See also Epiphone Acoustic Guitars - Reviews
With their lovely wood grain and beautiful resonating sound, these fine instruments are quite possibly the most beautiful instruments in the world. The smell of new and even older guitars is truly something to behold. The various tone woods that are chosen for their construction, are sometimes rare and carefully selected. They often have amazing wood grains that are not only remarkable to look at, but also create clear, soft, and emotionally engaging tones.
To me, it is not only a lovely instrument, but a beautiful piece of furniture too. A nice looking guitar of any type, electric or acoustic, can just stand right there in your living room. You don't even have to pick it up, it just looks nice, and a lovely looking, quality guitar generally plays nicely too, or at least it should do.
Why not take a look at the large selection of acoustic guitars and bundles on offer at Amazon UK and also at Amazon US. There's a good variety of cheaper and more expensive models available which you can find by simply being more specific with your search words in the Amazon search bar. Just put in something like "cheap acoustic guitars" or "Acoustic guitars under $100" for example. I have a few ideas further down this page though which are pretty good I think.
Of course it helps if you can afford a nice quality guitar. It doesn't have to be great, just decent. If it sounds nice and looks nice you want to pick it up more I think. Above all though, it must feel comfortable to you. This is the most important aspect of purchasing any guitar, acoustic or electric. It must feel comfortable to you. I have found reasonably priced guitars that feel great and expensive guitars that do not feel great at all.
My first acoustic was a steel string Fender. Being left handed I was happy to find anything to be honest, but a nice looking, nice sounding Fender? Well, I was more than happy I can tell you. It wasn't a great deal of money either, only around £125, which, at the time, I thought was pretty good, albeit over thirty years ago now. I changed the strings to a lighter gauge and lowered the action. This made it more comfortable for me to play and although the body was a little too big, the neck and playability felt great.
Unfortunately, I stupidly sold this guitar many years ago, but hey, you live and learn. My advice is to never sell any of your guitars unless you really have to.
When looking to buy for the first time, the cost and your budget are of course your primary guides. The cost of all things varies greatly and guitars are no exception. If you're a complete beginner and not sure how far you'll go with playing the guitar, then obviously don't spend too much. You can get something for around £/$50 or less and that's more than adequate to happily let you know if playing the guitar is for you or not. There's plenty of variety for cheap acoustic guitars available in the United States and the UK too.
And don't be put off by the cheap prices when first starting to play the guitar. I've looked at lots of reviews for cheap acoustics and there's some very happy customers who never paid much cash.
If on the other hand you have more to spend or you think you will stick to learning and playing the guitar long-term, then maybe you could spend a little more if you can afford to. Personally, I think it's better to buy something more decent now if you can afford it and not have to buy again when you get better at playing the instrument, as you will almost certainly want to upgrade as you become more proficient in your playing.Back To Top
The two main types of acoustic guitars are; steel string, and nylon string. The style of music that you want to play will generally determine whether to buy a steel string, or a nylon string instrument.
Steel String Acoustic Guitars
Steel string acoustics are ideal for; folk (Bob Dylan etc.), blues, pop, finger-style and ragtime. For some, it can be easier to play certain chords on a steel string acoustic than it is to play them on a nylon string acoustic. This is because the neck is far narrower on a steel string guitar than it is on a nylon strung instrument but there are acoustic guitars called crossovers that bridge this gap which I will discuss in a while further down.
To the right is my Fender steel string acoustic. I came across this guitar in a charity shop somewhere in East Sussex in the UK many years ago.
It is in fact a right handed guitar, but it was already strung for a left handed player. It had quite old strings, and the fretboard was a little grubby to say the least when I found it, but it felt very nice and was easy to play and although the strings were naff it actually had a pretty nice tone.
This guitar cost me £20!! Sure enough I replaced the strings with new ones after I gave the whole guitar a good clean up. It really was a great find and fantastic value for money. It just goes to show what you can pick up if you're lucky. This guitar can be heard here
Fender are a major player in the guitar world as we all know and with good reason. They make great guitars and very affordable ones at that.
