The music gear industry can be a fickle thing. For all the hard science that compromises the technology and innovation we use to make music every day (electromagnetism, ferromagnetics, transduction…really, a lot of it is magnets), there’s an equal, if not greater amount of silliness that goes into all of it, too. The music industry has plenty of “soft sciences”, such as trying to quantify “good tone” or calculate “sustain” or measure out “exactly how much of a mid-life crisis you need to be experiencing before you get into guitar again”, etc.
Fact is, subjective things like good tone/bad tone or how certain finishes can possibly imbibe you with more or less talent end up symptomatically producing weird industry-insider language that can be confusing to those who don’t spend every hour of every day thinking about guitars. And honestly, even those of us who do spend every waking hour and most of every paycheck chasing the gear dragon aren’t always clear on certain terminology.
For acoustic guitars.
Different Body Types & Why They Matter
There are all sorts of various… variables that go into making your guitar sound and feel like it does; not the least of which being the actual shape and size of the guitars’ body. Body shapes and sizes vary to quite a degree; everything from the traditional…
…to the adventurous…
…to the downright freaky and stupid…
Kill it with fire!
That last one was a drastic example, but at least with most manufacturers and brands, any one of these many shapes can be the difference between a guitar you can make do with and a guitar that perfectly suits you, your style, and your application. Out of the dozens of different options available to you, each type has its own feel and tonal characteristics to consider.
But remember: this is retail music, so barely anything gets to be black and white. One manufacturer’s “concert” size ends up being another brand’s “folk” or “parlor” or “baby” or whatever the hell size you want to call it. The terms used to describe types of body shapes aren’t standardized from Guild to Fender to Martin, but there are enough similarities between them all to make some safe generalizations. So, Imma just give them all some broader, new names and hopefully, they’ll catch on! Beginning with small stuff…
The 3/4 Guitars:
As the name implies, 3/4 guitars have shorter scale-lengths* than standard scale guitars (usually around 22"-23"). Short scale-lengths are often recommended for beginning players or folks who want to get a little more sensitivity and expression out of their playing since string tension isn’t as tight. And considering they almost look like a beefed up baritone ukulele, 3/4-scale guitars are absolutely delightful for beginning players, smaller players, or folks looking for a portable alternative that doesn't just sound like a Kleenex box with rubber bands strapped across it. In fact, the Fender MA-1 3/4 acoustic is our personal favorite at the shop and a definite recommendation for those in search of a wieldable instrument of awesome quality.
The Wee Guitars:
I pretty much consider anything smaller than a Martin 0 (“single-ought”) to be a “Wee Guitar”. This is a category where you’ll find things like:
…and other “parlor” style guitars.
HOWEVER, I don’t like the term “Parlor” anymore given that it seems like no one can decide what makes a parlor guitar a parlor guitar. Except, maybe, that it’s something smaller than a dreadnought (we’ll get to that in a minute). A perfect example of this is Guild’s “Concert” models (great instruments by the way!) that are shaped and sized like anyone else’s “parlor”.
So you could say, then, that “Concert” is just another way of saying “Parlor”; sorta like how some people use “tremolo” and “vibrato” synonymously (though, again…that’s also not correct). But what about “Grand Concert” guitars? You could say they’re basically just a standard scale-length dreadnought with an eating disorder. So as far as the whole “concert-parlor-whatever” thing…I just bypass the manufacturer’s label and call it “Wee”, since these guys are wee-er than standard sizes.
Wee guitars maintain a standard(ish) string tension (in fact, often a little bit longer than standard for a balanced feel) but have smaller, more tapered bodies for comfort as well as that particularly clear, bright tone.
If you have a young beginning guitarist in your life (or if you are one yourself) Parlor/Concert/Whatever guitars make excellent first choices! Even if you’ve been playing for years, smaller bodied guitars have their places for all kinds of different music and application. Often favored by fingerstyle players for their clarity and lack of whoofy bass, Wee guitars are great for recording and cut through a mix quite beautifully with clear, trebly sweetness. You’ll also find many Wee guitar’s to be counter-intuitively loud in spite of their small size, so you don’t often have to worry about a loss of volume when scaling down. Just a tighter, more controlled tone.
