Whether buying an acoustic guitar online or in person, there are several main components to understand so that you are able to do 2 thing:
Purchase the highest quality guitar for your budget and
Purchase the guitar that will best suit your tastes and preferences
Follow this simple guide to get started, and if you feel uncomfortable in any are, just do a little more research and have patience. You will be more satisfied and at peace with your decision if you have a thorough understanding of “what makes an acoustic guitar a quality instrument”. With all of the mass production occurring in the acoustic guitar industry, there are several models being sold with inferior quality materials. The scope of this report is not to bash any particular brand or model, but to equip you with some insight and tools so that you can make the most informed decision for your personal investment. With enough research, you can be assured to buy the best beginner acoustic guitar for your budget, or the best intermediate or professional model to suit your particular preferences.
What is the guitar made from?
Traditional quality guitars have been made from solid woods known to the luthier (guitar-maker) as tonewoods. With more recent demands on increasing production while maintaining profitability, many companies have substituted inferior composites and laminated woods in place of the backs and sides of some guitars. Composites and laminates are not necessarily bad, as some high end producers are using them in some lines, it's just that to own a guitar that will produce the pure acoustic guitar sound that is typical and that will become refined with age requires quality tonewoods.
Look for the following woods as a standards in quality acoustic guitars:
Tops and soundboards:
The top of the guitar, where the sound hole is located is most commonly made from Sitka Spruce, Engelmann Spruce or Cedar.
Stika Spruce is the most commonly used quality guitar top tone wood because of its abundance, its tight grain pattern, and it's high sound velocity giving it the greatest volume and balance of all top tonewoods. The tone qualities are well projected and well balanced. Sound velocity refers to how well and how evenly the sound waves travel through the wood.
Engelmann Spruce is similar to Sitka, but is less abundant and yields fewer tops per log. It's sound velocity is a bit less than Sitka and therefore does not project quite as clearly.
Cedar is another straight, finely grained wood that offers less projection, and more of a rich, mellow lush sound dominant in the lower and mid frequency ranges. Cedar is the choice top for classical guitars.
Other honorable mentions for soundboard or top (face) tonewoods , though not as commonly used are, Mahogany, Koa, and Maple.
Because the top or soundboard of a guitar requires a lot of strength to weight ratio, choices for quality tops are limited to fine, straight, tightly grained woods that can be planed and thinned to very minimal thickness in order to provide the best sound velocity, thereby producing the most evenly projected tones. Additionally, the soundboard has to remain under tremendous strain from the tension in the steel strings. However, the sides and backs are not under quite the same rigor, and the variety of tonewoods has been quite varietal over the years of the guitar's life.
Sides and backs:
The sides and the back of the guitar are equally as important as the top, as they create the sound box whereby the vibrations of the strings are transmitted through the guitar saddle, amplified by the top, and enhanced by the sound box (body of the guitar) and projected through the sound hole.
Some quality tonewoods for the sides and back of the acoustic guitar include:
Mahogany (eastern and western and other species) is typical of a strong mid range and high range, and lacking a little in the bass end of the Eq. spectrum.
Brazilian and Indian Rosewood is perhaps one of the most balanced in all 3 ranges, bass, mid, and high (treble), and gives a very solid projection.
Sapele (African), is similar to Mahogany and produces tones that are more dominant in the mid and high ranges
Maple is a little more dull than many of the previous woods, and is dominant in the high range and secondary in the mid range.
Koa Wood has been used in Hawaii for Tropical Steel Guitar sounds that are warm, deep, and rich, but it is also used for standard and exotic 6 string acoustic guitar-making.
Overall review for a quality acoustic guitar inspection:
After understanding the woods that are used in quality guitars, give the guitar a complete review for several factors:
- Check to make sure the tuning pegs (machine heads or tuning keys) are quality and not cheap.
- Check all of the bindings and glue joints closely for good clean seams.
- Check the finish of he guitar at different angles, letting the light reflect to reveal craftsmanship
- Do not worry about the strings as they are replaceable, but should be new on a new purchase
- Research reviews of the guitars you are interested in, and compare it with comparable models in the same and alternate price ranges.
- Determine whether you want a well projecting guitar, a moderately projecting guitar, or a more muted, mellow guitar. High Gloss finished will project the most, while satin finish will be moderate, and flat or dull finishes will prove to be the most warm and muted.
- Make sure the guitar strings and neck are set for a decent “action”, meaning the strings are close enough to the fretboard to make it very playable, without sacrificing sound projection or causing strings to buzz on the fretboard.
- Try no to fall in love with a particular brand, but go for overall quality and the sound profile you are seeking for your budget range.
After going thoroughly through this general checklist, continue to research the kind and quality of acoustic guitar you desire. If possible, play as many different makes and models while comparing the different finished, qualities, and tonewoods with your ear. If your ear is not seasoned enough, it would be best to take a trusted, accomplished guitar player with you to help you in the discernment process.
About the author: Aaron Schulman has been a musician since his first trumpet in 5th grade, and has been an avid acoustic guitar player, songwriter, and teacher since 1990. Before purchasing your first guitar, visit his acoustic guitar reviews site and study to get the best acoustic guitar for your money. You can also read more there to equip yourself more thoroughly on “how to buy an acoustic guitar”
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