If you're left handed like me then its fine to re-string any guitar really, although, if you're spending good money then I wouldn't recommend it to be honest as you really do want an original lefty for the best intonation if you are spending the cash. Basically speaking, intonation is the correct pitch of a guitar's strings, so it sounds right. If you look at any guitar, the bridge (where the strings lay over near where your strumming/picking hand plays) is set at an angle. When you turn a right-handed guitar upside down and re-string it so it plays as a lefty, that angle of the bridge will now run in the opposite direction. This alters the intonation slightly, although it is minimal in all honesty but purists will argue.
My black fender acoustic guitar pictured above was cheap and already re-strung to a lefty so there was no hesitation for me. Tell the truth, it sounds just like a left handed guitar anyway, so, the intonation aspect isn't too much of a problem in reality.
Most of us have seen Paul McCartney with a right-handed acoustic being played upside down where he has re-strung the guitar as a lefty so the black scratch plate sits on top instead of underneath. And, what about Jimmy Hendrix? He always played a re-strung right handed Fender Stratocaster. Did anyone here any problems with intonation from either of those two giants of the music world? Of course not. Truth is, Jimmy never had a choice in those days but he still sounded great didn't he.
So, intonation really isn't too much of a problem in all honesty, but if you can get a lefty if you are indeed left handed then all the better and why wouldn't you? There are plenty of left handed acoustic guitars available nowadays for beginners and more experienced players alike as you can see below. Most of these have great reviews from buyers.
And if you're in the UK take a look at these left handed acoustic guitars.
Nylon String Acoustic Guitars
Nylon strung acoustic guitars are generally intended to play classical pieces of music. However, other musical styles can also be played on these fine instruments such as jazz, pop, finger style and ragtime too. Traditional, nylon string guitars have wide necks, which aren't a problem for people with big hands or long fingers, but for those of us that have shorter fingers, it can be awkward at times when trying to play certain barre chords and the more advanced classical pieces.
A high quality classical guitar such as the one to the right can literally cost thousands! We don't need to pay that much or any where near it thankfully.
The classical acoustic guitar seen here was the main concert instrument of the brilliant classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. He used this guitar from 1938 until 1962, and referred to it in a 1954 article as the "greatest guitar of our epoch." Miguell Llobet, a Spanish classical guitarist, introduced Segovia to Hauser in 1924. Hauser had been making guitars in the Viennese style, but Llobet encouraged him to make instruments based on Spanish models. It is said that Hauser brought instruments to Segovia for twelve successive years, but none pleased him until he tried this guitar. Segovia gave up his 1912 Manuel Ramírez guitar in favour of this one by Hauser. The two-piece back and sides are of Brazilian rosewood, the two-piece top is of spruce. Courtesy of the MET MuseumBack To Top
Right is my Alhambra 4p nylon string classical acoustic guitar. This guitar is relatively inexpensive for the good quality and nice tone it brings which you can listen to here. It cost me costing about £500 which I admit isn't cheap, but if you do want a really nice sounding classical guitar it is worth it if you can afford it. It cost me more as I'm left handed so it would be cheaper for most of you right handed players.
It has a lovely sound for the price range with a solid cedar top and laminated Indian Rosewood back and sides. There's some close up pictures further down when I talk about different woods used in the construction of acoustic guitars.
All things considered it's a great classical guitar to start with if you're serious about wanting to play classical guitar and want to start with something quite decent but not too costly. Why not take a quick look at the Spanish guitar scales page where I play some Spanish style guitar and have some scale and mode charts for that Spanish flavour if that's what you're looking for.
To the right is a relatively cheap nylon string classical guitar. Being left handed, if I see a left handed guitar that I can afford at the time I tend to buy it as I'm not spoilt for choice like most of you right handed players. This guitar cost me £100. It has quite a nice sound and is quite easy to play. The action was a little high so I lowered the action by simply slacking the strings right off and taking out the plastic saddle in the bridge which I then sanded down by about 1-2mm. I then reinserted it into the bridge before tightening the strings and tuning the guitar back up again. If you do this yourself and you take too much off, making the strings buzz, you can simply insert a small piece of plastic under the reduced size saddle which you can create by cutting a thin strip off of a yogurt top or similar packaging.
