- What is a set-up?
- What is the Maple Street Guitars Action Warranty?
- What woods are used for the top of a guitar?
- What woods are used for the backs and sides of a guitar?
- How do I care for my guitar?
- When should I change the strings on my guitar?
- Which strings are best for my guitar?
- What is the difference among brands of guitar strings?
- Why do some guitars cost so much more than others?
- I am left-handed, should I play a left-handed guitar?
- My child wants to play guitar. What type of instrument should I purchase?
- How do I travel with my guitar on an airplane?
- What is the difference between an acoustic and a classical guitar?
- What is the difference between an acoustic electric guitar and an electric guitar?
Q. What is a set-up?
A set-up involves the proper adjustment of three basic elements to improve the action, or playability, of a guitar. The result is similar to a car with new tires perfectly balanced and perfectly aligned - it will handle great and be more comfortable to drive.
A set-up includes setting the relief of the neck and the gaps between the top of the frets and the bottom of the strings at the first and the twelfth frets. If the fretwork, neck-set or neck condition are less than ideal, other work may be required to improve the playability of an instrument. Electric guitars usually require adjustments of the pickups' height, and they are generally designed such that the intonation of each string must be individually set.
The art of a set up involves experience and judgement, recognizing what a guitar will allow to maximize its playing condition.
Although we use standard measurements for string heights at specific points, we use our experience and judgement to customize each guitar's action. Ideally the fingerboard should not be dead straight, but should be adjusted with a slight (.005 to .010) concave bow referred to as the relief of the neck. When the relief of a guitar is properly adjusted and the heights of the strings at the first and the twelth frets is set, there should be little to no rattle of the strings against the frets when the guitar is played with average attack. For guitarists who play hard, a higher than standard action may be required to reduce buzzing. For a player with a softer attack, or for someone with with weak hands, a lower than standard action is possible.
If the guitar has an adjustable truss rod in the neck, adjusting the truss rod affects the neck's relief, which is the space or gap seen between the top of the frets in the middle of the fretboard and the bottom of the sixth or first string when held down at the first and twelfth or fourteenth frets simultaneously. Loosening the truss rod creates more relief, and tightening it creates less relief. Some guitars are now made with two-way truss rods. They allow a technician to put a bow into a neck as well as take a bow out.
Lowering the action of a guitar often involves filing down the existing saddle and/or the slots of the nut. Conversely, if the action needs to be raised, it may be necessary to replace the existing saddle and/or nut with a new, custom-made one.
Since fretwork is often imperfect, especially after a guitar has been played for a while, filing, crowning and polishing worn frets is often another part of the set-up. Sometimes frets are so worn that they must be replaced.
Q. What is the Maple Street Guitars Action Warranty?
Most new guitars come to us with very good set-ups. However, generally they have been constructed under ideal conditions without any string tension. After spending a little time on the wall, strung to proper string tension, taking on and giving off moisture from the ambient air of a different environment, the neck and body of the guitar can change with an adverse affect to the action. After an equilibrium to the string tension and a local environment has occurred, the action of a guitar will probably need to be re-set. In our experience a new guitar may need two or three "tweaks" of its action over the course of the seasons in its first year. After it has settled in, it should only require occasional attention.
In an effort to insure that our guitars are best examples, we always make all necessary adjustments to each guitar we sell, new or used, before they are put on display in our shop and before they leave our shop. Our experience has shown us that the first year in a guitar's new home will be the most crucial one for stabilizing the action of a guitar. In order to assist you in keeping your guitar playing its best, we will make any necessary adjustments to the action of any instrument we sell, free of charge for one year after being purchased from Maple Street Guitars.
The Action Warranty is not a manufacturer’s warranty. Though we carefully inspect every guitar we sell for structural integrity, we assume no liability with respect to any claim against a manufacturer or for any damage due to mishandling, neglect, or accidents. The Action Warranty does not cover the cost of strings or parts that might need replacement nor the labor for such.
Our Action Warranty is simply a promise by us to help you keep your guitar playing great while saving you money. Since the repair shop's basic set-up fee is eighty dollars, the two or more action "tweaks" most new instruments require in their first year that we will provide at no charge can add up to some savings. We think of it as a value added service. We hope you do as well.
