The modern classical guitar is normally played in a seated position. The instrument lays on the left lap and the player’s left foot sits on a footstool. This is for right-handed players. If a footstool is not used – support for the guitar may be used between the guitar and the left lap. Suction cups normally fix this support to the side of the instrument. Certainly, different artists can opt to position the instrument in a different way. 

As with other plucked instruments such as the lute, the musician touches or plucks the strings to produce sound. This has significant implications. Plucking the string in different ways and from different positions generates distinct tones and timbres for a single note.

A wide variety of tunings exist for classical guitar. The most common, known as “standard tuning” uses pitches e – b – g – d – A – E. This starts from the highest-pitched string, which is physically the lowest when in playing position.

Classical guitar score specifics

In guitar scores, the right-hand fingers are marked with the first letter of their Spanish name: p = thumb (pulgar), i = index (índice), m = middle finger (mayor), a = ring finger (anular), c = little finger or pinky (meñique / chiquito). The four fingers of the left hand are marked 1 = index, 2 = middle, 3 = ring, 4 = pinky.

The 0 indication relates to plucking an open string. That is, no left-hand finger interrupts any string. Therefore, it vibrates in its full length when plucked. The left-hand guitar thumb rarely acts directly on the strings, as is not necessarily the case on the electric guitar. Classical guitar technique does not allow for this positioning of the thumb, and the neck of the classical guitar is often too wide for that anyway.

Guitar physiology

The classical guitar’s physiology consists of the following parts, classified into three groups:  

Head: Includes the head and tuning keys/pegs. 

Neck: Consists of the neck, fingerboard, nut, strings, and frets.

Body: Includes the soundhole, bridge, saddle, top, back, and side pieces.

When it comes to classical guitar construction, the type of wood used is the single most critical decision affecting the overall sound. Different woods produce different sounds when used on specific parts of the guitar. The most common materials used would be spruce and cedarwood, and each delivers its own characteristic sound. The main decisions that the luthier needs to make in this regard are mainly related to the top, back, and sides of the guitar. 

The back and sides are the areas more open for experimentation. Exotic woods like koa and redwood are sometimes used to create unique sounding instruments. However, more common options would be east Indian rosewood and rock maple. Rosewood stands out for its warm and complex sound, for example.