Choosing Acoustic guitars


If you’ve been following the progress and adventures of my recordings on the Elijah Few blog then you`ll know that thus far I’ ve had to do battle with some extremely unversatile firewood. Yes, I`m talking about acoustic guitars and I`m going to try and outline what you should be looking for in your search for acoustic guitar satisfaction and it applies to any guitar, whatever your price range. Dan receives alot of questions in customer support regarding these matters so I`m going to outline a strategy to help make the right selection.

Apparently “a bad workman blames his tools” and to some extent this is true, but a good workman will select his tools wisely. If all you have available is a plank then that’s what you have to use, and I’ve been there myself and still managed to muster a half decent sound…In the picture below one of these guitars is an old plank, the other a mellifluous heaven of tone:

The kind of tone you are looking for should be along these lines –  smooth, rich and highly natural; bright, lively and warm with an entirely even response across the strings. A breeze to play, with a low action,  and when simply strumming an E chord resonates with rich, manuka, gently oscillating overtones.


If this kind of language baffles you some, then here is my strategy for discovering exactly what I mean and finding the right guitar for you. Begin at your local retailer by selecting guitars that fall somewhere near the most expensive available in the store – these will be guitar brands such as Martin, Taylor, Gibson or Guild.

Don’t be shy, because it`s all about sound. Play them and get a good feel for the different sounds that each produce. You will notice that different materials used for the soundboard, upon which the bridge sits, will produce different sounds. Simply try strumming an E chord on each model and place your ear on the top of the body.

Also pay close attention to the high, mid and low tones that each model produces – in an expensive model these should harmoniously blend together and there will be no noticeable loss of volume, attack or tone from string to string.

Honey bee

Consider the feel of the neck profiles as well, and how they sit within your hand. The action of the strings, the gap between the fretboard surface and the strings, should be low, but with no abolutely buzzing anywhere. Play up and down the neck and spend a bit of time getting to know each instrument. It`s a good idea to give each guitar a name that relates to how it sounds – molasses, coffee, warm, bright, hollow, rich, liqourice, etcetera. It`s all about the sound and the feel of the guitar – you should know which one you prefer almost intuitively – trust your instincts and use your HANDS and YOUR EARS – never use your eyes.

Narrow it down to your favourite one…Next start comparing and playing the guitars from your price range against the expensive guitar you most liked. Try and find one that most nearly matches the qualities you had admired in the more expensive model. You will have to make a compromise somewhere but hopefully you`ll be on your way. Better still sleep on it and go back the next day and spend some time playing the model you chose the day before just to see if it sill sounds good to your ear.

Best regards,

Jake Edwards


  1. Dian Bua

    That’s awesome!!! I look for acoustic guitars for my boyfriend.And how to choose it.Which brands is the best ?I saw many web about this but your web is the best for me.Thank you.

  2. Rangi


    Ive got a Santa Cruz 000… im happy to loan it if youre ever wanting to record an acoustic track. choice blog!

    1. Jamorama Post author

      Rangi! hey man how are you? Hey that`s a really kind offer from you man – that`s an absolutely superb example of a guitar by the way.

  3. Unecewiz

    brill site this brill to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  4. Unecewiz

    excellent site this rated to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  5. Betty

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  6. Martin Acoustic Guitar

    Happy Thursday! good steps to go through,. Enjoyed “c guitars at Rock Star Recipes” although maybe not everyone did. This is an article to return to, bookmarked. Added you to my feed reader.

  7. mondo

    Thanks for the advice, Jake. I’ll try some of them on next string change.

  8. Jamorama Post author

    …you`ll notice that the Martin pictured ain’t too dissimilar to the one Clapton is using in the Robert Johnson Stones in my Passway video. Believe me, it sounds just as sweet. If you want to hear how it sounds you can check my blog over the next week or so. I`m tracking with it today for the Rakaia River song and I’ll be posting the results as soon as I can. Thanks to Pete at Mojo Sound for lending us this awesome guitar. If anyone is the market for some seriously classy timber then give Pete a buzz.

  9. Pingback: Topics about Guitar » Archive » Acoustic guitars at Rock Star Recipes

  10. mondo

    Ooooh dear. I seem to have broken every acoustic buying rule in the book. I bought mine by chance last week cos I had the cash in me pocket and it was a good price. But it is my first ever acoustic so I hope I can be forgiven. 😀

    It’s a Crafter TA050/AM. I’m pretty happy with it. It’s quite punchy. Mid range seems to be a bit weak but at the low end it’s nice and warm. The guitar can’t quite makes its mind up what to sound like. But that’s probably down to the strings that I’ve fitting to it, which I’ve found are the wrong gauge and my low skill level. 😛 I looked up what they came with originally and ordered some.

    BODY STYLE – Triple
    TOP – Solid Sitka Spruce
    BACK – Rosewood
    SIDES – Rosewood
    BRACING – T-brace
    NECK – Mahogany
    WIDTH AT NUT – 43mm
    FRET BOARD – Indian Rosewood
    SCALE LENGTH – 647.70mm
    BRIDGE – Indian Rosewood

    Pretty standard stuff, right?

