So you finally made the decision of buying an Acoustic Guitar, and you are super high on your emotions to becoming an expert guitarist. Before you plan to empty your bank account and buy an acoustic guitar just because it attracts you, a buying guide to picking the best acoustic guitar is crucial here.
Let me throw out a fact here that not all the acoustic guitars are the same. Don’t be fooled with the concept! Every acoustic guitar that you see has different characteristics and specifications. Usually, acoustic guitars have a few characteristics in common, however; some might be more nuanced and demand more attention.
An acoustic guitar will be your
Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and read the guide all the way down. We have also listed out some top recommendations for you to choose from.
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Checking out the parts
1: Straight Neck
The neck of your guitar is something very important. To check that your acoustic guitar’s neck isn’t bent, close one eye, and look down the neck with the other one from the bottom of the guitar. In rare cases, it may be crooked or even warped! A straight neck will give you a flat view on the other side.
This is the main playing area where you will be triggering hand movements. When you are playing your acoustic guitar and moving your hand up and down its neck, none of the frets should stick out or rub your hand. If the guitar defects, the frets hang over its edge and poke your hand. If you are unfortunate to buy such a guitar, you will need it repaired from a luthier.
3: Neck Size
The neck size of your acoustic guitar is usually measured from the nut of the guitar, and it varies depending on the manufacturer you bought from. However, a standard neck width is 1-11/16 inch, 1-2/4 inch, and 1-7/8 inch. Some of the classical guitars players opt for wider necks, usually 1-3/4 inch to 2 inches. Those with short and thick fingers should go for wider necked guitars.
If your guitar doesn’t stay in tune, it is as ugly as a singer without vocals. A perfect guitar will always stay in tune. I’ve seen that most of the guitars that come with cheap tuners usually require replacement after some time. It’s better to invest some extra bucks for a quality one. While the guitars we have listed out here are 100% perfect, if you are buying it from a shop never grab those hung on the display. Most of them are old, played out too much by people, and they will never stay in tune. You will have a terrible experience if the shop owner tries to sell that guitar to you. Always ask him to bring a new one from his inventory for you.
Intonation is pretty much similar to the tune of the guitar but with a few differences. A few guitars have this defect. For example, when you play the notes, let’s say 1st-5th frets, and as you play up an octave and reach near the 12th fret, its pitch for the same note you played will feel a bit sharp or flat. To test a guitar for intonation, play the harmonic on its 6th, string, 12th fret and then play the fretted note on the 6th string, 12th fret. If you feel that both of these notes aren’t the same, then it’s obvious that either of them is sharper or flatter than the other, and the guitar is out of intonation. You can repeat the same process on all the strings to ensure that all of them are properly intonated.
6: Action of the Guitar
This is the space between the strings and the fretboard of the guitar. If your acoustic guitar’s action is too high, you will have a hard time pressing the strings down to the fretboard, and contrary to this, if the action is too low, the string is likely to catch the other frets while you are playing. This creates a terrible buzzing sound, spoiling your song. In case your guitar has this effect, you can adjust it by shaving down the nut in case it’s too high. On the other hand, filling the nut using epoxy is the solution for low action. You can approach a guitar repair person for this job for a small cost.
7: Check for Cracks & Dents
Obviously, you don’t want a guitar that has cracks and dents on any of its parts. It’s quite rare when you buy online, but those who go for physical shopping at a guitar store are likely to encounter such a guitar. The reason is that different people play those guitars, and sometimes they fall off the stands and get bumped or scratched up. This can damage its fretboard or the strings spoiling its tune.
8: Bridge Separation Check
Just in case you didn’t come across any of those ugly cracks, dents and scratches, take a quick look for the bridge separation that is the final thing on our checklist. Sometimes, the bridge of your guitar may be sitting fully flush with the top of the guitar and may not lift up or crack. You can claim a repair from the manufacturer or get it done by a guitar repair person for a small cost.
Choosing the Body Style
An acoustic guitar comes in three main body styles to choose from. This include:
- Jumbo body style.
- Classic body style, and
- Dreadnought body style.
1: Jumbo Body Style
The jumbo body style acoustic guitars usually feature a big sound, and the shape is similar to a classic body style. Most of the people, when choosing between jumbo and classic body style, would opt for a jumbo as it is pretty much similar. This body style is mostly chosen by performing artists who wear the guitar with a strap. Jumbo style guitars are perfect to play while standing. They are pretty uncomfortable if you try to play while sitting because they are too big to fit on your lap.
2: Classic Body Style
These are the ideal acoustic guitars for beginners. They have a medium sound projection and have a great balance between your hi, mid and low frequencies. This style makes a perfect strumming guitar. If you are the one who fingerpick the guitar, then a classic body style is recommended as it gives much clarity between the hi, mid and low frequencies. An important thing to consider here is that if you opt for a classic body style, always go for light gauge strings. The medium ones would create more tension on its neck that is beyond the bearing capacity of your guitar.
