Picking the Right Guitar
You’ve probably heard the riddle: How many guitars does a guitar player need? The answer: “Just one more.”
Of course, it’s true; no matter how many guitars you have, there’s always another sweet one out there calling your name. But until you have enough money to buy them all, guitar buying usually calls for making a few decisions. And that can be even harder with your first guitar or if you’re not sure what to look for. We can help.
First, Consider Your Budget
Typically with guitars, you get what you pay for: Higher-priced instruments are usually made from solid (rather than laminated) woods, offer more decorative features, have nicer finishes and can be easier to play. Many of these are pro-grade, stage/studio ready, with pickups and tough, hard-shell cases. They tend to hold their value and even appreciate as they age, as their tone “opens up” and sweetens.
Fortunately, the quality of many less-expensive guitars has taken a huge jump up, and you can expect to find very attractive, very playable—and in many cases, solid-wood—guitars for just a few hundred dollars. Advances in design, wood selection, construction and quality control have translated into first-class instruments from Asia and the Pacific Rim that we wouldn’t hesitate to play or recommend.
We often point out that in Nashville, these inexpensive guitars aren’t just for beginners. They’re often favored by studio pros looking for a variety of sounds, different styles and sizes, and guitars to keep in high-string or alternate tunings—but without breaking the bank.
Yes, Size Does Matter
Usually, bigger guitars deliver a bigger sound. We stress “usually,” because every guitar is unique and exceptions often occur. But as a rule, a guitar’s size and shape indicate its tonal direction. Here’s what you can generally expect:
- Jumbo-sized guitars typically offer a lot of low end and percussive highs. Mids tend to be less pronounced. It’s a muscular, driving sound, excellent for rhythm.
- Dreadnought guitars are more balanced, with ample lows, mids and highs. Great all-purpose guitars, dreadnoughts are favored by bluegrass players and singers because they’re big and full-sounding, and can project during solos.
- Orchestra Models (OM) are a bit more refined—less booming—but most still have plenty of bass to balance out their singing mids and highs. Narrower (front to back) than Jumbos and Dreadnoughts, OMs can be easier to handle. They also amplify well, since less bottom end usually means less feedback. OM necks are often a bit wider, making them excellent for either finger-style or strumming.
- Parlor guitars are smaller and have a more delicate voice. Their intimate size and sound make them a delight to play finger-style (the perfect “couch guitar”). But parlors’ focused tone also helps them cut through a mix and offer a nice sonic contrast to beefier guitar sounds. They also work great as high-string guitars.
Other factors will influence a guitar’s sound, especially the choice of woods used for the top, sides and back. Plus, there are nylon-string guitars; 12-string guitars; smaller travel guitars; even guitars made from graphite-based composites. But again, every guitar is unique and they often defy their size, style and wood.
The bottom line is finding a guitar you’ll play and love. If it feels good in your hands, sounds good to your ears and falls in your budget, that’s the right guitar. Plus, if you’re like most guitar players, in a few years you’ll be saying, “Just one more …”
Our acoustic guitar manager, Scott FM, can answer any questions and help you find your perfect guitar.