Nylon vs. Steel vs. Electric

The world of guitar is full of options. Not only in styles of music where guitar can be found, but in the wide range of guitars available to anyone wanting to learn or expand their collection. This can lead to problems deciding what guitar to start on or what to purchase next. To help decide what kind of guitar you should buy here are a few pointers to help guide your way.

  1. Nylon or Classical guitars- This type of guitar is always what I recommend for new students. Nylon strings are easy to push down, they are smaller and are easier to handle, they come in many different sizes, and have a good starting price at about $300. They will often come with a gig bag and other essentials to help get a new student started.

For more advanced players getting into the classical guitar is a great way to push yourself to improve technique and musicality. While many classical guitars can be found very cheap there are many high value luthiers such as David Pace, Kenny Hill, or Greg Smallman (many more). Classical guitars made by these luthiers will add great value to a collection.

  1. Steel String acoustic guitar- This is the second type of guitar I recommend for new students. Although hundreds of hits are written with this type of guitar they are notoriously difficult for beginners to play. The steel strings cut into the finger tips and the bodies are usually large making them hard to handle. However, it is not impossible to learn on them. Often if the guitar is a decent size and good quality most students will progress with only a little more difficultly than on nylon string guitars.

I try to get my advanced classical students to play on steel string guitar. Playing classical repertoire on steel strings strengthens the hands and provides another perspective hearing the music. The steel strings have more sustain making is possible to hear voices that might fade away on the nylon strings. It also takes a lot of work to try to warm the tone of the steel strings making it great practice for the right hand.

  1. Electric Guitars- I try to keep new students away from electric guitars at first. Electric guitars are more expensive because they require an amplifier. They also require a more advanced technique because students need to have a light touch with their left hand and the right-hand plectrum technique is more difficult to learn for beginners.

When it’s appropriate I will introduce new students to the electric guitar. Making sure what they buy is a quality guitar and amp. You can have a great guitar but with a poor amp you are just wasting money. Quality brands of electric guitars are Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, and Epiphone.

  1. Collectors and Gigging musicians- Be careful! Myself and many friends have got way too far ahead in their collections ending up with more gear than they will ever need and wasting a lot of money. Before making a purchase do your research. Ask yourself, What purpose will this serve? Will this instrument go up in value? Am I going to play it as much as I think I am? Do I have room for proper storage and care?

These are questions that every musician should ask themselves before making a purchase. You can end up wasting a lot of money rushing to acquire your next guitar or piece of gear. Remember instruments need to be maintained. The investment you make is only as good as the care you put into the instrument. For collectors, I strongly suggest taking your time and doing research especially when making a large investment on a vintage instrument. There are many good knockoffs of vintage instruments that can fool you in you are not careful.



Catoctin School of Music
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