Buying an acoustic guitar doesn’t have to be intimidating. Many guitarists will tell you the process of buying a guitar can be almost as fun as owning one. Guitar Adoptions offers a broad range of acoustic guitars including models from Larrivee, Morgan, Guild, and Northwood Guitars. But how do you decide which is right for you?
First, think about how you will be using the guitar. Consider what styles you’d like to play. Will you use it for performing on stage or playing at home? Think about some guitarists you admire and find out what kind of guitar they play. This will help you identify the kind of sound you are looking for.
Next, learn what choices you’ll be faced with in along the way. Here are a few of the most important things to consider.
Body Size – If you are new to guitars, you may have never noticed that guitars come in many different shapes and sizes. Big guitars, like the D-Series dreadnought from Larrivee Guitars, provide lots of volume along with plenty of bass. Smaller guitars are more comfortable and are more tonally balanced. Also, most guitars are identified as either 12-fret or 14 fret-models. This means that the neck joins the body at either the 12th or 14th fret. While they give up access to a couple of frets, many people feel 12-fret guitars, like the Northwood FM80-12-00, offer a little something extra in the tone department. See Part 2 of this series for a more in-depth discussion of body sizes.
Tonewoods – The way a guitar sounds, or its tone, is a direct result of the materials it is made of and how it is built. Higher quality guitars are made of solid woods while some lesser expensive models may be built with laminates or composites. The wood used for the top of the guitar is most important. Two popular top woods are Canadian Sitka spruce (Jean Larrivee’s favorite wood) and western red cedar, which is used on several of the Morgan and Northwood guitar models. Each offers its own unique tonal qualities. The woods used for the back and the sides add flavor to the sound created by the top. The most common back and side woods are rosewood and mahogany. In addition to these, there are more exotic woods available that have their own tonal and visual qualities. In Part 3 we will take a deeper look at guitar woods.
Neck Profile and Nut Width – Even if a guitar sounds great, you won’t keep it long if it is uncomfortable to play. The neck profile refers to the shape of the neck and how it feels to your hand when you play. Necks can be oval shaped, v-shaped, or even C-shaped. The nut width refers to how wide the fingerboard is at the end of the neck near the nut. This can range anywhere from 1-5/8” to over 2” on classical guitars. Bluegrass players like a narrower fingerboard because it brings the strings a little closer together, making it easier for fast picking. Fingerstyle players usually like a wider nut because it allows more room to move on the fingerboard. For the ultimate fingerstyle guitar, take a look at the Larrivee LSV-11 model.
Scale Length – Scale length is a measurement of the distance from the nut to the saddle on the guitar. Why is this important to you? The scale dictates the tension on the strings and the spacing of the frets. For most beginners, a standard scale guitar (around 25.4”) is just fine. It’s what most people play. A short scale guitar measures 24.9” or less. Short scale guitars have slightly less string tension and might not be as loud. But if you have small hands or like to finger complicated chords, then a short scale guitar is worth looking into. The popular Larrivee P-05 and P-09 Parlor guitars come with a scale length of 24”.
Electronics – There are many different kinds of pickups that can come either factory-installed or be mounted after you buy the guitar. Many manufacturers also include volume controls and equalizers. Choose an acoustic-electric model if you’ll need to be plugging in for performing or recording. But keep in mind that pickups can easily be added at a later date too. Many of our Larrivee models come with L.R. Baggs pickup systems. Look for the letter “E” on the end of the model. For example, a Larrivee L-03 with a pickup system is called a L-03E.
Action and Intonation – The action on a guitar is the height of the strings above the fingerboard. If the action is too low, the strings will buzz when fretted. If it is too high, the guitar will be difficult to play. In addition, many players do not know that low action will also reduce string vibration and reduce the sound quality of their guitar. Intonation refers to the ability of the guitar to play in tune over the entire fingerboard. Setting the intonation is best left up to a guitar tech. You will find that all the quality builders that Guitar Adoptions carry do a exemplary job of setup and intonating at the factory.
Humidity and Heat – Guitar Adoptions offers acoustics made of the highest quality woods. If not properly humidified, the guitar could dry out and, if left alone for too long, crack or suffer neck issues. But don’t worry; with just a little information you can learn to take good care of your guitar. It will probably outlast you! Check out our article on proper Care and Feeding of your guitar.
** See how the end of the fretboard is sinking into the soundhole? See the gap under the fingerboard by the side dot? All caused by very low humidity **
Finally, it is critical to find a dealer who is knowledgeable and is able to work with you as you choose. Contact Dave at Guitar Adoptions for practical and honest advice on which acoustic is best for you.