TIP: You can use a truss rod for adjusting the extra tension if going with medium gauge strings.
3: Dreadnought Body Style
The dreadnought body style acoustic guitars are my favorite ones. They have an ideal sound and are louder. The rich bass is incredible and is perfect for the heavy strummers. Ideally, medium gauge strings are recommended for a dreadnought body style, but you can also go for the light strings. This does affect the sound, but not the quality of the guitar itself. Those who have a good grip on the guitar basics should go for the dreadnought style.
Important: This is just an idea of the body styles. They can vary in names and sizes depending on the manufacturer.
Choosing the Woods
This is something a neglected feature of a guitar, usually by beginners. The type of wood you choose highly affects the sound quality of your guitar. When you strum the strings, they vibrate the bridge and then the top of the guitar. Depending on the wood you choose, the sound will be brighter or darker. These are normally known as the Tonewoods or the Topwoods, and these are six of the most popular Tonewoods.
- Western Red Cedar.
- Sitka Spruce, and
- Engelmann Spruce.
Before we go into details of the types, here is a quick overview of the woods and how they are constructed on the body of the guitar.
The top or first layer is the laminated veneer top. It is a combination of thin sheets of wood that are glued together. However, the veneer top alone doesn’t produce a good sound; this is where the solid top comes in.
The solid top are made of solid piece of woods that resonate better with better sound quality, volume and quality as compared to the veneer tops. This increases the overall quality of the sound produced when the guitar is strummed, and obviously the price tag shifts towards the right.
Let’s now talk about the six kinds of wood and how they affect the quality of sound produced from your acoustic guitar.
The Koa is from Hawaii and adds a great elegance to the wood of your acoustic guitar. The Mahogany and Koa are very much similar and have defined trebles with mid-range that produces a perfect rhythm. Koa sounds the best when played at a louder volume but still less than spruce.
Mahogany is commonly found in Central America and the Caribbean and is used as the top of the guitar. Some manufacturers also use it for back and sides of the guitar. Being lightweight gives you the ease of playing your guitar in any style. It gives well-defined trebles with mid-range and is a popular choice of the country blues finger pickers.
3: Western Red Cedar
The Western Red Cedar is found in Western Canada and Pacific Northwest of USA. It has different colors ranging from light brown to dark reddish brown. It is quite soft and delicate. If mishandled, Red Cedar is likely to break quickly as compared to spruce. Unfortunately, the clarity of sound is lost at loud volumes.
It has origins from the North America and has similar characteristics as that of the Western Red Cedar. It has more crisp and is bolder along with having a punchier tone as compared to the Red Cedar.
5: Sitka Spruce
The Sitka Spruce is from Alaska and Northwest Canada and is well-known for its strength and toughness. For this reason it is commonly used as the guitar’s top. It is quite stiff and lightweight as well. The sound produced has a high velocity. It gives you the freedom of strumming your guitar very hard without losing the clarity and tone of the sound.
6: Engelmann Spruce
The Engelmann Spruce is from North America and is lighter in color and weight as compared to the Sitka Spruce. For this reason it is less stiff that results in a low velocity of sound. However, as compared to the Sitka Spruce, when played at softer volumes its tone is rich and clear. In case of Sitka Spruce if you play it at softer volumes, the sound tends to be thinner and possibly less clear.
Woods Used for Backs and Side
Just like the top, here are a few woods along with their characteristics that are used for the backs and sides of the guitar.
- Maple & Walnut: Maple & Walnut wood is quite popular. Maple produces a low sound velocity and has a higher level of internal damping in turn making it tonally Similarly the walnut is also transparent.
- East Indian Rosewood: The East Indian Rosewood is a beautiful and elegant wood and has a high velocity of sound with a wide range of overtones. It also boasts characteristics of overall darkness at the same time has strong mids and highs producing a bold upper register tone. It gives out a reverb quality due to delay of onset with certain harmonics.
- Brazilian Rosewood: The Brazilian Rosewood is pretty much like the Indian Rosewood. Most of the guitars before WWI we made from Brazilian Rosewood. Unfortunately, the species of this wood became endangered due to which it is rare and expensive.
- Mahogany & Koa: Mahogany & Koa are used both as Topwoods and for backs and sides of the guitars. They offer a high velocity like rosewoods but they lack low-end frequencies and have a reverb quality like the rosewoods.
Overall, five of these guitars are perfect for you and comes at a very reasonable price. Most of the guitars in the market would cost you more than $600+. Whether you have guitar skills or not, an acoustic guitar is your best friend to train you down the way.