Nylon strings provide a mellow and percussive contrast to the bright and articulate sound of steel strings. When equipped on a small body instruments like parlor or small classical guitars, nylon strings produce a different tonal palette that both professionals and beginners enjoy.
To make it easier to choose which one to get I have put together the following list of the best guitars in this category. If you are looking for a beginner friendly instrument that has enough tone and feel for experienced players to appreciate, then you're in luck.
NB - this guide only covers small sized guitars, for full sized options see The Best Classical & Nylon String Guitars - $99 to $1000 on Gearank.com.
Small Classical Guitars or Nylon String Parlor Guitars
Small classical guitars are simply scaled down versions of their standard sized counterparts. They follow the same shape, build and style with the main difference being the smaller measurements. This results in a tone similar to standard size classical guitars but with less sound projection. 7/8 and 3/4 classical guitars fall under this category, and are popular for beginners and serious students of the instrument. Nylon string parlor guitars on the other hand have a different shape, following the compact design of "parlour" instruments from the early 1900s. These compact instruments have more pronounced middle frequencies, and are more comfortable to carry around and play with, ideal grab-and-go instruments that you can leave on your couch or on a stand. Regardless of your preference, you will find one that suits your budget and style in this roundup.
What to Look For When Buying a Small Sized Nylon String Guitar
If you budget will allow, and you're looking for a well balanced tone, it is always be best to go for solid top instruments. The sound of solid topped instruments "open up" as they age, making them worthy longterm companion instruments. Cheaper laminate topped parlor guitars offer a more dynamic yet abrupt sound that fans of vintage parlor guitars will appreciate. Cedar is the wood of choice for nylon string instruments because it helps round out the tone nicely, but you can go for ones with spruce top if you're looking for a more balanced tone. Note that the shorter scale length of a parlor allows for easy playability, while longer scale length of the small classical makes for easier transition when switching to regular sized acoustics. Other features to consider include having a nut width that matches your fretting hand and of course you want an instrument that inspires you to practice and play.
Nylon String Parlor Guitars
Cordoba Requinto 580
Manufacturer: Cordoba Requinto 580 | Street Price: Usually under $300
From its humble beginnings, Cordoba has grown into one of the biggest nylon string guitar manufacturers in the world today. They've grown so much that they recently acquired the Guild brand from Fender, expanding the company's reach into the steel string guitar market. As expected, Cordoba is not afraid to produce non-conventional variations of their nylon string guitars, and one of these which falls under the parlor guitar category is the Requinto 580. This 1/2 size guitar comes packed with impressive features and for its size and it plays surprisingly similar to standard size instruments. This small guitar features a solid cedar top with mahogany back and sides, a traditional combination that works great for nylon stringed instruments. It even comes with traditional 5-fan Torres style bracing so it can reproduce genuine Spanish tones in spite of being small. Because of its compact size, the scale length is shorter at 22.8, which results in beginner friendly playability. To compensate, they strung this guitar with high tension strings so that it can be played in standard tuning. Other features include hand-inlaid wood rosette, and Indian rosewood detailing. While it can be a little too small for some players, professionals will appreciate it's elegant look and genuine sound.
Art & Lutherie AMI Nylon
Manufacturer: Godin | Street Price: Usually under $400
Art & Lutherie is just one of the many sub-brands under the popular guitar manufacturer Godin. It strays from the eclectic designs used by Godin, opting for a more traditional approach to building. Since they offer vintage inspired designs, it is only natural for them to have parlor guitars in their production line, but they went beyond just traditional by offering a nylon string parlor guitar called the AMI Nylon. This guitar follows the same dimensions of parlor guitars found in the early 1900's, with the main difference being the use of nylon strings. It sports a solid cedar top with Canadian harvested red wild cherry for the back and sides, all of which form the instrument's compact yet resonant body. Interestingly, the AMI Nylon's silver leaf maple neck has a closer to standard size scale length of 25.66", while having a classical style wild nut width of 2". It would've been nice if it were a bit cheaper, but it's still within reasonable price range, especially considering its premium specs. If you're looking for a reliable solid top couch guitar with nylon strings, then get the Art & Lutherie AMI Nylon.
Rainsong NP12 Nylon String
Manufacturer: Rainsong | Street Price: Usually under $2,500
Rainsong built their reputation on quality guitars that utilize non-traditional materials, and they are the most familiar name when it comes to carbon fiber guitars. Interestingly they have a parlor guitar with nylon strings in their line up, the NP12, a modern take on traditional 12th fret neck joint parlor guitars. The guitar's top is crafted from unidirectional carbon that mimics the tight grain of a spruce, and is the company's lightest soundboard to date. This combined with the state of the art hybrid carbon fiber and glass body results in a parlor guitar that's surprisingly articulate, balanced sounding and loud. Playability is more akin to steel string parlors than classical guitars, having a scale length of 24.875" and a narrower nutwidth of 1.75". In addition to the above features, the Rainson NP12 comes with Fishman electronics that make it a stage worthy instrument. The obvious downside to this modern nylon string parlor guitar is its premium price tag, but since this guitar is virtually unbreakable and requires zero maintenance, you are certainly getting your money's worth.
