Some say…it’s the single greatest musical instrument ever invented.
- It plays harmonies.
- It plays melodies.
- It plays rhythms.
- AND…it’s portable.
On the whole…the versatility of the acoustic guitar is unmatched.
And the same could be said about its popularity as well.
With just this one instrument, and a nice voice…
Good singer/songwriters can create an insanely simple “acoustic version” of a hit song…
And somehow…it becomes just as popular, if not more so, than the original.
So if you’re reading this post, and considering the acoustic guitar as your next musical instrument…
You’ve already made a great first choice. However for your next choice, there’s still the matter of finding the right guitar. Correct?
So for today’s post, I’ve created an in-depth guide that explains everything you should know before shopping around for your first acoustic guitar.
Sound good? Then let’s begin.
The First 3 Factors to Consider
Despite the fact that the acoustic guitar is a rather complex instrument…
With many working parts, and many little differences between one model and another…
One of the biggest mistakes newbies make early-on…
Is to get overly concerned with the minor details, while overlooking the few MAJOR details that actually matter at their current level.
Specifically, these 3:
- Body Sizes/Styles
And while there is much more to know than just these 3 topics, I’ve saved all the rest for the more advanced guys at the end of this post, which you can skip to if you want, by clicking here.
For now though, let’s begin by discussing the issues that apply to everyone.
Starting first with…
1. Body Sizes and Styles
The first and most obvious difference you’ll notice between one acoustic guitar and another…
Is the size and style of the body.
Because besides just looks, the body of the guitar also affects:
The 3 most popular styles are:
- Dreadnought – which was originally developed by the Martin Co. and named after an English warship. It’s the most popular, most versatile, and most likely the ideal option for your first (or main) guitar.
- Parlor – which was also developed by Martin, has smallest and narrowest body of all, and is popular with folk/indie music.
- Jumbo – which has the biggest, loudest, and bassiest sound of all. The original jumbo, the J2000, was developed by Gibson.
Two other less popular body styles you should also know are:
- Auditorium – which is a mix of the dreadnought and parlor designs, and is know by multiple names across brands including: grand concert, concert, and grand auditorium.
- Small Body – which is basically a smaller version of a standard dreadnought and is ideal either for traveling or for kids.
Depending on the body style and brand of a particular guitar…
You may also find a cutaway version as well, which some players prefer…
Because it offers easier access to the higher frets when playing further up on the neck.
Typically, this type playing on an acoustic guitar only sounds good when amplified…which is why in most cases, cutaway bodies include acoustic pickups as well.
The problem with these types of guitars is…the cutaway shape, and the added electronics both contribute to a noticeable degradation in the natural acoustic sound of the guitar.
Which is why you should only choose them if you actually plan on using the guitar for amplified performances.
On the other hand, if you only intend to use the guitar for either practice or acoustic performing…it makes more sense to choose a guitar with no cutaway, and no electronics.
And as you’ll notice, almost all of the priciest guitars that money can buy, which are highly prized for their natural acoustic sound, have neither a cutaways nor pickups.
A good way to make sure the guitar you’re eyeing has, or doesn’t have electronics is to look at the. model number. If it includes the letters “ce” at the end, it stands for “Cutaway/Electronics”.
Once you’ve made a decision about both body style, and cutaway/electronic options…
The only important decision left is to choose a make/model.
This one decision is undoubtedly the most difficult of all…
Because there are perhaps a dozen great brands worth considering, each one with its own unique identity…
That one day as an acoustic guitar player, you will likely grow to either love or hate. Typically most players fall in love with just one or two brands, and stay loyal to those brands for life.
So in this next section of the post, I will introduce you to each of those brands, and you will have a decent impression on which ones “feel right” to you, and which don’t.
The Affordable Brands
With acoustic guitars, there are 3 general price ranges that typically yield 3 different qualities of guitar:
- Low (under $500) – which is ideal as a first guitar, if you aren’t quite sure if you even want to play the instrument
- Mid – ($500-1200) – which is suitable for players of all levels, beginner to advanced
- High – ($1200+) – which you typically only buy once you’re committed to being a life-long player.
And what you’ll typically find with most brands is…the guitars in their line will vary in price, either between:
- low-mid, or
And very rarely will you find brands with an impressive selection of options in all 3 categories.
