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The Different Types of Acoustic Guitars, Explained

At BeginnerGuitarHQ, we want to keep you on top of everything available to you in the world of guitars, and music in general. You might think of acoustic guitars as a singular entity, but we want to be able to take you through all of the different types of acoustic guitars out there. Maybe you don’t want to be stuck with the standard?


Here, we’ll be guiding you through a huge range of different acoustic guitar types. The acoustic guitar market is tightly packed, so make sure to explore the options available to you before making a final choice.

Contents

 

What Is An Acoustic Guitar?

The general idea of an acoustic guitar is that it is an instrument that will be audible without amplification. An electric guitar has to be plugged into an amp to make the sound it is supposed to make, but an acoustic won’t need any extra volume to sound as intended. This is because the vibrations of the strings resonate throughout the body of the guitar and emerge from the sound hole, loud enough to be heard. Acoustic guitars are, obviously, far older than electric models and have many more ancient cousins (the Lute and Gittern, for example, are predecessors that function similarly, even if they sound and look quite different).
 

You might view an acoustic guitar as a ‘standard’ guitar, as there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in the specifics of an acoustic than an electric, but there certainly can be if you’re on the lookout for it.

We’ve put together a list and explanation of just about every type of acoustic guitar out there, from the most simple and common guitars in the world, to some models that are pretty much unique.


The Types Of Acoustic Guitars

‘Standard’ Acoustic Guitars

There are a few acoustic guitar shapes that you might think are relatively unremarkable; ‘normal’ even. However, different body types and shapes lead to a totally different feel when playing, and can even change the sound.

Dreadnought

 dreadnought
Dreadnought acoustic guitar.


Look. 
The Dreadnought is a large, big-bodied guitar named after the largest ship in the Royal Navy’s fleet. It has a rounded base, which comes slightly in on itself around the sound-hole area, before widening somewhat around where the neck begins. The neck is connected at the 14th fret, which was relatively rare before the creation of this acoustic guitar type at the start of the 20th century.
 

Sound. The resultant sound is one full of bass and volume. Thanks to its size, the lower frequencies are emphasised, giving this a booming sound which highlights warmth and mid-tones more than higher melodies. The large size and excellent sound reflections the body is capable of makes this an impressively loud instrument.

Who Is It For? If you’re looking for luscious, warm, thick chords then this is going to provide the sound you’re after. It’ll create enough volume to support a vocalist without amplification, and it’ll allow them room to stand out against your accompaniment.

Slope-Shoulder

Look. The Slope-Shoulder guitar has a lot of similarity to the Dreadnought in appearance. In fact, without looking closely, the two may look exactly the same. The difference is the titular slope that allows the join between the body and the neck to be a lot smoother and more rounded. Otherwise, it is a similarly big-bodied guitar.


Sound. Again, there is a lot to connect slope-shoulder guitars to Dreadnoughts. The bassy, loud sounds remain in place. However, the entire point of the Slope-Shoulder design is to soften the treble frequencies, creating even more warmth in your sound.


Who Is It For? Basically the same target audience as a Dreadnought, really. Thanks to the extra soft trebles in this version, it might suit a high-pitched instrument (like a flute) more than a voice. Chords are warm, and it allows arpeggios to really sing.

Jumbo

Look. Big. As the name suggests, the Jumbo is an intentionally large guitar. Where the neck meets the body, it takes on a relatively similar curvature to the Dreadnaught, but instead of coming down with relatively sleek, smoothness, the Jumbo design forces the body out to incredibly wide dimensions. This has a lot of impact on the sound (in fact, Gibson invented this design to compete with the Dreadnaught), but the huge size makes it difficult to get used to. In particular, if you’re used to playing while sat and resting the guitar on your lap, you’ll have to figure out a totally new way of positioning the instrument.


Sound. Like the Dreadnaught, the Jumbo is designed for volume and an impressive spread of sound. However, the Jumbo does it with even more impressiveness. If you’re placed in a room with good acoustics, this type of guitar could fill the whole place pretty easily. It also really fills out those booming low frequencies, while the presence of a good set of strings can turn this type of guitar into a percussive monster.
 

