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Noyce Guitars
Mount Clear
Ballarat, Victoria
Australia, 3350
+61 3 5330 2244


Choosing a guitar (2)

How to find the right guitar Pt 2. ©Ian Noyce 1997

Solid Wood flat top acoustic guitars:
Although there are a few Guitars made of all solid wood construction (as opposed to plywood) at around the $1000.00 mark, the range is somewhat limited and these instruments usually represent very good value for money and are typically made in Korea.

At the $1600.00 mark there is a slightly larger market place if you seek out the appropriate shops in most Capital citys and the larger provincial citys. From here upwards in price there are maybe half a dozen American made production guitars, Maton, and a few "boutique" makers from around the world (workshops of up to say, six to ten people), as well as a dozen or so smaller production Australian makers, most of whom sell only from their workshop.

My advice to prospective buyers of a solid wood acoustic would be to look at, feel and play guitars from $3-4,000.00 down, even if you're only planning to spend a $1000.00 . This should give you some sense of perspective and value for money in making your purchase.

Construction:

Body size.
Although the standard dreadnought body(500mm. long x 400mm. wide) is by far the most common, there are quite a few other body sizes available. Body size, depth and sound hole diameter combine to behave like a bass reflex speaker cabinet; The larger the box volume, the lower pitched the air resonance becomes and the larger the sound hole diameter, the higher the pitch of the air resonance and the narrower the bandwidth is.

On Dreadnoughts, the air resonance is around low G (98 Hz.) and on the smaller concert size it's around low A(110 Hz.). Some Bluegrass styled Dreadnoughts have an enlarged sound hole, producing a tighter air resonance around A.

Soundboard.
Most tops are made of Spruce, two of the most popular being Sitka and European Alpine spruce. These woods are selected for their stiffness to weight qualities, both along and across the grain. The best timber is light yet stiff with even, closely grown annual rings, perfectly quarter sawn (grain at 90 Deg. to Top) with long straight grain along the board. Strutting material is usually the same as the top and there are many variations of cross-strutting, strut shaping and scalloping etc. Top thicknessing varies in conjunction with strutting and ranges from 2.5 - 3.5 mm.

Most of the resonances (sound) above the box air resonance come from the top, starting with the whole top moving in and out combined with a variety of higher pitched, more complex movements. In the heaviest and stiffest built guitars the higher pitched resonances tend to dominate the lower ones whereas the lightest built guitars tend to more warmth and lushness in the low end with a thinner, lighter sounding top end.

The air resonance and the first and second top resonances are the main frequencies to be trimmed back on stage if you've got a 31 band graphic equaliser and you want more volume and less acoustic feedback.
Back and sides. The traditional American choices here are Rosewood (mostly Indian these days) Honduras or Brazilian Mahogany and American Maples. Australian Blackwood and the very similar Hawaiian Koa have both gained acceptance in recent years.

Rosewood is open grained, colourful, stiff and dense, producing a rich but bright sound. Mahogany is also open grained, but more mid-range in sound and Maple has a very close grained, rounded and solid midrange sound. I find that in looks, Australian Blackwood has great colour, light reflection and figure and sound wise represents a good blend of the characteristics of the traditional woods.

The back and sides are an important section of the bodys overall resonances; play a chord and stick your ear to the back to get some idea of this!
Neck and Finger board. Necks are mostly of Mahogany, chosen for light weight and good strength to weight and stability. For finger boards, Rosewood is lighter and more open and sparkley sounding than Ebony.

Summary.
Writing words isn't the easiest way to communicate sound differences in guitars- we all use different words at times to describe the same thing. The best way of all to familiarise yourself with all the variations possible in acoustic guitars is to play them! Remember your special guitar should look good, feel good and sound good! Hopefully this article will encourage the reader to take a closer look at the weight, balance, wood thicknesses, strutting style and materials next time you're comparing and trying out guitars. The more you do this the greater your feel will be for distinguishing the differences between guitars of interest to you.


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