoba draws on the Spanish heritage of the classical guitar and the skills of gifted luthiers to create beautiful and responsive instruments.
- High End Features - Like the other guitars of Cordoba's Master Series, the Hauser is a masterfully handcrafted guitar that incorporates luscious tonewoods like Englemann spruce for the top and Indian rosewood for the back and sides. Though Cordoba's Hauser is modeled on a vintage guitar from 1937, it is enhanced by modern components like a geared tuning machine and a truss rod. The guitar has aesthetically pleasing touches such as top, back, and side purfling and a gorgeous mosaic rosette.
- Models and Pricing - Cordoba has built five different models, including the Hauser, as part of their Master Series to honor great luthiers who have shaped the evolution of the classical guitar. The Master Series Hauser is based on Hermann Hauser's 1937 guitar which was the instrument of choice for classical guitar maestro Andres Segovia, who impeccably demonstrated that the guitar is every bit a suitable concert instrument as a piano or a violin. The Cordoba Master Series Hauser retails for around $4,500, but you can sometimes find it online for less.
- Reviews - You'll find the Cordoba Master Series Hauser at the number one spot on Guitar World's list of ten dream guitars, which are, as the magazine puts it, "exceptional guitars you wish you owned." Cordoba's Hauser gets kudos for its perfectly balanced tone and outstanding voicing. Guitar Aficionado writes glowingly of the guitar's sonic range, marveling that its low end sounds like a piano while its high end is "exceptionally sweet."
2017 Paulino Bernabe PB Goldmedaille Concert Classical
Paulino Bernabé Roman has continued in the tradition of his father, Paulino Bernabé Almendariz, crafting world famous Spanish classical guitars from his shop in Madrid. Paulino Bernabé II worked alongside his father for thirty years, learning the craft, and has remained true to his father's legacy. Paulo Bernabé guitars are internationally recognized as superb and are coveted by serious musicians all around the globe.
- High End Features - Paulino Bernabé uses aged, fine-grained tonewoods to craft his guitars. For the Goldmedaille Concert Classical, he uses Canadian cedar for its top and Lauro Prieto for the back and sides. For other models, he uses woods that range from German spruce pine to Palo Santo. These woods have a remarkable sound because they've been left out to dry for literally decades.
- Models and Pricing -- The PB Goldmedaille Concert Classical retails for $12,500 and is a truly world class instrument, prized for its marvelous craftsmanship and outstanding, balanced tone that features a rich bass end, a bright treble end, and remarkable clarity and evenness throughout its sonic range. The guitar has excellent projection, as well, making it a delight to play for any concert musician.
- Reviews -- As you might expect, Paulino Bernabé's guitars garner rave reviews for their aesthetics, quality, and sound. Classical Guitar N Stuff calls the tone of these guitars "vibrant and rich," hailing them for their incredible responsiveness, their rich pallette of harmonics, and their sheer elegance on all conceivable levels.
An Investment for a Lifetime
If you're interested in purchasing a high end classical guitar, you'll have to make a sizable financial investment, since these magnificent instruments don't come cheap. If you have the funds, though, to make such a purchase, you won't regret it, since a one-of-a-kind, masterfully crafted classical guitar, with its beauty, impeccable sound, and exceptional playability, will give you tremendous joy over the course of your lifetime.