So I’d like to start buy introducing you to the following 5 low-mid priced brands:
If your number one priority when choosing an acoustic guitar is to find something “decent” for the absolute minimum price…
Then Rogue is undoubtedly the brand for you.
As a brand well known for making “acceptable” quality instruments for absurdly low prices…
They’re pretty much the only company so far that has managed to create acoustic guitar in the sub $100 price range…
That has almost universally positive reviews from buyers.
As a first guitar, or a novelty guitar, there are perhaps no better options than the following list of their most popular models:
- Rogue Starter – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Rogue RA-090 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Rogue RA-100D – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
While it’s probably the first name on your mind when you think of electric guitars…
Or even bass guitars for that matter…
It probably isn’t when thinking about acoustic guitar…
Which is absolutely normal since when you read the about page on their website, there’s actually not a single mention of acoustic guitars in their entire company history!
And that’s probably because, compared to their electric instruments, their acoustic guitars are certainly nothing worth bragging about, since virtually all their popular models are pretty cheap.
Unlike other brands in the same price range, such as Rogue for example…
The BIG upside of the Fender models is that their name is NOT cheap, which is perfect if you want a guitar that seems high-end despite its low price.
SNEAKY TIP: This is perfect if you’re buying it as a present to impress your kid but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Anyways, here are the most popular models to check out:
- Fender FA115 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Fender FA125 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusicianF/Thomann)
- Fender CD60 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Fender Tim Armstrong – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Fender 100 CE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Fender 300 CE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Fender 400 CE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
As a brand that is somehow world-famous for both their drums AND motorcycles…
You might not be aware that Yamaha actually makes acoustic guitars as well.
But you’re probably not surprised either since they make virtually every musical instrument imaginable.
Unfortunately though for us, their contribution to the acoustic guitar is not nearly as significant as what they’ve done in other industries.
Rather than developing a unique style and identity of their own with this instrument…
Many of their guitars actually look like cheaper imitations of some of the more high-end brands which we’ll cover later in this post.
Personally…I think that’s pretty lame of them.
But my own opinions aside…the thousands of positive online reviews are still more than enough reason to consider them a good potential option in this price range…
Especially if you want something that kinda resembles a more expensive guitar that you can’t quite afford yet :).
Here are the top models to check out:
- Yamaha FG800 – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- FG830 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Yamaha FGX800C (acoustic-electric version of the FG800) – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Yamaha F335 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Yamaha A Series A3R – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Yamaha L Series – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
To most guitar players, Epiphone is simply known as the cheaper version of Gibson…
And to sum it up, here is how this is true. Compared to Gibson guitars, Epiphone guitars are:
- Manufactured oversea – while Gibsons are all US made
- Made of cheaper materials – they use laminated woods instead of solid wood
And while it is somewhat accurate in many ways, there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
Because originally, Epiphone is actually an older brand than Gibson, which then bought it in the 1950’s.
In fact, they celebrated their 140th (!) anniversary in 2013, so even though Epiphone guitars are now positionned on the low-end…
You still get the expertise of a 100+ years old company.
Now, with Epiphone you still get the sophisticated and unique look of Gibson guitars, for a fraction of the price.
Greece to Turkey to Manhattan in the 1920’s/30’s.
Originally a banjo company, Epiphone released their first line of acoustic guitars in Manhattan, 1928, to compete with their biggest, and possibly only competitor at the time…Gibson.
In the earliest years, Epiphone was clearly losing the battle, as their earliest models simply could not compete with what Gibson was producing at the time.
Over the coming decades, they released numerous guitars that went on to become classics…
Until 1957 when the company was in decline, and ultimately absorbed by Gibson.
However, rather than kill the Epiphone name entirely, Gibson instead chose to revamp the brand…
First, with a new line of affordable instruments modeled after higher-end Gibson guitars…but also, with its own distinct line-up of guitars as well.
And it’s an identity that they’ve more or less held into the modern days.
Currently, these are the most popular acoustic guitars in their line-up:
- Epiphone DR100 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Epiphone Hummingbird Pro – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Epiphone AJ-220SCE – (Amazon/GuitarC)
- Epiphone DR-500MCE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Epiphone EJ200SCE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
While not really a “budget” brand…
And not really a “premium” brand either…
Ovation is one of the few brands of acoustic guitars with popular models at every price range, for both newbies and professionals.
And they are undoubtedly the most distinctive-looking of all the brands on this list.
No surprise, it’s one of those looks that you either really love or really hate.
