If you’re just starting out on acoustic guitar, buying your first instrument might seem simple enough…. Head to your local music shop (or ecommerce retailer), thrust out your hand, and say something like, “Give me a beginner guitar now!” Pay your money, take your lessons, Bob’s your uncle, right?
Ah, but say you encounter one of those things known as a guitar salesperson? And say that person has some questions… “Ok, we’ve got traditional-style dreadnoughts with cutaways or no cutaways. We’ve got concert sized guitars, parlor guitars, classical, all sorts!” And you, formerly confident shopper, now find yourself at sea. What’s the difference?
They’re already on to talking about different materials used in making guitars and you check out. You imagine a pursuit where you know what you’re doing: I could learn harmonica…. How many kinds of those are there?
Fear not, beginner, YouTube guitar educator Paul Davids is here to teach us the types of acoustic guitars we’re likely to encounter in the wild, as well as the different kinds of “tone woods” and why they make a difference.
Tone wood simply means the kinds of trees used to make the guitar – maple, mahogany, rosewood, spruce, etc. – and it’s called “tone wood” instead of just “wood” for a reason. Among makers and players of electric guitars, a never-ending argument persists about how much tone wood matters. There should be little debate when it comes to acoustic guitars.
The sound of an acoustic guitar comes from the pick, or the fingers, and from the neck, where the strings’ contact with the fretboard travels down to the resonating chamber of the body and gets sent out into the world. At each of these contact points, the properties of the wood in question naturally condition the shape of the sound waves.
Enlisting the help of Eastwood Guitars Pepijn ‘t Hart above, who donated the guitars in the first video for demonstration purposes, Davids demonstrates beyond question that different woods used to construct the back, sides, and top of an acoustic guitar have a tremendous effect on the tone.
From brighter to darker, treblier to bassier, or whatever you want to call the range of tones, you’ll hear them in these examples of different materials used to make the same sized guitars. Why is this important? As Hart explains, an acoustic guitar is basically its own amplifier. While you can adjust the tone somewhat with technique, the first thing you need to do as an acoustic guitar player is determine the best type of instrument you’ll need for the kind of music you’re playing.
Guitarists may also need to consider (eventually), the kinds of musicians they’re playing with. A heavy rock ensemble with rumbling bass and drums will require a much brighter guitar to cut through the mix, whereas accompanying a banjo player or violinist will call for more low end.
You can still grab the first beginner acoustic guitar you find online and call it a day. But if you’re serious about learning the instrument – and learning to play in a musical tradition, be it folk, blues, country, classical, rock, or whatever – you’ll need this essential information. Davids and Hart make it fun and easy to acquire in the two-part educational series above.