Who Is It For? Those who need volume, mostly. The big bassy sound isn’t for everyone, and neither is the huge size, but it’s hard to argue with the natural sound that comes out of a Jumbo acoustic. Also, they do very well with lowered tunings, thanks to their bassiness.


Parlour

parlour
Washburn Parlor Guitar (1894) and “New Model” (1896), Museum of Making Music by doryfour under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Look. 
The Parlour shape is probably the most contrasting guitar type to the three we have looked at so far. It is disconcertingly thin, and actually rather rare to be seen or used. The small body means that the guitar lacks projection somewhat, but it has a distinctive sound. The body is thin, both in width and depth; it looks a little like a squashed Dreadnought. The neck is typically joined at the 12th fret, which gives a different tonal quality when compared to the 14th fret neck joins of the above instruments.
 

Sound. Trebly and quiet. This makes it an incredibly specific instrument to use. As it is so small and thin, the bass frequencies are toned down, so chords will sound a little weaker, or a little less boomy, depending on which way you look at it. However, there is also a lot of emphasis on the mid-range, making explorative melodies sound great.


Who’s It For? Specifics. The natural aversion to bassy sounds make it a great way to blend with the likes of a mandolin and fiddle in a folk band, or as an accompaniment to a solo low instrument, such as a cello. However, if you’re looking to project, then this isn’t the right sort of guitar for you; strumming chords will be airy and delicate, giving a beautiful sound, but not one of warmth and fullness.

Concert

Look. This type of acoustic guitar is another squashed version of the Dreadnought, but without quite as much dramatic thinness. This is one of the most common shapes you’ll see, and also one of the oldest in existence, having been traced back to the 17th century. It’s quite small bodied, and often uses similar curvatures to classical guitars in order to provide that mixture of resonance and projection.


Sound. The reasons Concert acoustics exist is for concert purposes. In live performance, you don’t really want the specifics of your performance to be changed by the nuances of an instrument; as such, the Concert is a very balanced guitar. It can bring out the warm bassiness of low notes, but this won’t deaden the sound of twinkling highs. Whether you’re playing delicate, fingerpicked lines, or blasting away at power chords with a pick, you should be covered.


Who’s It For? Thanks to the versatility of its sound, a genre or performance in which the guitarist needs to use the guitar for many things would benefit from a Concert. In jazz, for example, you could move from staccato chords, to a pseudo-bassline, to a high and fast solo with ease.

Auditorium

Look. The Auditorium is arguably the most modern of the acoustic body shapes, finding a middle ground between big and small bodies. The most notable thing about its appearance is the apparent lack of proportion between the top and bottom of the body. Often, the lower body will be rather wide, and the top will be surprisingly thin. There are hints towards classical guitar appearance, though there is sometimes a cutaway in the corner of the body.


Sound. Like the Concert, this type of guitar is designed to provide balance. It tones down the bass response found in a Jumbo guitar massively, but allows a smoothness that doesn’t overly emphasise highs, mids or lows. As such, the sound of the guitar is much more dependent on what you’re playing.


Who’s It For? Like the Concert, it’s for people who need a flat EQ curve. You don’t want your lows to be too boomy, but you don’t want trebly melodies to sound weaker than usual. However, remember that this guitar type is much quieter than many similar looking types.

Grand Auditorium

Look. Very similar to the Auditorium, but normally with a cutaway in the corner. It’s yet another guitar designed to fill the all-rounder middle-ground, both in appearance and sound.


Sound. If the Auditorium was a good way to get the most natural, responsive sound possible, then the Grand Auditorium takes things to a new level. An almost flat frequency response means it isn’t too bassy or too trebly.


Who’s It For? Well, one of the most distinctive things about the Grand Auditorium is that it’s Taylor Swift’s guitar of choice. It twangs away on her early country releases, making it very clear that both country and chart-pop are perfect outlets for the sound of this instrument.

