Buying Guide: Tips on How to Pick the Perfect Acoustic Guitar

The following is a buying guide to help you pick the best

1. Know the purpose of purchase :

Ok, this may sound condescending but for real, know your purpose. Are you purchasing a guitar,

  • To start learning your basic guitar lessons and for practicing with it (Novice and a beginner)
  • Perform with it in the concerts (Rookie)? or
  • Just wanting to replace an old guitar with the new ones?  (Expert)

To start practicing as a beginner, a basic Acoustic guitar will be the best choice. For perform in the concerts full bundle acoustic guitars or electric guitars will be perfect as they have an option to connect amplifiers. For experts, well, you know what you want better. A pro quality level guitar.

2. Set your budget:

If you are beginner, you don’t need a guitar which is costing more than 10,000/- Something that fulfils your basic needs and need not have extraordinary features. On the other hand, if you are trying to having a better experience than you have with your present guitar, then you should be considering to spend some more. For example additional accessories for your upgraded guitar may include:

  • Strings that should be suitable for your playability. For acoustic guitars the best strings suggested are Martin SP Lifespan, Elixir Nanoweb HD Light

3. Get familiar with all the parts included  in your guitar:

If you are a beginner who is serious on learning how to play guitar, have a basic idea on the parts of a guitar. Things such as the material, fret board, fingerboard should are important focus points before picking a guitar.          

a) Head:

This is the top section of the guitar which is also known as the “peghead”. This is where we usually adjust the tune and other settings. You will find guitars with straight head and pegheads (which are slightly placed at an angle). There is absolutely no change in the sound quality produced by both of them. It is just the preference of each manufacturer.

  • Warning: Handle with care especially when you are travelling, see to it that you want hit the head part to any hard substance.

b) Tuning keys:

These are the cylindrical structures to which the strings are rounded. These are for tuning in the guitar and to set up the desired. With these tuning pegs you can tighten and loosen the strings by slightly turning the cylindrical knob till the desired tune is obtained perfect.

Some guitarists also use “locked tuners” which allows them to lock it at a point by turning the string around them only once. But this is for the pro and expert level guitarists. If you are a novice, choose something regular and with no lockers

c) Nut:

This is found at the top of the fretboard on the guitar which forms one of the anchor point producing sound. Nuts are generally made from materials like ebony, plastic, brass, ivory etc. Each material makes a difference when it comes to the matter of durability. There are also variations in nuts. Like:

  • The locking nut: This is used with vibrato systems. We will see more about vibrato systems in the hardware section of the guitar.
  • The rolling nut: These will allow the strings to roll all over the nut which makes the tune to stay in without going out of place.

d) Neck:

The neck section of the guitar contains frets, fret board, truss rod ( optional in some guitars) and the head section. Neck of a guitar has different shapes and types of constructions. Today most used neck shape is “c”. The other neck shapes include “soft v”, “hard v” , “U shape”. The choice of neck depends on the comfort level while holding it. Overall, it should be strong enough to hold the strings at place.

The type of wood used in the making of neck includes Mahogany, Ash, Maple, Spruce etc. We shall discuss more on the difference each material makes in the manufacturing of guitars in the “materials” section.

There are again different methods of attaching the neck section to the body of the guitar. In acoustic guitars they generally use the dovetail joint where they just join parts (neck to the body).

e) Fret:

Fret is the metal strip that is placed in the fingerboard. They define the correct placing of notes. The number of frets will vary in each guitar. For some it is 18, or 22 or 24. The difference is more number of frets will make it easy to reach higher notes.

Frets are again classified into two types. One is the scalloped frets which allow fingering in a more precise way and the other is the fat frets which makes bending easier.

The scale length is an important factor here.  Longer scale length is suitable to offer best low end whereas shorter scale length is easier to play.

As an amateur you can ignore the number of frets included in guitar and go for a basic of 18 fret board.

Note: To avoid fret buzz see to it that the frets are properly placed. Also the steel strings used may lead to the fret wear out with time, as the strings develop grooves into them. But there is nothing to worry as they can be replaced by the guitar technicians very easily.

f) Fingerboard:

Finger board or the fretboard is the front part of the neck on which the strings are placed. Top materials used in the manufacture of fret board are ebony, rosewood, maple etc.

g) Position markers:

These are typically the white dots which you find on the fretboard of the guitar used to denote the significance of intervals.

h) Sound hole/ Audio Hole (found in acoustic guitars):

In the front section of the acoustic guitar you will find an opening which opens to the resonating chamber. These are again made in different shapes in different guitars. The shapes are round, F, C and D. They are provided to produce the sound in a more clear way.

i) Body of the guitar:

They are simply classified into the Solid, hollow and semi-hollow body guitars. Solid body is usually found in electric guitars which are used to produce popular music genre like rock, jazz, pop etc. The wood materials used in making this are spruced wood, mahogany, rosewood etc.

