An acoustic guitar is an excellent and versatile musical instrument. It is portable, can be played anywhere, and suits a variety of musical styles. Choosing a guitar can be a daunting process, especially for one new to the instrument. However, an understanding of a few key elements helps you make an educated choice and pick the right acoustic guitar for your needs.
Classic, Dreadnought, and Jumbo Body Styles
Most guitar makers offer the three main acoustic guitars body styles. The "classic" shape is smaller, with a narrow waist. It provides a balanced sound with medium sound projection. Guitarists who fingerpick prefer this body because of the clarity between highs, mids, and lows. Martin Guitars created the "dreadnought," a guitar with a wider waist to provide richer bass. Preferred by guitarists who strum heavily, these guitars are larger and sound louder than classic acoustic guitars. Finally, "jumbo" styles resemble large classic guitars, but have a louder sound. Performers often use jumbos with a strap, but these guitars can be uncomfortable to play sitting down because of their large size. Classic styles work best with light gauge strings, while both dreadnoughts and jumbo acoustic guitars sound best with medium gauge ones.
Balladeer Body Style
Another, less common, style is the "Balladeer." Made by Ovation, these guitars have a bowl-shaped back made of a composite called Lyrachord. All styles are often available in "cutaway" models. Here, the lower part of the guitar body near the neck is cut away, giving players better access to the frets closest to the guitar's body.
6 vs. 12 Strings
Out of the two types, 6-string acoustic guitars are more common. Some musicians prefer 12-string guitars for the richer tone they produce. Most 12-string types arrange the strings in six courses, so two strings are played together. The strings, usually in the same pitch, vibrate out of phase, resulting in a "chorus" effect.
Also called "tonewood," topwood is, as it sounds, the wood used to make the top of the guitar. It is the guitar's soundboard and plays a major role in tone. Topwoods may be laminated veneer or solid tops. The former is more affordable, while the latter provides more clarity and volume. The most common topwood is Sitka spruce, which allows players to strum hard while maintaining clarity and tone. On the other hand, Engelmann spruce sounds richer at softer levels.
Some acoustic guitars have a few built-in electronics. These may include a pick-up, a tuner, or both. You can plug models with a pick-up directly into an amplifier, bypassing the need for a separate microphone. Built-in tuners provide an easy way to tune a guitar.