April 09, 2015
Acoustic Guitar Buyer’s Guide
Buying Your First Acoustic Guitar
Guitar Parts 101
Before we get started, let’s take a look at the various parts of the acoustic guitar. For those who have family members and friends who are experienced players, you might already recognize these terms, but it never hurts to refresh yourself on the different components and pieces that make up the instrument.
Choosing the Right Model for You
Nobody ever forgets their first acoustic guitar. It’s an exciting experience after all, and even though you might not realize it now, it truly is the beginning of a journey that could last you a lifetime. These days, you’ll find a wide range of guitars to choose from, but choosing the right one for you is easier than you think. In fact, it can be as simple as understanding the basics of the instrument, and knowing what type of guitar best suits the style of music you want to play.
Guitar Shapes & Sizes – Finding the Best Fit
Although acoustic guitars might all look the same at first glance, there are actually many different sizes and shapes, each of which have their own characteristics that play a role in how the guitar will look, feel, and sound.
The three main acoustic guitar body types are concert, dreadnought, and jumbo. These guitars come in a wide range of sizes, and the most well-known guitar manufacturers specialize in their own models.
When you think of an acoustic guitar, the concert body style is most likely what springs to mind. Sometimes known as “auditorium style” guitars, the classic body delivers a very balanced sound, and with a set of light gauge strings, they’re a terrific choice for beginners.
Another very common body type is the dreadnought. Known for their loud and rich tone, dreadnoughts have a wider body than classic body guitars, and are great for players who like to strum hard. Usually, most guitarists play dreadnoughts with medium gauge strings, but light strings are fine as well.
Boasting a sound that’s similar to a dreadnought, but with a body that’s closer to an auditorium model, jumbo body styles are quite popular in today’s music industry. In fact, it’s very common to find concert performers playing jumbo guitars on stage because of their comfort and huge projection. Like the dreadnought, both light and medium strings are suitable to use on this guitar type.
For younger players with small fingers and hands, it’s best to start out with a guitar that’s not too large. Thankfully, there are many junior-size guitars available that are lightweight and designed with slender bodies and necks that are more comfortable to hold. Typically, a ½-size guitar is ideal for ages 5 to 8, and a ¾-size guitar is perfect for ages 8 to 11.
Speaking of smaller-sized acoustics, travel guitars are an excellent example of what would be more fitting for children. Made specifically for those who like to travel, these travel guitars have the same basic look as a standard acoustic at about ¾ the size, so they’re also a great choice for youngsters.
Not to be confused with “classic-body” types, classical guitars use nylon strings, and are typically the go-to choice for folk and flamenco-style guitarists. Since nylon strings are easier on the fingers than the steel strings found on standard models, many younger players begin with classical guitars. This is absolutely fine, but it should be noted that you can’t substitute nylon strings for steel ones on the same guitar. Remember, the first guitar you own should be based on the type of music you want to play most.
Tonewoods – More than Just a Pretty Face
The type of wood your guitar is made from will greatly influence your overall sound, and understanding the various types will certainly make it easier to choose a guitar that you’ll be most happy with. Over anything else, you’ll want to look at what tonewood was used to make your guitar’s top. Your top’s wood will play the most significant role in the resulting tone of your instrument, which is then followed by the woods used for the guitar’s back, sides, and neck.
Before we get into the actual tonewoods, it’s important to understand the different kinds of constructions that are used in the making of guitar tops. The two most common top types are laminated veneer and solid. A laminated veneer top contains thin sheets of wood that are glued together. Guitars that use this type of construction are usually very affordable, and many players prefer laminate thanks to its reliability in changing climates. Solid tops, on the other hand, are made using one solid piece of wood, and provide much better clarity and volume than laminated veneer tops.
Now let’s take a look at some various tonewood types:
Usually, most guitar tops are made of spruce, and the most common type used is a species known as Sitka. Lightweight, yet tough and strong, Sitka allows guitarists to play fast and hard while still sounding full.
Warm and balanced, cedar is another wood that’s used quite often for tops. In fact, many guitarists who do more fingerstyle picking prefer cedar (typically Western Red Cedar) because of its quicker response to lighter styles of playing.
