Get ready to strum and sing along because we’re about to dive into the wonderful world of acoustic guitars! These beauties are some of the most beloved instruments on the planet, thanks to their unique sound that’s been used in everything from rock and country to classical and flamenco music. Whether you’re a seasoned musician or just starting out, there’s an acoustic guitar out there for you. So, let’s grab our picks, tune up our strings, and explore the many different types of acoustic guitars available on the market today!
The cream of the crop for acoustic guitars
A dreadnought guitar is one of the most popular types of acoustic guitar. Dreadnoughts were first introduced by the Martin Guitar Company in the 1930s. The guitar was named the “dreadnought” after the HMS Dreadnought battleship. It’s known for its large body and loud, powerful sound, which makes it a favorite among musicians who play country, bluegrass, and folk music.
The dreadnought acoustic guitar has a square shape with a flat top and back, and its design gives the instrument a full-bodied deep tone with lots of mid-range and bass frequencies. The sheer size of dreadnought acoustic guitars makes them loud enough to use for live gigs and recording. These guitars have large bodies (which is the main part of an acoustic guitar) and are very loud, with a balanced sound.
Some notable musicians who have played dreadnought guitars include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Neil Young, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
Key features of dreadnoughts guitars
- Large body: Dreadnought guitars have a large, boxy shape that is wider and deeper than many other types of acoustic guitars.
- Flat top and back: The top and back of a dreadnought guitar are flat, giving it a bright and crisp sound.
- Square shoulders: The shoulders of a dreadnought guitar are squared off, increasing the body’s size and enhancing the sound.
- Steel strings: Dreadnought guitars are almost always strung with steel strings, which gives them a bright, crisp sound that is well-suited to playing country, bluegrass, and folk music.
Jazz guitarist design
An archtop guitar has an arched top and back and looks very different from a dreadnought. Most archtop guitars also have f-holes instead of a sound hole and are commonly acoustic-electric guitars.
Archtop guitars were first popularized in the 1920s and 1930s by jazz musicians who wanted a guitar that could produce a louder sound than the acoustic guitars of the time. The archtop guitar’s unique design makes it sound louder due to the higher string tension.
Archtop guitars have a warm, mellow tone with less sustain and sound more focused and defined than other types of steel string acoustic guitars. This can make them sound louder in a band or ensemble setting where they need to cut through other instruments.
The archtop is designed to improve vibration and resonance in the instrument. These guitars are punchy and perfect for playing complex solos and chords. Many archtop guitars also come with a cutaway on the body, giving you access to notes beyond the 12th fret easily.
Some notable musicians who have played archtop guitars include jazz legends like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Pass, as well as blues and rock artists such as B.B. King and Chuck Berry.
Key features of an archtop guitar
- Arched top and back: The top and back of an archtop guitar are arched to boost the guitar’s vibration.
- F-holes: Archtop guitars have f-shaped holes on either side of the top, which helps project sound further.
- Floating bridge: Unlike other types of acoustic guitars, archtops often have a floating bridge, which is not fully attached to the body of the guitar. This allows for more flexibility when adjusting the intonation and action of the strings.
- Flat fretboard: The fretboard of an archtop guitar is usually flat, which allows for greater accuracy when playing complex chords and solos.
A versatile all-arounder
The grand auditorium acoustic guitar is a versatile instrument that can be used for a wide range of musical genres. It has a body shape similar to the dreadnought but with a thinner waist (narrow part of the guitar’s body located between the upper and lower bouts) and a slightly smaller body size.
The smaller size of the grand auditorium guitar makes it easier and more comfortable to play. The grand auditorium was first introduced in 1994 by Taylor Guitars. These guitars are better for fingerstyle picking and lighter mellow songs, while dreadnoughts are best for strumming with a guitar pick. That said, grand auditorium guitars are still perfectly suited for strumming.
The grand auditorium acoustic guitar has a balanced sound that’s clear and articulate, with a strong midrange and crisp high-end.
Some notable musicians who have played grand auditorium guitars include Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, and John Mayer.
Key features of a grand auditorium guitar
- Medium-size body: Grand auditorium guitars have a body shape similar to the dreadnought but with a more pronounced waist and a slightly smaller body size.
- Curved waist: The waist of a grand auditorium guitar is curved, making it more comfortable for some players to hold and play.
- Balanced sound: Grand auditorium guitars have a balanced sound with a strong midrange and crisp high-end.
- Versatile: The grand auditorium is a versatile guitar that can be used for a wide range of musical genres.
Steel string fingerstyle guitar
Grand concert guitars are another popular type of acoustic guitar, with a similar body shape to grand auditoriums but smaller and thinner. Grand concert guitars were first introduced in 1877 and have since become a popular choice among fingerstyle players. These guitars are not very loud, so they are not popular for large live shows.
The guitar was modeled after the classical guitar and was the smallest type of acoustic guitar at the time.
Compared to a grand auditorium guitar, the grand concert guitar has a smaller body size and a narrower waist. This makes it more comfortable to play for extended periods and easier to handle while still delivering a balanced, full-bodied sound. The grand concert guitar’s smaller size makes it an excellent choice for practicing and playing in smaller performance spaces.
