What to Look for in Acoustic Guitars When Buying One
For the newbie guitar player who dreams of buying his first-ever acoustic guitar, there are two things you have to consider before you begin searching for the guitar you will be paying good money for. First, what do you hope to achieve with your acoustic guitar? Are you a beginner who wants to learn how to play the instrument? Or are you a veteran who wants to move up to the next level and buy a better quality guitar.
Second, how much can you afford or are willing to spend? As a beginner, you may want to find out first if you have the perseverance to practice and improve your craft. So, you settle for an inexpensive one. With the new technology in manufacturing, inexpensive doesn’t necessarily mean low-quality. There is now a wide field of good quality playable guitars to choose from that doesn’t break your budget. Or, you may want to get a better quality guitar as an investment.
Guitars vary widely in price. The factors that dictate how much a guitar costs are the type of wood and its quality, level of craftsmanship, tuning machines, electronics and the amount of detail that goes into the work (pearl and abalone heart inlays, etc.). For example, a laminated veneer tonewood that is made of thin plies of wood glued together will be much cheaper than a solid wood top made of Sitka spruce or mahogany. An instrument that is made by hand by a skilled craftsman will also charge a premium price compared to one that is mass produced in a factory since an excellent luthier will be fastidious in picking out timber for each part of the guitar.
When you have satisfactorily answered these two questions, the next step is educating yourself on what to look for so that you will buy an acoustic guitar that is worth the money you paid for. Here is a guide to help you determine the quality of an acoustic guitar so that you can make an educated decision when you look for your guitar.
1. Body Style
Acoustic guitars come in 3 body styles: classic, dreadnought and jumbo. Body style and size have a major impact on sound projection and tonal emphasis. A typical rule to keep in mind is, a larger soundboard will give a lower-end tone and volume. The body of an acoustic guitar now comes in smaller sizes to cater to the musicians on the road or the backpackers since these are easier to carry along. What is important is to look for a body style and size that is comfortable for playing and gives you the desired sound and tone.
The top of the acoustic guitar plays a very important part in shaping its initial sounds. When the strings are played, the top vibrates and amplifies the sound of the strings. Acoustic guitars have tops of either laminated veneer or solid wood. Laminated tops are more resistant to temperature fluctuations and humidity while solid wood tops give you better tone resonance and projection. In general, laminated tops are less expensive than solid wood tops.
The neck of a guitar is the long, slender part that is attached to the body. It houses the fretboard, headstock, tuning keys and the nuts and strings at the bridge at both ends of the long piece of wood. The thickness and width of the neck is usually based on the body size and the number of frets the neck has. When looking at guitars, close one eye and take a look down the neck from the bottom of the guitar with the open eye. It must be straight and not bent, warped or crooked at any part.
Intonation refers to the correct tuning of the guitar as you play higher up the neck. If the notes sound in tune from the first to the fifth fret but goes off around the twelfth, the intonation is out. The distance between frets (often above the twelfth) affects the guitar’s intonation. You can test for this by playing the harmonic scale on the sixth string, twelfth fret, then playing the fretted note of the sixth string. If one of the two notes is sharper or flatter than the other, the intonation is off. Do this for all six strings to test for the intonation of any of them.
The pickups, preamps and other electronic components give the player control over sonic tone and volume. This is significant since playing in large venues like concert halls will require an acoustic sound to resonate and fill the room while playing in small and intimate venues require another level of sound. Most electronics also have shields to prevent external interference and noise from getting picked up.
6. Tuning Keys
Tuning machines, found on the headstock, adjust the tension of the strings and change their pitches. Try out guitars and see if the tuning keys still function. Tuning machines can be replaced at a later time. Old strings may also not stay in tune and the best way to test a guitar in the store is to replace old strings with new ones, paid for by you, of course.
7. Fingerboard (fretboard)
As a major component of the neck, the fretboard is that long, thin piece of wood attached to the neck with glue. There are thin vertical pieces of metal imbedded in the wood; these are the frets. Try out the guitar and see if any of the frets stick out or hang over the edge.
These are some of the main matters to check out when in the market for an acoustic guitar. Once you have chosen wisely and started strumming on it, you will realize the benefits it has and will not regret spending for a guitar that can bring you many hours of playing pleasure.