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If you don’t know what to look for when buying a guitar, here’s an acoustic guitar buying guide to help you start.
Music is a common form of expression that has linked cultures from all over the world. One of the most influential instruments throughout history has been the guitar.
Versions of this string instrument have been around for centuries. However, one of the most common guitars, the flat top acoustic guitar, is much younger.
Christian Frederick Martin invented the flat top acoustic guitar in the 1830s. Acoustic guitars have remained a popular item since then.
There are numerous variations of the instrument available on the market today. With several different prices, constructions, shapes, and materials it can be difficult to know where to start, which is why I wrote this guide to help people like you!
Budget and Purpose
Finding the perfect acoustic guitar depends heavily on your budget. This instrument has a wide cost range so it can be easy for you to go overboard. With that in mind, beginners still require a standard set of gear if they are to have any sort of success.
You should always look for brand names when buying a new guitar. Companies such as Yamaha, Fender, Epiphone, and Ibanez have become the standard for this instrument. While it is true you could find cheaper versions somewhere else, the quality is most likely going to be lacking.
Buying a guitar is an investment. New players should think about how serious they are in learning. If you are just looking to play as a hobby your budget would be lower than that of a person who is thinking about becoming a professional. The usual budget for beginning guitar players is around $100 to $300.
If you have a smaller budget it is recommended that you research acoustic guitar starter packs. They contain all the basic items you will need to get started and they cost less than buying everything individually.
Most major guitar companies have them. The Yamaha kit with their FG800 acoustic guitar is highly rated for this reason.
Advanced players can expect their starting budget amount to be much higher than a beginner’s budget amount. By this point, it is expected that you have specific qualities that you like or dislike about acoustic guitars.
This leads to a more specialized instrument whose cost will be higher. A good standard for advanced players is the Seagull S6 Original.
Acoustic vs. Acoustic-Electric
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, there are various reasons to buy a guitar. For some playing is a hobby and for others, it is a form of therapy. There are also many that play guitar for their profession.
Depending on which path you are planning to follow, you may want to choose either an acoustic or acoustic electric guitar.
The basic acoustic guitar has a unique sound which is amplified by its hollow body. Due to this natural amplification, it can be difficult to make this type of guitar any louder than it already is. With that in mind, they work best for personal use, as therapy, or for smaller groups where there won’t be too much noise.
Acoustic electric guitars use the addition of electronics such as an amp or soundboard to amplify their sound. This can also alter the tone of the sounds they produce. These factors make this type of guitar great for players who want to play with a greater musical range or who are playing where there will be background noise.
The acoustic guitar has seen subtle changes to its general construction ever since it was invented. As technology advanced and new materials have used the creation of these instruments also evolved. According to (Dawsons.co.uk), guitars are made up of three major sections, the head, neck, and body, as well as several other parts.
You can learn more about guitar anatomy which will also aid you with your decision making.
The head of a guitar can also be called the headstock. It is the top part where the strings end, composed of tuner pegs and nut.
Tuners are the little semi-circle pieces that sit on both sides of the head. They are each connected to one of the guitar’s strings and are responsible for changing the pitch of the said string.
It is important to look for tuners that don’t wiggle or become loose when you are buying a new guitar. Loose pegs lead to out of tune guitars.
The nut is where the head joins the neck of the guitar. It is a piece of hard plastic or wood that separates the strings.
The long piece that connects the head and the body of the guitar is called the neck. This is also where the majority of the strings lay and where you will place your fingers to play.
The truss rod is a piece of metal that is located inside the neck. It stabilizes the longest and thinnest part of the guitar. Some can be adjusted while others cannot be moved.
Located below the strings is the fretboard (sometimes referred to as fingerboard). They help you produce specific notes when the instrument’s strings are pressed.
When buying a guitar you should make sure the fretboards are stable and correctly attached to the neck of the guitar. Faults with a fretboard can burden the tone and playability of the instrument.