Q. What woods are used for the top of a guitar?
We are not wood experts nor do we fully understand the “art” of lutherie. Nonetheless, we have learned a few things in our twenty-odd years of playing and selling guitars; and if any of our insights can help you to choose the right guitar and dispel some of the myths, we are happy to share what we have learned (a note of thanks to Luthier’s Mercantile, whose literature we often reference for accurate information):
A guitar “works” by amplifying the frequency waves created by its vibrating strings. When a player plucks the strings, the vibrations are carried through the bridge to the top which itself begins to vibrate. The vibrations of the top must be reflected rather than absorbed by the back and sides, then amplified and redirected outward from the soundhole.
In order to vibrate as freely as possible, the top or soundboard of a guitar is usually constructed from a soft wood such as spruce or cedar. To reflect the sound back towards the top, a hard, dense wood such as rosewood, mahogany and maple and occasionally certain exotic woods such as koa are used. These are the general guidelines, all else is art!
Before consideration of wood varieties, it is critical to understand the following:
- More important than the choice of wood is the luthier’s art. We can not stress this fact enough. A gifted luthier can make a good sounding guitar out of second-rate materials. A poor luthier will not be able to make a good guitar with even the finest materials. However, the best guitars are made by gifted luthiers whose experience enables them to select and creatively combine premium materials.
- Closely related to the luthier’s art is the choice of size and shape of the guitar. Classical guitars are similar in size and shape, differing mostly in string length (scale) and body depth. A longer string length plays a positive role in giving a guitar more volume, but can contribute to difficulties in playability, especially for players with small or less flexible hands. Acoustic steel string guitars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, often specific to a luthier. In every case, the size and shape plays an important role in the overall sound of the guitar.
- The combination of woods is an important factor, difficult to judge by the customer. The best hand crafted instruments have their wood “matched” by the luthier to achieve the best results. For example, a luthier may decide that a certain type or piece of wood for back and sides would produce a more desirable sound if he uses cedar rather than spruce for the top.
- The player’s touch and playing style are a significant factor in the sound coming from a particular instrument. Certain combinations of wood suit certain playing styles better than others. We encourage all our customers to try a wide range of instruments to find the one that suits their playing style as well as their budget and aesthetic tastes.
The wood chosen for a guitar’s top or soundboard is probably the most critical as far as the overall sound is concerned:
Spruce is a strong, light wood, ideal for guitar tops. There are several varieties of spruce available to guitar makers, with Sitka being the most plentiful and versatile – a good choice for most acoustic guitars. Sitka is the most dense and strong of the common woods for soundboards and has the highest strength to weight ratio of almost any wood. Because of its strength and toughness, it is ideal for hard driving bluegrass flatpicking as well as for achieving exceptionally pure tones in classical guitars.
Other varieties of Spruce are German, Engelmann and Adirondack. Typically these alternative varieties are available only on the finest, custom guitars. As noted they are often in short supply and sometimes expensive.
German spruce has been the traditional wood for guitar tops, but German spruce of good quality is in very short supply. German spruce produces a bright sound, especially in the treble.
Englemann spruce is softer and is often a good choice for small body guitars used for fingerstyle playing. Since Engelmann spruce is more plentiful in supply than German spruce and has all the traits desirable in a good German top and is more economical, it is often used by makers instead of German spruce. (According to Luthier’s Mercantile, Englemann spruce logs from the United States have been shipped to Germany for years and a good lot of it has come back to us as “German Spruce”.)
Adirondack spruce is considered a finer variety of spruce than Sitka, producing a stronger, more refined sound, but it is in very short supply in premium or even acceptable grades. In other words, a good piece of Sitka spruce may be a better choice than an inferior piece of Adirondack
Another popular choice for guitar tops is cedar. Cedar is softer and not as strong nor as elastic as spruce, but it is almost twice as stable with changes in moisture content. In classical guitars the tone is often more immediately “alive” and louder than spruce, and for this reason is preferred by some luthiers.
