What is an acoustic guitar? Let’s break it down, it’s a wooden box with a hole in it and some strings attached. But anyone that’s built a shoe box guitar as a child will know that it’s not that simple. So many things affect the sound of an instrument, from what it is made of, to how it has been treated. Needless to say, there is an intricate science to acoustic guitars – how they are made can make an enormous difference to the sound.
The type of wood
The body of an acoustic guitar is hollow, this is why they produce their own natural amplification. In order to be able to build the right shaped instrument, the wood structure needs to be fairly dense. You definitely wouldn’t make a guitar out of balsa wood – the sound quality would be poor, as the wood won’t transfer the sound very well. Instead Tonewoods are used – these are specific types, used to build guitars. Each different Tonewood will give a different sounds quality when the guitar is played. Maple is a popular choice and will help the treble notes ring out clearly. For the top of a guitar, mahogany is often used. This is a dense wood that resonates well and produces a punchy tone. Sitka and red spruce are most used for good-quality acoustic guitars. The wood is lightweight, and known for creating a very clear tone when played.
The type of strings
The strings on an acoustic guitar make a difference not only to the sound, but also to how the guitar feels to play. Strings come in different gauge ranges, this is the measurement of the diameter of the string. If you have strings that are a lighter gauge, generally the guitar will be easier to play. The offset is that you will be more likely to break your strings on a regular basis when tuning. Heavier strings won’t be quite a flexible, but produce a fuller tone when playing. We then come to the material that the strings are made of. Silk and steel are lightweight and produce a mellow sound. They are often used on vintage guitars. Bronze strings have a bright and clear tone, but because they oxidize, they need changing regularly. Brass strings have a very metallic and tinny sound when they are played.
The age of the guitar
The age of the guitar makes a big difference to the sound – this is because wood changes as it gets older. A bad guitar isn’t going to sound any better 50 years down the line, but a good, well-made guitar will sound better. This is because the wood dries and gets lighter with age, making it more responsive. This is why vintage guitars can come with a heavy price tag.
If you are thinking of purchasing an acoustic guitar, it is worth doing a little research into the sort of sound you want it to produce. This will depend too on the type of music you want to play on your guitar. The guitar is a beautiful and creative instrument, and their is definitely a science to the sound.