The classical guitar (also known as the nylon-string guitar or Spanish guitar) is a member of the guitar family used in classical music. An acoustic wooden string instrument with strings made of gut or nylon, it is a precursor of the modern acoustic and electric guitars, both of which use metal strings. Classical guitars are derived from the Spanish vihuela and gittern in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which later evolved into the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Baroque guitar and later the modern classical guitar in the mid-nineteenth century.
For a right-handed player, the traditional classical guitar has twelve frets clear of the body and is properly held up by the left leg, so that the hand that plucks or strums the strings does so near the back of the sound hole (this is called the classical position). However, the right-hand may move closer to the fretboard to achieve different tonal qualities. The left leg is typically held higher by the use of a footstool. The modern steel string guitar, on the other hand, usually has fourteen frets clear of the body (see Dreadnought) and is commonly played off the hip.
The phrase "classical guitar" may refer to either of two concepts other than the instrument itself:
the instrumental finger technique common to classical guitar—individual strings plucked with the fingernails or, rarely, fingertips.
the instrument's classical music repertoireThe term modern classical guitar is sometimes used to distinguish the classical guitar from older forms of guitar, which are in their broadest sense also called classical, or more specifically, early guitars. Examples of early guitars include the six-string early romantic guitar (c. 1790–1880), and the earlier baroque guitars with five courses.