Nylon-Strung Guitars

An entire other sector of the acoustic guitar world are those instruments that use nylon strings, instead of the steel of standard acoustics. The body shapes and specifics aren’t as different here, so there isn’t as much to cover.

Classical

classical guitar

Classical guitar by Martin Moller under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Look. 
A typical classical guitar has a very standard and expected appearance. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but in general, there are a few rules. The 12th fret is typically the point of connection between the body and the neck, and the body is designed so that the instrument is held in the ‘classical position’. This differs from how standard acoustic guitars are played, as the instrument is designed to be held in a more upright position, balancing on the leg. The classical guitar is normally made using spruce or cedar tops, with mahogany or rosewood on the sides, while the body is deep and the wood thick.


Sound. Obviously, one of the most dramatic differences between the classic guitar and a standard acoustic is the presence of nylon strings. These create an incredible warmth that only really works when fingerpicked. Playing bass notes and melody simultaneously is made luscious, sort of allowing the two halves of the spectrum to take on a timbre of their own. The guitar is, typically, expected to accompany itself or cut through an orchestra or soloist. As such, it is filled with brilliant sustain, and a more rounded sound that includes a soft attack and gradual decay.
 

Who’s It For? Pretty much exclusively classical guitarists. Strumming away to a pop song just wouldn’t work on a classical guitar, and using a pick is a massive no-go. However, they can be worked into genres like progressive death metal to create amazing contrast against heavy sections. Bands like Opeth do this all the time.

Flamenco

Look. Flamenco guitars look pretty much exactly the same as classical guitars. The main differences are their internal constructions. The Flamenco guitar has a spruce top, with cypress or sycamore wood on the backs and sides, while the body thinner. Also, the string tension on a Flamenco guitar is often flat, allowing a very low action that Classical guitars rarely have.
 

Sound. The sound of nylon strings connect the two types of guitars, but in terms of how each note sounds and feels, they are worlds apart. The low action mentioned above can create unwanted buzz in a Flamenco guitar, but allows for tapping to become a standard technique. At the same time, their sound is much less soft; a sudden attack and quick decay allows for sharp, quick playing. Finally, rather than being designed to self-accompany and sound warm, Flamenco guitars need all the volume they can get to be heard over dancers.
 

Who’s If For? Much like the classical guitar, the Flamenco guitar is for Flamenco players. Incredibly quick playing and advanced techniques are made simple by this instrument, though if a classical guitarist needed to employ tapping, then a Flamenco guitar would make that a lot easier.

Electro-Acoustic Guitars

We don’t need to go into the detail of every possible body shape for an electro-acoustic guitar, so we’ll cover them much more broadly than the above. An electro-acoustic does pretty much exactly what it says- it amplifies an acoustic guitar. All of the body shapes of standard acoustic guitars mentioned above are able to be found as electro-acoustics. This means you can give them to volume you need by plugging them into an amp, or recording them DI instead of via a microphone setup. Classical guitars can also be electro-acoustic, but this is far more rare, as it impacts the sound greatly.
 

The thing to remember about electro-acoustic guitar is that the use of amplification can often create an unpleasant extra boomy, bassiness that the guitar wouldn’t have when unplugged. They are also prone to annoying feedback.
 

However, the ability to send an acoustic guitar through an amp sets you up to create some wonderful sounds. It means that the guitar can be EQ’d, thus allowing you to basically customise the frequency responses we looked at in the above body shapes. Beyond that, it allows you to add things like effects to the sound of an acoustic guitar.

Archtop Guitars

Archtop guitars are up there with the most interesting guitars on the market. They are very distinctive in appearance and sound. They have an arched top and back, instead of the typical flatness of an acoustic. On top of that, they are often semiacoustic. This means that their sound is both emerging from soundholes without amplification, and being picked up electronically through pickups.
 

Like many standard acoustic guitars, the connection between the neck and body is at the 14th fret, but unlike just about every acoustic guitar, there are F-holes used to project sound, similarly to those found on a mandolin or a fiddle.
 

