Australasian Music Supplies | Expect to pay: $125
Once upon a time, if you were a kid learning guitar, you got a nylon-string classical acoustic. Student-priced electrics and amps were generally pretty clunky, basic affairs (inbuilt distortion was a luxury… a gritty, harsh, brittle sounding luxury) and besides, you really wanted to get your start on something that wouldn’t hurt your little hands anyway.
Nylon string classical guitars have traditionally been the de facto first choice for newcomers and for good reason – they provide an affordable, comfortable, and most importantly, a stylistically versatile entry point into guitar theory and the practicalities of navigating the fretboard in the cleanest possible way, and all without a brittle inbuilt distortion in sight.
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The guitar market may have come a long way in recent years, but Valencia, a long-running player in the game, are still an omnipresence when it comes to this kind of guitar manufacturing, specialising in affordable guitars for beginners, and at a high enough quality to hang onto even when it’s time to progress to something more advanced. But Valencia have evolved and moved with the times, and the new VC204H is a perfect example of how to make a player-friendly nylon string acoustic for players in 2022.
Today, even beginner guitarists are looking for more in terms of playability and neck shape, and with this guitar, Valencia more than rises to the challenge.
The VC204H is a full-sized nylon string acoustic guitar with a nato back and sides (the back is subtly arched, which is a nice player-comfort feature). The top is made of sitka spruce in a rich orange hue which nicely offsets the more walnut-like look of the nato. There’s a gold helix rosette decoration around the sound hole, because what is a nylon acoustic without a nice rosette, eh?
The neck is really interesting: it’s made of jabon with a pair of teak reinforcing strips, much like the double ‘skunk stripes’ you would find on much more upmarket guitars. The fretboard is ebonised mahogany (basically mahogany stained to look like ebony) and the 19 frets are made of nickel. There are side dots starting from the fifth fret up to the twelfth.
The bridge is also made of ebonised mahogany with a plastic saddle, while the machine heads are nickel-plated with cream buttons. Overall it’s an attractive, well-built version of this particular family of instruments.
I must admit to a little bit of nostalgia picking this guitar up. It took me right back to my first nylon string acoustic. Heck, it even smells the same and I may or may not have taken a deep satisfying huff of the sound hole. Please don’t judge.
The first thing an experienced guitarist will notice about this guitar is the neck shape. It’s not your standard ‘beginner’s classical’ neck, which are usually very wide and present some challenges for small hands. Instead it’s specifically designed to accommodate smaller paws, with a narrower 45mm width at the nut bringing the strings closer together and easier to reach down at the end where this instrument will see most of its playing action. And the actual neck shape is super-comfortable, more of a flatter D shape which gives players a sense of place on the fretboard, reinforcing proper thumb placement and therefore making it easier to keep one’s hands in an ergonomic position. It’s easy to play barre chords further up on the neck, or to zip all over the neck in more complex classical pieces.
But the easy playability of those first three frets, where a lot of beginners tend to spend their time, is especially notable. This smaller neck also made it far easier to capo than a traditional classical guitar, something that is sure to be handy for anyone looking for a good guitar to write from.
The string spacing is nicely ergonomic for fingerstyle and the weight and shape of the body rests comfortably on the leg when seated – precisely what you would want in a guitar of this type.
Tone-wise, it sounds great. It’s not necessarily brimming with sustain, but that’s typical of this type of guitar, and the tapering-off of the notes on the higher strings feels very uniform and musical. In terms of providing an awesome vehicle from which to learn correct finger technique and voice technique, it’s absolutely ideal. Unlike so many other classical guitars that really punish all but the cleanest fingering, the VC204H is tolerant enough that it provides a user-friendly playing experience without reinforcing any bad habits.
As an entry point into the world of guitar playing, you’d be hard pressed to find something that sits nicer in the hand and with this kind of upside. When you take into account the price point (just a smidge over a hundred bucks) and with the level of quality on display here, it’s pretty hard to argue with, both as a first guitar or a nice entry level classical guitar for around the house.
While it may not be the absolute pinnacle of concert hall sound projection and fullness across the frequency range, it far exceeds its goal of being a comfortable classical guitar for students to learn their craft on, and the build quality is something that will see it stand the test of time.