There is some agreement that spruce takes a little while to “loosen up”, a difference which is most apparent in classical guitars. Although there has been some debate on this issue, our experience - and that of other guitar players we know - has borne out the claim that spruce does indeed develop additional depth and character after being played for even a few weeks. By contrast, Cedar tops usually produce a warm sound from first playing, although they, too, improve with age.
If you are not sure whether your guitar has a cedar or spruce top, shine a light through the top. Spruce is more transparent. You will see the light!
Even though most guitar tops are usually either spruce or cedar, occasionally other woods are used with good results: Redwood, Koa and Mahogany.
Q. What woods are used for the backs and sides of a guitar?
The top or soundboard of a guitar must absorb the vibrations generated by the strings. The top needs to be soft and flexible.
The back and sides of a guitar must reflect the frequencies generated by the top; therefore, the back and sides are constructed of wood that is harder and more dense than the top. The wood of the back and sides also “colors” the sound depending on its type.
The most traditional and preferred wood choices for the back and sides of acoustic guitars are:
Rosewood (genus , Dalbergia ), Mahogany ( Meliaceae ) and Maple ( Acer );
In addition, Cypress , Yellow Cedar and Sycamore are used for Flamenco Guitars.
Finally, the preferred woods for solid-body electric guitars are Ash, Alder and Mahogany.
There are a number of other woods used for the back and sides of acoustic guitars which are either more rare or exotic and/or less preferable. Some of these are:
Bubinga ( Guibourtia , often called African Rosewood though it is not of the same species as rosewood) and its close relative Ovangkol ( G. ehie ), Koa ( Acacia Koa ) and its close relative Australian Blackwood (Acacia Melanoxylon ) or Black Acacia, , Striped or Macassar Ebony ( Diospyros celebica ), Imbuia ( Phoebe Perosa ), Lacewood ( Roupala Brasiliensis) , Oregon Myrtle ( Umbellularia Californica ), also known as California or Bay Laurel or Pepperwood, Padauk or Purpleheart (Pterocarpus soyauxii) , Palo Escrito , Pau Ferro ( Machaerium Villosum ), Pau Rosa ( Swartzia fistuloides) , Walnut ( Juglans California ), Wenge ( Millettia laurentii ), Zebra Wood ( Microberlina Brazzavillensis ), and Ziricote ( Cordia dodecandra ).
For complete descriptions of these tone woods for use in guitar lutherie, check out wood sources such as Luthiers Mercantile, www.lmii.com or Colonial Tonewoods, www.colonialtonewoods.com , or the many other listings on the internet.
Rosewood imparts dark, rich, chocolate tones to the sound of a guitar. It is so very popular a choice, both for its acoustic properties as well as its beautiful appearance, that many varieties, such as Brazilian and African Blackwood ( D.melanoxylon ), have been very depleted and are quality pieces are hard to come by. There are several other varieties of rosewood used in guitar making:
Amazon ( D. spruceana ), Cocobolo ( D.returna ), East Indian/Palisander ( D. latifolia ), Honduran (D. Stevensonii ) and Madagascar (D. Baroni).
In addition, there are some exotic woods which have similar appearance, density and acoustic properties to rosewood. These woods will be increasingly used as true rosewood becomes more rare:
Pau Ferro or Morado , Palo Escrito , Wenge , Zebra Wood and Ziricote
Mahogany is another very popular choice for guitar backs and sides. It, too, is becoming more difficult to obtain in good grades. Mahogany is less dense than rosewood, and its tonal properties are more bright and penetrating. Originally obtained from Honduras ( Swietenia Macrophylla) , it is now most often obtained from Brazil . Other varieties such as African ( Khaya ) and Sapele, which has more prominent vertical stripes, are very close to Honduran in appearance and tonal properties.
Mahogany, like rosewood, has wide appeal and can be used with success on a wide range of body sizes and guitar types.
Mahogany is occasionally used for top wood as well, although it is seldom a preferred top wood, being stiffer than spruce or cedar.
