Guitars come in different shapes, sizes, materials and number of strings. These different guitars can play different types of music. With so many types of guitars available in the market, it can be overwhelming to decide, which one to choose. But the good news is that they all fall into a category somewhere. In this article, we will discuss different types of acoustic guitars in current times.
Common acoustic guitars generally have hollow wooden bodies and six strings. They do not need any external device for amplification of sound. The shape of the guitar and resonance in it causes sound amplification. But, this form of guitar is not a very loud instrument. Hence, many of the acoustic guitars today have built-in amplification modules.
Basis of Classifying Acoustic Guitars
Parameters mentioned below, forms the basis of classifying acoustic guitars into various categories.
- Shape of the Top – Flat or Arch Top
- Material of the Top – Wood or Steel Top
- Structure of the Top – Parlor, Orchestra Model, Grand Auditorium, Dreadnought, Concert, Jumbo
- Number of strings – 6 or 12
- Material of strings – Steel or Nylon
- Arrangement of strings – Single or Double.
- Availability of Resonators - Yes or No.
Flat Wood Top with 6 strings
We will begin by looking at the most common Acoustic guitars. These guitars have flat tops made of wood with six strings made of either Steel or Nylon. Both the variations are very popular and will be covered in adequate details below.
Guitar strings types, construction, shapes, gauges, tension and other important aspects are covered in adequate detail in the following articles.
Sound produced by guitar is affected substantially by the type of wood used to manufacture it. Popular varieties of woods used are Spruce, Cedar, Redwood, Rosewood, Mahogany and Maple. These tonewoods and their affect on sound, projection, tones, overtones, sustain, balance, dynamic range and other properties of acoustic guitars are discussed in a separate article.
Steel String Guitars
Flat wood top guitars with six steel strings are also called as steel string guitars. Their versatility, richness in tone and resonance makes them very popular among the entire spectrum of players.
These guitars are suitable for performances in smaller and medium-sized venues. Use of pickups, built in mics and amplification is mandatory for larger venues
Origin of Steel String Acoustic Guitar
Christian Frederick Martin created the first steel stringed Acoustic guitar. He was a German immigrant to United States. Before this, the guitars were having strings made from sheep’s intestines called as catgut strings.
Types of Steel String Guitars
Steel string guitars are available in variety of body shapes and sizes to suit guitarist’s body shape. These range from large body guitars like Jumbo to small body ones like Parlor. Every type of guitar is available in the range of sizes from, what is known as ¼ Size to full size, in steps of ¼.
While no clear cut size demarcation exists, it is a common practice to refer guitars with bouts smaller than 13.5 inches as Parlor guitars. It is smallest of the full-size guitar and particularly useful for anybody wanting to transition from ¾ size to full size.
These are smaller in size than a concert guitar and have an elongated body. This long shape enhances the volume of this small guitar. Instead, some of the modern day Parlor Guitars prefer embedding mics and pickups to increase the volume.
Their smaller sized bodies are good in emphasizing tones in the mid-range. These guitars have
- distinct tones,
- are easy on ear, and
- are very suitable for performances to a limited audience.
This makes them suitable for folk, school blues and slide music.
Auditorium And Grand Auditorium
Auditorium and Grand Auditorium Guitars are between Dreadnought and Concert in terms of size. These are quite similar to concert guitars in terms of shape but have larger lower bout. Lower bout typically has a width of about 15”. However, variations are not uncommon. It has much narrower waist in comparison to the Dreadnoughts, due to which, it is much easier to hold.
These are sometimes referred as medium-sized guitars and provide a great balance between light touch and volume.
Auditorium guitar is also referred to as Orchestra and has a classical hourglass figure. With this shape, you can place guitar a lot lower on the leg, making it much easier and comfortable to reach and play. Hence, this guitar is used by guitarists playing folk music or other styles requiring heavy fingerpicking.
It was the Grand Auditorium (GA) guitar, which put Taylor (currently one of the leaders in acoustic guitar innovations) on the world guitar map.
Dreadnought and Grand Concert catered more to flat pickers and finger stylists respectively. Grand Auditorium delivered on both the fronts. Due to this, it finds favors with the guitarists who want to travel with a single guitar and cover various styles.
It performs equally well, when on stage or in studio.
Concert And Grand Concert
Concert guitars (Size “0” for Martin Guitars) has a small body and a typical lower bout width of about 13”. Its shape is somewhat similar to classical guitar, except for larger lower bout. Due to its smaller size and soundboard, it produces a much quieter sound and rounded tone.
Concert guitars have much narrower waist widths in comparison with the dreadnought. Hence, it has a more defined sound, that is less bass heavy.
Grand Concert Guitars (Size “00”) are more common than the standard concert guitars and have a lower bout width of about 14”.
Both these guitars are ideally suited for fingerpicking style with light touch. However, these have lower volume ceiling, hence, not suitable for hard strumming.
Their small size and rounded shape make them perfect for guitarists with smaller body frames.
Dreadnought is the most widely available and commonly used acoustic guitar body style. It has a large soundboard due to wide and less defined waist, deep body with a relatively smaller upper bout. It produces a clean, high volume, pure acoustic sound of wide range with tremendous projections and a very strong bass. It is suited ideally for flat picking and strumming.
