#1 Shapes and Sizes: Perhaps you have wondered why there are different shapes and sizes of acoustic guitars. Of course some are simply made small for kids and come in the following sizes, ½ / ¾ / 7/8 while some are sized for the purpose like Parlor, grand Auditorium or Dreadnought etc..
The body size will greatly affect the sound, the smaller the body the brighter the tone. Finger style players typically like smaller body guitars for their clarity of tone while players that strum tend to gravitate to larger guitars such as Dreadnought or Jumbos due to the greater bass response, fuller sound and more volume. Guitars with cutaways make access to the higher register of notes easier. Some have built in pickups, some don’t. There are of course differences in scale length, string tension and other defining factors. However, the novice only need know that they are all tuned and played the same way. Therefore as a first guitar, your choice should come down to what is comfortable for you to play, what sounds good to your ear and what you can afford.
#2 Materials: Guitars come in a wide variety of materials including composites (plastic). Most however are made of wood and are offered in the three following formats:
• All laminate meaning that the wood is manufactured rather than milled, and is made by applying thin layers of wood veneer held together with glue. This guitar will be the less expensive of the three but does come with some advantages. One advantage of course is price and the 2nd is durability. Laminated wood is less prone to cracking and warping that can come with solid woods. It will be less susceptible to harm in extreme heat or cold as well. The tone of the guitar will not improve with age like a solid wood guitar, but if it sounds good when you get it, it should sound good for years to come. If you are looking for a guitar that you can leave out of its case, play by the campfire or leave in the trunk of your car on cold nights, this one will work fine.
• Part laminate, Part solid wood guitars. Some guitars are offered with solid tops but have laminate back and sides. This is a great compromise between an all laminate and an all solid guitar because the most noticeable difference with be from the top or “Sound Board”. The back and sides are of less importance. The tone of most solid woods like Spruce (a commonly used guitar tone wood) will improve with age but will require more care than a laminate.
• All solid guitars will be the most expensive of the three and you will need to protect your investment from the elements by keeping it in your case when not in use, and making sure it is properly humidified to avoid drying and cracking etc.
#3 Most new guitars need to be adjusted. If you buy your guitar from a local music shop, ask them if they will adjust your guitar before you take it home. Most stores do this for free and if not, the charge should be minimal. If you buy your guitar on line don’t expect it to be fully adjusted. You might get lucky and receive a guitar that is ready to go but it is more likely that you won’t. Remember, your guitar is made of wood; it can swell and shrink causing problems as it does. As the seasons change, the wood can shift, making adjustments necessary. You made need a fret or two tapped back in place to avoid string buzz, or perhaps a neck or bridge adjustment. This makes a strong case for picking out your guitar by hand at your local store. With the exception of some nylon string and some children’s guitars, your new guitar should come with an adjustable truss rod. This is a threaded mechanism inside the neck that can be adjusted to correct any warping your guitar may experience due to climate conditions or abuse.
Follow these guidelines, trust your ear and enjoy your first guitar!