The third most popular back and sides choice for guitars is Maple ( Acer pseudoplatanus ). Maple has long been used for other stringed instruments, as well as guitars. It is lighter than rosewood, often lighter in weight than mahogany; and in acoustic steel-string and classical instruments it provides the brightest, most sparkling tone. It is also quite beautiful in appearance, in some cases having great depth in its flames and curl. It is the overwhelming first choice for archtop guitars, and it seems especially effective in large body guitars like jumbos. Perhaps maple helps to maintain clarity when the bass is so enhanced by a large acoustic cavity. Even so, maple is widely used in all body sizes and shapes. It is also often used as a top veneer on electric guitars.
Koa is an exotic wood grown only in Hawaii , which has been often used in guitar construction. Its dramatic patterns and color have made it very desirable in guitar backs and sides. It is also occasionally seen as top wood, although it produces a harder, less desirable tone when used for a guitar top. Koa is almost an endangered species these days, and highly figured Koa is hard to obtain. Many guitar makers are experimenting with Hawaiian Koa's close cousin, also an Acacia, Australian Blackwood.
Koa produces a brighter sound than rosewood but with darker overtones than mahogany. It is an excellent choice for many guitar sizes and types of guitars, although almost never seen on classical guitars
Walnut is increasingly used for guitar backs and sides, especially as other choice woods become less available. Walnut has a brownish-grey color and works well for backs and sides. It is used for acoustics and classicals alike. Walnut is not quite as rich in its tonal palette as rosewood, but it is less bright than Mahogany
Cypress is the preferred choice for the backs and sides of Flamenco guitars. It is a light wood, and according to our sources, chosen originally because other woods were not available to the early builders of flamenco guitars. Whether or not this story is apocryphal, the sharp, percussive qualities of these early instruments became identified with flamenco music. Flamenco musicians prefer a light instrument which projects well enough to be heard through the singing, clapping, and foot stomping of Flamenco music. Cypress , being extremely light but strong, is the first choice for the backs and sides. However, the cypress tree is relatively small, and good quality wood for guitars is not easy to obtain; frequently Alaskan Yellow Cedar ( chamaecyparis nootkatensis ) and even laminated Sycamore is used as a substitute.
For solid-body electric guitars, the solid wood used for good quality instruments varies, but Ash , specifically Swamp Ash , is often preferred for its tonal and visual aspects. Swamp Ash is quite heavy, but has a striking grain. A common substitute is Alder , especially for finishes that are not transparent. Alder is often used in laminated form for solid bodies as well. Mahogany , more expensive and rare than Swamp Ash and Alder, is also a premium choice for solid bodies, frequently topped with a Maple veneer, often fancy, with flamed or “quilted (curly)” grain.
The wood selected for a guitar's back and sides is not as significant a factor in its sound as the quality of the soundboard or top. As confirmation, a number of guitars currently use synthetic materials for the back and sides, with a surprisingly good result.
Different wood combinations used with the same good design will result in instruments that have a different sound. Some designs with specific wood combinations result in guitars which are ideal for certain playing styles.
One guitar maker referred to his company's mahogany dreadnaught, when made with a red spruce ( Adirondack ) top, as “a bluegrass machine”!
We have been intrigued with cedar tops on certain steel-string acoustic models for fingerstyle playing.
The backs and sides of most classical guitars are made with rosewood, mahogany being used primarily for student models. Maple has been used for the back and sides of classical guitars from their earliest years, but is rarely seen today because rosewood is perceived as giving the guitar a more powerful sound for the concert hall; likewise, walnut is sometimes used on classical guitars, but is seldom seen on concert models.
The variety of wood selected for a guitar is only the first criterion. More important is the quality of the selection. Getting enough wood in good grades is a great challenge for guitar makers. Although good materials are critical for making a good guitar, in our opinion, guitar design and the execution of that design are even more critical. (See What makes one guitar cost more than another?)
Q. How do I care for my guitar?
Whether you've just spent $100 or $1,500 on a new guitar - now you need to know how to protect your baby! Here are some basic facts we'd like to share.
