The classical guitar (also called the Spanish guitar) is an acoustical wooden guitar with six strings, usually nylon, as opposed to the metal strings used in acoustic and electric guitars. Classical guitar is typically played by plucking individual strings with the fingernails or, rarely, the fingertips. A classical guitar solo concert is typically called a recital; it may include a variety of works, e.g. works written originally for the lute or vihuela by composers such as John Dowland (b. Ireland 1563) and Luis de Narváez (b. Spain c. 1500), and also music written for the harpsichord by Domenico Scarlatti (b. Italy 1685), for the baroque lute by Sylvius Leopold Weiss (b. Germany 1687), for the baroque guitar by Robert de Visée (b. France c. 1650) or even Spanish-flavored music written for the piano by Isaac Albéniz (b. Spain 1860) and Enrique Granados (b. Spain 1867). The most important composer who did not write for the guitar but whose music is often played on it is Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Germany 1685), whose baroque lute works have proved highly adaptable to the instrument.
Of music written originally for guitar, the earliest important composers are from the classical period and include Fernando Sor (b. Spain 1778) and Mauro Giuliani (b. Italy 1781), both of whom wrote in a style strongly influenced by Viennese classicism. In the 19th century guitar composers such as Johann Kaspar Mertz (b. Slovakia, Austria 1806) were strongly influenced by the dominance of the piano. Not until the end of the nineteenth century did the guitar begin to establish its own unique identity. Francisco Tárrega (b. Spain 1852) was central to this, sometimes incorporating stylized aspects of flamenco's Moorish influences into his romantic miniatures. This was part of late 19th century mainstream European musical nationalism. Albéniz and Granados were central to this movement; their evocation of the guitar was so successful that their compositions have been absorbed into standard guitar repertoire.
Some classical guitarists play concertos, which are solos written for performance with the accompaniment of an orchestra. Not many classical guitar concertos have been written, however, which may perhaps be laid to the imbalance between the volume of multi-instrumental orchestra as compared to a single guitar. Nevertheless, some guitar concertos are nowadays wide known and popular, especially Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (with the famous theme from 2nd movement) and Fantasía para un gentilhombre. Composers who also wrote well known guitar concertos are: Antonio Vivaldi (originally for mandolin or lute), Mauro Giuliani, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Manuel Ponce, Leo Brouwer and Lennox Berkeley. In the 2000s, contemporary composers are increasingly writing guitar concertos.
Composers of the Renaissance period who wrote for four course guitar include Alonso Mudarra, Miguel de Fuenllana, Adrian Le Roy and Guillaume de Morlaye. Some well known composers of the baroque guitar were Gaspar Sanz, Robert de Visée and Francesco Corbetta. From approximately 1780 to 1850, the guitar had numerous composers and performers including: Filippo Gragnani (1767–1820), Antoine de Lhoyer (1768–1852), Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841), Francesco Molino (1774–1847), Fernando Sor (1778–1839), Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829), Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840), Dionisio Aguado (1784 – 1849), Luigi Legnani (1790–1877), Matteo Carcassi (1792–1853), Napoléon Coste (1805–1883) and Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806–1856). Beginning in the 1920s, guitar soloist Andrés Segovia popularized the guitar with tours and early phonograph recordings. Modern classical guitar solo performers who are known for playing modern repertoire include Leo Brouwer, John Schneider, Reinbert Evers, Maria Kämmerling, Siegfried Behrend, David Starobin, Mats Scheidegger, John Williams, and Magnus Andersson.