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How to buy an acoustic guitar – part 2:

In part 1 of “how to buy an acoustic guitar", we shared how to prepare yourself for your next guitar purchase by understanding and doing research in 3 areas: Brand names vs. Price, Recognizing Craftsmanship, and Finding the right size. In this continued article, we will focus on making the most educated guitar purchase by learning about tone woods, machinery, and how to overlook small, less-important details. Be sure to do your homework to protect your investment. Not all guitars in the same price range are of the same quality. Whether searching for the best professional guitar or the best beginner acoustic guitar, this guide will prove very helpful.

The back and sides: The back and sides can be more susceptible to a wider variety of woods because they need to be strong and light, but the right grain pattern of the Sitka is not as necessary as it is on the soundboard for reasons of strength to resist the incredible string tension.

As for the back and sides of the guitar, Rosewood is perhaps the most balanced, producing strong sound in the bass, mid and high ranges. There are many species of rosewood used for guitars.

Mahogany projects in the mid to high ranges, and is often used for bluegrass guitar players who like the mid range to punch out a bit from the rest of the instruments. There are a few species of Mahogany used for guitar, each having subtle differences in tonal quality.

Maple can be used for the back and sides, and has a tendency to project less than the previous 2 woods, with a balance leaning toward the higher frequencies for projection.

Koa wood is an exotic wood used for Hawaiian guitars giving a rich, “mellow” sound evident in the slide style playing in Hawaiian songs.

Sapele wood is a tropical African wood similar to Mahogany and gives a bright, clear sound.

Sound based on finish. There are 3 typical finished with the polymer or lacquer used to protect a guitar wood. Glossy, Satin and Flat. There are also grades in between, but these are the most typical.

Glossy or High Gloss finish: This finish gives the guitar a clear, bright, crisp sound with the most projection. If you want your sound to stand out more, choose high gloss.

Satin finish: This finish makes the guitar a little more mellow and takes the “edge” off the higher end of the EQ spectrum. It will blend in a bit better than the Glossy finish will.

Flat finish: This finish is most “natural” and does not appear to have a finish at all. If you would like the warmest and most mellow tone, choose a flat finished guitar. Most guitars are not finished flat, and usually are for particular professionals seeking a guitar for specific performance or recording purposes. Flat finished guitars can be disappointing for people wanting more projection from their acoustic guitar.

4: Good machinery: Overall, make sure the tuning keys, or machine heads in the headstock of the guitar are quality. Usually, they are nickel plated or chromed, but can be tested for looseness or poor quality simply by moving them a bit while the strings are in full tension. If the machine heads are not solid quality, the guitar will not stay in tune very well and can be quite frustrating. Additionally, don't buy an acoustic-electric guitar just because it has a good pickup. Pickups can be installed by qualified technicians and the trained ear will notice differences in different pickups. It is best, perhaps, to finding the best quality acoustic guitar for your money, and then researching different traits of pickups for later installation.

5: Don't worry about the strings and the little things: Strings are easily replaceable. Strings should be the last think you worry about when purchasing an acoustic guitar, but when purchasing new, your guitar should come with bright new strings. More importantly, the gauge of the strings should be taken into consideration first. Though there are many metal and alloy materials used for strings, it becomes more of a personal preference when the guitar player becomes more advanced and can discern the subtleties. Sometimes, when a guitar comes to you brand new, the action might be too low or high (strings are too far from the fretboard or too close). This can usually be adjusted by a professional for a small charge at a guitar shop. If the strings are buzzing a lot, or it seems difficult to play chords because the action is too high, take it to your dealer and find out if he can adjust it for you. Also, if the guitar seems to be of solid quality and materials, and you notice a little blemish, don't worry. Perhaps you could bring it to the attention of the salesman and he can offer another model of give a small discount for a cosmetic blemish.

6: Read a lot of reviews: If you are narrowing your search down to a particular model, make sure you research multiple sites and resources to get the best picture of the overall consumer satisfaction. When looking for a beginner acoustic guitar, be sure to read reviews from those who are more advanced. Many beginners will review a guitar before they become more trained and more discerning of the subtleties between guitar qualities.

Overall, if you do your homework, and understand how a quality guitar is made, and what to look for, you can move forward with confidence in your investment. In all, be sure not to purchase in haste. There are plenty of guitars out there, and waiting 1 additional day to be sure might be wise.

Aaron Schulman had played, performed and instructed on guitar since 1990 and has much experience in understanding how quality guitars are made from over 3 years of solid research and reviewing. To learn more about how to buy an acoustic guitar, visit for more detailed, in-depth reviews.


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