As a beginner guitar player I have been wondering how difficult it would be to transition from classical to steel string and vice versa.
There are a lot of differences between classical and steel string acoustic guitars, not only are there differences in style but also in physicality.
However in recent times a new type of guitar has been created to bridge the gap between the two and satisfy those looking to move from one to the other.
So, what is a crossover guitar? A crossover guitar combines the sound of a classical guitar with the construction and playability of a steel string acoustic guitar. The strings are nylon, the nut width is between a classical and acoustic, the body has a cutaway and the fretboard is radiused.
So while these guitars happily bridge the gap in construction and playability are they actually relevant to either group of players? Let’s look into this further below.
What Is A Crossover Guitar?
As can be seen in the featured image above, the crossover guitar combines elements of a classical guitar with those of an acoustic guitar.
Borrowed from the classical guitar, a crossover features a slotted headstock with the tuners facing backwards away from the guitar.
The nut width (fretboard width) of a classical guitar is usually a lot wider than you would find on a steel string acoustic. The cross over guitar features a nut width that sits between the two. The standard classical guitar features a nut width of 50-52mm, and most commonly steel string acoustics have a nut width of 44m. On average the crossover sits in the middle as you may expect, around 48mm and can be seen in the image below.
Image courtesy of Cordoba Guitars
This image helps demonstrate that the fingerboard or fretboard on a crossover is radiused much like you would find on a steel string acoustic guitar.
A feature that is commonly found on a steel string acoustic guitar so that players can reach some of the higher frets.
Not all crossover guitars have a built in pickup but many do, it can be a nice feature to have particularly if you are moving from electric guitar or currently play an electric acoustic.
A truss rod sits underneath the fretboard inside the neck and controls the lengthways curvuture. It is a common steel string element.
Nylon strings are a feature of the classical guitar and one of the main reasons why this guitar is called a crossover.
Classical Bridge & Tied Strings
Tied strings are a feature of the classical guitar and the bridge is the same as you will find on an a classical.
Who Should Look To Buy One?
This type of guitar is suited to three types of people:
- Those who play a steel string guitar and are looking to transition in to playing a classical guitar but prefer the acoustic style of playing.
- Those who can play classical guitar but prefer many of the physical features of a steel string.
- Those who play electric guitar and are interested in learning the classical guitar but don’t want the wide fretboard (nut width) of a classical.
These were some of the original intentions behind the crossover guitar but it is now found that there are other subsets of people that enjoy playing a crossover guitar. These include:
- Those who like to play classical but have smaller hands and or fingers and so appreciated the narrower nut width.
- Those who prefer the curved neck that you get from a steel string acoustic in comparison to the flat neck found on a classical guitar.
- Those with aging fingers who find the steel strings a bit too much and the nut width of a classical provides too much strain when moving around the fingerboard.
- Those that want an amplified classical guitar e.g. Some church players
Why Not Just Go Straight To Playing A Classical Guitar Or An Acoustic G
Many a purist would suggest going straight to one or the other and this makes sense to some degree because you want to be absorbed in the new style of playing.
A hybrid is never going to sound the same as a purebred, not to say either is wright or wrong but if you want a particular sound then follow your ear.
What would be suggested is to go and try one of these guitars out in a store before considering a purchase. You may really enjoy it and then why not? That is the point of playing right?
Who Makes Crossover Guitars And What Cost Are They?
There are many brands that are now making crossover guitars, below are two examples, one with pickups and a cutaway and one without. These appear to be the best crossover guitars at their price point.
It is no surprising that the price range is slightly above a beginner guitar because of the demographic that this type of guitar is aimed at.
One of, if not the best brand to mass produce classical guitars, is Cordoba. It feels like this manufacturer has a massive history. In fact, they’ve only been producing instruments since 2007. This is a relatively short time in the grand scheme of instruments. The quality on offer as well as the value within their range means Cordoba classical guitars are among the most popular.
As per their website
“The all-solid C9 Crossover offers a new spin on a Córdoba classic. Built with solid Canadian cedar top and solid mahogany back and sides, this nylon-string guitar’s main standout feature is its steel-string style neck. A reduced 48mm nut width, radiused fingerboard, and thin-profiled hand-carved mahogany neck will feel familiar for steel-string or electric players who are just getting into nylon-string guitar.”
From reading around in forums and general reviews of this guitar it appears the consensus is that this is a very good crossover guitar. Check its current pricing on Sweetwater here.
As per their website
“This model easily accommodates a wide range of musical and playing styles, and offers the perfect place to start exploring your music and nylon string sound. The NTX700C features solid Cedar on the top board and delivers a rich sound with powerful response.”
From the research I have done this is a very good guitar for the price. It is great for general nylon sounds for pop as well as Mediterranean/Spanish/Latin/Jazz fusion. Having a pickup means that you get the elevated sound when required and could prove excellent in a Church environment for example. Check its current pricing at Amazon here
Is A Crossover Guitar Suited To Beginners?
It would not be recommended to learn on this type of guitar for a beginner as you are literally crossing over different styles of playing. Learning to play guitar like any other instrument is like learning a new language. If you have not learnt one style of playing yet then you have nothing to ‘translate’ and you would be effectively trying to learn two different styles or ‘languages’ of playing guitar.
While your fingers may appreciate a nylon string guitar if you are just learning, long term it would be a very steep slope to climb so why make it harder for yourself? Many people have a guitar left in a closet or garage somewhere because they have given up with guitar when it has become frustrating. It is not easy and there are bumps and plateaus along the way that I am learning about. So my advice would be stick with one type of guitar for a while, at least 150 hours or so. We talk about how long it takes to learn guitar here
Can I use nylon strings on a steel string acoustic guitar (dreadnought)?
Yes you can but the nylon strings will need to be the ball end type like these ones (check price at Amazon). A dreadnought however is designed for high tension strings so the sound will come out muted and with a dull tone.
Can I use steel strings on my classical guitar?
Never do this unless you have no care about damaging the guitar. A classical guitar is not designed to take high tension steel strings. There is no truss rod in a classical (typically) so the high tension will skew and damage the neck.
Are there any steel strings guitars that have a wider nut width?
The acoustic guitar I recommend by Seagull (see our recommend page here) has a slightly wider nut width (1.8inch, 46mm) than average, so it gives you a little more room on the fretboard.