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Smaller-Sized Classical Guitars for Adults and Children

The most important tip for anyone considering buying a smaller-sized guitar is to talk to other players / a teacher / a shop like Classical Guitars PLUS before deciding what size suits you best.

A smaller guitar is generally easier to play for someone with smaller hands but there may be disadvantages too

  • Many smaller sized guitars are smaller in the body as well as in the neck and this means that their volume and tonal range is reduced
  • Certain strokes can be harder to play on strings which are closer together than on those “normally” spaced
madi-with-three-quarters-classical-guitar
madi-with-three-quarters-classical-guitar

It should be remembered that there are at least two schools of thought among guitar teachers when it comes to size. At one extreme are are those who say full sized is best and to be aimed for by everyone. At the other there are those who say play the guitar that falls most comfortably under the hand.

So what is small about a smaller sized guitar?

  • Most commonly it is the “scale” or length of the neck. A shorter neck brings the frets closer together and so reduces finger stretches when fretting. A typical classical neck has a scale length of 650mm.
  • The other dimension which changes is the width across the neck. A typical classical neck is 52mm wide at the nut.

As mentioned, many makers reduce the body size when reducing the neck dimensions. Now while a smaller body may be just what is needed for a child, many adults with smaller hands – and some older players whose muscles are not as strong as they used to be – also consider having a smaller instrument. Such people may not want a smaller body at all and they may need to look a bit harder to get the compromise that suits them best.

Descriptions of smaller-sized guitars vary from maker to maker. Not all describe their instruments by their dimensions in milimetres and instead use terms such as

  • 7/8ths
  • 3/4
  • 1/2
  • Senorita
  • Cadete, or
  • Requinto.

To makes things worse, one makers “half size” does not necessarily have the same dimensions as another’s!!!

It will be seen that the common and conventional “fractional” terms can be very misleading. Not least because the fractions are incorrect – using any common sense understanding, a “3/4” guitar should be 75% of the full sized model but the typical “3/4” is about 89%! The second reason is because this incorrect fraction is then applied in a rather vague and varying sense by different makers.

size“full”“7/8”“3/4”“1/2”
scale mm652650636615590580544520
scale %100%+100%98%95%91%89%84%80%

Hanika 50MC Classical Guitar - 64cm scale, 50mm nut width.
Hanika 50MC Classical Guitar – 64cm scale, 50mm nut width

Avoiding the Loss of Tonal Quality when Reducing Scale/Neck Size

The better makers fit their short-scale guitars with strings specifically selected for the shorter-scale. This is very much something to be asked about when buying a short-scale guitar.

A slightly different approach is taken by Armin Hanika. Hanika offer all their full-sized instruments with a range of neck sizes. This means that there is less of a compromise on volume or tonal qualities when buying a “small” guitar.

Scales available are

  • 620mm
  • 630mm
  • 640mm
  • and even a longer than normal 660mm

And they also offer a range of neck widths which can be selected independently of scale –

  • neck width at nut 48mm
  • 50mm
  • standard 52mm, and
  • an even a wider than normal 54mm

Choosing an instrument

Adults with smaller hands:

Adults with smaller hands should probably start at the top or middle of the price ranges otherwise they may be disappointed with tonal quality, particularly if they have been playing for some time.

Children

There is no doubt in my mind that children learn better and faster on good instruments than they do on bad. However parents have the dilemma that their children may not take to an instrument at all. What I would suggest (as a parent with children who have learned various instruments including the guitar) is to buy a sub-£50 smaller sized guitar for the very young and the absolute beginner and get something much better at the next Christmas or birthday when the child has shown some commitment. At this point the first step is to take a decision about size – and asking your guitar teacher for advice is probably the best way to decide. At that point I would say buy the best souding instrument you can afford. Having said this, there are parents who are customers of ours who have started their very young children off on quite expensive instruments – arguing that the better the sound they get the more likely they are to get enthusiastic.

A way to Determine which Size suits you Best

If you have access to a full size guitar and a capo you can find out for yourself how a smaller sized guitar will feel when played. Play for a while with the capo on various frets and work out which is most comfortable. You can then read off from the table below the scale length that would suit you. Remember that different makers use the same terminology to refer to different actual scale lengths (see above) so use actual measurements when ever possible –

Capo at Fret0 (no capo)1st fret2nd fret3rd fret4th fret
Scale length (mm)650615580548511
Corresponding Sizes of GuitarFull size
Senorita
7/8ths
Senorita
3/4
Cadete
1/2
Requinto
1/2