In terms of sound, Archtop guitars are perfect for jazz and blues. They have a warmth that gives them both an acoustic edge and the perfect set-up to play with overdrive and effects. One of the most well-known players of an Archtop guitar is Steve Howe of YES. His sound is influenced heavily by classical music, but he gives it a gritty, distinctive edge by playing this type of guitar very frequently.

12-String Acoustic Guitars

12 string acoustic
Yamaha FG720S-12 by Roadside Guitars under CC BY-SA 2.0.

12-string acoustic guitars do exactly what they claim to: have 12 strings. However, rather than a massive neck that might be found on a Djent-ready instrument, the typical 12-string acoustic would actually have the strings organised into six pairs. Like a mandolin, each note would have two strings tuned to the exact same frequency, and placed very close together. The intention is that as the string is played, the sound of two identical notes are heard together.
 

The end result is the shimmering, chorus-like sound that comes from the likelihood that the two strings are actually out of tune with each other on a minute level. It wouldn’t be noticeable or unpleasant, but it would make the sound of the strings ring against each other and create a very distinctive sound. The presence of these two strings next to each other means that it is strongly suggested that you play with a pick, so that you can actually make contact with both strings.
 

Jimmy Page’s two-necked electric guitar features one 12-string neck used to play the opening of ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Listen out for the distinctive sound it creates.

Resonator Guitars

resonator
Resonator Style0 by Mates is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There an interesting history in Resonator guitars. When guitars were first being used in orchestras, it was quickly discovered that they ended up being almost completely drowned out by louder instruments. The resonator is much louder than a standard guitar, as they often use a metal body which allows the strings to vibrate through the bridge and into metal cones, rather than through typical acoustic methods.
 

Of course, the end result is a sound that lacks the nuances of a normal acoustic guitar, while the invention of electronic amplification meant that their added volume was no longer needed.
 

However, in the years since they stopped being practical, they have found fans in those who love the distinctive sound created by a Resonator guitar. They can be found in various bluegrass and blues recordings, even in the modern day. One of the most interesting ways the Resonator guitar type has been repurposed is as a slide guitar- players use a slide to move up and down the frets smoothly, creating long, uninterrupted glissandos. The sound of a resonator guitar is often associated to this sound, though most slide guitars are now no longer acoustic.

Multi-Neck Acoustic Guitars

A lot of traditionalist guitar players will tell you that multi-neck instruments are gimmicks designed for those showing off. In many cases, they’re absolutely spot on. In some cases, however, they couldn’t be further from the truth. In the case of Jimmy Page, for example, his sudden shift from 12-string to 6-string makes his dual necks pretty much mandatory.
 

Interestingly, multi-neck guitars aren’t modern at all, and even ancient lutes have been known to have been given two necks. Despite this, the ability to switch between bass and guitar, or fretless and fretted electric guitars have become relatively common now. Acoustic versions are often either combinations of 6 and 12 string necks, or 6 string and bass necks.
 

They are incredibly bulky and take a lot of time to get used to playing, but if you have the need to change between guitar tone very quickly, then there isn’t much better than a multi-neck. However, the fact that these types of guitars have become gimmicky mean that certain models can be very cheap to entice buyers, but actually have an awful sound. I’d recommend testing any guitar you buy, but dual necks especially.

3/4 and 1/2 Size Acoustic Guitars

The idea behind scaled down guitars are often to bring in child learners. A small child would find it almost impossible to learn to play on a full-size jumbo, for example, so getting them an instrument that is half or three-quarters of the size will allow them to learn on something that matches their size.
 

Of course, this impacts the sound. The smaller the guitar, the harder it’ll be to get the warmth of the bass end of the spectrum, and volume is likely to diminish. Having said that, they don’t really exist for large-scale playing, and are an instrument designed for learners and practicing, so don’t worry too much about sound- focus on how the guitar feels.

