Last week we talked about guitar sizes, by far the largest category of choosing a guitar. If you haven’t read through that article yet, we recommend starting there! One of the most important parts of choosing a Guitar is finding the size that fits you. Once you’ve decided on that, though, there is a rabbit hole of different options. So let’s get started!
Tonewoods & Quality
First, let’s talk about brands, build quality, and wood types. Gone are the days where Made In China immediately meant something was low quality. In fact, some of the best Guitars out there are handcrafted in China. What you need to be looking for is what type of wood (or laminate) the guitar is actually being made out of. There are a dozen or so different popular woods, called tonewoods, and a few dozen more options after that. In addition, the body of the guitar is often made from a different wood than the top of the guitar. Among the popular body tonewoods are Mahogany, Maple, Ash, and Walnut. For Guitar tops, popular woods are Spruce, Cedar, and Mahogany. Let’s be clear though: There are a ton more. Ebony, Koa, Ovangkol, Rosewood, etc. And even among the woods there can be differences (Stika Spruce and European Spruce, for example).
When it comes to choosing your tonewood, decide what sound you are looking for. On most entry level guitars, Sitka Spruce is going to be the easiest by far to find. For most people that’s great! Sitka Spruce is a wonderful all-around wood. It responds well to both hard playing, and light finger-picking, and is the most consistently available tonewood out there.
For something a little more robust but somewhat harder to find, consider looking for a Mahogany or Maple top combined with an Ebony body for a bold, clear sound; or consider a Cedar top with a Rosewood body. The Cedar is bright and clear, and responds well to a light touch, while your Rosewood body will give off deep bass tones, keeping your sound full and rich.
The last thing to keep in mind with tonewoods is that no two guitars are the same. Even two guitars of the same model will differ slightly in their resonance and tone, due to the parts of the tree the guitar is made with. This is most apparent on high-end guitars, while laminate wood guitars won’t have as significant of a tonal difference. That’s all to say, though, to try your guitars out before you buy them! Or at least listen to them in some capacity. You absolutely want to know what your guitar is going to sound like before you buy it.
What Gets You Excited To Play
An often overlooked (or at least underrated) aspect to picking a guitar is one that you enjoy looking at. This might seem obvious, and to experienced and advanced guitarists, it is! To them, it’s almost instinctual to be drawn toward the Guitar that they enjoy looking at. For beginners and intermediate players, though, the look of the instrument can sometimes take a back seat to, “Well what is going to sound best.” Here’s the hard truth: The Guitar that sounds the best is the one that’s actually getting played and used, not sitting on the wall because it doesn’t get you excited to make music and art. So don’t get caught up in the desire to have a specific type of wood, that you miss the Guitar that you absolutely adore to hold. Sometimes you want a Cedar top, but it’s the Walnut or Mahogany that catches your eye. Try them out! Does the Walnut top Guitar do what you want it to, and sound how you want it to sound? Then there’s no reason to go for something different, right?
A Note On Brands
If your Acoustic Guitar brand knowledge only extends to the first page of Google’s search results, you’ll know that the top Acoustic Brands (in no particular order) are: Taylor, Martin, Fender, and Gibson. But that doesn’t mean those are the only brands you can buy. The beauty of these four brands is that they are old and established. Their quality has been tested and reviewed, and they make some fantastic Guitars. But there are dozens of Guitar manufacturers out there, and they are making some incredible instruments as well.
Acoustic or Acoustic Electric?
Some Acoustic guitars come with electronics built in to the guitar. Just like an electric guitar, these “pickups” take the sound of the guitar and amplify it through an amplifier for a louder sound perfect for gig and performance situations. Although an Acoustic Guitar pickup uses the sound of the guitar body and top, while an Electric Guitar uses copper wire for its sound (we’ll get to that in a different guide).
So should you buy an Acoustic or Acoustic Electric? To answer that, it all comes back to what you want to use your guitar for. If you’re interested at all in being able to plug into an Amp or PA system, you’ll need an Acoustic Electric (commonly formatted A/E). If your Guitar will be an exclusively practice and/or campfire/local Guitar, then it probably isn’t as big a deal whether your instrument has a pickup or not.
That is your Buying Guide for an Acoustic Guitar! If you haven’t read Part One: Guitar Sizes, we recommend reading that as well to get a complete picture of how to choose your perfect Guitar! If you ever have any questions, come on in to one of our stores or give us a call and one of our Guitar experts can help you find exactly what you’re looking for!