This lowered action made this cheap, but decent enough acoustic guitar even easier to play. It's constructed only of laminated wood but for that price you couldn't expect anything more really could you.
It goes to show that there are affordable acoustic guitars that are decent to look at and also decent to play.
Cross-over acoustic guitars
Cross-over acoustic guitars are readily available nowadays. Their neck and body dimensions are a cross between a steel string acoustic guitar, and a nylon string guitar. They're fitted with nylon strings and are basically an easy-play version of a standard classical nylon string guitar because they usually have a smaller neck width than a standard classical which have a 52mm neck width at the nut end next to the guitar head.
Crossover acoustic guitars also have a cutaway for easy access to those higher notes making them great for jazz and other lead guitar solos that can get up to the higher notes but require a more subtle sound that nylon strings produce. These guitars are lovely to play and generally sound very nice too. They are well-worth considering, but sometimes cost a little more than traditional models.
The thing to remember is, any style of music can be played on any type of guitar, but certain musical styles are more associated with a certain sound, which is mainly determined by the type of string.
The thing to do is, try or listen to both nylon and steel string guitars and go with what you like the sound of most. If you're going to spend a lot of money you should really have a feel of the guitar first as it is important for the guitar to feel comfortable to you, never mind anyone else. I know this seems obvious to most people, but not to everyone. If you're just starting out this doesn't matter quite so much in my opinion as it will all feel pretty uncomfortable anyway.
If you have the time you should try lots of different guitars before you buy, so take your time, don't rush. Do not be afraid to sit in a guitar shop all day, play everything there, and walk out empty-handed if need be. Just be respectful of all things, including unpaid for guitars, and remember, you aren't obliged to buy, but you are entitled to try!Back To Top
The importance of a straight neck for a guitar is obvious. The guitar neck holds the strings in their correct position as well as providing support for the fret board. Any slight twist or curve in the neck of any guitar will ultimately affect the playability of that guitar.
The comfort and playability of any guitar relies mainly on the feel of the neck. The feel of the neck is dependent upon various factors, including; the neck profile - which includes the cross-section shape, thickness and width of the neck - the gauge (thickness) of the strings, the action of the strings (height above the fret board), and to some extent the type of wood used for the neck.
Woods used for Acoustic Guitar Necks
This is the most commonly used wood for the necks of most guitars, but especially acoustic guitars. The neck must remain straight for reasons already mentioned and mahogany is the ideal candidate for this purpose. It has a straight, interlocking grain and is stiff, strong and relatively light weight.
There are three species of "true mahogany" of which Honduran mahogany is the most commercially grown species and the most commonly used for guitar necks today as far as I am aware.
A Mahogany Neck
Also known as big-leaf mahogany is the most widespread species of mahogany, growing in Mexico to Southern Amazonia in Brazil. Sought for its durability, beauty and colour, it is widely used for the production of panelling, furniture, boats, musical instruments and other items too.
Honduras mahogany is the traditional material used for the necks of steel string, flat top acoustic guitars. I say flat top as opposed to an arch top guitar which will be discussed another time.
West Indian or Cuban mahogany
This wood grows in Southern Florida and the Caribbean but is no longer commercially used.
Pacific Coast mahogany
This is the smallest of the "true mahoganies" whose Latin name means "small" or "dwarfish". It is often a twisted tree and limited to seasonally dry forests in Pacific Central America and is of no real commercial use.
Cadrela "Spanish Cedar"
This is not actually Spanish and neither is it a Cedar as its trade name suggests? It is a species of the mahogany family and is often used for higher end classical, nylon string acoustic guitars.
