Types of Acoustic Guitars and How to Choose the Best One

Last update March 25, 2019
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As much as popular music has changed over the course of the last 50 plus years, one thing has remained a constant within it. Whether it be blues, jazz, rock, R&B, or even hip-hop, the acoustic guitar has remained a heavy staple of popular music. Even many of the most popular hard rock and heavy metal bands tend to feature at least one or two tracks on their albums that rely on the acoustic, rather than the electric guitar.

With such a heavy reliance on the acoustic guitar, popular music has spurred thousands upon thousands of people to pick up this wonderful instrument and learn how to play. And why not? Acoustic guitars have many benefits to them that many other instruments don’t. They are plentiful in music stores, generally not expensive, lightweight, relatively easy to learn, aren’t loud enough to disturb your neighbors, and you don’t need lots of empty space in order to play it. There are also myriads of ways to learn how to play the acoustic guitar, with tablatures plentiful in guitar magazines and even on the Internet.

Learn More About Acoustic Guitars

Before you delve into the creatively wonderful world of acoustic guitars, though, it would be extremely helpful to know more about the types of acoustic guitars, including the different kinds of guitars and acoustic guitar sizes. Acoustic guitars can be quite unique from each other, with each model producing a different sound and even having different requirements. Of course, this isn’t very different from other musical instruments, such as keyboards, harmonicas, tambourines, or even electric guitars. Learning about the ins and outs of acoustic guitars will help you immensely in finding the right one for yourself.

Types of Acoustic Guitars

To learn more about the different acoustic guitar types, it is best to take a trip back in time to the late Middle Ages, when the predecessor of the guitar was created. The Gittern was a musical instrument that was created sometime in the Middle Ages that would eventually become the predecessor of the modern guitar. The shape and body of this instrument resembled what most people now know as a lute, with a long neck and a rounded body. It was widely used by musicians, as it was easy to both play and produce, and was highly portable. Although many guitar-like instruments existed in many cultures before the gittern, this particular instrument was more directly related to the evolution to the modern guitar.

Nowadays, modern acoustic guitar types are classified into two distinct areas: nylon/gut stringed guitars, and steel string guitars. Most older models of guitars use the former types of strings, while modern guitar types are often steel stringed instruments. Both types tend of have very distinct sounds from each other, and many guitarists usually have a preference for one or the other type.

  • Nylon/ Gut String Guitars

The earliest predecessors of the acoustic guitar used “gut strings”, a type of material that is made of fibre that comes from animal intestines, sometimes referred to as “catgut”. This fibre was relatively strong and able to endure a lot of friction and stress before breaking, and it was also extremely cheap to produce. Catgut strings were also used on almost all other types of stringed instruments of the time, and are still commonly found on certain types of classical instruments. However, many modern stringed instruments, including acoustic guitars, have since moved to using nylon strings, which are even more durable than gut strings.

During the Renaissance period in Spain, the classical gittern was replaced by another instrument called the Vihuela. Instead of the rounded body of the gittern, the Vihuela elongated the body and gave it curves in the middle, which allowed it to produce a richer and louder sound. The body of the Vihuela much more closely resembles that of the modern guitar, and even survives in use to this day as the preferred instrument for playing many classic Spanish and Portuguese musical pieces that originated in the Renaissance period.

Another type of acoustic guitar that appeared in Spain during the Renaissance period was the Baroque guitar. This simple guitar maintained many similarities with the Vihuela, but typically had a short neck more like the lute, and was a five stringed instrument. This guitar eventually replaced the lute as the most common type of string instrument found in homes, and was quite popular with people of the time.

  • Post-Renaissance Acoustic Guitars

The Romantic guitar is another guitar model that appeared much later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, and eventually replaced many of the other earlier models of acoustic guitars. This model is notable for having an exaggerated double curved design that was found on the vihuela and baroque guitars, and was one of the first types to feature a single string design, as opposed to the double string designs that were common with earlier guitar types. It was also the first to set the now modern standard of six string designs. Romantic guitars are often still produced, along with Baroque guitars, and many of the models made still use gut strings rather than nylon strings.

