The first guitar I ever played was a full size Valencia classical, nylon stringed guitar. It had a few extra sound holes included, added by generations of students before me that clearly didn't care much for the instrument, what strings were left on the body were rusted, or kinked & on the verge of breaking - it was in a state of disrepair, but I fell in love with it anyway - I put the skateboard down and started my musical journey.
That was in Year 8 - fast forward 15 years and I look back on that guitar with a lot of fondness, it was my first step to being a guitarist and will be for a lot of your students. Classical Guitars are not widely used in my circle but I can almost guarantee they all started off on a Valencia VC104, or a a Yamaha GIGMAKERC40 or (if they were super lucky) an Ibanez GA5TCE. Why do we all pick up the Classical Guitar first and why are they an Essential Instrument for Classroom Music?
Well for one thing, they're easy to play - their strings are made of Nylon on the High E, B & G so they're soft on the fingers that won't be developed enough yet for Steel strings - remember, we want to keep students engaged in classroom music. If you put a steel string acoustic in their hands on day one they're only going to remember the pain & won't be in a rush to pick it back up again. The Low E, A & D strings are wound with silver plated copper over the Nylon - this gives you nice bright tone but won't hurt your students fingers.
Much like the students that they're destined for, Classical Guitars come in a multitude of sizes. Alongside the standard Full Size, or 4/4 - most manufacturers will offer a 3/4, a 1/2 and 1/4 size option. This allows students of all heights and sizes to have access to a comfortable instrument which will help keep them interested when they're introduced to Guitars. In Primary Classrooms, it's a good idea to keep a few of the 1/4 & 1/2 sizes models but keep your focus on 3/4 models as they're more accessible to more students. For Secondary Schools, you'd be best to focus on 3/4 & 4/4 sizes to fill out your Classroom.
For Classroom use, most guitar manufacturers will have a student-friendly model in their line up. In Australia, Valencia Guitars have been the leading manufacturer of Student Classical Guitars for 50 Years, celebrating this milestone in 2022. Undoubtedly the most popular brand across classrooms in Australia, Valencia offer models ranging from $100 with the 100 series right up to their latest release, the new Solid-Top 700 Series which peaks $445 - they're the most budget friendly option and always readily available to order, so if your classroom music program needs 20 guitars this will be your best bet.
As is with any instrument, the higher the price point, the higher the quality of timber & components. It's no secret that Classical Guitars can struggle to hold tune straight out of the box - the nature of Nylon strings is they will slip at the start. Now times that by 20, you probably haven't got time to sit down and tune, stretch the strings, tune again... and again... You might have to spend a little more of your budget, but it means you'll be saving on time doing more important things - like reading blogs about classroom music!
Yamaha have a line of fantastic models available - the Gigmaker C40 and it's 3/4 counterpart - the CS40 - are excellent options for your Music Program. Both feature a Spruce Top, Rosewood fingerboard with a Gloss Body and Satin Neck - this combination creates a smooth playing experience, with bright tones & excellent volume - they're very comfortable, an instrument that will encourage your students to continue learning each week.
There are manufacturers who also include Electric models in their range - these are great to have a few of in the classroom to use for performances, whether that be at school assemblies or for lunchtime showcases - any time you need extra volume.
The Ibanez GA5TCE is suited perfectly for live performance - the body is slimmer than standard classical guitars, so students will find this more comfortable to play standing or sitting with a Cutaway where the Neck joins the Body - this allows you to play higher notes on the fretboard comfortably. The pickup system is made by Ibanez as well, it has a 3 band EQ (Bass, Mids, Treble) so you can shape the sound to your liking. These sit around the $400 mark, making them an excellent, budget friendly option without sacrificing on quality.
It is interesting that the first Guitar that we learn on is the precursor to what we know as Acoustic & Electric guitars today. An instrument that evolved from Spanish Vihuelas and Gitterns in the Fifteenth & Sixteenth centuries. Maybe it's a case of history repeating itself, or perhaps just common sense - the Classical Guitar may not be the first reason Students are interested to learn guitar, but it's definitely the first step towards what they really want!