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Acoustic Versus Classical Guitars - What's the Difference?

You can probably tell the difference between an acoustic and an electric guitar without any help, even if you've never played before. But if you're trying to figure out what makes an acoustic model different from a classical model, you might need a few hints.

And if you're in the market to buy a guitar, you definitely need to know why these two types of acoustic guitars aren't identical. If you invest in the wrong type of instrument, you won't be able to do the things that you imagined yourself doing when you brought your model home from the music store. The style of music you really want to play is affected – and badly! – by the wrong guitar.

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Both acoustic and classical guitars are non-electric; that is, they don't require guitar amps or other electrical things to work. All that you need is a comfy place to sit and the inspiration to play. All sorts of musicians turn to these guitars for mellower songs: sometimes even hard rockers do this just for the "unplugged" sound that these guitars add to their hit tunes.

You can tell the difference between acoustic and classical models just by looking at the guitars. Here are the main physical features that stand out.

Acoustic guitars have:

  • Pick guards. These large, plastic guards protect the guitar's finish from your straying pick. Classical guitars don't typically have these guards, as players prefer using their fingernails to pluck the strings.
  • Tuning pegs that stick out. They run parallel to the guitar's head.

Classical guitars have:

  • Nylon strings. These produce mellower sounds than acoustic guitar strings, which are usually made of metal.
  • Tuning pegs that face you when you're holding the guitar in the playing position.
  • Wider fret boards. The added width puts more space between each string, which makes finger movements (i.e. cord or note changes) easier.

So, why should you care what the things look like?

First, these two types will sound different from each other. A classical guitar will have a mellower, more subdued sound than an acoustic model will. If you're interested in playing acoustic versions of your favorite hard-rock songs, you want to look at the acoustic section first. But if you think that intricate songs with tons of finger picking are more your style, head to the classical side of the guitar section.

Another thing to think about is how much you love your picks. If you don't like the idea of using your thumb, or all of the fingers on your strumming hand, to pluck the strings, you should go with acoustic. Make sure that the model you buy has a pick guard so that you won't accidentally scratch your new instrument's pristine finish.

Now that you know the basic differences, you can talk to the people at your local music store with a little more confidence. You'll be able to discuss the very basics of the guitars with the employees, which will help you make a better buying decision.

And, with the right guitar in your hands, you'll be that much more motivated to practice, practice, practice.

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