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How to buy an acoustic guitar – part 1:

Buying an acoustic guitar can be a tricky process. There are so many makes and models to choose from. However, there are some basic pointers to help you choose the best acoustic guitar for your money. Whether you are new, looking to find the best beginner acoustic guitar for your money, or whether you are purchasing your 15th guitar, the process is fairly similar. Here are 5 basic pointers to guide you in making a confident purchase:

1: Don't buy on price or brand name, buy quality ingredients. Have you ever heard, “it's hard to make junk shine”? A good guitar starts with good quality ingredients, just like in any other product. A friend of mine almost blew over $1000 dollars because a popular guitar brand was mass producing poor quality acoustic guitars at an inflated ticket price. I redirected him to a more “unknown” name, but this alternate had over 30 years of the finest craftsmanship. Through the process, I showed him all of the reasons why the un-popular name was far superior to the mass produced junk he was about to purchase. Test the guitar for quality by making sure it has good craftsmanship and that they use good quality tonewoords (instead of cheap laminates or composite materials). Good tonewoods include, sitka spruce, englemann Spruce and Cedar for the top of the guitar. The sides and back should be made from non-laminated mahogany or rosewood in the best guitars, and perhaps maple, sapele, and koa woods for perhaps different sounding guitars or more exotic guitars.

2: Look for quality craftsmanship: One can easily preview a guitar and know whether it has been crafted by a skilled craftsman, or whether it has been slapped together in a mass production plant. Look over the seams of the guitar. Acoustic guitars are held together mostly with glued bonds. Seems that look stressed or split or uneven is a sure sign of lower quality craftsmanship. Look at the finish of the guitar and feel the weight of it. A guitar should feel fairly light to fairly solid, without feeling flimsy. Holding a guitar that is light and flimsy, vs. a guitar that is light an quality is easy to feel. If a guitar feels too light or delicate, it probably is not well crafted or crafted out of inferior supplies. Additionally, pay close attention to the bindings around the edges and the quality of the dots in the fretboard. Take in every detail and soon you will be able to spot better craftsmanship.

3: Choose based on the sound you want: The most standard acoustic guitar size and model is the Dreadnought, first established by Martin guitars in 1916, and then later made into one of their standard model sizes in 1930, the Dreadnought has become the standard body size of most mid range guitars. The dreadnought gives a full balanced projected sound. When purchasing a guitar, consider the sound projection based on size as well as tonewoods. Guitars typically have different names for models based on their brand, but here is a general guideline to start.

Sound based on size:

Travel Size and Mini guitars are great for kids and for traveling. They have more projection in the mid and high ranges, and have the least projection (volume) of all model sizes.

Classical guitars are a bit larger: they tend to be made with cedar tops and produce a warmer sound. They also come with nylon strings usually and are made for classical finger-picking styles.

Concert and Grand Concert: These guitars are a little larger than classical models and are steel stringed guitars. The Grand is larger than the Concert, and both are smaller than the Dreadnought.

Auditorium Guitars: These acoustic guitars are larger than Grand Concerts, but are thinner and project more in the mid to high ranges.

Dreadnought: this is the most popular modern guitar style and is what one usually pictures when thinking of an acoustic guitar. Their projection is well balanced and projects typically more bass than the previous models.

Jumbo: the jumbo is a very large acoustic guitar and can really put out some sound, usually heavy in the bottom end of the frequency spectrum being dominant.

Sound based on tonewood and finish:

Tonewoods vary a lot more than they used to, but there are several popular woods used giving different qualities.

The top soundboard: For the soundboard or top of the guitar, Sitka Spruce is the most common and high quality material being light and strong. It has the best projection of tops or soundboards balanced in all frequencies. Cedar tops produce a more mellow, lush sound. Mahogany is lesser used and projects in the mid range but can be more punchy of a sound, cutting through in the mid range.

(end of part 1- continued on part 2)

This guide, “how to buy an acoustic guitar” was written by Aaron Schulman of, a 25 year music veteran and 20 year guitar player, teacher and critic. For more honest acoustic guitar reviews, visit his site.


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