Hollow body is usually found in acoustic guitars which are again made from the materials as used in electric guitars. These generally produce a very bright resonating tone. On the other hand semi-hollow bodies are known to produce more resonating sound than the solid body. These are also used in musical genres such as jazz.

Coming to the shape of the guitars, the most popular shape is the dreadnought acoustic guitar. The other shapes include classical guitars, travel guitars, jumbo etc

j) Pick guard:

Well, these are designed on the body of the guitar in such a way that it should be matching the color of the headstock. The manufacturing of these include various materials like plastic, glass etc. The types of pick guards are different in acoustic and electric guitars. In acoustic guitars the pick guards are made of thin plastic material unlike electric guitars on which these cover the major part of the body.

k) Pick ups:

In acoustic guitars we find the single coil pick guards which produce a very bright sound quality. The other type of pickguards is the humbucker. As in the name, this reduces the noise in the backgrounds and eliminates the hum producing more clarity in the sound. For a beginner, a single coil pickup is sufficient.

l) Saddle (found on acoustic guitars):

The main functionality of saddle is to adjust the action i.e lowering or increasing the distance between the fretboard and strings. There are again different types of saddles available.

  • Drop-in saddles: These are not glued and are easily removable when the strings are not in use.
  • Long Saddles: These are actually placed on the body with a glue to ensure that it doesn’t move.
  • Compensated saddles: These saddles generally can be moved to adjust the string length.

What are the different wood materials used to make the body of the guitar?

Generally, guitars(both electric AND acoustic) are made out of the 5 types of wood. Let us discuss each of the type in brief.

1. Maple:

This wood is used mostly in the acoustic guitars because of its bright and decent tonal quality. Mapple is generally more durable in nature as it is tough which will naturally amplify the tone of music from the guitar.

2. Mahogany:

This is specially known to produce a very fat and high resonating sound. The dreadnought guitars are popularly manufactured by this wood.

3. Spruce wood:

This is a very hard and tough wood used in making of guitar tops (in both electric and acoustic). This is suitable to play all kinds of tones. You can even strum heavily with this material as this is the toughest and quality wood of all times.

4. Basswood:

This is usually used in the manufacture of cheap guitars as it is not heavy and so can be easily handled. You can mostly find them in the solid electric acoustic guitars. The sound quality of these guitars is low when compared to the guitars made from other woods.

5. Ash wood:

Popular guitars companies like Fender use this wood in manufacturing the guitar parts. This wood is a bit soft when compared to the other woods and is known to produce a warm tone.

Frequently asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is best guitar and guitar type for beginners?

For beginners, it is suggested that they try and learn to play a basic acoustic guitar first. For quality, go for the Yamaha F310 and if you are on a shoestring budget, go for the Kadence Frontier Series

2. What are the 3 types of guitars?

The three basic types of guitars are acoustic, classic (nylon stringed) and electric guitar. Depending on your professionality, experience preference and usage, you can pick among either of the 3.

3. Is Bass easier to play than an acoustic guitar?

No. There is a common misconception that the bass guitar is more easier to play than acoustic due to the low strings in it, you have to understand that playing a bass guitar is a totally different ball game than a normal guitar.

4. What kind of wood is the best for an acoustic guitar?

Mahogany. While tonewood and rosewood are the most commonly used, for a greater strum and sound quality, always prefer Mahogany guitar.

5. Is it easier to play guitar or ukulele?

To be honest, a ukulele is more easier to learn and play than a guitar as its learning curve is smooth. If you place the capo below the 5th fret, the acoustic guitar now plays like a ukulele. General suggestion, buy an acoustic guitar with a Capo and learn to play ukulele and then learn the full fledged guitar.

6. Is it bad to leave an acoustic guitar in the cold/heat?

Extreme weather and temperatures have a great impact on the guitar. Too much of heat will expand the wood and too much cold with contract the wood. Hence always store the guitar in a cold and dry area. Humidity is bad too.

7. How should I store my guitar?

Always detune your acoustic guitar when not in use. Storing the guitar in tune will result in bending of the wood and thus will affect the string tension. Thus damaging the guitar. To repair this, a certain heat treatment has to take place. But prevention is always better than cure so always store the untuned guitar in a cold and dry area.