The Folksy Sizes:
There are those, however, who consider Wee guitars a bit too… “throaty” tone wise. If you’re looking for something physically smaller than normal but you don’t want to compromise on broader tone too much, you could look into a category of body shapes I refer to as “Folksy”. Here you’ll find stuff like:
These guitars are essentially dreadnought-ish but with a little less junk in the trunk. Or, wood in the ‘hood… Spruce in the caboose…? Mahogany in the – oh, nevermind! The bodies are smaller, though shaped a little closer to a dreadnought and often with a cutaway option.
With larger soundboards than Wee guitars, these provide some tonal warmth and balance that can sometimes go missing when you go small. You’ll often find a broader dynamic range in these guys and since most of them maintain a standard scale-length* (usually in the neighborhood of 25" or so), they’ll feel more like a full-sized guitar, perfectly suitable for either fingerstyle or full-fledged strumming. These sorts of guitars tend to be my favorite alternatives to sometimes bulky dreadnoughts. And for my fellow ladies to know, sometimes it’s good to have some extra maneuvering room up top, if you catch my drift...
The Standard Sizes:
Or, really the standard size. Walk into any music shop (preferably ours!) and most of the guitars on the wall will be dreadnoughts. Dreadnoughts are typically anywhere between 24.5” to 25.6” in scale-length and are often derived from the Martin OM; usually considered the quintessential cowboy guitar of the industry. Whether with a cutaway or without, dreadnoughts have larger soundboards than parlors and folks with thicker waists and fuller bouts. The result is that classic, full, warm, strum-around-the-campire sound that most people think of when they think guitar.
Though yet again, this industry rarely leaves “standards” well enough alone, considering other manufacturers have since offered different takes on dreadnought-ish shapes, such as Taylor’s Grand Auditoriums or Takamine NEX’s which is sort of like a mini-jumbo...
Speaking of which…
Da Big Fellas:
There are those who may consider anything bigger than a dreadnought to be like the compensator trucks of guitars. But that’s not true. These are the compensator trucks of guitars:
At least he doesnt hang those little metal testicles off the strap pin.
Jumbos, Grand Symphonies, and all those Big Fellas definitely have their proper places when it comes to playing excellent music and getting great tone. For those searching for beefy, loud, powerful chords and excellent sustain and projection, a Jumbo is often just the ticket. The bigness and balance of their sound is mainly due to the larger, rounder upper and lower bouts, and since a guitar’s body is essentially just a big wooden box that vibrates, sometimes you want to go bigger if you want better.
If you can handle a jumbo, they’re almost always ideal for live music or anything where you want strong chording and rich harmonic layering. Here are some excellent examples:
Yes...Guild calls it an F-150, but that doesn't make it analogous to a truck. I caught the irony in that, though.
But when all is said 'n done, we have a saying around here at Bigfoot: "Every guitar is different". Honestly, the BEST way for you to figure out what's comfortable and what sounds good to you is to try everything you possibly can. We recommend stopping on by the shop here and give yourself some time to explore your guitar body options. You'll also find that different shaped guitars are a lot like having different tools in your tool belt; something for each scenario. So though I tend to favor Wee or Folksy sizes myself, I keep a dreadnought in my stash at all times since I often need it for live ensemble stuff. Jumbos, well...I'm just not man enough yet.
I'm gonna go lift some weights or spit or something. Or, drive a big truck. Yeah! That'll do it! Someone tell my husband to make me a sandwich!
Stay excellent and have a good week!
*Important note: Scale-length is a factor mentioned in this article, however it is important to note that scale length has little to do with body SHAPES themselves, and more about how the manufacturer wants any given model to play like. In fairness, there are many "parlor"-ish guitars with longer scale-lengths than dreadnoughts, so scale length isn't always a given when it comes to the body shape you choose. The best way to determine what scale length is good for you (regardless of body shape) is to, again, TRY IT ALL.