The difference between a classical and a flamenco guitar.

This is an older piece that I’ve decided to edit up and post here on the blog, as it’s never been seen here before. I figure I’ll throw it in the queue and use it when it’s needed.

If you’re seeing this – it means I’ve otherwise spent my time. It also means I need a new spare article!

Someone was mentioning that they liked flamenco and another person had mentioned wanting to hear some too. Thus, I figured I’d sit down and work on that. It’s really, really hard to change styles of music rapidly. I hadn’t been playing much flamenco lately – as in not in years.

I dug out my favorite flamenco guitar last night and threw new strings on it. Only, today, I realized that the action is much too high and the intonation is out. Rather than adjust the truss rod myself, I’m going to send it out to have it done. Can I do it myself? Absolutely. However, he can do it much faster and much better than I can. I’ve already called, I’m going to bring it down this weekend and I’ll have it back in just a few days.

So, I sat here and practiced a bit on a classical guitar and I’m really, really not happy with the tone.

But, Buddha, aren’t they all the same? The headstock looks the same, they’re both strung with nylon, and they’re both acoustic and made of wood!

Alas, no… Can I play flamenco on a classical? Yeah, pretty much. It doesn’t sound right and, by now, you’ve probably noticed that I aim for perfection in my playing. My art is faithful reproduction and I do try to be as faithful as is humanly possible.

So, what’s the difference?

I figured I’d write a little about that, as it seems that many people don’t really know that there’s even a difference.

Well, a flamenco guitar top is almost always made of spruce, with varied backs and sides – meant to be louder. The flamenco is also made of lighter (thinner) materials. This is one of the ways that the flamenco gets a brighter tone. Many factory-made classical guitars will now also have spruce tops but the good ones are often cedar and use materials like mahogany on the sides – giving the classical guitar the added sustain.

There’s also more than one type of flamenco guitar – but we’ll get into that in a moment.

Classical guitars are typically deeper, which allows the sound waves to be longer. This gives the warm tones you get with a good classical guitar. The flamenco is meant to be bright. The type I was to play today is meant to stand out – it’s meant to be played by itself, to accompany dancers or to perform solo. Thus, it’s really ‘bright’ in tonality.

They both have the same type of headstock, usually tuning pegs that are pretty similar to what you’ll see on a violin or other stringed instrument. The type of tuning peg isn’t actually a requirement and, near as I can tell, doesn’t actually impact playability or sound. But, you can have a variation in styles in there. They’re all pretty similar.

A flamenco guitar will have a negative (or flat) neck profile before string tension is added. This makes the action fast. What do I mean by that? Well, the strings are closer to the frets and this means that there is a greater chance of buzzing. Flamenco players don’t mind – it’s a trade they make to have speedy action. A classical guitar will have greater distance between the fingerboard and the strings. This means that they can play cleaner – but must have greater finger dexterity to do so. This also means that “tapping” is easier on a flamenco guitar.

A flamenco guitar will have a see-through (usually) plastic piece covering the top. It’s like a pick guard. It’s called a golpeador and it protects the finish on a flamenco guitar ’cause we often use them like a percussion instrument. Basically, it’s there so you can tap on the guitar’s top and not worry about the finish and so that you can play with your fingernails facing the strings (brushing is a term many use for this technique) with great rapidity and not worry about ruining the guitar’s finish.

Now, there are several types of flamenco guitar. A classical guitar is meant to be played solo (more often than not) but a flamenco is often meant to be bright. Why is it bright? It’s meant to cut through the sound of dancers stomping their feet, yelling, and other instruments. Not all – there are some that aren’t as bright and they’re meant to play along with a band. Think of them as rhythm guitars for flamenco music and the one I wanted to play today is meant to be more like a lead guitar. It’s known as a “solo flamenco.”

The attack on a classical guitar is soft and building to a full sound, a bit like an ensemble bringing itself to crescendo. A flamenco attack is fast and short, like stabbing with a dagger vs. the classical guitar’s broadsword attack. (Analogies are not my strong suit.)

So, I’ll try (read: tried – this is now old) to get some decent sound out of this classical guitar. I do have other flamenco guitars (just a couple) but they’re not really meant to be played as solo instruments. They’re meant to accompany the guitar I wanted to play for you today. The guitar I wanted to play for you today is rather special and was handcrafted by a fella I’ve actually met.

Either way, I figured I’d explain the differences between these two wonderful styles of guitars. I think I covered the major differences. While you can reasonably play flamenco on a classical guitar, it’s more difficult and it never seems to sound quite right – to my ears.

If you’ve got any questions, or any topics you want to see covered, use the contact link in the upper right or just go ahead and reply. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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