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Acoustic Guitars

The acoustic guitar is the most widely used type of guitar and can be heard in many genres of music.

The term acoustic guitar is actually a fairly modern term as, until the introduction of the electric guitar, the acoustic guitar was simply called a guitar. An acoustic guitar creates sound by transmitting the vibration of its strings to a wooden soundboard; the soundboard sits on top of large resonant cavity (sound box) that increases the volume of the sound and projects in forward.

A brief history of the acoustic guitar

The acoustic guitar is a musical instrument with a history that stretches back many centuries; in fact instruments similar to the guitar have been in use for over 5000 years. In its simplest form a guitar is defined as having a long neck with fretted fingerboard, strings, flat wooden soundboard, flat back and curved sides.

Over the years many different styles and designs of guitar have existed such as baroque, renaissance, classical Portuguese and Moorish guitars. The acoustic guitars we know today are similar in style to the classical guitar, an instrument whose modern look and dimensions were established by Antonio Torres Jurado in the 19th century. His designs changed the way in which guitars were built the whole world over and elements of his designs are still in use today.

Buyers guide to acoustic guitars

Acoustic Guitar

Nylon or steel strings?

Acoustic guitars are commonly split into two distinct categories, those with nylon strings and those with steel strings. Each type of string has its own feel and sound, nylon strings produced a mellow, well-rounded sound, whereas steel strings produce a brighter, chiming sound. Steel strings are regarded as the most versatile as they can generally be applied to any style of music, particularly country and western, rock and pop; nylon strings are primarily used for classical and flamenco playing.

Body Sizes

Acoustic guitars over the years have come in many shapes and sizes, however since the early 20th century and the growing popularity of steel strings, three popular guitar shapes have emerged; classic, dreadnought and jumbo. Most acoustic guitars seen on display in music shops will use one of these basic designs as a starting point. As body size has a great impact on the tonal qualities and volume of an acoustic guitar it is important to know what each style offers.

It should be noted that classic style guitars should only be used with nylon strings, as their design is not suited for the high tension of steel strings. Size and shape wise, the steel stringed equivalents of the classic guitar are the artist and folk body styles.

The smaller classic style guitars (artist and folk) produce a bright clean sound with a good treble and bass response, making them a favourite of lead guitarists and those who employ a picking style. Dreadnought and jumbo style bodies provides a richer sound with increased bass response and are favoured by strummers and chord players; however these are never hard and fast rules, some players believe a dreadnought is good for flatpicking.

Construction & Materials

Perhaps the most important factors affecting the sound of an acoustic guitar are the materials used in its construction. Whereas electric guitars and electric bass guitars tend to have a solid-body design typically made from one type of wood, the hollow-body design of an acoustic guitar tends to feature two to three different kinds of wood.

The soundboard or 'top' of an acoustic guitar is considered the most important factor in the overall tone and character of the instrument. The best types of wood to use are soft woods such as cedar and spruce as these vibrate more easily; both woods improve in sound and volume with age, a process called 'breaking in'. Cedar produces a warm, robust sound in contrast to the clear, cooler tones of spruce. Laminated or veneer soundboards are also widely available. Made from layers of multiple pieces of wood, laminated soundboards are more durable than their solid wood counterparts but resonate less which some believe produces a slightly inferior sound. Also, laminate soundboards do not improve or break in with age.

The back and sides of an acoustic guitar are traditionally made from hard wood such as rosewood, mahogany, oak and maple. These hard woods provide solid support for the soundboard and neck of the guitar and help to reflect the instruments sound out through the soundhole under the strings. As far as sound characteristics are concerned rosewood and oak are at the darker, warmer end of the spectrum and maple and mahogany are at the brighter, livelier end.

Mahogany and maple are primarily used for the necks of acoustic guitars with rosewood or ebony used to finish the fret boards.

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