Maple is a hard and strong wood with a straight, tight grain, making it an ideal wood for the necks of guitars. It is the most commonly used wood for electric guitar necks. Many Stratocasters have a maple neck as do the Telecasters as maple gives a slightly brighter sound. We talk here of the finger board too as many Telecasters and Stratocasters that have maple necks often have a maple fret board too, so they have an all maple neck and fret board. Many arch top semi-acoustic guitars also tend to be made with maple necks.
Maple is generally heavier than mahogany which is the likely reason that it tends to be used more for electric guitars than it is for acoustic guitar necks. An acoustic guitar with a neck that is heavier than its body would feel unbalanced and slightly awkward for the player.
Laminated Guitar Necks
Laminated guitar necks are another interesting option of neck construction. They are used for two main reasons; a/ on cheaper guitars to make use of wood that would be too small for a neck and therefore discarded, and b/ on high end guitars, to produce both a stiff neck, and at the same time, to provide a visually appealing neck.
The first approach, to make use of useless wood, may also have the effect of creating a stiffer neck at the same time if the strips are arranged in a certain way. This would eliminate any inherent grain tendencies to move in a certain direction over time by gluing different strips of wood together in a certain way, so each piece opposes the other pieces tendencies to move in a certain direction. This would counteract and reduce the possibility of any twisting or bending over time.Back To Top
Laminated guitar necks are often used on expensive semi-acoustic guitars such as this for added stiffness, as discussed above, as well as offering visual appeal.
To the right is a laminated maple neck made from three different pieces of solid maple. Sometimes different coloured woods are used to give a strong contrast. Often the strip of wood in the middle is much lighter than the two outer lengths to enhance this effect.
This picture is taken from my Eastman semi-acoustic arch top guitar, beautiful!
A Laminated Maple Neck
The fret board is a layer of wood glued to the face of the guitar neck. The thickness of the fret board is around 6mm. There are two main species of hard wood used for the fret boards of acoustic guitars. They are; Rosewood, and Ebony. Rosewood gives a warmer softer tone than that of Maple or Ebony.
This is the most commonly used wood for fret boards because it is hard wearing, very resonant and attractive to look at. It also contains oils that allow it to be polished quite nicely without the need for any type of finish or extra polishing materials.
The picture to the right shows quite light coloured rosewood. Some rosewood fret boards are much darker in comparison. This picture is taken from my Cort electro-acoustic guitar.
A Rosewood Fret Board
Ebony, like Rosewood has good natural oil content and therefore requires little finishing. It also wears very well and will hold up to many years of hard playing. Ebony provides a very sharp, bright and responsive tone with a steady sustain.
Ebony is a very hard and durable wood which accounts for its use for the black keys on a piano or keyboard. As a material for fret boards it is of course also very hard wearing, but produces an alternative tone to that of rosewood.
Rosewood, to my ears, has a kind of more 'open' warm tone to that of ebony. Ebony tends to have a more crisp, snappy, harder type of tone in comparison to that of rosewood.
This picture is from the Alhambra nylon string acoustic guitar.
An Ebony Fret Board
This side view of an ebony fret board clearly illustrates the glued on thickness of black ebony to the mahogany neck. The average thickness for fret boards is around 6mm.
Ebony is dense, heavy, hard and tight grained. This makes Ebony a very appealing fret board to many players as it offers a very nice hard and smooth surface to play on.
Ebony is always the choice for the fret boards of high-end classical guitars due to its hard, smooth and durable surface.
In all honesty, the neck of any guitar that you intend to buy will ultimately be made with the most appropriate neck for that particular model, level and price range. Ultimately, the profile, including the thickness and width of the guitar neck, along with the type of wood used for the fret board are the main influential factors of the guitar neck that affect the feel for you as a player, as well as the tone of the guitar for the listener. Of course the type of strings and height of the string action will also affect how the neck and playability of the guitar feels and sounds, but we are talking here of the neck construction only.