Environment - Guitars constructed of wood are like sponges - ie. they give up and take on moisture. It is important that they not give up too much moisture too fast:
- Bad guitar environment #1: The very hot place - the trunk of your car (even on a mild day) or your attic. Overheating causes a guitar to give up moisture very quickly. In addition, the heat can soften glues, cause bridges to pull up. The solution: never leave your guitar in a place where YOU would be uncomfortable.
- Bad guitar environment #2: The very dry place. Be aware that when it gets cold outside, especially in the fall when it may be warm one day and freezing the next, we tend to turn up the heat. The subsequent rapid drying of the air can be bad for your guitar. It may give up so much of it's moisture so quickly that serious cracks can form. The top will shrink and the action will fall, resulting in fret buzzes. If your skin feels scratchy and dry, most likely your guitar is suffering, too. The solution: Humidify the room and put your guitar in its case with its very own humidifier, such as a Dampit.
String Tension - Keep the tension on the guitar neck as consistent as possible. Make sure that your new steel-string guitar has an appropriate amount of reverse tension on the adjustable truss rod to balance the string tension. If the guitar becomes difficult to play or develops buzzing, have an expert check the action and make the appropriate adjustments. At Maple Street Guitars, every guitar we sell is adjusted and checked for this. Additionally, we can custom-set the action for the string gauge you prefer. Plus, if you need any tweaking of the action, we will readjust it for one year from the date of purchase - all at no charge to you! One more very important reason to purchase your guitar from us.
Wood Care - Clean all lacquered wood with a damp cloth, or with a commercial guitar polish, containing a small amount of wax. Unlacquered parts - such as the fingerboard and some bridges - may be rubbed with lemon oil to combat dryness and bring out the natural color of the wood. (Use a product formulated for use on guitars - not furniture polish!) To remove grime on the fingerboard, we usually give fingerboards a cleaning with lemon oil followed by a buffing with extra-fine steel wool.
Q. When should I change the strings on my guitar?
A guitar sounds its best when its strings are fresh. So -
- Change your strings when you think your guitar doesn't sound as good as it used to.
Strings eventually get completely stretched out and lose their elasticity. At this point it becomes more difficult to make small adjustments in tension. So -
- Change your strings when it becomes difficult to tune your guitar accurately.
- Obviously, change your strings when they break - only change all of them. Usually the compression of the guitar string at the saddle eventually results in enough stress on the string that it breaks. Or, enthusiastic playing puts more tension on a string than it can tolerate. The most balanced sound on a guitar occurs when strings are of the same vintage. A fresh string sounds stronger than an older string. Furthermore, unless the string break results from a very hard attack on the string alone, a breaking string points to wearing out of the other strings. For best results, change all of the strings when one string breaks.
Q. Which strings are best for my guitar?
Strings have two main variables: weight or gauge and the material from which they are manufactured.
1. String Material
A. Brass. Used only for the bass (wound) strings of acoustic steel-string guitars, brass strings are called "80/15", "80/20" or "bright bronze". As might be expected, "bright bronze" sounds very bright or "brassy". The color of the strings is a bright, brassy, yellow color. Within a brand, "80/20 or bright bronze strings are usually the least expensive.
B. Phosphor Bronze. Used for the bass (wound) strings of acoustic steel-string guitars, Phosphor Bronze strings are true bronze with a touch of phosphorus for longer life. Phosphor Bronze strings are a darker, more "bronze" color and produce a cleaner, more focused sound. They usually cost a little more, and many people claim that they stay "live" longer.
C. Steel. Used for the plain (unwound) treble strings for electric and acoustic steel-stringed guitars. They are made of polished nickle steel.
D. Nickel . Used for the bass (wound) strings of electric guitars and also for some strings designed for acoustic-electric guitars. Its high magnetic sensitivity makes it a natural choice for use with magnetic pickups.
E. Nylon. Used for the strings of classical and flamenco guitars, which are braced too lightly to withstand the tension of metal strings. Nylon is very elastic and pliable, and has a much lower tension than brass and bronze strings. Pure nylon is used for the treble strings, and nylon filaments wound with silver-plated wire are used for the bass strings. Since nylon is very pliable, it is good for subtle effects such as vibrato and tonal variation.