La Patrie Motif
Manufacturer: La Patrie | Street Price: about $450
La Patrie, another sub brand of Godin made it into this list, and this one specializes in classical nylon stringed instruments. One of their production line models has a parlor guitar shape, the La Patrie Motif. Instead of following traditional short scale specs, this guitar is actually a "full-scale" guitar, which means that it feel and plays like standard size classical guitars. This makes the Motif a great couch guitar for classical guitarists, a reliable grab-and-go instrument that you can play without adjusting your playing technique too much, which means that your main guitar can stay longer in its secure case. This nylon string parlor guitar comes with a solid cedar top, wild cherry back and sides and a mahogany neck that joins the body at the 12th fret. Scale length is similar to standard size acoustics at 25.66". The longer scale length of this parlor guitar might put off players with small hands, but it provides an excellent opportunity to practice in standard scale with a more compact instrument.
Small Classical Guitars
Yamaha CGS103A 3/4 Size Classical Guitar
Manufacturer: Yamaha | Street Price: Usually under $200
So many teachers and guitar schools recommend Yamaha guitars, myself included, and the reason is simple - they provide excellent easy to play instruments that students will find inspiring to play. I for one took formal classical guitar lessons on a Yamaha and that guitar is still with me now years later. If I had only known about the 3/4 size CGS103A, then my learning days would have been a bit easier with its short 23" scale length and slightly narrower 1.9" nut width. Being an entry level guitar, the CGS103A comes with basic wood that includes a spruce top, meranti back and sides and nato neck, thankfully Yamaha's impressive build quality makes this guitar look and sound better than what you'd expect. Yamaha mentioned that this guitar is meant for players age 6 to 10, but even older and experienced players are finding themselves quite pleased with how this guitar plays and sounds.
Cordoba C9 Parlor
Manufacturer: Cordoba | Price: Usually about $1,000
The Cordoba C9 Parlor is actually a small classical guitar, slightly smaller than standard at 7/8 size. This means that Cordoba is staying within their expertise, and not necessarily utilizing traditional parlor style design as the name seems to imply. This can be good or bad depending on whether you want a small classical guitar or a nylon string parlor, but whatever your preference is, there's no denying that the C9 Parlor is a cool looking instrument. Far from being an entry level guitar, the Cordoba C9 Parlor sports an all solid wood construction, with either a solid Canadian cedar or solid European spruce top, paired with solid mahogany back and sides. Following traditional Spanish style guitar building, the top is supported by a fan bracing pattern which allows for more surface area vibration, resulting in improved projection and articulation. Interestingly, Cordoba opted for a slightly shorter 24.8" scale length, which better explains the "Parlor" label, meaning that it looks like a classical guitar, but plays like a parlor guitar. Nut width is narrower but still close to standard specs at 1.97". Thankfully, Cordoba was able to keep the price reasonable, although some beginners and students will find this guitar to be out of their budget range. If you are looking for a concert-level workhorse classical guitar that plays like a parlor guitar then check out the Cordoba C9.
Antonio Hermosa AHQ-10
Manufacturer: Antonio Hermosa | Price: Usually under $200
This relatively unknown 3/4 size classical guitar is hidden gem in the entry level market. Although not much is known about the manufacturer and their reputation, The Antonio Hermosa AHQ-10 comes with nice specs at a very accessible price. It sports a solid cedar top, mahogany body and mahogany neck, all built following traditional Spanish designs. Although it doesn't have big brand backing, reviews on this model are unanimous in saying that build quality is superb, tone is nice and more importantly, it is very easy and inspiring to play. This is mostly thanks to the short 22.75" scale length and the smaller body design and the narrower 1.875" nut width. In addition to its resonant sound and playability, the AHQ-10 features cosmetic appointments that you don't normally see on guitars of this price point, including maple binding, 3-ply top purfling, and gold-plated tuners. If you're looking for a budget friendly solid top 3/4 size classical guitar then check this one out.
Fender MC-1 3/4 Nylon
Manufacturer: Fender |Street Price: Usually under $150
Thanks to Fender's attempt at gaining more ground in the entry level market, the company have come up with a cool 3/4 nylon string guitar, the Fender MC-1. This guitar is designed to compete with other student friendly guitars, focusing on affordability and playability. To keep the price competitive, Fender opted for cost effective wood materials, choosing laminated agathis for the top and sapele for the back and sides. While on paper it may seem lack luster, the guitar's elegant earthy look and impressive build quality makes up for what it's lacking in materials. Having a short scale length of 23.3"and narrow 1.69" nut width, the Fender MC-1 is designed to make it easier for students and young players to develop their playing skills. This is easily one of the safest options for students who are looking for an affordable, well made and easy to play nylon string guitar. Even experienced players who are looking for a convenient nylon couch guitar will find this guitar interesting.
If you need any further advice please post in the comments below and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.