Basically you need to get out and play as many guitars as you can with various neck types within the price range that you can afford to pay, or are prepared to pay. I personally prefer rosewood or ebony fret boards on any guitar but especially acoustic guitars. I don't think there are that many maple fret boards on acoustics anyway, although there are a few.
I also prefer thin and slim necks with the string action set as low as possible and I prefer 10's for the string gauge. I find the 12's or 14's that come as standard on new acoustic guitars are just too thick and make playing more difficult than it needs to be. I also know people that prefer the complete opposite to me in this regard.
It's all a matter of personal preference and what you prefer yourself. The only way is to try out different guitar necks to find out what feels the most comfortable to you.Back To Top
The top, back and sides of an acoustic guitar are collectively known as the sound box. The sound box acts as a supportive, resonating chamber, where the sound of the vibrating, plucked strings echoes within. It acts like a natural amplifier. If you stood in a large empty room, such as a warehouse or auditorium, and shouted, you would here an echo. This is exactly what happens when a string, stretched over the sound hole of an acoustic guitar, is plucked. The vibration of the fast moving, plucked string echoes within the sound box and music is created, hopefully!
The acoustic guitar sound box is no more than a smaller, more sophisticated version, of a big, empty room. After all, some auditoriums are known to have 'good acoustics'.
The internal structure, design type, materials used, and size of the sound box, can all, to a greater or lesser degree, have a significant effect on the overall tone, volume and sustain of the sound produced.
The word 'acoustics' basically means, 'the scientific study of sound'. It relates to the characteristic way in which sound carries, or how it can be heard within an enclosed space such as an auditorium, warehouse, or even the sound box of an acoustic guitar! See Wikipedia on acoustics.
The various species of woods used in the construction of acoustic guitars also play a major role in affecting the sound (or tone) of the instrument, but in a more subtle way than the material of the strings. For this reason the woods used in the construction of acoustic guitars are also called 'tone woods'.
There are slightly differing opinions on the various sound qualities produced by these different wood types. There is however, a general agreement regarding these sound qualities which I have summarised further down.
Solid or Laminated Wood?
Another thing to consider, or at least be aware of when buying an acoustic guitar, is whether the woods use in its construction are solid or laminated. Solid wood acoustic guitars are better quality and produce a far better tone than the same instrument constructed from laminated wood. This is of course reflected in the price, as acoustic guitars made with solid woods, cost considerably more than those made with laminated woods. As it is with all things, you get what you pay for!Back To Top
The top of an acoustic guitar is also called a soundboard. The soundboard is probably the most influential and important part of the sound box to affect the sound that resonates from the guitar, and different tone woods used for the top, will have a powerful influence on the type of sound that is created within, and emitted from the sound box.
This happens simply as a result of different woods basically having different densities, qualities and natures. This individually creates different sounds. If you were to hit two pieces of pine together for example, you will get a different sound, than if you were to hit two pieces of mahogany together.
There are many different timbers used for solid top acoustic guitars, but there are two main species that are more commonly employed than any others. They are; Spruce and Cedar.
Spruce - produces a strong, bright, punchy, clear tone.
Spruce is a traditional timber used for the sound boards of acoustic guitars. Sitka Spruce is the most commonly used species used for this purpose and has become the standard to which most other timbers are measured against.
Sitka Spruce is in good supply and found on the West Coast of North America from Northern California to Alaska. It generally creates a strong, bright, punchy and clear tone with very good projection. Many respected classical guitarists play Spruce top guitars.
This guitar can be heard in the 3rd video down on this page.
My Cort electro-acoustic with its solid Spruce top.
Other species of Spruce include Appalachian (or Adirondack) spruce, German Spruce and Engelmann Spruce. These varieties are generally used less than Sitka Spruce due to their lack of availability and/or quality compared to the more widely used Sitka.
Cedar (Western Red) - produces a rich, warm, lush tone.
Cedar is lighter and softer than Spruce and generally isn't very well suited to hard playing such as aggressive strumming for example, as it can start to sound a little muddy (blurred) at times under such playing conditions.
