All of the Different Kinds of Acoustic Guitars, and the Different Woods They’re Made Of: The Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Guide

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How to Build a Cus­tom Hand­craft­ed Acoustic Gui­tar from Start to Fin­ish: The Process Revealed in a Fas­ci­nat­ing Doc­u­men­tary

Musi­cian Plays the Last Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

What Does a $275,000 Clas­si­cal Gui­tar Sound Like?

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Eastwood Chris says:

    Cool video!
    How­ev­er, Pepi­jn ‘t Hart works for East­MAN Gui­tars and not East­wood Gui­tars.
    We, at East­wood, are always hap­py for the pub­lic­i­ty but I think East­man would appre­ci­ate the cor­rec­tion since they donat­ed the instru­ments.

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