Picking the Perfect Acoustic Guitar – Part 1
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Before you lay down your money for that guitar you have been wanting, there are a couple of key questions you need to ask yourself. Questions like:Do I want a nylon string guitar or a steel string guitar? Should I buy an all solid wood acoustic or just a solid top guitar with laminated back and sides? Do I want to have electronics built right in so I can play through an amplifier? How do I want the guitar to sound and look and feel in my hands?
These are a few important questions to consider before you buy.
In this article, I will be discussing the pros and cons of a nylon string and steel string acoustics and talk about a few different body shapes that effect sound and playability.
Probably the most popular acoustic guitar on the planet is the steel string dreadnought style which was manufactured by the C. F. Martin & Company in 1916 for the retailer, Oliver Ditson Company. Martin began producing dreadnoughts under there own brand in 1931. We will simply call these “D- size” guitars. But just because it is the most popular style, does that mean that is what you should buy? For example, if you are younger or a smaller person, getting your arm around a dreadnought can be almost impossible to do, little alone try to play that way. There are smaller body acoustics that have a “narrower” waist and are thinner in depth that might fit you much better. The 12 series, known as the “Grand Concert” size in the Taylor line-up are designed this way, while the 14, or”Grand Auditorium” size, is somewhere between a Grand Concert and a “D-size” guitar. Martin has very similar designs as well. The important thing to figure out here is, how well does the guitar fit you? You need to find a comfortable fit, because you will be able to play longer with less fatigue, and that will make playing much more enjoyable.
Generally speaking, a bigger body guitar will have more of a bass sound to it, while a smaller body will deliver more clear and crisp highs. However, this is just a rule of thumb, there are many factors to be considered in a guitars sound, like the tone woods used and the bracing system used on the top. The “D-sized” guitar is considered by most to have the perfect balance of both, a good bass sound as well as good clear highs. I personally love the Taylor Grand Auditorium size, but this is just my opinion, everyone has there own. It is well worth the time and effort to play as many different styles and brands of guitars as you can before you buy. Don’t get hung-up on brand names. I have heard a friend say, “One Taylor guitar sounds better then a whole room full of Martins”. This is simply not true, just an opinion. He loves Taylor Guitars. It is like a Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge thing It comes down to what you personally like.
The next thing I would like to talk about is nylon string versus steel strings. Nylon strings provide a “soft smooth warmer” sound then the steel string guitars. Although most people believe that nylon string guitars are for classical style music and nothing else, this is simply not true. My favorite musician of all time, Willie Nelson, uses a Martin N20 classical style guitar and has, what I believe to be the best sounding guitar in the world. True, it has a Baldwin pick-up in it that can only be play through a Baldwin Amplifier and some special strings(designed before nylon), but it definitely does not sound like a typical classical style guitar. It has a very unique sound to it. I have seen Carlos Santana play a classical style guitar on stage and it had the most beautiful and calming sound to it. You can not get that pure beautiful sound from an electric guitar, period! The standard steel string guitar sounds wonderful as well, and is widely considered to be the most universal style guitar in the world. You can play anything from Beethovens “Fur Elise” to hard driven rock music, and the steel string acoustic is right at home.
One last thing to consider is the fact that nylon strings are easier on your fingers then steel strings. If you are just starting out, I think you should seriously consider this. You will not want to play if you are in pain. After a while, you will develop calluses on your fingertips and the steel strings won’t bother you, but this don’t happen overnight. If your fingers are hurting every time you make a single note, it won’t be any fun and you won’t want to keep playing.
In closing, I would like to make sure you try as many guitars as you can before you buy one. They might all appear to look similar, but they all play and feel much different. When you find the one you want, GET IT! PLAY IT! and KEEP IT! After a while, it will have that “broke in” and comfortable feel to it and it will actually become easier to play.
In the next article, I will talk a little bit about the construction of the guitar, as far as using laminates or all solid tone woods, and how this can effect the sound of the guitar. I hope this has been some help to you. Good luck and keep on pickin’.