The sound of a nylon-string guitar has captivated musicians and listeners for decades. However, unless you’re a classical guitar “artist,” chances are your main axe isn’t a nylon string. My background as a teacher and performer coupled with occasional studio recordings demands a decent classical guitar. Thanks to my buddy Dave Blair at McKinney Music, I’ve unearthed another Gigmeister gem. This month’s entree, the Epiphone C-10, is reasonably priced, plays well, and sounds great on tape. Best of all, C-10s are widely available.
Epiphone has been a revered named in jazz and pop guitar circles since the 1930s. While the company passed from private ownership to Gibson in the late ’50s, then resurfaced as an Oriental import in the ’80s, it remained a good value. This month’s feature, the C-10, is a typical nylon-string made in Indonesia. In fact, it’s the low-price leader from Epiphone’s current catalog, packed in a “Classic Guitar Gig Rig;” nylon gig bag, tuner, strap, picks and a 30-minute video by Hal Leonard.
The C-10 has a laminated Spruce top, mahogany back, sides, and neck. The fingerboard is ebonized rosewood, and the entire instrument has a satin finish. While it doesn’t look as slick as a gloss finish, it works wonders when recording. More on that later. The chrome three-on-a-side traditional tuners have pearlized plastic buttons and work reasonably well. The fingerboard was a bit dry when I got it – lemon oil did a good job restoring the natural oils in the rosewood.
If you haven’t played much nylon-string, go to a music store and play a few classical guitars. The tone and sustain are incredible, especially for an acoustic instrument. There is something very therapeutic about playing classical guitar, and the wide neck forces most to adopt the strict “thumb-centered” left hand approach favored by classical guitarists. Even if you need lessons in this style, it’s well worth the effort. Chet Atkins studied classical guitar for many years, and it’s apparent much he enjoys it. Grant Geissman, another monster player (Chuck Mangione, solo, etc.) and all-around nice guy admitted his classical training helped him enormously when Mangione recorded the Children of Sanchez album years ago. Grant plays mostly nylon-string on his solo albums these days.
Sound is king and this little guitar sounds excellent! I’ll share a trade secret with you about nylon-string guitars – the cheaper the better when recording! Tommy Tedesco, who played as much gut-string on record as anyone, once confessed that his expensive Ramirez guitar sounded worse than his “el cheapo” when recording. Tommy used a pick when he played nylon-string and his playing always sounded superb. Richard Smith, guitarist with saxman Richard Elliot (and a fellow GIT-er), said in a recent interview that Peter White gets his terrific sound with very expensive mics and an $80 classical!
I made the same discovery last summer when re-recording my solo act demo tape. I cut the classical piece “Adelita” with my C-10, using a Shure SM-57 and some compression from an Alesis Nanocompressor. I went straight to my Sony MDM-X4 four-track mini disc and added a bit of reverb on mixdown. It’s still the best-sounding piece on the tape! Best of all, I didn’t spend much time recording. The C-10 does everything I wanted a classical axe to do, and then some. And mine cost less than $125 new!
A few words of advice. Strings are critical with a classical guitar. Put them on carefully and gently, and allow them to stretch gradually. Unfortunately, nylon strings start to die quickly, so they sound optimal for a short time. Unless you’ve had some classical training, don’t record yourself playing nylon-string right away. Give yourself time to adjust to the wider neck and learn to minimize finger squeaks, etc. before putting it on tape.
The C-10 is not a perfect instrument and I won’t kid anyone that this guitar will make Ramirez or anyone else nervous. The wood wasn’t dried properly and my C-10 doesn’t really create a much different sound whether played near the fingerboard or bridge (the mark of a superb classical guitar). Play a passage over the fingerboard and then play the same passage near the bridge. You should notice a much brighter tone with less bass. The action on my guitar was very high and I had it adjusted at the saddle. Also, some folks won’t like the satin finish. While it helps the tone by allowing the wood to breathe, it won’t win any aesthetic awards.
However, most players reading this aren’t hardcore classical guitarists. If you want an inexpensive nylon-string to play “Mood For A Day” on, this guitar will do just fine.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’00 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.