The first unique feature of the these guitars is their unusually thin necks…
Which many say more closely resemble the feel of an electric guitar, only with added strengthening to contact the additional force of heavier strings.
The second unique feature of Ovation guitars is their round, bowl-shaped back/sides, which is made of a synthetic “fiberglass-like” material known as Lyrachord.
According to Ovation, the methods used in manufacturing these backs, based of helicopter engineering techniques, have the effect of controlling vibrations and minimizing unwanted feedback.
And since feedback is more of an issue “on-stage… it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Ovation guitars are acoustic-electric with a cutaway.
Anyways, here are the top models:
- Ovation Standard Elite – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Ovation Standard Balladeer – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Ovation Custom Legend – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
And as you’ll notice, Ovation does actually have a good number of high-end guitars as well…
Which makes them the perfect lead-in to this next section of the post…
The High End Brands
Among the many acoustic guitar brands on the market, there are really only a select few that
These brands all have models between 5-10k or more.
There are really only 4 big name brands out there that make ONLY expensive acoustic guitars.
Probably America’s most famous guitar brand…
Gibson is nowadays mostly known for its SG line of electric cguitar.
But as an acoustic manufacturer originally, they gained fame and success by making the first archtop guitars in the early 20th century…
Before eventually going with the new trend at the time: flat-tops guitars.
However, since the brand is more than a century old, it obviously didn’t start its business by manufacturing electric guitars…
But rather acoustic guitars.
Strangely enough though, the acoustic branch of the brand was running into great difficulties until — approximately — their acquisition by Norlin in 1971…
And even more strange, the “Norlin area” which took place from 1971 until 1984 is considered to have given birth to the “worst” guitars ever produced by the brand.
It wasn’t until actually the early 1990’s that the brand got its glory back (regarding acoustic guitars).
And boy have they made some serious progress ever since…
To the point of simply becoming a reference in the acoustic guitars industry.
Musical acts such as The Beatles or Bob Dylan are some of the names that played Gibson guitars.
jumbo “flat-tops” – guitars like the J-45, the J-160E (as used by the Beatles), and the “Super Jumbo J-200,” the company’s “King of the Flat-Top Guitars.”
These two brands layed the foundation from which other brands used to create their own body styles.
- Gibson Bob Dylan SJ200 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Gibson J15 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Gibson Hummingbird – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Gibson J45 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Gibson Songwriter Deluxe – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Gibson L-00 – (GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
The single oldest American acoustic guitar manufacturer still in activity…
It’s safe to say Martin is one of the, if not THE most important and influential acoustic guitar manufacturer, thanks to various design innovations, such as:
- The dreadnought design – which would come to be one of the most copied design throughout acoustic guitars manufacturers EVER
- The X-Bracing system – A revolutionary bracing design, which allowed for a bigger soundboard and essentially a louder guitar.
Compared to Gibson guitars, Martin have 2 other main differences:
- A wider nut – which many guitarists say is more comfortable on the long run
- A longer scale – which results in a louder, fuller sound
All of these features, resulting in deeper lows and an overall much louder guitar compared to its contemporary competitors…
Made Martin guitars — especially Dreadnought models — very popular among singers and folk singers who often only had this one instrument to play along with them…
And therefore needed something imposing.
The build quality and the comfort is what keeps many guitarists coming back after they’ve tried other brands, and sticking to the brand.
natural acoustic, no electronics
Nowadays, Martin body designs are divided in 3 categories:
- Smaller-bodied 12-fret guitars included the models 0, 1, and 2
- 14-fret instruments included the 00 and 000 models The 000 style is favored by players who want a brighter, cleaner sound, while still having a full-sized body.
- Dreadnought – richer bass response. Many of Martin’s most popular designs have been the D-sized instruments, from the relatively plain D-18 to the top-of-the-line D-45, with its ornate inlays.
Martin Guitars, a company with a long history of building these instruments, began giving numerical codes to the various size bodies.
- Martin D28 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Martin HD28 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Martin X Series – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Martin D-41 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Martin D-42 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Martin Authentic Series 1919 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Martin John Mayer Signature Grand Concert Edition – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
Often referred to as the “Japanese Martin”… Manufacturer Takamine has built its pristine reputation on a one particular niche: Acoustic-electric guitars.