Finally, the most well-known of the softer nylon/gut string guitars is the Classical guitar. This model, sometimes referred to as a concert or Spanish guitar, first appeared in its current form in the 19th century, and has remained unchanged to this day. Featuring a hollow wooden body like most other acoustic guitar models, Classical guitars feature 12 frets on the neck, and are most commonly found in the standard 6 string variety, although 12 string models are fairly common as well. The standard Classical guitar still remains a favorite among many musicians, and is particularly a favorite among beginners, who have an easier time with the softer nylon strings than with steel strings.

  • Steel String Guitars

Acoustic guitars meant for use with steel strings have been a relatively modern invention, namely within the last 100 years. Steel strings tend to produce a fairly different sound than nylon or gut strings, have a higher tension, and are generally a bit louder. Steel string guitars are not as popular with beginners due to the hardness and higher tension of the strings, making them more difficult to fret, but many seasoned guitarists prefer them over their nylon-stringed cousins. These types of guitars are very similar to softer string guitars, except that the higher tension of the strings means that they are most often made of a higher durability, resulting in stronger wood and a slightly heavier weight.

Steel string guitars come in fewer varieties than nylon or gut string guitars. The standard classical steel string acoustic guitar is very similar to the Classical guitar, with the exception of it’s slightly heavier weight. The neck contains the standard 12 frets, although they tend to be slightly thicker and stronger on the steel string variety. The body is generally similar to that of the Classical guitar as well, although many modern steel string guitars sometimes have unusual shapes, sometimes mimicking those of electric guitars.

Another popular model of steel string acoustic guitars is the 12 string guitar. This type of guitar is quite similar to the standard 6 string model, except that it uses doubled strings to produce a more harmonic sound of each string set.

One other popular type of steel string acoustic guitars is the Arch-top guitar. The main difference between this and other models of acoustic guitars is that instead of a flat top of the body, the top is arched, similar to that of a violin, and it often also uses multiple smaller holes instead of the large sound hole found on most other models. Many of these models may also include an electric pickup.

Tonewood guitars are another type of steel string acoustic guitar, but differ from other types more in the case of the wood they are made of rather than from any other properties. The guitar body shape is otherwise similar to many other kinds of steel string guitars.

What Is the Best Brand of Acoustic Guitar?

There are many different brands and acoustic guitar types available in most music stores. Just a quick glance at any music store should reveal a great selection of acoustic guitars, with many different brands available. Finding a single best brand of acoustic guitar, however, is another story. Many types tend to be cheaply made, with some even being cheap knock-offs of other more renowned brands, so it always pays off to look closely at the make and model of whichever acoustic guitar you are buying, and even other aspects such as the dimensions and other features.

Here are some of the most popular brands, with many of them having been around and highly sought after for many years.

  • Ibanez

Despite the Spanish name, Ibanez is actually a Japanese company that has long been a highly regarded manufacturer of musical instruments. Ibanez guitars in particular are well known and highly preferred by many guitarists. They make both nylon and steel stringed acoustic guitars, and even semi-acoustic designs that work as both acoustic and electric.

  • Epiphone

Epiphone is also known for making good acoustic guitars, although their big standout products are actually their arch-top designs, which have been widely used by many popular musicians since the 1950s.

  • Gibson

Although Gibson is much more renowned for their electric guitars, particularly the Les Paul model, they are also known for making high quality acoustic guitars of all types. Many musicians highly prefer using a Gibson guitar, no matter which model it is.

  • Yamaha

Yamaha Corporation is a well-known company that produces a very wide range of products, including musical instruments. Yamaha acoustic guitars are often well-known for being inexpensive yet high quality designs.

  • Washburn

Washburn has held a great reputation in the guitar market for many years, as they make a wide variety of both acoustic and electric guitars. Even their low-end models are renowned for their excellent quality and attention to detail.

  • Martin

Martin is most renowned for creating the Dreadnought, a guitar with larger dimensions than most other kinds. Although many other manufacturers now make Dreadnought guitars, the Martin brand is still most widely known for this guitar body shape.

Many Brands to Choose From

These are just a few of the most well-known guitar brands available. Many other brands of high-quality designs are also available on the market, including different guitar shapes and measurements. For anyone who does not have a preference as to the brand of their guitar, the best way to find the right brand and model is to try the guitar and see for yourself if it will suit your needs.