If you’re a beginner, you might wanna choose a guitar with lower action. The action is the distance between the strings and fretboard, so the lower the action the lighter the pressure needed when fretting the strings.
In addition, if you plan on playing songs with high notes, you should choose a guitar with the higher frets playable. There’s also a cutaway option for some guitars which will allow you to reach the higher frets easily.
The body is the largest part of a guitar. It is a place where the strings connect and where you strum to create sound. Acoustic guitars’ bodies are large and hollow.
Top, Sides, and Back are the parts form most of a guitar’s body. They are key features that control the sound of the instrument. The wood is chosen depending on how it affects the resulting tone.
Sealing the body of a guitar in a finish will protect it from being damaged by moisture. It was mentioned on Humbucker Music that newer finishes won’t discolor wood and can have numerous other advantages.
Strips of wood that are placed on the inside of a guitar are called internal bracing. They reinforce the top and help it vibrate properly. How these bracings are placed slightly changes how a guitar sounds.
A soundhole is the circular opening in the center of the instrument’s body. It helps with sound projection and affects how high or low notes can go. A pickguard is an attachable part that fits over the body of the instrument to protect it from damage.
Assisting the sound to move from the strings to the soundhole would be the job of the bridge. Saddles are similar to nuts, they connect the ends of the strings to the body of the guitar.
There are many different sub-categories of acoustic guitar-based on the shape of their bodies. Even minor alterations to the size of an instrument’s body can significantly change how it sounds when played. Based on a post by (Fender.com), here are the most common body shape examples.
The most popular and one of the younger body shapes, the Dreadnought, has a deep body that produces an intense base (What is Dreadnought guitar). Its lower body is wide while its upper body is slim. (If you want to see more, here are the best dreadnought guitar)
Concert and Grand Concert
The Concert body is a standardly sized shape that has been in use for almost two centuries. It is higher pitched tone comes from its tight figure-eight appearance. Today it is mostly used to accompany another instrument.
In comparison, the Grand Concert is smaller and creates a lower sound. Due to its shallow internal body, it produces a fairly soft tone. It is favored by younger players and those who play with picks.
Auditorium and Grand Auditorium
The auditorium has a very sharp figure-eight shape compared to other guitars. This causes it to have a good balance between its treble and bass. While not one of the largest guitars anymore, it still produces a loud sound when played.
The Grand Auditorium is a mid-sized guitar that can be played either by strumming or with a pick. It has a clear, well-balanced tonal spectrum. This versatility makes it one of the best selling body shapes.
As the name would suggest this guitar is very big. This allows it to maintain loud, deep tones. Its body shape has one of the large lower section. It is considered a cowboy’s guitar.
Travel and Mini-Acoustics
Travel and Mini-Acoustics were made to be easily transported. They have a significantly smaller body. This reduces the number of vibrations caused when you play. This means it does produce better and higher notes.
The underside of the guitar’s neck can come in many different shapes. They vary in how pointed or rounded they are. This does not change the way the instruments sound. However, it does affect the “comfortability” of the guitar. Let’s take a look at the three most common styles of today’s neck shapes.
The most common shape would be the C-shape. It has a comfortable oval shape that’s best for most genres of performance.
If you’re more into the retro style, V-shaped necks would be suitable for you. These shapes can be found on many reissued models of Guitar.
There’s also the Soft V version which flattens the point of the V that was popularized by Eric Clapton and Fender. Guitarists who play with their thumb hanging over the fretboard often prefer this style of neck.
For players with big hands, U-shaped or D-shaped would be more befitting. They have chunkier necks, thus it is for players who would like to place their thumb on the back or side of the necks, or to simply play the legato or fast styles.
What a guitar is made out of determines how it will sound. Even instruments that have the same body shape can have different pitches if their tonewoods are varied. As stated by Taylor Guitars, there are numerous types of wood used today. Below are the most popular tonewoods.
