Acoustic guitars look alike, especially to amateurs and untrained guitarists; afterall they all have one thing in common: they are wooden stringed instruments and have a sound hole! Despite the fact that acoustic guitars look alike, they still have their differences in looks, functions and features. Let’s explore some of the differences in the different types of acoustic guitars that would help you differentiate one from another (these differences may or may not be so much).
This is widely the most popular type of acoustic guitar and has a very high bass frequency. You definitely cannot miss a dreadnought when you walk into a guitar shop because chances are 70% of the acoustic guitars you will see there are dreadnoughts. Some are quite affordable while some are indeed too pricey for acoustic guitars (Taylors and Martins).
Created in 1916 by Martin, the Dreadnought was named after the HMS Dreadnought in 1906 to reflect the gigantic battleships. The dreadnought has a uniquely large, rich and loud tone; it has a wide soundboard and notable “square shoulders” and a body length of about 20 inches and a lower bout width of 16 inches. Dreadnought may not be ideal for small-built players or children because of its big size, it makes it difficult for small-built people to get comfortable with.
The dreadnought is made of mahogany on the back and sides; the neck is attached to the body usually at the 14th fret. Martin Dreadnought guitars are also known as “D-size” guitars because every model has the number “D” before its numbering, e.g D-18, D-45 etc. Due to its big internal chamber, the bass frequency is prominent and toned which makes it desirable for bluegrass, rock and country musicians.
Dreadnought guitars can be used anywhere you want an audacious, powerful sound, like around a campfire or in gatherings of family and friends.
The Jumbo acoustic guitar is the largest type of acoustic guitar we have. It’s rounder and has a larger inner chamber than the Dreadnought. This guitar is loved for one major purpose – it’s enormous and vigorous sound. Musicians that perform in front of a large audience mostly use Jumbo guitars with nothing but a mic or pickup plugged in – it has a naturally, well-balanced, overwhelming sound and is perfect for hard strumming and soft picking. One set-back about this guitar is that it’s not ideal for indoor or quiet practice sessions; another set back is that if you’re a ‘travelling musician’, it can be burdensome to move the guitar about from place to place considering its size. The Jumbo guitar was originated in the late 1930s by Gibson and was formerly known as J-200.
Jumbo guitars measure up to 21 inches in body length, 121/2 inches in upper bout width and 161/2 inches in lower bout width. Since it’s bigger than the Dreadnought, it will also require huge-framed individuals to “wield” it as it would be extremely discomforting for smaller people. This guitar is popularly used by country singers who have very rich vocal tones and want to blend their vocals with an accompanying sound.
Because of its rich, loud volume, it’s a great choice for musicians who are into busking because it requires no further amplification. The Epiphone by Gibson has great quality and is an amazing choice if your budget or spending limit is low or on the average.
Auditorium guitars is another C.F Martin design which is comparable to the dreadnought; it has a thin, tight waist – an hourglass shape which makes it balance comfortably on the lap without moving around, it’s great for players who like to sit and play. It was originated around the early 1920s and is also known as ‘orchestra’ because it’s a classic.
The size of this guitar is not too big and not too small; it’s more like the middleman between a dreadnought and a parlor guitar. It has a body length of 19 inches, upper bout width of 11 inches, and lower bout width of 15 inches. The sound of the auditorium guitar is a balanced sound and a rich volume (like that of the dreadnought), it’s best for players who have lighter touch. The tighter waist makes the tone a bit different from the dreadnought, which makes it great for folk players, blues, country, and even heavier genres of music like rock. It also makes an excellent choice for beginners who want to explore different strumming patterns.
The shape of auditorium guitars are also known “O” guitars; they come in sizes ranging from “O”, “OO”, “OOO”. each size has its own volume differences and tonal prominence. Its most advisable to test each of these sizes in a guitar shop so you can determine which one best suits you.
Classical guitars are also called Spanish guitars or nylon string guitars, they are made by producers of guitars all over the world and are known for their soft nylon string tone. The classic guitar is popular for classical music, its much smaller than a dreadnought and almost the size of a parlour guitar; its full scale length is about 26 inches, upper bout width is 11 inches and lower bout width is about 14-15 inches.
Unlike the dreadnought guitar whose neck is usually attached to the body at the 14th fret, the neck of a classical guitar is attached to the body at the 12th fret. The fretboard of this guitar is flat, it’s therefore difficult to play chords because the flatness of the fretboard goes against the normal shape or curves of the human hand; it’s difficult to enjoy this guitar if you’re a player that likes to strum a lot. The fretboard is also wider than a normal acoustic, making the strings of the guitar far apart from each other. Children and players with small hands would find it difficult to cope with this guitar because of the wide fretboard.
Classical guitars produce very soft sounds and are used for styles like traditional classical guitar, Spanish and flamenco. Some notable classical guitarists are John Williams, Boss Nova, Julian Bream, Willie Nelson, Pepe Romero etc.
The parlor guitars are petite, another C.F Martin design introduced in the 19th century; they are one of the smallest guitar body sizes you’ll find around today with a body length of 19.5 inches, upper bout width of 12 inches and lower bout width of 16 inches, it is suitable for children and players with small body frames including big or normal framed individuals who just want to enjoy a vintage sound. .
It’s much easier to do plucking with a parlour guitar, the sound is light, precise and well balanced with less bass which makes it appeal more to folk, indie and blues players. It produces a more calm and quiet sound than a dreadnought; players with soft vocals like to use the parlor guitar to complement their vocals and sound more warm and relaxed with their audience. The neck of the guitar joins the body at the 12th fret.
Great guitarists that use/used the parlor guitar are Mark Orton, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift etc. Unlike jumbo or dreadnought guitars that are cumbersome, parlour guitars are easy to travel with and can be moved around easily from place to place because of their size.
Grand Auditorium Guitars
When you hear the name “Grand Auditorium”, it obviously sounds like the ‘big brother’ of the Auditorium guitar which was previously discussed, it’s similar and almost as popular in markets and guitar shops as the dreadnought. The Grand Auditorium is a Taylor design and provides one of the best tones – clear, warm, rich and well balanced with precise mid, low and treble notes. It is steel strung, has a flat top and a thinner waist than that of a dreadnought which makes it perfect to play when sitting.
It has a body scale length of 20 inches, lower bout width of 14 inches and upper bout width of 10 inches. Its suitable for finger picking style, flat picking and is best for players with a light touch. It has a low volume and does well both on stage and in the studio, but players who are used to aggressive strumming may not be too pleased with it.
As the name literally implies, travel acoustic is the perfect choice for a travelling or gigging musician. It’s easy to move about without any discomfort even though its a bit bigger than the parlor guitar. It may look small, but its not to cheap, some might even be more pricey than regular acoustic guitars.
The travel acoustic guitar has a rather quiet sound and is suitable for performing in front of small audiences just like parlor guitars, the sound will be ‘swallowed up’ if used in performing in front of large crowds.; it’s made of laminated wood which is light and helps to resist humidity.
It takes time to learn about acoustic guitars because they are numerous and have various specifications, before you buy one, take your time to learn about them and make the right choice.
Do you know any other type of acoustic guitars not mentioned here? Feel free to share in the comment section!