In recent years new, denser nylon compounds have been developed. The higher density allows for a smaller diameter string which produces a more focused, louder and somewhat brighter sound than more traditional nylon polymers.
F . Copper. May be used for unwound treble strings or as the coil wrap of classical guitar strings. Also, it is a compound component in bronze, and it is commonly nickle coated on classical guitar bass strings.
G. Synthetic webbing. Used in coating wound strings for longer life.
The amount of perspiration and the constitution of the perspiration varies from person to person. For those guitarists whose hands are clammy or sweat a great deal, the chemistry of their perspiration can corrode the strings and deaden them so swiftly that playing with fresh strings is a short-lived event.
Modern technology to the rescue! A few years ago the Gore corporation, inventor of Gore-Tex (registered trademark) outerwear, developed a web-like coating for guitar strings which protected the strings from the corrosiveness of perspiration. Coated strings extend the life of strings for other players as well, and they keep guitars hanging on the walls in stores sounding better for longer. Gore's brand, Elixir, has been hugely successful, a godsend to guitarists with clammy hands. It has been copied by major string manufacturers, until most major brands have a coated string offering.
The downside of coated strings is that they do not sound as crisp and fresh as non-coated strings. Furthermore, the web-coating can not be applied to plain steel treble strings, however progress is being made in this area. Gore has tinkered with their original string, called Polyweb, and put out a string with a lighter coating called Nanoweb which has a crisper sound. In both types, the coating is effectively shrink-wrapped onto the finished string. The EXP series by D'Addario is an "extended play" string which employs a protective coating around the coiling wire for the bass strings before it is wound on the core wire. Cleartone is another company that produces extended play strings with a process that binds an anti-oxidant to the string material, and the Martin company now has an extended play string that employs the Cleartone process.
2 . Gauge or string weight.
Strings come in a range of gauges, usually termed "extra-light", "custom light", "light", "medium", "heavy" and various combinations of the above. Most of the time the actual string diameters are listed on the package. Nylon strings are the most general in their designations: Normal, Hard Tension and Extra Hard Tension.
A rule of thumb is this - the smaller the diameter of the string, the less tension it has at a given pitch. From a performance perspective, less tension equals less energy which in the case of an acoustic guitar will result in less volume. Thinner, lighter strings also deform more easily when fretted, affecting intonation (playing in tune). Heavier strings are harder to fret making certain effects like vibrato and string bends more difficult, however, they produce a louder, fuller tone.
Gauge is also a matter of suiting the string to the guitar. A general rule is that big body guitars use heavier strings to achieve their best sound, and smaller body guitars use lighter strings - in some cases to put less stress on a lighter braced instrument. Heavier strings are best for players whose playing style involves a strong attack on the string: they can play harder, and get more volume with less string buzzing against the frets. However, heavier strings can damp the shimmer and subtlety in the sound of many guitars and present a challenge to those with weaker hands.
For experienced players, the choice of string gauge is often quite specific. They have discovered the guage and string type which they feel best compliments their instruments sound and their playing technique.
Q. What is the difference among brands of guitar strings?
String weight and material aside, different manufacturers also vary the manufacturing of their strings in the following ways:
- Size and shape of the core wire in metal wound strings, as well as the diameter of the wrapping wire and the ratio of the two.
- Type of fiber or filament in nylon wound strings.
- Number of wraps per inch on wound strings which is a function of the diameter of the wrapping wire.
- Guage of individual strings within a set. Manufacturers occasionally differ slightly as to the individual guages of the strings packaged together as a set under a certain designation, such as "light" or "medium.
Players may be unconsciously sensitive to these differences - hence, their preferences for one brand over another. In the end, players should experiment with the types and brands of strings appropriate for their instrument, and choose the set that sounds and plays best for them.
Q. Why do some guitars cost so much more than others?
1 . Biggest reason: Time and labor.
Generally speaking, manufacturing processes will produce an economy of scale, but in the highest quality instruments there can be no economy of skill. Despite the use of wonderful and sophisticated new technology in guitar construction, skilled labor is still required to construct best-quality guitars, especially non-amplified acoustic guitars. The higher the standards, the more skilled the craftsman need to be and the more time it takes to build an instrument.
