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10 Essential Non-Classical Nylon-String Guitar Albums


The nylon-string acoustic guitar is known mainly as a classical or flamenco instrument, but its rich tonal qualities lend themselves to particular roles in country, folk, jazz, rock, pop, and even hip-hop. The Brazilian bossa nova sound is based on a rhythmic and percussive nylon-string sound pioneered by the guitarist João Gilberto. And the great American guitarist Chet Atkins often played fingerstyle on nylon-string guitars—he was a huge influence on many guitarists, who would take his ideas into multiple genres. On these ten essential non-classical albums, the nylon-string guitar is at the center of each artist’s vision.

Jose Feliciano
Feliciano! (1968)
Puerto Rican guitarist Jose Feliciano’s massive mainstream breakthrough is generally considered to be the first album of pop music played entirely on a nylon-string guitar. To be sure, Feliciano! sounded like nothing else that came out in 1968. It was an album of vocals and classical guitar and included covers of some of the most well-known pop and rock songs of the times, namely the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” and the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200, but also songs by the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

When asked by Music Radar in 2012 if he considered himself a pioneer for using nylon-string on pop songs, Feliciano said, “No, not at all. I was just doing what sounded good to me. I did what I did. And if things weren’t done or were looked down on . . . like the way I do certain bends on the acoustic, that’s not done, supposedly. It took Charlie Byrd to show me that it is done, and in that sense, I copied him and his ideas, and I added my own thing to it.

“I’ve always had blistering speed with my right hand. People call it ‘flamenco,’ but it’s not. I’ve heard the phrase ‘Jose Feliciano and his flamenco guitar’—that’s not what it is. I’m not a flamenco guitarist. I happen to play a nylon-string guitar that flamenco guitarists also use, but I’m not a flamenco guitarist.”