That’s right not just acoustic. In fact, they are widely regarded as the very best acoustic-electric guitars manufacturer, thanks to various innovations in electronics, the 3 major ones being:
- The Palathetic pickup – which completely changed the way acoustic guitars were amplified
- The Parametric EQ – which allowed for much more precise equalization controls
- First onboard tube pre-amp – talk about innovation, Takamine actually created a real tube pre-amp, and are the only one to produce it so far.s
The Palathelic pickup is a piezo pickup just like many others used to amplify acoustic guitar. Nothing really out of the ordinary so far…
But the reason why it was such a game changer when first released back in 1979 is that instead of sitting under the saddle of the guitar, it is actually set up inside the soundboard and makes direct contact with the saddle…
And without entering too many details, let just say it is MUCH more sensitive than a regular piezo pickup, and ends up creating Takamine’s signature sound.
Now, although I included Takamine in the High End section, they actually offer a dedicated entry-level range, called the “G Series”.
Anyway, if you’re looking for the best acoustic-electric guitars out there, look no further than Takamine.
- Takamine GD93CE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Takamine GJ72CE – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Takamine EF341SC – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Takamine Pro 7 NEX – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Takamine EF450C – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF)
- Takamine P7DC – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
It seems strange that we’ve come so far into an article about acoustic guitars without mentioning the ‘other’ big name in this world; Taylor.
The company was founded in 1974 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, and are basically the #1 American acoustic guitar manufacturer nowadays…
Notably thanks to the Grand Auditorium model which really put them into the limelight, thanks to its “all-rounder” purpose.
Popstars such as Taylow Swift or Jason Mraz are among the endorsers of this model.
Which is pretty incredible considering how young the company is.
Now, Taylor and Martin have been competing fiercely for the title of best American acoustic guitar manufacturer (and many argue best in the world)…
And it’s really a matter of taste and which models you like more, since the build quality is so high on both brands.
Apart from the Grand Auditorium models, Taylor managed to set themselves apart with a few models, smaller models in paricular:
The GSMini and the Taylor Baby (and Big Baby) are the 2 best examples of Taylor’s innovation in the industry.
The GS Mini is a 3/4 who owes its success to its high playability, its build quality and – of course – its sound…
Which were all lacking qualities on traveler/kids guitars back when it was first released, over 20 years ago.
In fact, NO other brand comes even remotely close to traveler/kids guitar in terms of sounding like full sized guitars, BUT Taylor.
- Taylor GS Mini – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Taylor Big Baby – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Taylor 100 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Taylor 200 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
A Deeper Understanding of the Instrument
Now that we’ve thoroughly covered all the core topics…
Which apply to players of all levels…
Let’s now move on to some of the more advanced topics, shall we?
So here’s what we’ll cover:
In terms of sound, there are 3 big topics worth mentioning:
- Body Woods
- Neck Joint
In terms of tuning stability, there are 2 topics worth mentioning:
- Tuning Machines
And in terms of playability, there are 4 topics worth mentioning, all of which focus around neck design:
- Neck/Freboard Woods
- Neck Profile
- Nut Width
- Fretboard Radius
- Truss Rods
So let’s look at them all now, shall we?
1. Body Woods
Because of the fact that the body of the acoustic guitar is responsible for virtually all its tone…
The woods used in building the body play a key role in both the sound and resulting price.
Typically, one wood is used for the top of the body, while an entirely different wood is used for the sides and back.
For the top, (which has the greatest impact on sound), the two standards are:
- Sitka Spruce – which the most popular, because it is light yet solid, and capable of still maintaining clarity at higher volumes.
- Cedar – which is the second most popular, with a softer, warmer sound than spruce, and commonly used in fingerstyle playing.
For the sides and back, the 3 standards are:
- Mahogany – which is the most popular and most versatile, with a warm dense sound that pairs well with a spruce top.
- Rosewood – which is more expensive than mahogany but offers a richer, more complex sound.
- Maple – which has the brightest and loudest sound, but is the least popular of the 3 overall.
It’s also worth noting that not all pieces of a particular wood are equal.
For example, with certain custom-made guitars, builders will set aside certain premium cuts of wood…which they know from experience, are likely to have a particularly unique and beautiful sound.
Conversely, some cheaper guitar tops are made from laminated layers rather than a single solid piece.
Besides being easier to build, the main advantage of this method is that it holds up better in changing climates. But it also comes at the expense of sound quality.
