Yamaha CGS Series
Quality classical guitars for young students
By Justin Jones
Since its founding in 1887, Yamaha has earned a reputation for expert craftsmanship, consistency, and great musical tone. Nowhere is this reputation better deserved than in the field of classical guitars. Yamaha CGS102 and CGS104 student model guitars incorporate decades of hard-won expertise to deliver extremely consistent tone and playability for young students at prices almost any parent can afford.
My first classical guitar (the most common style of nylon-string guitar) was a Yamaha C40 my dad bought for me in 1976. A guitarist himself, he recognized good quality and was delighted by the small price tag. I put over a thousand hours on that instrument and it still played great when I traded up a few years later.
Now I teach guitar and I always recommend Yamaha instruments for my students. After searching high and low for decent, affordable beginner-level classical guitars, I concluded that Yamaha is the only manufacturer with consistent enough quality that I can recommend their guitars to students sight unseen.
So I wasn't even mildly surprised when I discovered the great quality of the CGS Series guitars. The small scale model— CGS102 —is the only widely available small-scale guitars I've played that consistently provide genuine musical guitar tone and playability. I've played quite a few different brands, and most of the small-scale models on the market sound like toys and play terribly. In fact, Yamaha is the only brand of small-scale classical guitar I will recommend.
Parents, I'm going to truth you. Too often I hear, "We don't know if little Sally's really going to stick with these guitar lessons or not. Let's just buy her a cheap one and if she really shows an interest, we'll get her a better one later." Truth: Little Sally will never develop an interest if you saddle her with a toy that sounds horrible and is impossible to play. You have to a buy a real instrument!
But why nylon strings in the first place? Nylon-string guitars are easier to play. Classical guitars tend to have smaller bodies, so they're easier for children to hold. The string spacing is a little wider to make chording easier without accidentally muting strings. The strings themselves are wider, softer, and easier to push down so they don't bite painfully into the fingertips. Finally, while almost any style of music can be played easily on a nylon-string guitar, classical, flamenco, and Latin American styles can be very difficult to play on steel-string guitars.
Best to start with nylon and lay the foundation for good right-hand finger-style technique. Your child can always expand into steel-string and electric guitars later after he or she has learned the basics on a friendlier instrument.
As to scale, a couple of rules of thumb can help you decide what size is right for your young student. The scale length of the guitar would optimally be about 44% of your student's height. The scale length is the distance from the head nut to the bridge, the stopping points of the strings. So a student 48" tall would perfectly fit a 21"-scale guitar, which is called a 1/2-size guitar. A 3/4-size guitar has a 23" scale, and a full-sized guitar has a 25-5/8" scale. In playing position, the left hand on the fretboard placed near the headstock should cover three or four frets. Of course, very young children will have to stretch to play even the smallest guitar.
Like most established manufacturers, Yamaha began making premium-quality instruments, and of course they still make some of the world's finest concert-level classical guitars. Yamaha applied everything they learned building high-end guitars to building student models. These are built in Yamaha's own factories by carefully trained craftspeople using techniques developed for much more expensive guitars.
The result is the incredible consistency I've already mentioned. That consistency is apparent on all three of the CGS guitars Musician's Friend sent me for review. The diminutive CGS102 is the most astounding. The scale is only 21", which makes it the best fit for players four to seven years old. The big surprise here is the amazing tone generated by the spruce top with nato back, sides, and neck. It's amazing that an instrument so small could produce such a full, warm timbre. And, as with all of these instruments, the CGS102 has been very well set up in the factory so that the action (distance from the strings to the frets) is very low without any fret buzz.
The full-sized CGS104 is an incredible value. Excellent fretwork, super-friendly action, truly sweet tone, and sumptuous looks combine in an instrument that most will want to keep around even if they graduate to a concert-quality guitar.
The Yamaha CGS Series guitars are quality instruments with friendly price tags and reliable, rugged construction that can hold up to children's ungainly handling through years of regular use. I'll continue to recommend them as the best choice for young guitar students.