Acoustic guitars for beginners
In the past few years the acoustic guitar has had something of a renaissance and has now become a fashionable and much sought after instrument, there are many popular artists who have championed acoustic guitars amidst a torrent of dance-floor rhythms that seem to have hi-jacked the Uk charts list. The Acoustic guitar is perhaps the oldest form of guitar, evolving from the Lute and the Lyre over a period of several hundred years and developing into the contemporary instrument we have today ...
If you are beginner who wants to own and subsequently learn how to play an acoustic guitar, this blog article will highlight some of the things to consider when choosing your favoured acoustic model, and will point out some of the significant and subtle differences between various models and brands in an effort to provide you with all of the necessary information to help you get the best acoustic guitar for your needs ...
Perhaps the best place to start would be with a diagram showing a typical acoustic guitar model which also names the various parts of the guitar and indicates the functionality of the components shown here ...
Acoustic Guitars are made in most cases made from wood - some use other composite man made materials - but in the main acoustic guitars are predominantly crafted using wood. These are commonly called Tone Woods and different kinds of tonewoods produce different sound characteristics within an acoustic guitar. As an example, a guitar with a solid Spruce top will generally have a brighter sound than an acoustic guitar with a Cedar top as a natural characteristic of Spruce is that the wood creates a brighter acoustic sound than say ... Mahogany, which is a much denser grain wood and typically has a darker sound with more accent on the bass and mid-range frequencies.
Quite often a combination of both woods will be used in the construction of the guitar with Mahogany used for the sides and rear of the acoustic and Solid Spruce used for the front panel of the guitar. The idea here is that the dark tone of the Mahogany balances the brightness of the Spruce wood and subsequently we arrive at a guitar that has both depth and clarity along with the brightness brought by the Spruce top - arguably the ideal combination for most acoustic guitars. It's therefore worth spending some time comparing and contrasting acoustic guitar models and the various wood combinations that they use to hear the differences that tonewood can have on the sound and how this might influence your buying decision.
Something else to consider is the different sizes and shapes of acoustic guitars, quite recently manufacturers have been producing a range of scaled-down acoustic body sizes which generically are being called Travel guitars - suggesting that they are small enough to pack into a suitcase or to fit on the back seat of your car and which you can take with you on a long weekend in the countryside or by the beach. At the other end of the scale are the Dreadnought and Jumbo acoustic guitar models that typically have a large body featuring a sizeable, hollow acoustic chamber that produces a rich, deep and loud sound when played and these are popular models for both beginners and established players alike. In between the Travel sized body and the Jumbo acoustic are a few other shapes and sizes, starting with the Parlour acoustic - this body shape harks back to the rounded shouldered models from the 1920's and 1930's and which was popular with blues players, these models are making a come-back and have now started to become popular once more.
The next size up would be the traditional Classical guitar which hails from Spain and South America and usually has rounded shoulders and displays a "Pinched" or "Nipped" waist in-between the upper and lower bout of the classical guitar. Above this there are the Concert, Grand Concert and Grand Auditorium (Also known as Super Folk) body shapes and each of these are larger than the previous one with some offering cut-away bodies - a cut-away refers to the area of the guitar where the body meets the guitar neck where a scooped-out piece of the body has sometimes been removed - most commonly at the right hand shoulder of the instrument. The point of the cut-away is to allow the player access to the upper frets (ie all frets above the 12th fret) so that these notes can be utilised in a performance, but in truth it has also become a fashionable design feature and has strong cosmetic appeal to some players. When choosing a suitable acoustic guitar model, it's important to try a few different body styles and sizes to see which one sits most comfortably with the user, other influencing factors are the players size and height, the length of their arms and whether or not they choose to play the guitar seated, or standing with a strap ...
Acoustic or Electro-Acoustic
Acoustic guitars are also available with on-board electronics, typically these are pre-amplifiers and pick-up sensors which amplify the natural acoustic sound and allow it to be connected to an amplified source or a recording interface. This type of guitar is commonly known as an electro acoustic model and in many cases the guitar is fitted with a 9v PP3 battery to provide power for the integral active electronics system which can also include a basic 3-band EQ system, and in-built guitar tuner, volume knob or slider and in some models a phase switch or notch filter to help remove feedback when the electro acoustic is played at high volumes. The electro-acoustic guitar is usually connected to an amplifier via a standard jack plug cable which connects to a jack insert normally located within or near the lower strap button location on the bottom surface of the instrument, however some higher end models also offer a Direct-Out XLR interface for connection to a mixing desk or sound re-enforcement system. As a rule of thumb, the higher the price of the electro acoustic guitar, the better the quality of the pre-amp system and therefore the more accurate the emulation of the original acoustic sound. Knowing whether to choose a straight acoustic or an electro acoustic guitar will depend on your short, medium and longer term plans and if you intend to play your acoustic/electro-acoustic in a live situation.