2. Neck Joint
As the piece that connects the body with the neck at 14th fret (nylon string guitars at the 12th)…
The neck joint (or heel) is a curved wooden block mounted inside the body of the guitar…
With an insert slot that allows neck to slide in place, and be secured with some type of glue.
This general method of joining the neck to the body is known as a “set neck”…
And can be performed using any one of several cutout shapes including:
- Spanish heel
- mortise and tenon
- dovetail joint (v-shaped)
Overall, none of these methods is necessarily “better” than the others. And the decision on which to use is made entirely by the manufacturer.
Yet it plays a huge rule in determining the resulting tone and sustain of the instrument, as it is the physical connection that transfers vibrations from the neck to body.
So it is both one of the hardest and most important parts of the acoustic guitar to get
3. Tuning Machines
Now that we’ve covered the tonal aspects of the guitar…
Let’s move on to the main features that affect tuning stability.
The most important one being the tuning machines (aka tuning heads, tuning keys, machine heads)…
Which are the gears on the headstock that allow you to:
- get in-tune
- stay in-tune
With other stringed instruments, devices known as friction pegs were used to tune the strings
- worm gears – on nylon-string guitars, the strings are wound on the pins inside grooves in the head.
These days however, standard tuning machines on steel-string acoustic guitars use enclosed gears, which are similar to worm gears, but with a few notable upgrades:
- Turning Ratio – while normally 14:1, newer tuning machines can be as high as 18:1 which allows for better fine-tuning.
- Longevity – because the gears are sealed in an enclosed chamber, with a permanent method of lubrication, they last much longer, and require much less maintanance.
Unlike most parts of the acoustic guitar…
Which offer multiple options, each designed for a specific purpose…
With nuts and bridges, there really aren’t many choices.
In terms of design, they’re all pretty similar, and differ mainly by building-material.
With the bridge saddles, bridge pins, and nuts…
Some type of plastic is typically used on cheaper guitars, while bone or ivory are more common with high-end guitars.
With the bridge itself, the most popular woods are either rosewood or ebony (just like with fretboards).
And while the material used does matter somewhat, the far more import factor that determines the end result is the precision with which these two metrics are aligned:
- Intonation – which is done by adjusting the length of the strings using the bridge saddle position, and determines whether or not all the notes stay in-tune with each other across the entire fretboard.
- Action – which is done by adjusting the height of the strings using both the nut and bridge, and ultimately determines the distance that a string must be pressed in order to be fretted.
With acoustic guitars in particular, these two must be perfectly set during the building process, because there is no easy way to change them later, unlike electric guitar bridges which are designed to be user-adjusted.
5. Neck/Fretboard Woods
While they have little-to-no effect on the sound…
The woods used in both the neck and fretboard play a major role in both the playability and usability of the instrument.
Ideally neck woods should be light, yet stiff…
And transfer as much vibrational energy from the strings to the body as possible.
The 3 woods that are ideal for this job are:
- Mahogany – which is the most common by far for acoustic guitar necks, as it is light, and balances well with the body.
- Cedar – which is more common with nylon-string guitars in particular.
- Maple – which is heavier than mahogany, and therefore better-suited to balance with heavier bodies such as those on resonator, archtop, and electric guitars for example.
In addition to “solid piece” necks, the other common alternative is laminated necks, which are made from from strips of wood glued-together.
Typically, laminated necks are used with cheaper guitars to make use of otherwise useless scrapwood.
But they can also be used with more expensive guitars for both aesthetics, and added stability. A well-known example would be Martin’s “Stratabond” necks which they use for their X Series guitars.
With fretboard woods, which serve an entirely separate purpose from the neck itself…
The two most popular options for acoustic guitars are:
- Indian Rosewood – which is the most common choice by far, because it’s durable, resonant, and can be polished without any finish due to its natural oils.
- Ebony – which is rarer and more expensive than rosewood, but still popular since it’s properties are mostly the same.
6. Neck Profile
In terms of the playability of an acoustic guitar…
The first, and possibly most important factor to consider is the neck profile.
All neck profiles are some variation of 3 basic shapes:
- C profile – which is a semi-circular shape. It is the most common profile, and suitable for the widest range of hands and players.
- U profile – which is similar to the C profile, but with a little more bulge on each side of the neck for more of a U shape. This shape is more commonly preferred by players who keep their thumb behind the neck.
- V profile – which has a shallower curvature on each side, and some added thickness in the center, which gives it that V appearance. This shape is more commonly preferred by players who hang their thumb over the top edge of the fretboard.