The grand concert guitar produces a warm, balanced sound with clear treble and a strong midrange. The tone is less boomy and bassy than a dreadnought so if you are looking for a big sound, this may not be your best option. However, many singer-songwriters and folk guitarists use the grand concert as their preferred acoustic guitar.
Some notable musicians who have played grand concert guitars include Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and Taylor Swift.
Key features of a grand concert guitar
- Smaller body size: Grand concert guitars have a smaller and thinner body size than dreadnoughts and grand auditoriums, making them more comfortable to play for extended periods.
- Narrow waist: The grand concert guitar has a narrow waist, making it easier to handle and play while still delivering a full-bodied sound.
- Warm, balanced tone: The grand concert guitar produces a warm, balanced sound with clear treble and a strong midrange.
Big body, big sound
Jumbo acoustic guitars have the largest body size of any acoustic guitar. Compared to dreadnoughts, they have a much larger overall size but a thinner waist. These guitars are VERY loud but have a smaller dynamic range than other acoustic guitars. They also have a lack of mid-range frequencies, with more emphasis on the high and low end.
The biggest complaint most guitarists have with jumbo guitars is how uncomfortable they are to play. Their large size makes them difficult to play comfortably, and it may be awkward to play complex lead guitar parts on them. This is why most guitarists who use jumbo acoustic guitars only strum simple and easy chords. Jumbo guitars are versatile instruments that are commonly used for blues, rock, country, and other genres.
Jumbo guitars were first invented by Gibson in the 1930s as there was a demand for louder acoustic guitars at the time.
Some of the most famous guitarists to play jumbo acoustic guitars are Elvis Presley, Neil Gallagher, and Bob Dylan.
Key features of jumbo guitars
- Large body: Jumbo guitars have a larger body than most other types of acoustic guitars, with a deep soundbox and a larger upper bout.
- Round shape: Jumbo guitars have a rounder hourglass body shape. This curvy shape and their large size are the main differences between jumbo guitars and dreadnoughts.
- Deep tone: Jumbo guitars have a deep, rich tone that’s well-suited to playing blues, country, and other genres that require a lot of bass frequencies.
- High volume: Because of their large size, jumbo guitars are capable of producing a lot of volume, making them ideal for live performances.
Unique sound, portable guitar
The parlor guitar is a smaller acoustic guitar dating back to the 19th century. As the name suggests, parlor guitars were commonly used in intimate live settings such as bars, homes, or parlors. The bodies of these guitars have thin shoulders and a defined, curvy waist.
The parlor guitar is known for its unique sound, portability, and comfortable playability. Parlor guitars are popular among fingerstyle players, blues musicians, and singer-songwriters. What’s interesting about parlor guitars is how surprisingly loud they are. Despite being the smallest standard size of acoustic guitar, they are quite loud and can hold up in live settings.
The neck is usually slimmer and more rounded, making it easier to hold and play. Due to their smaller size, parlor guitars produce a unique sound with a rich mid-range heavy tone suitable for many different styles. The sound is also very defined, making it an excellent choice for recording and small performances.
Parlor guitars were widely popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but their popularity declined with the introduction of larger guitars like dreadnoughts and jumbos. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in parlor guitars, with many guitarists appreciating their unique sound and playability.
Some famous musicians who have used parlor guitars include Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, and Hank Williams.
Key features of parlor guitars
- Smaller size: Parlor guitars have a smaller body size, making them easy to handle and play for extended periods.
- Unique sound: Due to their smaller size, parlor guitars produce a unique sound with a warm, rich tone well-suited for many different playing styles.
- Comfortable playability: The neck of a parlor guitar is usually slimmer and more rounded, making it easier to hold and play fast, complex riffs.
- Portability: Parlor guitars are more portable than larger guitars, so they are a great choice for traveling musicians or those who need to move their instruments frequently.
- Excellent dynamics: Parlor guitars are by no means the loudest type of acoustic guitar, but they have an excellent dynamic range, meaning there is a lot of room between their loudest and quietest points.
Traditional nylon string guitar
Classical guitars have a very different construction and sound than most other acoustic guitars. This is the oldest form of the modern guitar, dating back to the 18th century. Classical guitars typically have a wider neck and more space between each string, which makes them easier to play complex chords and fingerstyle patterns. They also have nylon strings, which are softer on the fingers compared to steel strings used on acoustic guitars. They cannot be strung with steel strings because classical guitars do not have a truss rod, so the tension would break the neck of the guitar.
In terms of sound, classical guitars have a warm, mellow tone that’s perfect for playing classical and flamenco music. They produce a soft and warm sound compared to steel-string acoustic guitars, which have a brighter, more vibrant tone.
While traditionally used in only classical guitar music, many modern guitar players have also opted to use nylon string guitars due to their warm tone and unique sound characteristics.
Some of the most famous guitarists to use classical guitars are John Williams, Andres Segovia, and Jose Feliciano.
