General information about design quality features and the main differences between German and Spanish concert and children's guitars.
The development and history of the classical guitar (concert guitar) took place mainly in Spain. In the mid 19th century, Spain had a number of Grand Masters, led by Antonio de Torres as the
"Stradivari" of guitar makers. Family companies developed with a long tradition of making guitars, responsible today for the fact that most first-rate instruments still come from Spain. But not
only first-rate instruments, also good, low-cost children's guitars make their way from Spain to us. For many years, efforts were made to replicate this fascinating instrument in Germany and other
North European countries, with what still today only remains a moderate success. This is because a good guitar consists not only of a certain number of individual parts whose dimensions and sizes
can be measured: what really counts is the method and sequence in which all the parts are put together in order to turn them into an outstanding instrument.
Unfortunately these days it is not always easy to find a good instrument which is suited to its required purpose. There is an incredibly large range available, including many hair-raising items. To save you the bitter experience of making a poor investment, please find below some information about the most important aspects so that you are not caught out when making your purchase.
The soundboard (applies to concert and Western guitars)
This is the core part of the guitar and is responsible for approx. 70% of the instrument's sound. Low-cost models usually come with a laminated soundboard (made of plywood). A well elaborated soundboard (inner structure) can produce good results. But basically, laminated soundboards are always somewhat quieter than the solid versions and somewhat harder to play because of their inertia.
The next quality level already offers guitars with a solid wood (all-wood) soundboard. Only two types of wood are used here for concert guitars: these are spruce (pale wood) or Canadian cedar (dark
wood), with the exception of mahogany, which is used in some Western guitars with excellent results. All woods have a very different sound. Spruce has a warmer, mellower tone but has to be "played
in" to achieve it. This phenomenon only occurs in instruments with a solid spruce soundboard. In contrast to cedar, the harmonics are not developed yet – these are responsible for how we perceive
volume. It takes approx. six months to play in the instrument, which will improve its sound by up to 40%. But you can't do anything wrong in this process.
To ensure that nothing can impair the motivation for beginners to start playing, most children's and low-cost guitars use cedar because this creates a powerful, brilliant sound without having to be played in. As already mentioned, solid soundboards are better than laminated, but only when the soundboard has a decent construction. Otherwise, the laminated soundboard can have both a better sound and a longer service life. Unfortunately, the market is currently flooded with poor, cheap solid wood guitars.
Sides and back
Guitars with solid sides and backs are basically only available from €500. Guitars sold below this price limit usually have laminated sides and back, with solid instruments available in this price category also not sounding better (this is just a swindle). The types of wood used for sides and back vary from maple, walnut, cherrywood, mahogany, rosewood and Spanish cedar through to exotic African wood such as Bubinga or Padouk. Spain produces concert guitars with an outstanding sound in a combination of solid soundboard and laminated sides and back with a sound quality far exceeding that of simply made solid instruments.
Seen by most people as no more than decoration and embellishment of the edges, in fact the purflings makes a major contribution to the sound quality of a guitar. If made properly the guitar soundboard and back are are kept under a controlled pressure by the purflings. Only this way the string vibration can be amplified without damping. This is not the case in models with painted or single-strip purfling or with purfling just in the soundboard and not in the base.
The German design:
Neck-body (applies to concert and Western guitars)
The body and neck are produced separately and joined together practically at the end of the production procedure. The most traditional and durable form of joining the parts is with a dovetail connection. Unfortunately, this is increasingly rare in the lower price segment in instruments from German or Czech production, where plugs, glue or even screws are frequently used.
The soundboard is responsible for approx. 70% of the sound, making it the core part of every guitar. It has to be reinforced on the inside to withstand the total string tension of 40 kg (up to 100 kg in Western guitars). It is particularly important that the soundboard is not stiffened too much because otherwise it would be too inert to produce a loud, brilliant sound. Traditionally, in Germany the soundboards (of concert guitars) are reinforced by cross bracing (struts) so that the soundboard itself can be kept very thin. Unfortunately in comparison with the more mature Spanish design, this is not necessarily the most fortunate solution as far as the sound is concerned, which is why German guitar makers are increasingly basing their work on the Spanish instruments.
The Spanish design
In contrast to the German design, the so-called heel block (part of the neck) is the core element of the Spanish design and the basis for the whole instrument. The sides of the guitar are fitted into two slots sawn in the heel block, thus connecting neck and body right from the start. The result is better sound transmission with less attenuation of the strings when they vibrate, and greater stability.
The soundboard (applies to spanish concert and on some points also to acoustic guitars by some manufacturers
Here again responsible for 70% of the instrument's sound quality, the soundboard construction in Spain has undergone the greatest development. In contrast to the simple and very stiff cross
bracing, the soundboard here is slightly curved with 5 to 9 very thin splayed fan bracing struts aligned to the sound hole and directly below the bridge. This construction permits an extremely thin
soundboard thickness of up to 1.5 mm while still offering high resistance to the 40 kg string tension (up to 100 kg in Western guitars). Instruments built in this way react with great speed to even
the slightest plucking of a string so that they are very easy to play and loud. The top price segment also includes some Western guitars (e.g. Taylor or Guild from €2,000) with a slightly curved
soundboard for the stated reasons, but which otherwise differ completely in design from the concert guitar. Our range includes guitars which also have a curved soundboard, but are far lower in
price. These Western guitars have a phenomenal sound.
Another advantage of the curved soundboard design is its greater tolerance to dry cracks. These result from insufficient ambient humidity or from being subject to direct heat radiation, because the wood shrinks. If an instrument built in Spain dries out, firstly the dome (curved soundboard) flattens before the tension increases to such an extent that the wood cracks. In German instruments, unfortunately this can happen much sooner.