According to Dawsons, spruce is the most commonly used as a top part of the guitar. It is light tan in color. It produces a tone that is “far-ranging”, specifically sweet, smooth, vibrant, and warm sounds. Other than that, it has a really great projection and volume.
The most common type of spruce would be Sitka Spruce which is distinctive for its fundamental harmonics. It has ‘bear claw’, a grain variety, which improves its aesthetic appeal.
Engleman Spruce is another type of Spruce that is from Northern America, known for its wormer tone than Sitka. Another type would be Adirondack, less used but produces a more aggressive and louder tone.
It is a soft wood that generates an equally soft and harmonic tone which has a reddish-brown color. Compared to other tonewoods it does well in humid areas. This type of tonewood is a really popular choice for fingerstyle players.
Most commonly used for sides and back, this tonewood shines when playing midrange notes. It generates a warmer and clearer melody compared to spruce and cedar and it has a medium brown color.
It is loved by blues players but if combined with spruce, it offers a well-balanced tone which makes it flexible to any musical styles.
If you’re looking for an all-mahogany guitar, I’d suggest the Fender CD-60s All-mahogany. It’s affordable and it’s an excellent guitar for beginners.
One of the most responsive and complex tonewoods available, which then produces vibrant tones and has a reverberant projection. It may be less popular compared to the rest but this dark brown wood is chosen because of its versatility.
Apart from the quality, it can also be an awesome addition to the aesthetics of the guitar!
This dark brown wood is one of the most popular woods used to make guitars, specifically for necks. It produces a deep traditional sound that is the strongest when playing midrange notes.
Laminated Woods vs Solid Woods
Guitars made from laminated woods tend to be much cheaper. Laminated woods are layered pieces that’s why it’s much cheaper. But the downside is that over time, the quality of the guitar will deteriorate.
Solid woods, on the other hand, is much more expensive compared to the laminated woods. Although, they produce more resonant sounds which will greatly improve over time!
Laminated woods may be cheaper, but in terms of quality, solid woods is the more ideal choice especially it improves quality over time.
Some nice sum up for you to understand easier:
|Spruce||Bright, dynamic range; often used for tops of acoustic guitars||Can damage easily; not as visually striking|
|Mahogany||Deep lows and bright highs; are often used for back, sides, and fretboards||Heavier weight; could be expensive|
|Rosewood||Deep lows and bright highs; often used for back, sides, and fretboards||Expensive; high maintenance|
|Maple||Bright tones with good sustain; often used for necks and bodies||Can sound too bright for some; relatively heavy|
|Cedar||Warm sound; good for fingerpicking, commonly used for classical guitar tops||Less dynamic range; not ideal for aggressive strumming|
|Basswood||Lightweight; generally neutral tone; common in budget electric guitars||Lacks high-end bite; not as durable as other hardwoods|
|Alder||Balanced tone; commonly used in electric guitar bodies||Not as visually appealing; softer and less durable than other options|
|Ash||Bright, sweet tone; good sustain; often used for electric guitar bodies||Can be heavy; grain can make it hard to finish smoothly|
Final Words of Advice
In conclusion, the main factors that you need to look for are your budget, tuners that should keep your guitar in tune, neck shape for comfort, body shape, and tonewoods which should produce the sound quality that you like.
With this acoustic guitar buying guide, you should be able to make some intelligent decisions when purchasing your next acoustic guitar.
Buying a guitar can be challenging but if you’ve done your homework, you should be able to choose your first instrument or your next instrument and get the sound you want.
Best Acoustic Guitars Under 1000 Bucks – This is my top 10 list of the best acoustic guitars out there!
The Best Beginner Acoustic Guitars – My top acoustic guitars for beginners.
Best Value Acoustic Guitars Under $300 – Top 10 list of my best affordable acoustic guitars.
Top-rated Acoustic-Electric Guitars – Top 10 list of my best acoustic-electric guitars.