Key features of classical guitars
- Nylon strings: Classical guitars are strung with nylon strings, producing a mellow and warm sound.
- Wide fingerboard: The fingerboard of a classical guitar is wider than that of a steel-string acoustic guitar, providing more space between the strings and making it easier to play fingerstyle.
- Fan bracing: The internal bracing of a classical guitar typically features fan bracing, which allows for greater resonance and a fuller sound.
- Flat fretboard: The fretboard of a classical guitar is typically flat, which is perfect for the accurate and precise playing style needed for classical pieces.
Spanish-style nylon string guitar
Flamenco guitars are very similar to classical guitars, but they do have a few differences that make them stand out. Flamenco is a Spanish style of dance music that is at least 6 centuries old. It is thought to have originally been brought to Spain by the Iberian Romani, but it evolved with a traditional Spanish flair over time. Flamenco music almost always is accompanied by dancing and is a lively, energetic style of music.
Flamenco guitars are designed specifically for Flamenco music, which involves extremely fast playing and percussive elements. They are usually smaller and thinner than classical guitars and made with spruce wood which has a brighter punchier sound. Flamenco guitars also have a thinner top than classical guitars allowing it to have a drum-like effect when tapped. Another major difference is the action. Flamenco players prefer lower action because it is much easier to play fast licks.
Flamenco guitar strings and classical guitar strings are identical; they both use nylon strings.
Key features of flamenco guitars
- Nylon strings: Flamenco guitars also use nylon which have a softer, warmer tone than steel strings.
- Small body: Flamenco guitars have a smaller and thinner body than standard classical guitars which gives them a punchier and bright sound.
- Thin top: Flamenco guitars have a thin top with less bracing allowing for a drum-like percussive sound.
- Low action: Flamenco guitarists play very fast riffs and licks often moving up and down the neck, so having low action is common as it makes it easier to play quickly.
For guitarists on the move
For those always on the go, a full-size acoustic guitar can be too bulky and inconvenient to carry around. Full-sized guitars can also rarely be carried on to an airplane.
This is where travel guitars come in. These are essentially miniaturized versions of all the guitars listed above. They come in all shapes and sizes, from mini dreadnoughts to small classical guitars. Often confused for parlor guitars, travel guitars are just smaller versions of standard acoustic guitars that are easier to carry around.
While they are often quieter than their full-sized counterparts, travel guitars don’t generally compromise on sound quality. They have a full-bodied tone and are manufactured to be as loud as possible, despite their size.
One advantage of travel guitars is that they are more affordable than full-size guitars. They are also ideal for beginners who want to learn how to play guitar without investing in a full-size guitar. They are also great for experienced players who want to practice on the go or bring their guitar on planes or extended trips.
Some notable musicians who have played travel guitars include Ed Sheeran, who is known for using a small-bodied Martin guitar, and Jack Johnson, who often plays a mini dreadnought.
Key features of travel-size guitars
- Small body size: Travel guitars have a smaller body size than full-size guitars, making them more portable and easier to carry around.
- Affordable: Travel guitars are more affordable than full-size guitars, making them a great option for beginners.
- Mini versions of other guitars: Travel guitars mimic the style of full-sized guitars and are essentially mini versions of dreadnoughts, classical guitars, auditoriums, etc.
What about electric acoustic guitars?
Electric acoustic guitars are similar to normal acoustic guitars, but they have pickups and electronic components that allow them to be amplified.
Electric acoustic guitars are popular for live performances because they offer the versatility of both an acoustic and an electric guitar. They can be played acoustically, without amplification, or plugged into an amp or PA system for a louder, more electric sound. This makes them an excellent choice for musicians who want the sound of an acoustic guitar with the option to amplify their performance when needed.
How to know which acoustic guitar is right for you?
Choosing the right type of acoustic guitar can be a daunting task, especially for beginners. While all the acoustic guitars in the shop may look similar, they each have their pros and cons for individual guitarists. However, there are a few key factors to consider when making your decision, namely, music style and experience level.
Your music style will play a significant role in determining the type of acoustic guitar that is right for you. For example, if you plan to play rock or country music, a dreadnought or jumbo guitar may be the best fit for you due to its strong bass response and projection.
On the other hand, if you prefer fingerstyle playing, a smaller-bodied guitar, such as a parlor or concert guitar, will be a better option due to the more delicate sound and responsiveness of these guitars.
For beginners, starting with a guitar that is comfortable to play and easy to handle is best. A smaller guitar with a narrow neck and low action can make it easier to fret chords and notes. In this case, a nylon string or classical guitar may be a good option. However, if you are looking for a more versatile option, a small travel steel-string acoustic guitar may be a better choice.
Read my article on the best type of guitar for beginners for more on this topic.
Finding your perfect match in the world of acoustic guitars is like going on a musical blind date. You need to understand the unique features and sounds of each type to find the guitar that suits your playing style and musical genre.
But fear not! Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently find a lifelong guitar soulmate that suits your style and preferences.
Ready to buy your first acoustic guitar? Check out my best beginner acoustic guitar guide.