What shape guitar is best for me?
Personal preference and comfort are two crucial factors that make trying before you buy essential. But the characteristics related to certain acoustic shapes do make them better for some players than others.
A dreadnought is a good all-rounder; it’s the classic acoustic shape that’s suitable for flat-picking or strumming. Ditto the grand auditorium, with its wider lower body bout – a Martin signature model of this shape was famously used on Eric Clapton’s Unplugged performance and many other brands’ examples sport a cutaway.
The bigger-bodied super jumbo is better for strummers who want a big, booming rhythm sound, whereas the smaller-bodied parlour shape has been favoured by traditional blues and folk players who want midrange punch for fingerpicking styles.
Is it worth paying the extra for a guitar with a solid back and sides?
Usually, but it doesn’t cost a lot extra. Guitars with solid backs and sides take some time to mature but often end up having a warmer, more resonant sound than the laminated variety.
One of the greatest things about an acoustic guitar that you bond with as a player is that it could become a friend for life – whether as a songwriting tool, essential studio muse or just an accessible strummer for the living room. And the more inspiring it sounds for you, the better.
The advances in manufacturing in countries such as China mean solid-construction acoustics are nowhere near as expensive as they used to be.
With unplugged acoustic tone, we’re talking about the way that the air is being pushed around and the vibrations that movement creates. You want your guitar to enable rather than stifle the vibrations, and solid-wood back and sides are going to help push the sound out the soundhole.
Different tonewoods have different characteristics, too. Rosewood tends to be warmer sounding for back and sides with more tonal colour in the lower mids. Trebles also tend to have more presence compared to the main solid alternative, mahogany.
But mahogany has its own attractions. The best mahogany guitars have strong trebles with an almost chimey string separation when combined with a spruce top. With fewer midrange overtones, notes sound more direct than with rosewood.
There are other options available, including sapele – an African wood that’s similar to mahogany – and koa, which sits somewhere between the warmth of rosewood and the bright, punchy attack of maple.