Things to check before you make your purchase ...
Ok, so having read a little about the various Tonewoods, the different bodyshapes and whether to select a straight acoustic or electro-acoustic model you should probably be aware of a few things that will help you to differentiate between an entry-level, mid-range and high end acoustic guitar. So here are some of the things to look out for :-
- The guitar neck - We've already discussed the various body shapes available but haven't really touched on the guitar neck, it's really important that you choose a model that has a neck that you like and that is comfortable to play - but also one that shows no sign of warping or mis-alignment and an important factor is the relative size of your hands compared to the dimensions of the guitar neck. Watch out for guitar necks that are too wide or too thick, ideally they should be slender but not too thin and chords should stay in tune all the way up the neck as far as you can go ...
- Intonation - This crosses-over from the last point about guitar necks, Intonation means the ability of notes to stay perfectly in tune all the way up the guitar neck even when they are a couple of octaves apart. For example, the guitar string nearest to you when you pick up an acoustic guitar is a low E string, if you pluck this string and then fret and pluck the same string but at the 12th fret (count upwards to 12 from the lowest fret by the headstock) then this note should theoretically be perfectly in tune with the previous open E string - it should also be an E tone but just 1 Octave higher. You would be wise to check the intonation on any acoustic or electro-acoustic that you are looking to purchase, however typically the higher the cost of the guitar the more accurate the intonation is, as much of the intonation tuning comes from the build quality and the materials used.
- Machine Heads - these are the tuning keys that sit either side of the headstock, ensure that they have a smooth action and that they do not have any slippage as this will mean that it will be difficult to keep the guitar accurately in tune.
- On-board Electronics - If you decide on an Electro-Acoustic then ask to try the guitar through an amplifier or PA system, if possible choose an amplifier or PA system that is similar to the one that you have or similar to the one you intend to buy. Check out the sound of the guitar through the Amp/PA system - experiment with the tone by using different settings on the guitar's EQ system plus any EQ or effects that are available from the amp or PA system. Ask a friend or Nevada staff member to play the guitar through the amp and listen at a distance so you will hear exactly what your audience might hear and this may help you to judge what you consider to be the best choice ...
There are of course two other very important factors that need to be considered alongside the points above, these are Budget and also Music choice - both are relative to your final decision and may influence your choice of instrument. Ideally, you need to include an amount of money from your overall budget to allocate to a guitar case or gig-bag so that your guitar remains safe when being transported or when being stored. The Budget will probably have the most important influence over your buying decision, but you may also need to factor-in the type of music you intend to play so that you can choose a guitar model that is suitable for that particular genre.
So finally, let's re-cap on some of the most important things to consider when purchasing your first acoustic guitar :-
- Tone Woods - Try a few different guitars that have been made using different Tone Woods, compare the sound characteristics of each and how they differ from each other.
- Body Shapes - Just like with the Tone Woods, experiment by trying different body shapes until you find one that is comfortable and suitable for you personally, again try to make comparisons with any differences in tone, volume etc
- Acoustic or Electro-Acoustic - You'll need to decide in the longer term what you plan to do with your instrument, if it's merely to play at your leisure at home then a straight acoustic model will be fine, however if you hope to get out and perform live then an electro-acoustic would be a more practical choice ...
- Guitar Neck - Carefully select your instrument ensuring that the guitar neck is to your liking and that it suits your playing style and technique.
- Intonation and Tuning Accuracy - As previously mentioned, check that the intonation is suitably accurate so that notes and chords stay in tune all the way up the guitar neck. Additionally check that the machine heads work smoothly and do not cause slippage which in turn will prevent unstable tuning.
- On-board Electronics - If you choose an electro-acoustic model then experiment with the on-board Pre-amplifier and any active electronics such as the EQ system. Do the same with the controls on the amplifier or PA System to create the best possible amplified sound.
- Music Choice - Try to choose a specific acoustic guitar model that will be the most suitable for the type of music that you intend to play
- Budget - Lastly, but most importantly, decide on a budget and if possible allocate some of it towards a case or gig-bag to store and transport your guitar in ..
If you have questions or require further information reagrding some of the ideas mentioned here on how best to select an acoustic guitar then please call us on 02392 205100 Option 2, alternatively come and visit our store and chat to one of our friendly staff members who will be happy to help you decide on the best choice of acoustic guitar for your needs ...
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25 Oct '12