It has a warmer, softer and richer tone than Spruce though, and is therefore ideal for jazz and classical too, as well as being ideal for playing with a slightly lighter touch than that used for Sitka topped acoustic guitars.
It is found on the West Coast of North America. The most widely used species of Cedar now used for sound boards is Western Red.
The warm Cedar top of the Alhambra acoustic guitar.
A decent solid top, classical guitar, but with laminated Indian rosewood back and sides can cost around £350-£500. A classical guitar with an all solid wood top and solid wood back and sides can be purchased for around £700 or more and maybe less.
Prices vary so shop around and don't be afraid to ask for a discount!Back To Top
The various species and quality of tone woods used to form the backs and sides of acoustic guitars, also play a major role in the quality and 'colour' of tone produced and emitted from the guitar. The most common woods that are traditionally used for the back and sides of the sound box are Rosewood and Mahogany.
Brazilian Rosewood - produces a very balanced, clear tone with quick response and great sustain
Highly regarded by guitarists and Luthiers alike for its incredible tonal quality and unique beauty, Brazilian Rosewood is considered to be the ultimate tone wood for the back and side of an acoustic guitar. It has been sourced for hundreds of years and made into many things, including; high grade furniture, decorative wood-ware and knife handles. It has also been sliced into veneers for use with furniture, wall panels and piano cases too.
It has also been favoured in the making of musical instruments for hundreds of years, as Luthiers used it for the backs of Lutes and various parts of other stringed instruments. Brazilian rosewood is still recognised as one of the best sounding woods to use for the backs and sides of acoustic guitars. It has outstanding resonance and it is said that if an evenly cut piece of Brazilian rosewood is gently tapped, it emits a bright metallic ring that has sustain. Wow!
Unfortunately, this beautiful, but over-sourced tone wood became an endangered species many years ago, and since 1992, was quite rightly, made a protected species. Brazilian Rosewood felled before 1992 (old stock) or that which has been taken from stumps of trees cut down before 1992 can still be used legally by those acoustic guitar makers with access to it. Due to its rarity however, the price is so high now, that many Luthiers do not think it an economically viable option.
Indian Rosewood - produces a deep, rich, warm tone
Indian Rosewood has been used for the backs and sides of acoustic guitars for decades, but has only been used as a serious substitute for the highly revered Brazilian Rosewood since the mid-1960s when Brazilian Rosewood became less available due to higher demands.
When the Brazilian government stopped the export of Brazilian Rosewood due to their concerns for its future, high quality Indian Rosewood was readily available in good supply. Fortunately it was found to be an excellent alternative to the favoured Brazilian Rosewood, from both a visual and musical perspective.
The laminated Indian Rosewood back of the Alhambra 4p model
Some acoustic guitars, such as the Alhambra above, often use a combination of laminated and quality tone woods such as the laminated Indian rosewood of this guitar. This offers an affordable, but lovely looking and better sounding guitar than that of a cheaper laminated body.
Mahogany - produces a clean, dry, warm, woody tone
Mahogany is without doubt one of the most commonly used woods for the making of backs and sides of acoustic guitars. Much of the reason for its widespread use is because it is cheaper than rosewood and other more exotic tone woods too.
However, although mahogany is often cheaper, and therefore often used in less expensive guitars, it is by no means inferior. Like all things, it has its own unique qualities. In fact, many guitarists prefer its punchy, darker tone to rosewood.
Mahogany is a hard, dense wood that produces a ‘woody’ and ‘warm’ tone that is both punchy and balanced. All the early folk and blues guitar recordings that you may have heard, mostly all come from guitars made with mahogany backs and sides, if not all of them.
Mahogany is a stiff, strong wood but relatively lightweight too. These qualities account for its popular use as one of the main materials utilised for the necks and bodies of both electric and acoustic guitars respectively.
The strong, woody tone of this guitar can be heard in the 3rd video down on this page.
The beautiful mahogany back of my Cort electro-acoustic guitar. A relatively cheap guitar!
