The acoustic guitar is the ideal song-writer’s tool and is often purchased as a first introduction to the amazing world of music. We’ll need to look at how guitars work to understand the differences in the huge variety of guitars.
There are two popular primary types; acoustic and electric, and then you get something called the Acoustic-Electric. What are the differences? It is not quite a hybrid, as the name would indicate.
When you play a string instrument, the movement of the strings is transmitted as energy – sound. The acoustic guitar uses the acoustic soundboard (the top) to send the string’s energy into the air to produce its distinctive sound. The acoustic guitar’s hollow body resonates, increasing the efficiency of its lower frequencies. The soundboard construction affects the tonal qualities and the loudness due to differences in bracing, shape, thickness, type of wood used for construction and the type of strings used. There are many varieties including the double-neck guitar, bass guitar, resonator guitar, steel guitar, archtop guitars, twelve-string guitar and of course, the more well-known classical guitar (nylon-stringed) and steel-string acoustic guitar which is probably the one you will be most familiar with. Just to clarify some misconceptions, it is important to distinguish between popular guitar types before you choose your instrument:
The Classical Guitar
A variation of the Spanish Guitar with six nylon, rather than metal strings. Typically, they have a modern classical guitar shape or historic classical guitar shape. They are generally played with the fingers rather than a pick.
Steel-String Acoustic Guitar
A modern form of the guitar that descends from the classical guitar, but has steel strings for a louder and brighter, very distinctive metallic sound. Steel-string acoustic-guitars are often times referred to as ‘flat tops’ which refer to the front of these guitars (also called the table).
Electric guitars do not depend on a deep resonating-body for its sound, which had led the design to thin-bodied, solid guitars with contoured shapes, specially designed to be used with an amplifier. Electric guitars have thinner strings than that of acoustic guitars. They are also closer to the neck, and you need less force when pressing them down. This ease of play has changed the style of play to a unique and distinctive “lead guitar style” unique to this instrument.
Also referred to as the semi-acoustic guitar, the electro-acoustic guitar has specially designed neutral’ pickups to reproduce the acoustic guitar timbre. The pickups deliver sound with very little alteration to the acoustic tone. You can plug into an amp or - better - connect to an amp via active or passive electronics to deliver that distinctive acoustic guitar sound when you play with a band or somewhere you need a louder sound.
When you look out for a new electro-acoustic guitar, you should watch out for a few important features.
Never buy any instrument without holding it and trying it out. All the reviews in the world won’t help you to get a real feel’ for the instrument that you will probably be spending a lot of time with! Pluck and strum the strings and listen to the sound plugged in and unplugged. Always ask for advice, the people in the shop are as passionate about music as you are and will try to get the best possible fit for you.
The Price Might be Important
Thinline bodies are easier to play, but you may not get the same sound quality as you sometimes don’t get the deep bass sound which you normally get from a standard size acoustic guitar. The electro-acoustic guitars come in different sizes, and you can get a size for all ages, shapes, and sizes.
Play the instrument plugged in directly to an amp if you are testing out lower budget instruments, or using the pre-amp’ (active pickup). Also, play without any amplification. The sound quality must be consistent to allow you to practice and play under any conditions without having to adjust your approach. If you want to stick to a lower price you can get a model without pick-ups.
Look for an attractive, quality finish, solid neck, and a built-in tuner which is a huge bonus for a beginner. Your first instinct might be not to spend too much initially, but consider your budget carefully. Cheaper guitars may be harder to play, but a more expensive instrument may be such a joy to play that you never want to stop. Price is not always the ultimate indicator, but it does give you a good basic guideline. Good quality, well-cared-for instruments do not lose value and will cost the same as a good new one, so think of it as an investment.
For Further Reading
Colleen has a passion for guitars and ukuleles. She enjoys jamming, teaching, and getting others involved in music. Her website, Coustii, focuses specifically on guitars and ukes.