This versatile tonewood is favored by many country and blues-style players. The reason is because mahogany provides a very clear and punchy sound with excellent mid-range and treble. Mahogany is often used for the back and sides of guitars as well.
Known for its low sound velocity, high level of internal damping, and tonal transparency, maple is often used on a guitar’s back and sides, since it allows the characteristics of the top to shine through clearly without adding too much coloration.
Prized for its wide array of overtones and great response rate, rosewood can add strength to a guitar’s low end as well as an overall darkness in tone to the rest of its range.
Of course, it should be pointed out that the tone of your guitar won’t solely depend on the tonewoods themselves. From the skill of the luthier to the quality of each component, the sound of your guitar will be impacted by many different aspects. The point of this section is to simply give you an idea of what to look for, so you can enjoy playing your first guitar well after you’ve already mastered the instrument.
Acoustic-Electric Guitars – Best of Both Worlds
That’s right! Just because you love the look, sound, and feel of an acoustic guitar, that doesn’t mean you can’t be amplified. In fact, there are many options available for guitarists who want to showcase their talents on stage, and one of the most affordable solutions is to buy a guitar with the electronics already installed. These are known as acoustic-electric guitars, and the most trusted acoustic guitar brands each offer their own great models. With that in mind, another excellent solution is to simply purchase a regular acoustic and install a pickup.
Your First Guitar – Budget and Quality
Purchasing a well-made acoustic guitar doesn’t have to mean paying an arm and a leg. A lot of first-time buyers think that one guitar is better than another simply because it’s more expensive, but that’s not always the case. In fact, many things come into play including how the guitar was made, and what country it was made in. For example, a guitar that was made in America will typically cost more than a guitar that was built overseas. Another factor that will affect a guitar’s price is the wood type and how it was selected. From how rare the wood is to the amount of detail in its grain, the cost of your instrument will be greatly impacted by these influences.
Remember, a highly-playable acoustic guitar can certainly be found at a reasonable price. Many well-known guitar brands even offer beginner packages that are put together specifically for players who aren’t sure where to start their search. Along with the guitar itself, these bundles can include everything from straps and strings to even a tuner. One of the most convenient ways to find your ideal acoustic guitar is to shop online, and Music & Arts has many terrific options available, including excellent starter packages. Of course, if you can’t make a decision based on the info itself, you can always play it safe and check out the best sellers, browse the reviews given from other buyers, or simply call or email Music & Arts with your questions. Whatever you’re curious about, Music & Art’s team of experts would be more than happy to guide you in the right direction.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for in your first acoustic guitar, the only thing left to do is explore your options. We hope this guide has helped you in making your decision easier, and when you’re all set and ready…
…Don’t Forget Your Accessories:
- Available in hard and soft shell designs, every guitarist should own a case to protect their instrument. In fact, some guitars even come with their own case.
- Light, medium, or hard, the choice is yours! Picks also come in a variety of different colors and shapes.
- Tuner / Metronome
- You need to be in tune after all! A metronome is also an excellent practice tool for developing your timing.
- Straps come in all kinds of cool designs. Simply put, they’re a great way to personalize your instrument and look like a rock star!
- Extra Strings
- Every guitarist breaks strings, and having extras on hand will ensure you’re always prepared. Not to mention, strings should be replaced every 3 months, so you always get the most out of your guitar’s tone.
- A small and easy-to-use device that clamps down on your strings, a capo can be placed on any part of your fretboard, and allows you to play open-string chords in higher pitches. For acoustic guitarists, capos are very useful, since barre chords are typically harder to play on acoustic guitars than electrics. With a capo, you can continue to play open-shaped chords even in other frets!
- These days, it has never been easier to find beginner guitar books to teach you the basics of the instrument. In fact, most of these books are extremely easy to follow and very enjoyable. For a more interactive experience, you can also find a wide range of instructional DVDs, many of which include pointers from famous-recording artists.
- Of course, the BEST way to learn an instrument is to have someone show you firsthand. No bad habits, no frustration. Private lessons are affordable and customized to the learning abilities and style of each player. Learn more about lessons today!
…and don’t forget to have fun!