Acoustic and Classical Guitars are two very similar looking options in appearance. The difference between these types of guitar are massive to those who already understand them. While both acoustic instruments, the steel-string acoustic guitar and the classical guitar are both very different beasts.
Classical Guitars are a much more traditionally designed instrument. Initially used for classical music, they are strung with “gut strings”. The modern iteration of the instrument, while still used for classical music, is also favoured by bossa-nova musicians, and beginners. The “gut strings” have been replaced by, much nicer, nylon alternatives. These strings, while producing a tone and feeling which is great for certain styles, have low tension. Low string tension is ideal for beginners as it means the strings are easier to press down. This allows the player to focus on learning chords, shapes and patterns rather than fighting against the instrument.
Acoustic Guitars are somewhat more modern inventions. They are favoured in most popular music genres and perfect for songwriters. The acoustic guitar features metal strings rather than nylon strings, which are a bit harder on the fingers.
More often than not, unless pursuing the electric guitar, guitar players will move on to the Acoustic guitar. Classical players will opt for nylon models, but the majority of guitarists will prefer an Acoustic in the long term.
Acoustic guitars often feature strap buttons to allow for standing while playing. Electro-Acoustic guitars are also available which makes recording and performing easier, and usually have a comfortable cutaway for higher notes.
Acoustic or Classical Guitar?
Generally, when a younger player is looking to learn, usually under the age of 11 or 12, I would recommend a classical guitar. They are available in smaller sizes which is perfect for younger players, and the reduced tension makes playing much easier.
An acoustic guitar can still be tricky for older new players. But for those who want to play the acoustic, it makes more financial sense to buy one guitar. Rather than to learn on a classical guitar then make a new purchase after a year for an acoustic.
One trick to make the acoustic slightly easier to learn on, is to replace the stock strings with lighter ones. Many manufacturers will string their acoustics with quite heavy strings, which sounds great when you know what you’re doing. But, swapping to lighter strings makes those first steps a bit easier.
Ultimately, you need to evaluate what you want out of the instrument and decide from there. If you are happy with a slightly steeper learning curve but have your heart set on the acoustic, then an acoustic would be perfect. If you want the reduced tension and softer tone of a classical, or if you are buying for a younger player, a classical guitar would be a great choice.