It has a wide and rich tone that can be used in variety of musical settings, to play different genres, like rock, bluegrass, folk, indie, punk etc.
Due to its large size, you are required to play it more aggressively, to get the soundboard to vibrate. Playing it with light touch, will not result in desired volume or clarity.
Dreadnoughts have a very high volume ceiling, so you can play them harder, to get large volumes without any distortion.
Due to their bigger sizes, they can be hard to hold and play for smaller people and beginners.
Jumbo guitars, as the name suggests, are the plus size loud guitars. Legendary musicians like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Noel Gallagher used them. These guitars have large volume, booming & bassy sound with lot of projection.
Their large size provides lot of space for sound to reverberate around the body. This results in a volume which cant be created using any other small body guitar. These are particularly great if you want your guitar to be heard over the crowd.
The first Jumbo guitar was released in 1937. It immediately became popular because of
- its deep bass sound, and
- ability to complement other leads styles.
These guitars are not recommended for smaller people and for beginners.
Types Of Nylon String Guitars
Nylon string are actually quite different instrument from the steel string guitars. These guitars have very distinct sound qualities and playing styles. Use of Nylon string guitars is done for playing classical, flamenco and other traditional Spanish styles of music.
These have much more organic sound and wider neck and relies on fingerpicking instead of strumming. The most common type of nylon string guitars are classical and flamenco guitars. Some hybrid crossover variations are also available.
Also known as the Spanish guitar due to its origin in Spain. These are usually smaller than dreadnoughts and have slimmer waist. This makes them particularly comfortable to play in the seated position.
Classical guitars have a flat and a wider neck. Hence, there is less interference from the adjacent strings. This makes playing of scales and some of the cord forms, a lot easier for the guitarists.
The sounds produced by the classical guitars are much calmer, sweet, warm, inviting, comfortable and pleasing to the ears.
Flamenco guitars produce thinner and crisper sounds in comparison to other classical guitars. The construction is usually lighter with wider fretboards. Even the strings used in Flamenco guitars are usually lighter than the classical counterparts. Use of harder woods like Rosewood is done to get louder sounds.
These guitars are also sometimes fitted with tap plates on the top of the instrument. The tap plates are used by the guitarists for rhythmic tapping, which is an integral part of the Flamenco style of music. The construction of these guitars needs to resonate the tapping sounds, multi note playing and fast up and down runs on the neck.
Hybrid / Crossover Guitars
The general principle of Hybrid / crossover guitars is
- They feature many aspects of the classical guitars.
- Some aspects are modified to make these suitable for electric or acoustic guitarists.
For example, we have crossover guitars, which are identical to classical guitars with the only difference being:
- In thinner neck profile and narrower width of nut, or
- Thinner bodies, or
- Cutaways, or
Steel Top Guitars
Steel top guitars are quite like classical guitars. Difference lies in more solid construction and larger body. Their sound quality is very good, and the tone is warmer than the classical guitar.
As these are made of steel, they are more resilient and durable.
The top guitars should not be confused with Hawaiian steel guitars, also known as lap steel guitars. Lap steel guitars are played horizontally. These are plucked by one hand and the pitch is altered using a slide made of steel or glass.
12 String Guitars
12 string guitars have six regular sized strings and six thinner strings. These extra strings are placed next to the corresponding strings and are tuned at one octave higher frequency. This provides louder strumming with increased depth of sound. You don’t need to learn any new chords to play it, if you already know how to play six string versions.
You need to play the corresponding strings in pairs and not individually. The sound produced has a semi-chorus effect. This means that you get a feeling that more than one guitar is being played.
This guitar is more expensive than the other guitars and is much harder to play.
Acoustic Archtop Guitars
Soundboard of archtop guitars have f-holes or wings fitted on them, like those on violins. Also, top of these guitars has a curved shape instead of flat, as in flattop guitars. These are available in a hollow or semi hollow body versions.
Acoustic archtop guitars have a very focused sound with deep tone. This sound quality makes it a favorite guitar of most jazz players. It particularly works well in ensembles, when playing lead.
Yet, flattop guitar is always a better choice, unless you are only interested in playing jazz.
Resonator guitars are different in construction to the other acoustic guitars. The major difference is the absence of sound hole in these. These guitars are much bigger in size and have a large, circular, perforated disc in place of sound holes. This disc houses the resonator cone made up of spun Aluminium. The resonator acts like an un-powered amplifier or a speaker.
The presence of resonators results in a very bright and clear sound. Hence, resonator guitars are suitable for performances in large rooms and in open-air.
Country music artists and blues singers prefer Resonator guitars. Besides, they have found popularity in mainstream music as well.
These guitars are available in
- square neck versions, played on the lap, and
- round neck version, held like any other common guitar.
You can also play them using a glass or a metal slides.
We hope that the above article has given you a fair idea about
- Various main types of acoustic guitars available in the market, and
- Their salient features.
Learning all the features of a particular acoustic guitar can be a very in-depth process.
Yet, with the information provided, you can take an informed decision about selecting a guitar to suit your interest. In our next article, we will be introducing different types of Electric and Bass Guitars to you.