Posted by: kubiakl | November 1, 2008

Come On In My Kitchen, Part One

Come in, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.  There’s a plate of cookies on the table and some milk in the fridge.

I said I would put up lessons, and you’re reading the first one.  One small caveat – we’re not going to touch a guitar during this lesson.  That will come later.

“Well, what are we going to do then?”, you ask in a whiny voice.  Today I’d just like to go over some basic guitar information that will help you understand if I reference it later.

Most people know that guitars come in two basic varieties.  Acoustic guitars are hollow guitars that project their sound acoustically (betcha couldn’t have figured that one out on your own).  The body acts as a speaker of sorts.  An electric guitar uses magnetic pickups to transfer the string vibration into an electric signal that travels through a cable to an amplifier.  There are variations (acoustic-electric guitars, solid body acoustics, etc.) but acoustic or electric is the most basic distinction.  Today we’re all about the acoustics.

When most people think of acoustic guitars, they picture what is known as a dreadnought style of guitar.  Like this:

Martin D-28 Dreadnought

Martin D-28 Dreadnought

I’d say a good 78.3% of people with acoustic guitars have dreadnoughts (totally made that up).  But seriously, they are a popular body style.  They have a large, balanced sound that makes them suited for just about any style of music.  There are a few variations on the dreadnought – my Epiphone is a slope-shouldered dreadnought, and some have a cutaway for access to the higher frets, but generally it is a rounded rectangle with dented in sides.

Alvarez FYM95 OM Guitar

Alvarez FYM95 OM Guitar

This is a Grand Auditorium style acoustic.  They are also called folk-sized, OM (Orchestra Model), and 000 guitars, but basically it means a smaller body with a narrower waist.  I’m going to call them OM’s to make things easy.  Some OM’s have a wider string spacing to facilitate finger-picking, but what really seperates them from a dreadnought is the sound.  It is less bass heavy, with a more pronounced midrange response.

Gibson SJ200 Jumbo

Gibson SJ200 Jumbo

This is a jumbo guitar.  Obviously it’s a little larger than a dreadnought but shaped like an OM.  Jumbos have a very deep bass response and a louder sound due to the larger body.
There are other styles/sizes of acoustic guitars (parlors, 00’s, AJ’s, etc.) but these are the most common.  I’ve already talked about resonators, so we’ll skip specialty acoustics and head straight to tonewoods.

Tonewoods are what the guitar is made of.  Since most of the sound on an acoustic guitar comes from the vibration of the top, the type of wood used makes a huge difference in sound.  A quick note – some guitars have laminate tops while others have solid tops.  The tone of a solid top will improve with age, whereas a laminate top will generally not.  If you have an entry-level acoustic it probably has a laminate top.  If you went a little more expensive it probably has a solid top.  If you are new to guitars then don’t worry about having a laminate top guitar.  The lackluster tone will be covered up by your fumble-fingered playing.  As you improve you’ll want to buy a better guitar anyway.

Spruce is hands down the most popular choice for acoustic guitar tops.  Usually a spruce top is paired with either rosewood or mahogany back and sides, which mellow the bright sound of the spruce for a balanced tone.  Other woods commonly used are mahogany, cedar, and koa.  If you are in the market for a new guitar you should check out as many different body styles/wood combinations as possible before buying.

I think that’s about all the information we need for acoustics, next time we’ll jump into electric guitars.  Get ready.



  1. Peço por favor mandar catálogo de guitarras acústicas e outros produtos.

    • A little translating from Portuguese to English tells me that De Antoni Romualdo is asking for a catalog of acoustic guitars. (Thank you Google Translate.)
      I suggest starting with an idea of what you want in a guitar and searching online. It’s best if you can find one that is local so you can play before you pay.

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