Which Is The Hardest Type of Guitar To Play?

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Playing guitar isn’t just as simple as “playing guitar” is it? There are several types of guitars out there, so which one is the hardest types to play?

Classical vs. Acoustic Steel-String vs. Electric

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It’s more difficult to play a classical guitar in regards of hand flexibility and range of motion due to its wider frets and neck, while the acoustic steel-string guitar is more physically challenging to press the strings down enough for a clean sound. Both classical and acoustic steel-string guitars are more physically challenging than playing an electric guitar.

Quick Description Of Three Guitar Types

First, before we talk about which guitar type is most difficult to play, let’s learn what the 3 main types of guitars out there:

  • Acoustic Steel String: Strings are steel, frets are narrower, neck is narrower, some models allow access to 12th fret and above. Sound is sharper, used for pop, rock, and folk music and a thousand other genres.
  • Classical Acoustic Nylon String: Strings are Nylon, frets are wider, neck is wider, 12th fret and above is barely accessible, sound is mellower, used for classical guitar styles
  • Electric: Strings are steel, neck and frets are narrower, and 12th fret and above are almost always accessible. Sound is variable depending on electronics. Used in classic and modern rock styles and blues.

That’s not all that’s out there–there are hundreds of different combinations of guitar body styles, shapes, sizes, and even some specialty guitars, such as the 12-string guitar. I’ll be focusing on the top 3, though.

Which Guitar Type Is The Hardest To Play?

Since whether one guitar type is more challenging than another is somewhat subjective I decided to ask a guitar community and get a feel for what people thought.

The answer may surprise you.

As you might expect the answers were varied but the two guitar styles that many agreed were the hardest were the classical guitar and the acoustic steel string guitar.

Many think, intuitively, the classic guitar is the easiest to play, until they’ve actually tried it, especially after learning how to play the acoustic steel string.

Why the Classical Guitar Is Considered Hardest

Now as I said not everybody feels that the classical guitar is the hardest to play but many do and you might be wondering why.

It seems counter-intuitive, because classical guitars have nylon strings, which are definitely easier to press down and less painful for your fingers than steel strings. However, classical guitars have a couple attributes that can make them more physically challenging to play than any of the other guitar types.

It’s All In The Neck

The reason why classical guitar is hard is because the shape of the neck.

  • Wider Neck: Meaning that the distance between the top of the fret to the bottom of the fret is longer than other guitar types. This means that chords are harder to play because your fingers are required to stretch more.
  • Wider Frets: meaning the distance between frets is greater than other guitar types. This makes it more difficult to play chords and scales because you have to reach your fingers further. If you’re not a guitar beginner yet, trust me, this makes a bigger difference than it sounds.
  • Thicker Neck: The actual neck itself is thicker than other guitar styles. This means the distance between your anchor point (your thumb) and your fingers is greater, which makes it more difficult to anchor the strings down and leads to hand cramping.
  • 12th fret and above are inaccessible

In short, playing classical guitar requires greater hand flexibility and potentially greater grip strength in order to play comfortably without hand cramps.

Why the Acoustic Steel String Guitar Is Considered Hardest

This is probably the answer that you thought you were going to find. Even though opinions differ many guitarists do think that playing the acoustic steel string guitar is the most difficult out of any of the other guitar types.

It’s All About the Guitar Strings

The most key characteristic that makes the the acoustic steel string guitar is the fact that it has steel strings (go figure). In summary, what makes the acoustic steel string guitar difficult are the following:

  • Steel Strings: stell strings are more tough on your fingertips to play than nylon strings. Even the thinnest gauge of guitar strings is really challenging for a beginner and it takes several weeks of practice before you can play for more than half an hour of practice at a time.
  • 12th Fret and above are inaccessible in non-cutaway models. Learn more about cutaways and what you’re sacrificing here in my other post about this.

Which Guitar Style Is Hardest To Play?

So, we’ve talked about what type of guitar is the most difficult to play, but what about the style of music that these instruments play?

This is a lot more squishy of an answer, because it really depends on what type of music you are playing.

For example, many singer-songwriter songs are played with an acoustic steel-string guitar, and are played with chords.

Playing chords along to a song is one of the simpler methods to play the guitar, so you could say that music with acoustic steel string guitars are easy to play.

Then you listen to Starship Trooper by the band Yes, and you see that there’s an incredible dynamic range and capability with the acoustic steel-string guitar.

In reality, the difficulty of the music completely depends on the genre, the song and the nature of the guitar parts.

A classical piece could be extremely simple or extremely complicated, only playable by less than 1000 people on the planet.

Check out my classical guitar playlist on YouTube and you’ll get a sense of what I mean:

Playlist: Best of Classical Guitar
Watch this playlist on YouTube

Some metal songs you can’t help but admire the technical ability of the guitarists. Look for The Dance of Eternity in my rock guitar playlist:

Playlist: Best of Rock Guitar
Watch this playlist on YouTube


So, while one type of guitar may be more physically challenging to play initially–there comes a point where after enough practice that the guitarist isn’t limited by those physical challenges. After a point, the technical prowess of a heavy metal guitarist vs. a classical guitarists can reach similar levels–whether one guitarist is better than another becomes a matter of opinion than measurable fact.

So, if you’re worried about whether you’re choosing the hard instrument, or the easy instrument–don’t worry about it. Choose what you like, and with practice you will figure it out.

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Peter Mitchell

Founder of this website. Lover of sound, music, hot sauce, and technology.

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