The acoustic guitar is an underrated instrument these days. With all the gear designed for electric guitars, the tonal possibilities are literally endless; with an acoustic, there’s not much to hide behind, but it can be a good thing. And while the folks who were mad when Dylan went electric in 1965 are clearly on the wrong side of history, there was, in fact, some truth in their enduring belief that the acoustic guitar is great and its legacy must be preserved. .
The depth of sound, dynamic range, and amount of overall control an experienced guitarist can find in an acoustic guitar is amazing. And like the way a myriad of pedals can totally change the sound of an electric guitar, the sound of an acoustic is determined by a number of factors in its construction, including the type of wood, body size, whether it has an electric option and the type of key. Acoustic guitars also vary greatly depending on the type of music you want to play – the type you need will be different for rock, pick folk, classical, jazz, etc.
First, the type of wood your guitar is made from will make a huge difference; commonly seen types include maple, cedar, spruce (probably the most common), and mahogany. Different types of wood have different densities, which means, you guessed it, different possibilities for vibration and resonance. Cheaper guitars may have laminate finishes or cheaper wood, which may be preferable to some for aesthetic or cost reasons; solid wood, however, will sound purer and more resonant. So the next time you’re trying to impress your buddies at Guitar Center with a new Radiohead track, watch out for the wood. Also, trust your eyes and ears: Do you want a glossy finish or a more rustic look? Do you want a thinner or wider sound? Spend a lot of time playing around with different guitars, you’ll quickly get an idea of the kinds of sounds they can produce.
A second consideration is whether you go for a pure acoustic guitar or an acoustic-electric, which means it can be plugged in and amplified. Some electro-acoustics have built-in tuners or tuning knobs, making it easy to quickly change your sound. Keep in mind that an acoustic-electric guitar means they’ve cut the wood to install a small electrical box, which will affect the look and resonance. This choice should really come down to your needs. Are you like me, a lone dog hacking acoustic covers of Smashing Pumpkins and Bruce Springsteen songs in an empty apartment? Then you might not need to amp that shit up. But if you’re in a band or trying to play some acoustic Van Morrison songs at the local coffee shop, you might want to tune in.
Guitars range in size from parlor/baby guitars to jumbo, and ultimately you just want to get something that a) sounds great and b) fits your body and hand size. This is especially true when it comes to the fretboard – don’t get something that’s clearly too large or too small for your hands, or you’ll have a hard time nailing that B-flat chord (and therefore probably won’t land) . Each brand has its own system, and it’s up to you to research them so you know the terrain, narrow down your preferences, and choose something that’s perfect for you. That way the next time someone tells you they play a J-45, you can ask if it’s a Gibson or an Epiphone instead of just saying “Damn yeah “.
This solid spruce top guitar has a rosewood fingerboard and nato wood body. Due to its warm sound and solid construction, it is considered one of the best entry-level dreadnoughts of all time. But entry level doesn’t mean limitation – you’ll be able to learn scales and chords on this baby, but you can also dive into intermediate territory and play songs from Nirvana or Dave Matthews Band. (Don’t hate it, some of Dave’s tabs are pretty tough!)
$325$219.99 at Amazon
Taylor GS Mini
This mostly mahogany Taylor packs a pretty serious bang for your buck. Yes, it’s a smaller guitar, but it produces a great clean tone and is perfect for ax men on the go. Although the “Mini” indicates a smaller size, this is in no way derogatory…unless you think you are bigger and better than GS Mini players like Jack Johnson, Harry Styles, Father John Misty and MacDeMarco.
$599 at Amazon
It’s a cool guitar. He says, “I like rock n’ roll, but I’m also a cowboy.” It’s made from more unusual guitar woods, like basswood and walnut, and is incredibly economical no matter what level of player you are. Buyer beware: if you pick it up, there is a 100% chance that you will end up in a duel at noon.
$189 at Amazon
Epiphone Hummingbird Pro
With an attractive duo of spruce and mahogany wood and a washed cherry top, the iconic Hummingbird looks and sounds absolutely badass. This one might sound corny to some people, but I think it’s one of the nicest looking guitars out there. Epiphone’s version is a take on the Gibson Hummingbird, an OG killer guitar that’s been strummed by Taylor Swift, Thom Yorke, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards and many more.
$449 at Amazon
Again based on a Gibson mainstay, the J-45 is a clone of one of the most beloved guitars. She’s an acoustic-electric, and her daddy has been played by everyone from Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie to Jeff Tweedy and Lucinda Williams (i.e. the rockers who talk about how America rocks).
$749 at Amazon
This one is a bit more expensive; but with a solid spruce top, rosewood sides and black ebony fingerboard, this guitar not only looks good as hell, but has a seriously powerful sound. In fact, the “D” stands for “dreadnought”, indicating that this is a bigger guitar with a deeper sound. Your favorite highly skilled guitar hero is probably playing this one (assuming your heroes are pros like Johnny Marr, James Hetfield, and Neil Young).
$3199 at Amazon
Ultimately, acoustic guitars are like knives– even the crappy ones will get the job done, so try a bunch and get one that looks cool and feels good. An amazing guitarist can make a cheap guitar sing, while a mediocre player can put the best Taylor to shame. Really, just find something you like and play what you want to play (as long as you don’t at a partylest your ax be *justly* destroyed).
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