Travel Acoustic Guitars

travel guitar
C.F. Martin Steel String & Classical Backpacker Guitar by richoz is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0.

While the smaller guitars above are aimed at children and beginners, travel guitars try to maintain the interest of well-versed players. At their core, travel acoustic guitars are designed to be much smaller and suitable to be regularly transported, without skimping on important things like neck length. This will mean that a travel acoustic will look much smaller than you expect, but you won’t have to get used to a half-size neck, as the neck will remain full-size.
 

Obviously, the in-built issues will volume and depth of sound that come with any smaller guitar can be felt with many of these acoustics, too. In many cases, the issue of volume will be rectified by making travel acoustics double up as electro-acoustics.

7 and 8 String Acoustic Guitars

In heavy genres of metal, extra strings are commonly found on electric guitars. These will typically be lower than the low E to give that extra basslines and aggression found across the genre. The acoustic equivalent is certainly possible, and there are various acoustic guitars on the market that almost become basses thanks to the addition of one (or even two) strings lower than E.
 

However, 7 and 8 string acoustics can often lead to something very different. For example, the Sigma DM7E is advertised as a 7-string acoustic, but the seventh string in question is actually the doubled G-string in the middle of the instrument. It gives that shimmering 12-string feel, but just on the single G note in the middle…

Similarly, it is much more common in acoustic and classical guitars than electric guitars for the seventh string to actually be higher than the high E string. This takes you into shrill mandolin territory, and forces you to really make sure you don’t skimp out and get a guitar that can’t support such high notes.

Acoustic Bass Guitars

Acoustic basses aren’t anywhere near as common as acoustic guitars, but they still very much exist. Typically, they’ll have a very long neck and the ability to really emphasise the lowest frequencies of the instrument.

Interestingly, an acoustic bass doesn’t really sound much like its electronic equivalent. There is a delicate almost double-bass-esque quality to the acoustic bass guitar that doesn’t really have the same funk as an electric. This makes it the perfect way to explore a whole new side of you acoustic output, supporting acoustic covers of songs really nicely.

Prepared Acoustic Guitars

John Cage brought the idea of prepared pianos to the forefront of music through his set of Sonatas made for pianos that have things like rubbers and nails interfering with the resonance of the strings. The end result changes the pitch of notes, the timbre of entire sections of the piano, and in certain cases, just turns the piano into a percussion instrument.
 

The same sort of thing can exist in acoustic guitars, and can even be made yourself if you have access to a guitar you’re happy to experiment with. Putting foil around a string will give it a muffled metallic sound, while playing a rubber beneath the strings will act as a muffling mute.
 

Obviously, the prepared guitar is a very specific instrument and has very little application aside from the exact piece of music it was prepared for. As a result, you can’t really buy them. They are an interesting and very cool concept, though.

Some Other Strange Guitars

Of course, this list will never be exhaustive. Here are a few crazy guitar types you’re unlikely to ever see or play:

  • The Harp-Guitar. This combines a guitar neck with a strummable, pluckable mini-harp.
  • The Double-Guitar. Michael Angelo Batio is known for his double-guitar tapping on an electric, but acoustic versions do exist.
  • The Pikasso Guitar. This is an acoustic guitar designed by Linda Manzer for Pat Metheny. The idea was to give it as many strings as possible, so it has 42, arranged in a variety of ways across a body that has a hexaphonic pickup. The guitar is held up, so doesn’t need to be held while played, and uses a Wedge body that lets the performer see each of the 42 strings while playing. It has to be seen to be believed.
 

Conclusion

The acoustic guitar might seem, to many, to basically be a ‘standard’ guitar with not a lot going on. You might look at an acoustic and think that you don’t need to know much, but even ‘standard’ guitars have a lot of body shapes that completely change the sound and feel of a guitar.
 

Beyond that, you can get yourself involved in the world of electro-acoustic, 12-strings, resonators and even some of the crazy, experimental (and expensive) models that came towards the bottom of this particular list.
 

canva acoustic guitar types

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