    It’s not perfect but I’m enjoying playing it. Guess that’s the main thing. 😀

  11. Jamorama Post author

    Wood types and characteristic sound.


    When used as a top, mahogany has a relatively low velocity of sound (compared to other top woods), considerable density and a low overtone content producing a solid tone, and responds best at the upper end of the dynamic range. Mahogany-topped guitars have a strong “punchy” tone that is well suited to country blues playing.

    When considered for back and sides, mahogany has relatively high velocity of sound, which contributes much overtone coloration. While rosewood guitars may be thought of has having a metallic sound, mahogany guitars sound more wood-like. The harder, denser examples of these woods can take also on the characteristics of the rosewoods. Mahogany back and sides tends to emphasize the bass and the treble.

    Mahogany necks help to create a warmer, more “woody” tonal range. The same holds true when mahogany is used as bridge material.


    Koa has been used for soundboards since the1920s. This hardwood has a relatively low velocity of sound, considerable density and a low overtone content. Therefore, it tends to produce a solid tone that responds best at the upper end of the dynamic range. Koa has a somewhat more “midrangey” tone that works well for playing rhythm and truly shines in guitars made for Hawaiian-style slide playing.

    For back and sides, Koa tends to behave much like mahogany in terms of adding tonal coloration, but its emphasis is again more in the midrange.

    Brazilian Rosewood

    All the rosewoods contribute to tonal coloration. Brazilian rosewood is known for its high sound velocity and broad range of overtones, and is also characterized by strength and complexity in the bottom end and an overall darkness of tone in the rest of the range. Strong mids and highs also contribute a richness of tone to the upper registers. Rosewood guitars also have a pronounced reverberant-like tone quality, caused by audible delays in the onset of certain harmonics. Brazilian rosewood has tremendous clarity in the bottom end and sparkle in the top.

    When used for necks, Brazilian rosewood adds sparkle and ring.

    Indian Rosewood

    Indian rosewood is also known for high sound velocity and broad range of overtones, strength and complexity in the bottom end and an overall darkness of tone in the rest of the range. Strong mids and highs also contribute a richness of tone to the upper registers. Indian rosewood has a thicker, more midrange overall coloration.

    When used for necks, Indian rosewood can help fatten up the midrange.

    Sitka Spruce Spruce is the standard material for soundboards, the most commonly used species being Sitka. Its high stiffness combined with the lightweight characteristics of most softwoods, makes it a natural for high velocity of sound. A strong fundamental-to-overtone ratio gives Sitka spruce a powerful direct tone capable of retaining its clarity when played forcefully. This makes Sitka an excellent choice for top wood for players whose style demands a wide dynamic response and a robust, meaty tone. On the other hand, the lack of complex overtones in Sitka can produce a somewhat thin sound when played with a light touch – of course, depending upon the design of the guitar and the other choices of wood in its construction.

    Red Spruce Red spruce is relatively heavy, has a high velocity of sound, and the highest stiffness across and along the grain of all the top woods. Like Sitka, is has a strong fundamental, but also a more complex overtone content. Tops produce the highest volume, yet they also have a rich fullness of tone that retains clarity at all dynamic levels. In short, red spruce may well be the Holy Grail of top woods for acoustic steel-string guitars.


    Maple, as a result of its greater weight and lower sound velocity, can be downright flat sounding, a blessing in disguise when a guitar is amplified at high sound pressure levels. This is why maple is the wood of choice for electric guitar tops. West coast big leaf maple is the softest and lightest of the maple family, with a wood grain that resembles waves. Aside from a visually breathtaking pattern, the wavy fibers of “curly” maple reduce the long grain stiffness and vibrate more freely. (This is the secret to the bright, clear powerful sound of the Parker Fly, a solid-body guitar made with a curly maple body.)

    In acoustic guitar use, different species of maple, such as big leaf, sugar, and bearclaw tend to be more acoustically transparent due to their lower velocity of sound and high degree of internal damping. This allows the tonal characteristic of the top to be heard without the addition of significant tonal coloration.

    Maple necks can impart a bright “poppy” tone that can do much to reinforce the top end of a large-bodied guitar.


    Alder is a lightweight wood that is highly resonant, producing a full rich tone. When used for solid-body construction, alder provides a very good low end and midrange with the best performance in the lower mid range. Alder also exhibits good high-end characteristics and sustain.


    Poplar is a stringy, dense, yet lightweight hardwood that is unusually resonant. Poplar, when used in solid-body electric guitars, has an exceptionally crisp sound, often described as “spirited” and “bouncy” – even “funky.” Poplar guitars are ideal choices for players who favor single-coil snap and clean sound.
    Basswood Basswood is light, stiff, and stable, which makes it particularly effective for necks and bass instruments thanks to its excellent low- end response.


    Ebony, the traditional material found on the necks of violins, classical guitars, and high-end steel strings, has the lowest velocity of sound of all the woods commonly used and has definite damping characteristics. While not a problem for large-bodied guitars made of red spruce or Brazilian rosewood, it may be something to consider when designing smaller guitars, particularly those using less resonant tonewoods for tops and backs.

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