Choosing an acoustic guitar is a very personal purchase which is why many of our customers prefer to buy in-store where they have the luxury of trying hundreds of different instruments for all kinds of styles and budgets. It can be very daunting when faced with so many options so we are here to break down the decision process and ultimately make it a rewarding experience.
1. Set Yourself a Budget
This first step is generally based on whether you are a beginner, moderate or experienced player. Most people set themselves a low budget when starting out and upgrade as their playing progresses but there’s no reason a beginner shouldn’t buy a high-end guitar if that’s want they really want (provided you can afford it, of course). The great thing is there is a price point for every level of player and there are good quality instruments available to suit any budget. The pricing of acoustic instruments is largely down to the quality of the materials used and whether the top, back and side woods are solid, laminated or high pressure composites.
2. How Will You Use It?
Once you’ve narrowed down your budget the next step is to think about what you will be using the guitar for. If you are looking to travel or just strum away on the sofa then you’ll probably want something compact so it doesn’t take up too much space. If you are learning at home you will need something which has a suitable body size and materials to create the sound you want and a comfortable action (distance between the strings and fretboard). If you are a professional gigging musician then an acoustic with a built-in pre-amp and pickup is often desirable as it saves the hassle of using microphones to amplify the guitar.
3. Body Size
The next consideration is which body size is going to be suitable for you. Generally speaking if you are more of an unaccompanied fingerstyle player then you’ll probably want something with a smaller body, a parlour or grand concert size for example. The smaller body size means you get less volume from the instrument but greater note separation/definition plus a balanced consistency across the frequencies. If you are playing with other instruments or using the guitar to accompany singing then a dreadnought or jumbo body size will give you more volume, a deeper and richer low-end, and a wide dynamic range. Probably our best selling body size is the grand auditorium which sits between the concert and the dreadnought. This gives you the best of both worlds making it more versatile and physically more comfortable. There are many other sizes and designs out there but having a basic understanding of these main five will give you a solid starting point.
4. Necks and Nut Widths
The “feel” of the instrument is largely down to the neck. Acoustic guitars come with different nut widths ranging typically from 43mm; 1 11/16″ suitable for strumming, 45mm; 1 3/4″ good for strumming and fingerstyle, and 47mm; 1 7/8″ best suited to fingerstyle. However, in my experience the size of the player’s hands contributes greatly to which nut width is best especially when holding down open chords. The neck profile is another major factor in influencing your decision – again this is down to the size of your hands, style of playing and what you may already be used to. Satin finishes on the back of the neck are becoming more common – this helps the player move up and down the neck without too much resistance – some finishes like nitrocellulose can feel sticky.
The other major point to consider is the woods the guitar is made from. “Tonewood” is the term used to describe the materials
that make up the body of the guitar giving it its unique voice. The most common top wood (sound board) used on steel strung acoustics is spruce. With its creamy yellow complexion and wide, straight grain, spruce is both very light and strong and has a bright sound with a rich mid-range. An excellent choice for players wanting shimmering clarity and an immediate attack. Cedar is also commonly used on steel strung acoustics – similar in appearance to spruce but with a darker reddish hue. It has a rich mid-range with more of a played-in, less bright sound – particularly favoured by fingerstyle players as it is more evenly balanced. The most common back and side wood used is mahogany (or mahogany alternatives such as sapele) which has a dense tight grain, light reddish-brown colour and has pronounced mid-range with added warmth and sustain. Rosewood is another popular choice used on the back and sides which has a rich dark brown colour with an open figured grain. Sound-wise rosewood has sparkling bright highs with added depth and bass. Acoustic necks are generally made from mahogany with rosewood or ebony fingerboards.
The important thing to remember when choosing a new guitar, whether you are a beginner or an accomplished player, is that it should be an enjoyable experience and you will instinctively know when you’ve found the right one that suits you.