The above guitar only cost around £200. I changed the strings to a lighter gauge which made it much easier to play than the thick 12's it had on when purchased. In fact, the shop changed the strings for me and only charged for the cost of the strings. You only have to ask. If you are going to buy something it's amazing what sales people are prepared to do for you. If you don't ask you don't get!
I prefer 10's on all my steel string guitars, electric or acoustic. Nylon strings are a standard gauge for all.
Sapele - Similar to Mahogany
Sapele is sometimes incorrectly called African mahogany as it is visually very similar to the West African wood khaya, also known as African mahogany. Sapele is fast growing and very sustainable and is said to be a good alternative to mahogany as it delivers the same type of tone.
Taylor currently use Sapele on their 300 Series, Acoustic 3 Series, Laminate 100 Series, GS Mini, Baby and Big Baby acoustic guitars at the time of writing this. They say, "it's a great all-purpose tone wood that delivers a consistent, balanced tone in a variety of playing applications, from finger style to strumming".
Maple - produces a clear, bright tone with good projection
Maple is another sought after tone wood often used for the backs and sides of acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars. It is also used for the tops of some guitars and even solid body electric guitars too.
The tone of Maple is generally regarded as clear and bright with good projection. In addition, it is said to have a strong treble with clear separation of the individual strings and good mid-range tone.
There are different known variations of maple figuring and the highly figured forms of maple are; curly maple, flamed maple, ripple, tiger stripe, quilted, pin stripe, fiddleback, blister and birds eye maple. It has to be said that some of these varieties are very similar in their appearance though.
The general term of "figured maple" is adopted for all the various types of figuring that maple often exhibits. Due to maple's beautiful appearance and tone it is also used in the manufacture of violins and bassoons, as well as furniture too.
Figured maple is a beautiful looking tone wood as you can see from the images to the right.
The often unusual and striking appearance is a result of the unusual nature of maple's wood fibres that distort in an interesting wave-like motion and growing pattern.
The beautiful flamed maple back of the Eastman arch top jazz guitar. Truly wonderful !
The headstock of the acoustic guitar is also known as the "peg head". The small part that you grip and turn to tune one of the strings of your guitar is called the tuning peg. The term "peg head" isn't entirely accurate in my opinion though. It is more of a general term to describe the heads of all stringed instruments. I say this because when the first stringed instruments were made many centuries ago, the tuning keys were very basic and were in fact just like pegs. They were pushed into holes in the head of the instrument at the end of the neck. There, they would have their corresponding string wrapped around them doing exactly as their name suggests, pegging the string in the head of the instrument.
The name "peg head" was, and still is for some instruments, still appropriate. Many modern day stringed instruments still use this basic "string pegging" system. If you look at a violin or a cello today for example, you will see that they just have wooden pegs in holes with corresponding strings tied and wrapped around them. This type of peg is called a friction peg as it relies on friction to hold it steady and to keep it in place to keep the string at the correct tension.
Modern day acoustic guitars have geared tuning pegs also known as machine heads. These geared tuning pegs have two small cogs that inter-play with one another to turn the peg that is attached to the string. These are generally much more stable and smoother to turn than the friction pegs as used on Violins and similar stringed instruments. Machine heads are discussed in more detail further down.
Head Stock Functions
The functions of the guitar headstock are to; attach the free-ends of the guitar strings, and at the same time, provide a way to tune those strings. There are two types of headstocks for acoustic guitars. They are; "Slotted headstock" and "non-slotted" headstock.
The slotted headstock is the standard headstock mainly used for classical nylon string acoustic guitars. There are still a lot of new steel stringed acoustics that are also made with slotted headstocks too though. The well-known guitar makers Martin make steel stringed acoustic guitars with slotted headstocks as do Tanglewood. The famous gypsy jazz, steel string acoustic originally designed by the luthier Mario Maccaferri, made by Selmer and used by the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, also had a slotted headstock. Many replicas of these fine guitars are still made today.