In the case of highly regarded custom shops or of successful individual luthiers, the finished product is the result of many detailed decisions made and actions taken concerning the best use of each piece of wood used in the construction of a guitar. For example, the wood selected for the top of each acoustic guitar will have its deflection aspects and tonal responsiveness individually considered. A decision will have to be be made on how thick the top wood should be and the other woods with which it can be mated in order to achieve the best performance from the finished instrument. If a consistent, high quality result is achieved, it is the product of intelligent decisions and good judgement derived from years of experience along with high quality tools and the skill to use them effectively. In custom workshops it simply takes more time to voice tops, hand shape braces, and carefully join all the parts of a finished guitar with expert precision. The resulting instruments will generally cost more than those made where parts are assembled in a more mass-produced fashion.
In addition to the extra time required to decorate a guitar with special inlays, purflings and bindings, and special finishes, there are many different types of custom hardware that might be selected for use which can increase the final pricing of an instrument.
The quality and availability of the materials used for the construction of a guitar are factors which bear on the the price of an instrument. Premium instrument-grade materials are more rare, more expensive, and sometimes more difficult to work with. Brazilian rosewood, for example, is an endangered species protected from commercial harvesting and export by an international treaty. The scarce quantities that are legally available are expensive and difficult to acquire. It is very desirable both for its singular beauty and unique tonal properties. However, it is problematic to work with because it is brittle and prone to cracking. Thus, the use of Brazilian rosewood may add hundreds to thousands of dollars to the base price of an instrument. The best luthiers and manufacturers have very high standards for the materials they use. If they can not obtain a variety of wood in the grade that satisfies their requirements, an individual luthier or custom shop will generally will not construct guitars from that variety until a suitable source is found.
3. Uniqueness and Demand.
As in all consumer items, demand drives price. A gifted, highly skilled, and widely acclaimed guitar maker who only makes twenty-five guitars a year will probably have a waiting list for their instruments. Demand for such a small output will drive up the price. Is the higher price justified? The players wanting a guitar from that luthier would probably answer, "Yes!"
Q. I am left-handed, should I play a left-handed guitar?
There is no single answer to this question. There are many reasons to play the guitar as right-handed players do with the left hand fingering the notes on the fingerboard and the right hand strumming or plucking the strings.
1. A person has to develop the dexterity, strength and independence of both hands in order to play most instruments. However, almost all instruments are "handedness biased"; their design requires fixed use of each hand. For example, there are no left-handed pianos, saxaphones, flutes, etc., so, most players willingly adapt. The same is true for the guitar generally, but because its strings can be reversed, it is sometimes played left-handed. Some left-handed players go even further and reverse the position of a right-handed guitar and play it with the strings upside down which dramatically complicates fingerstyle playing by making the fingers play low notes and the thumb play high notes in contradiction to their most natural use.
2. At most stores, including ours, the choice of guitars for left-handed players is often very limited. Many players are compelled to order a left-handed guitar without being able to try it out first. Most manufacturers will make make most, if not all, of their models in a left-handed version. However, some charge an additional fee to do so.
3. Left-handed players are at a disadvantage in situations where there is an available guitar to play, but it is right-handed.
4. Almost all of the vast resource of instructional material for guitar in print form or in video assumes that the user is right-handed. Thus, the person who chooses to play left-handed will have to re-interpret the information; the materials have not been re-formatted for left-handed players.
Nevertheless, if after trying for several months to play right-handed a left-handed person still feels disoriented and clumsy in their efforts to play the guitar, and feels that switching the guitar around to play left-handed would advance their progress, they should purchase a left-handed instrument and play on!
Q. My child wants to play guitar. What type of instrument should I purchase?
1. A properly sized guitar that is comfortable to hold and allows easy access to the strings for both hands is essential to enable success in learning to play. Some guitars come in several sizes designed specifically for children.
2. Most teachers recommend a nylon string guitar for children, because nylon strings have less tension and are easier to press down. They are also more commonly available in smaller incremental sizes - i.e. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4.
