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A lot of acoustic guitar tops seem to be made from spruce – why’s that?
Spruce is ideal for tops because it has a good mix of strength, clarity and dynamics, and it looks good. There are a few different types. Sitka spruce is the most common, found in the US and Canada.
The lighter Engelmann spruce is found in the same part of the world and is seen as an upgrade from Sitka. German spruce is often used for classical guitars and is similar to Engelmann, while Adirondack is the most expensive – it responds well to hard playing while delivering balanced dynamics.
I heard a nut and bridge saddle made from bone is best... What say you?
Bone and synthetic bone (Graph Tech’s Tusq is an example of a man-made bone-replica) are good for transferring the sound of your strings. Cheap plastics won’t contribute much at all in comparison. On the whole, synthetic bone helps the tone sound a little brighter than the warmer bone. It’s also more resilient so will need replacing less frequently.
Some acoustics have the neck joining the body at a different fret – either the 12th or the 14th. Does it matter?
Yes, it does. Most acoustics you’ll come across will be the 14-fret join variety and 12-fret acoustics tend to be smaller-bodied guitars. The difference is about more than just how far down the dusty end of the neck you want to play.
The point where the neck heel is joined to the guitar’s body differs between them, and as a result this affects how rigid the neck is as well the position of the bridge on the soundboard.
These are two factors, among all the others, that affect the tone you can from an acoustic. Which leads us to a final point we can’t stress enough: with all these variables you need to get your paws on as many acoustics as possible and get a feel for them.
Take a guitar-playing friend to the music shop with you and play the guitars together for a live appreciation of their differences. Sooner or later, you’ll find your steel-strung soulmate.