A headstock is made by using a cut piece of timber from the end of the potential guitar neck (neck blank) and then re-attached to the neck blank by a joint known as a scarf joint. See Below.
A scarf joint is made by making a 15 degree cut in the guitar neck blank. The far right piece of wood seen here is the blank for the guitar neck to be. The loose piece of wood nearest this text is the headstock to be.
The loose headstock is now flipped over and glued to the back-side of the guitar neck blank as seen here.
The familiar angle between an acoustic guitar headstock and its neck is now clearly visible.
The finished article with the angle formed by the scarf joint clearly visible, but from the opposite side to that above.
Far right; shows the slots of the traditional headstock for classical guitars.
The overall shape of the headstock is often a type of signature for many acoustic guitar makers. Many Luthiers have their own individual headstock shape to make their guitars instantly recognisable.
Many expensive, handmade acoustic guitars have flamboyant headstocks with highly decorative wood inlays made from expensive different coloured wood types.
The quality of the tuning keys and the machine heads depends upon the level of the guitar they are on. Their quality is reflective of the overall quality of the instrument, which in turn, also reflects in the price.
Tuning Keys are also known as machine heads or gear heads
Machine Heads - nylon stringed guitar
Modern day acoustic guitars have geared tuning keys called machine heads. All nylon stringed (classical) acoustic guitars have open gears as clearly seen in the picture above. The above tuning keys, with their mother of pearl handles, have spiral configurations that connect and interact with a little brass cog. When the tuning key is turned, the brass cog is also turned and the white peg, that the guitar string is tied to and wrapped around, also turns to slacken or tighten the string.
Machine Heads - steel stringed guitar
The picture below and to the right shows the enclosed machine heads of the steel stringed acoustic guitar. Most steel stringed acoustic guitars have enclosed machine heads that are situated on the back of the guitar headstock, as opposed to the side mounted machine heads as employed for nylon stringed acoustics.
Machine heads are fitted according to the type of head stock they are fitted on. The slotted headstock and non-slotted headstock incorporate different mounting positions for their machine heads due to their overall nature and method for tuning the guitar. The tuning keys on a modern steel stringed guitar for example, project from the side of the head stock, whereas the tuning keys on a nylon stringed guitar project from the back of the head stock.
Therefore, steel stringed and nylon stringed acoustic guitars require a different gearing configuration in their machine heads, to allow for the back or side mounting position for the type of head stock they are to be cited.
The non-slotted or solid head stock type is generally the standard type of head stock for the vast majority of modern day steel stringed acoustic guitars. The solid head stock first started to be made by guitar makers in the very early 1930's. Up until then most, if not all steel stringed guitars were made with the slotted headstock type as used for the nylon string acoustic guitars.
The near right image shows the non-slotted headstock as used for steel stringed acoustic guitars.
And far right shows the different positions of the machine heads compared to those of the nylon stringed acoustic guitar.
The strings attach to vertically protruding spindles on the headstock
The machine heads sit on the back of the non-slotted headstock
All the different types of woods and other materials used for the entire construction of the many different types of acoustic guitars, including; the sound board, back, sides, bridge, neck, fret board, nut and strings, collectively affect the entire quality and volume of sound that is emitted from the sound box. Some of these materials have a greater affect than others on the type of sound and quality of tone that is projected from the guitar, and some are considered to have little or even no effect at all.
Many guitarists and luthiers for example, consider a 'pure bone nut' to have an effect on the tone of the instrument. Other, very well respected luthiers, don't agree at all and therefore only fit a good quality plastic nut (unless otherwise requested of course) in their handmade acoustic guitars, claiming it makes no difference at all, or at least too little a difference to be detected by the human ear.
Of course, the nut has nowhere near the effect on the tone of the guitar as say the strings or the type of wood used in its construction does for example, but the fact remains, that everything you here and feel of the acoustic guitar is open to your personal, and individual interpretation of those events.
So, whatever guitar, or guitars, your may decide to purchase, I'm sure you'll make the right choice as they will always be a part of your own individual journey.