Classical Guitar

Classical Guitar

The beginning

In January 1998, I decided that just listening to music wasn't quite enough (and I wasn't doing enough with my life anyway). So I did two things:
  1. I took the Intro to Music theory class at Columbia, and
  2. I started playing acoustic guitar.
The music theory class was hell at first. It had about 25 students, almost all of whom were music majors, and had much more preparation than what I had (none). During the first meeting, the professor asked:

"Who here does not know the notes on a clef, and does not play an instrument?"

I was the only person that raised my hand (I hadn't started playing the guitar then).

He looked at me, narrowed his eyes a bit, and said "Good Luck".

Playing the guitar The class consisted of two one and a half hour sessions every week, in which we would discuss lots of theory, and the professor would go around the class, asking questions like "Jessica -- what is the key signature of E-flat minor?" and "Mike -- if you're in the key of B major, what would the fifth be?". At first it was incredibly hard, but very quickly it became a matter of keeping a bunch of stuff always in my head, something which I've never really had a problem with. I worked really hard, and by the time the semester ended, I was doing far better than some of the music majors, who weren't trying very hard because their "talent" was going to pull them through.

Learning to play the guitar was relatively much easier. The fretted nature of the instrument makes the learning curve much steeper (compared to traditional string instruments like the violin or the cello), so one can be playing a few things very quickly. As I played more and more acoustic guitar, I realized that my real passion was for playing the guitar in the classical way, which allows for much more versatility in every aspect of playing. That, and a great fascination for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, convinced me that Classical Guitar was the way to go.

The Classical Way

Takamine G-124S My first classical guitar was this Takamine bottom-of-the-line G-124S, which I bought in August 1998, on the sole criterion that it had a solid spruce top. Spruce is the wood that most of the best guitars have always been made with, so I figured it had to be some good. It turns out not.

The G-series is Takamine's attempt to make cheap guitars, and I've learned that "cheap" doesn't always translate to "worth playing", especially for their classical models. After I got the guitar, I realized that a solid spruce top doesn't guarantee anything. I have since heard guitars with laminated tops which sound better. In fact, just about any other classical guitar I've played or heard sounds better. And from the reviews I see on the web, this is not a lemon -- All the G-124S' sound this way. For now, I've decided to keep it as my backup guitar, and I take it on trips.

Takamine makes some damn good guitars. I know this because every time I pass by the Sam Ash store on 48th street, I can't but help go in there, gloat at all the wonderful guitars they have, play a few of them, and leave before my covetousness overcomes my sensibilities.

Takamine C-132S I also know this because in February 1999 I got fed up with the G-124S and bought another Takamine, this time a "real" classical guitar, the C-132S. This one has a solid Cedar top and an Indian rosewood back, and sounds absolutely sweet and vibrant and everything that a good classical guitar should sound like. I love it. And in particular with the Thomastik-Infeld C series strings, it sounds like a much much more expensive guitar.

May 2000 update: I just took my guitar nerdiness to a new level when I bought a 1971 Jose Ramirez Estudio guitar (made by Taurus in Barcelona). This one also has a cedar top, but has a nice bevelled fingerboard. One of these days, when I have time, I'll describe the guitar and purchase in more detail.

By the way, if you're a nerd and want to see what the different kind of woods that guitars are commonly made of look like, then this link is for you.

For the most part, I play music from the Frederick Noad anthologies (like the one that I have open in the picture above). I should probably do more exercises, like the good ones on Kevin Gallagher's site, but I somehow find myself more attracted to playing real music.

I still haven't got to the stage where I can play Bach yet, but one of these years...