For sure you already know the basics of what an acoustic guitar is – a guitar that uses only an acoustic soundboard to transmit the strings’ energy into the air in order to produce its sound, whereas an electric guitar relies on electronic amplification.
So far so good. But acoustic guitars come in many body shapes, styles, sizes, materials and number of strings. With so many variations, it can be really overwhelming for anybody to tell them apart. The good news is that they all fall into a category somewhere and this article will give you an overview of the most important things you need to know.
The type of acoustic guitar is often dependent on the acoustic guitar’s size and that’s how you can tell apart a lot of them. Starting from largest here are some of the most popular types:
This would be the largest and loudest acoustic guitar shape on this list. From strumming hard to finger picking softly, if you invest in a Jumbo you will get the most volume for your money. They are most suitable for players who want to perform to a large group of people with no additional amplification and are not very suitable for smaller players (especially children). Jumbo guitars are also known as the traditional ‘cowboy guitar’, because they are particularly popular with country players and were a favorite of Elvis Presley.
This is the most popular acoustic guitar body shape, used for both budget guitars as well as very expensive ones. These guitars have a big build with a large, wide soundboard. Due to the larger shape, a Dreadnought produces a bold, balanced sound, which makes it popular among rock, country and bluegrass players. But again, because of its size it is not the best for children.
They have small bodies and used to be played mostly by women back in the day because of their size. Parlor guitars usually have a small overall length and an elongated body, retaining a standard nut width to make them suitable for all styles of playing, from strumming to fingerstyle. Speaking of tone a Parlor guitar is light and well balanced, although with less bass and more midrange emphasis. They are of course quieter than big-bodied acoustics and suitable for smaller players as well as singer-songwriters, as the quieter sound means you don’t have to compete with the guitar when playing.
The classical guitar is a nylon-stringed acoustic, whereas the rest on this list so far featured steel strings. A typical classical guitar differs from a steel-string acoustic also in the neck and fretboard – they are wider on a classical guitar, and in terms of scale length, a classical guitar tends to be a bit longer. Of course we can dive a lot deeper in the details depending on how snobbish you take it – the reality is that even guitar specialists have different opinions on the matter of what makes a guitar truly a classical one. Good to know is also that the sound is softer and balanced, and this style of guitar is a good choice for acoustic guitar beginners, as the nylon strings are easier on the fingers in the budget range of guitars.
A guitar similar to a classical one but with some important differences – flamenco guitars generally have tap plates on the top to facilitate the rhythmic tapping that’s an integral part of flamenco music. The strings are also closer to the body. Like classical guitars they tend to have a significantly wider nut width than a standard steel string acoustic, but are defined by their growly and passionate sound.
A distinctive instrument in its own right, the resonator guitar (also commonly referred to as the ‘dobro’ or ‘steel guitar’) differers from an acoustic guitar because of the way in which it produces sound. Where an acoustic guitar amplifies the vibrations of the strings through their contact with the wooden soundboard or top via the bridge, a resonator instead amplifies the strings through the use of one or more metal coils which are in contact with the underside of the bridge. Whilst creating a distinctively different tone to the instrument, a resonator guitar is also much louder than a regular acoustic guitar.
Another type of acoustic guitars are electro acoustic ones. Not to be confused with electric guitars, which are a completely different kind of instrument. Electro acoustic guitars can be of any kind above (well, some classics would say that when you add electronics to a classical guitar, it ceases to be so, but you decide if you share this opinion – I personally try not to fall into such details :D). Electro acoustic guitars have a built-in adapter, or (less commonly) a microphone, that allows you to plug your guitar into an amplifier, mixer, or recording interface. Most musicians performing acoustic music on stage have this type of guitar to make it easier to amplify its sound. Acoustically, the guitar would not be loud enough to be heard in a restaurant, club, or concert hall.
‘What kind of acoustic guitar should I buy?’ is a very common question. It depends on a lot of things, including budget, interests, etc., so if you want an article on this topic, comment below 🙂
We could also talk about the different types of acoustic guitar brands, types of acoustic guitar strings, but these are topics that would take up a whole article of their own, along with what the best acoustic guitar is. The latter of which is also based a lot on a personal preference, but more on that, another time!
Did we miss any guitars? If you have some questions left, feel free to leave a comment below or join our Guitar Family and start a conversation there.