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