These days, U and V profiles are most commonly seen on vintage guitars, but they can also be customized on new guitars as well.
7. Nut Width
In addition to the neck profile, which covers 2 dimensions of the 3-dimensional neck shape…
For the final 3rd dimension, there’s the nut width…
Aka neck width, aka fretboard width…
Which tends to vary between the following 2 extremes:
- Thin – which is typically around 43 mm and ideally-suited for lighter strings and smaller hands.
- Thick – which is typically around 50mm and ideally-suited for heavier strings and finger-style playing.
The reason that “nut width” is the preferred term for this metric is that often, the width of the neck tapers inward from the body to the nut.
And as the taper gets more extreme as nut width decreases. Therefore, “neck width” varies depending on where it’s measured.
8. Fretboard Radius
Part of the reason that today’s steel-string guitars can have such thin necks is…
Unlike traditional nylon-string guitars, which have flat fretboards…
Steel string guitars instead, typically have radiused (curved) fretboards…
Which have 2 main benefits:
- They make it possible to cram a larger playing surface onto a thinner neck.
- They make it easier to apply the added force necessary to bend steel strings.
If the neck itself has a consistent width all the way across, then the radius can be consistent as well, in effect, having a cylindrical shape.
Not surprisingly these are known as cylindrical radius fretboards.
Since most necks instead have a tapered width, the radius will have to be tapered as well, which is known as compound radius fretboards.
9. Truss Rods
Over time, as its wood wears and becomes distorted due to climate changes and pressure from the strings…
The neck of the guitar has a tendency to bend in one direction or the other (usually forward) as a result.
To compensate for these changes.
A metal rod known as a truss rod is inserted into a channel within the neck…
With a bow that can be periodically adjusted by the player, to push the neck back into alignment as necessary.
With the older versions (known as single action truss rods), the neck can only be readjust in a backward direction, opposite the force of the strings.
With newer versions (known as double action, double expansion, or bi-flex rods) you can adjust the neck either forward or backward as needed.
One added advantage of double action truss rods is that since they are not physically attached to the neck, they are much easier to replace than single action models.
The downside is that the second rod, adds more metal to the neck, and removes more wood, which could (at least in theory) have some negative tonal consequences.
While very few players ever think about frets in any meaningful way…
The truth is that there’s actually quite a bit about that you might be interested to know.
First off, what they’re made of:
Standard frets are made from a unique alloy known either as German silver, or Nickel silver, which is made from the following:
- 18% nickel
- 65% copper
- 17% zinc
Next, their installation:
Frets are installed on the fretboard using 1 of 2 methods:
- glue method – which leaves some an open gap in the fret slot, which is filled with glue to secure the fret in place.
- compression fretting – which forces the sides of the slot apart with each new fret, creating a back-bow in the neck, which is then counterbalanced as the forward force for the strings re-align the neck angle and secure the frets in place.
Now finally, the customization options…
There are 2 characteristics you can customize on a fret:
Now here’s a quick rundown of benefits and trades-off of both high and low frets:
- They allow for much more precise playing and you can get as much of a sharp by pressing the string hard.
- On the other hand, some players find high fretted guitars too hard to play
- Some frets are so high, you fingers might not even touch the fretboard at all when playing.
- They tend to be more “comfortable” and easy to play
- Many old Gibson models from the 60’s have such low fret height you might actually not even feel them, when sliding for example.
As for the width, here’s how it affects tone and playability:
Frets of .100-.110 are considered thick and are mostly found on electric guitars, and are especially popular among metal players.
They make for smoother playing since you can easily slide on the fretboard without bumping into them
Overall, you’re pretty likely to find thick frets with rock or metal guitarists, but extremely unlikely to find them with jazz guitarists for example.
You might have seen some crazy looking fretboard such as the one on the image on the right. Also called multi-scale fretboard.
These fretboard allow the guitarist to have various scale lengths on the same fretboard.
Typically, you get a longer scale length on the low E string side and a shorter scale length on the high E side.
According to multi scale fretboard advocates, they provide increased comfort, intonation, and playability — and more specifically more control over the tension of the strings…
Which is particularly useful for bass strings since you’ll get a deeper sound for these.
So there you have it, the beginner’s guide to acoustic guitars.
Hopefully you now have all the information you need to make an informed purchase.
‘Til next time.