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I want to Learn to Play the Guitar...

Playing the guitar is a very special experience that will change your life in so many ways. But where to start?

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Acoustic Guitars
What is an Acoustic GuitarClassical Acoustic guitar from the front and side

An Acoustic Guitar is an instrument that uses only acoustic methods to project the sound produced by the strings of the guitar.

The sound in a guitar is produced by vibration of the strings as it is played. In an Acoustic Guitar the volume of the sound is increased by using a soundboard and a resonant cavity (the sound box).

What are the bits of an Acoustic Guitar called and how is it built?

The Body: The back, sides, and top. 
Types of construction and the type of wood(s) used have a major impact on the way a guitar sounds. The body style and size will also have an impact on the guitar's sound. 

The Bridge: Anchors the guitars strings to the body.  

The Top: Front facing board of the guitar.
The single most important element in the way an acoustic guitar will sound. When you strum the strings vibrations are transferred through the bridge to the top. When the top vibrates, so does the air within the body of the guitar. This amplifies the sound of the strings. Tops can either be solid wood (generally better quality) or laminated (usually cheaper). Solid tops will offer a better sound.

The Neck: Where your non strumming fingers go...Includes the fretboard, headstock, tuners, and an internal truss rod.

The Fretboard: long, thin piece of wood that is glued to the neck. The frets are actually the long thin pieces of metal on the wood. The fretboard is divided into half-step increments of the 12-tone scale. When you hold down a string on a fret different notes are sounded.

The Tuning keys: Located in the headstock, usually metal pegs that turn around to adjust the tension of each string and change its pitch.

Common Acoustic Guitar Woods

There are a number of different woods used in the making guitars. Different woods will have an effect on the quality and tone of the guitar.
  • Cedar: soft wood used mostly for classical or fingerstyle acoustic guitars.
  • Ebony: excellent wood for acoustic guitar fretboards. Preferred fretboard material for many players.
  • Koa: Hawaiian wood with a distinct golden colour. Found on more expensive acoustic guitars.
  • Mahogany: Most often used for backs and sides. Occasionally used as a top wood. Adds snap and a general boost to the middle range of the spectrum while reducing the boominess sometimes found in dreadnoughts. As a top, mahogany tends to emphasize the high end. Mahogany is also used frequently for acoustic guitar necks and bridges.
  • Maple: Often used for the back and sides. It tends to generate a dry tone that emphasizes the upper end of the tonal spectrum.
  • Ovangkol: African wood used primarily for the back and sides. Tone resembles the warmth of rosewood with the sparkling midrange of mahogany or koa.
  • Rosewood: Used for the back and sides, as well as the fretboard and bridge. When used for the back and sides of the guitar, rosewood provides warm low end, enhanced mids, and added resonance.
  • Sapele: African wood often used for the back and sides of an acoustic guitar. Like mahogany, it adds to the midrange and overall projection of the top wood.
  • Spruce: Most common wood used for acoustic guitar tops. Tonally, spruce is resonant and provides good sustain and clarity.
  • Walnut: Used as an alternative to mahogany in acoustic guitar bodies. Its tonal properties are comparable to mahogany with a focus on the midrange, and it enhances projection of the top wood's tone.

Acoustic Guitar Types:

Body Style Characteristics

Martin D-28 Dreadnought spacer Gretsch Rancher spacer Taylor 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Grand Concert
Examples of three common body styles (left to right)... Dreadnought: the Martin D-28; Jumbo: the Gretsch Rancher; Grand Concert: the Taylor 30th Anniversary Limited Edition.

Attempting to apply strict definitions to acoustic guitar body styles can be difficult since many styles are manufacturer-specific. The most important thing to remember is that you should find a style that is both comfortable for you to play and produces the tone you desire.

A good rule of thumb to follow is the larger the soundboard, the more low-end tone and volume the guitar will generate. The traditional dreadnought body style provides a large soundboard, while narrow-waisted styles such as grand concert and jumbo combine a large soundboard with increased playing comfort. Most manufacturers make acoustic guitars to accommodate smaller players, as well as travel or backpacker guitars that are more convenient to transport.

Babicz Identity Series Acute Auditorium Cutaway
This Babicz Identity Series Acute Auditorium illustrates the upper bout cutaway.

Another important body feature is the cutaway. An acoustic guitar with a cutaway in the upper bout allows the player to easily reach above the 12th fret of the instrument. If you plan to do a lot of lead playing on your acoustic or are used to playing an electric guitar, you may prefer an acoustic with a cutaway.

Buying an Acoustic Guitar

You should consider what your plans are for your new acoustic guitar. Then you should decide how much you can afford to spend on one.

Are you are a beginner who wants an inexpensive instrument to learn on? or, are you an experienced player looking to move up to a higher-quality instrument?

Most likely, the more you spend on an acoustic guitar, the higher the quality of the instrument. But this doesn't mean that all inexpensive acoustic guitars are low quality. Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques, there are now a wide selection of highly playable, low-cost acoustic guitars to choose from. 

By knowing something about the most important elements that contribute to a playable, nice-sounding acoustic guitar, you can maximise what you get for your budget....

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