3. However, if the child has strong preferences for a steel string sound because of the music he or she is eager to play, or if he or she is strongly motivated by the idea of playing an electric guitar, motivation must be taken into consideration. Most teachers who play acoustic and electric styles can teach a beginning student on any type of guitar, as long as the size is right. Solo or fingerstyle playing is still best learned on a nylon string guitar.
Q. How do I travel with my guitar on an airplane?
In these security-conscious days traveling with your guitar can be a stressful experience, especially if your guitar is valuable to you in terms of dollars or sentiment. According to the Transportation Security Administration website ( TSA.gov ), you may take an instrument on board a plane as long as it is in a case and fits within TSA size requirements. Because, many TSA personnel may not be aware of this policy, it may be helpful to print out the policy and have it with you when you travel. Bear in mind that the TSA allowances may not be the same as those of your carrier.
1. The easiest way is to use a well-padded gig bag and carry your guitar on board as inconspicuously as possible with no other baggage in hand. The downside of this plan is that if it does not fit in the overhead compartment, which can be small on some large airplanes, or if the authorities force you to check your guitar into the baggage compartment, your guitar faces considerable risk in being crushed by heavier luggage during take-off and landing.
2. The most secure way to fly with your guitar is to purchase a flight case, such as a Calton (see Cases) and gate-check your guitar. Flight cases are expensive, more expensive than some guitars. But, they protect instruments quite well from all but the most bizarre occurrences. You must weigh your guitar's importance against the cost of the case.
3. The calculated risk method: Purchase a strong, arched top or double-arched case, which is more protective than a gig bag or flat top case. You can even buy a padded case cover with a shoulder strap to reduce shocks and help protect against gouges. A shoulder strap helps to make the guitar case seem less obtrusive and bulky than a flight case, and that may help in gettintog the guitar carried on board. This solution is not as protective as a flight case, but it is less expensive and offers a pretty good protection against the hazards of it being checked into the baggage compartment. Again, checking your guitar at the gate and retrieving it at the gate of your destination rather than having it ride the ramps and carousels, eliminates additional hazards to your instrument.
Q. What is the difference between an acoustic and a classical guitar?
Technically nylon string and steel-string "acoustics" are both acoustic guitars.
1. A nylon string guitar is often called a "classical" guitar because it is the instrument most often used for playing solo, composed pieces. A nylon string guitar typically has nylon treble strings and basses made of a nylon filament core wrapped with silver-plated wire, a wider neck - usually about 2" wide at the nut - and a flat fingerboard. The neck is wider to enable a player to play "cleaner", keeping certain strings ringing while others are played.
The neck joins the body at the 12th fret, instead of the 14th fret, as is typical in most steel string acoustics. The headstock is slotted rather than solid. The body of a nylon string guitar has a pretty standard shape to achieve balance between the bass and treble portions of the dynamic range.
Nylon string guitars are actually quite versatile and are used for many types of music worldwide. Their strings are easy to press down, and the balance between treble and bass is very accommodating to the expression of melodic lines. Many jazz players use nylon string guitars because of their sound and playability. Beginning students often find nylon string guitars easier to play.
2. Steel string guitars are called "acoustics" in the music industry. They have all metal strings, a narrower neck than nylon string guitars, and a curved or "radiused" fingerboard. The neck of the steel string guitar most often joins the body at the 14th fret, although there are some exceptions. The body of steel string guitars often comes in different sizes and shapes to accommodate different types of music and playing styles:
A. Dreadnoughts. This body shape was invented by the Martin Guitar Company in the early 20th century for the Ditson Company. It had a deeper and wider lower bout than guitars made previously. Martin named it after a famous World War I heavy weight class battleship. This design enhanced the bass response of the guitar, making it ideal for rhythm accompaniment. It became so popular that it was widely copied and a version of the dreadnought is a standard model in the line of almost every guitar maker today.
B. Small Body. Smaller body guitars have a more even balance between the bass and treble - i.e., melodic lines become more prominent. For this reason they are often chosen by players who want to play solo fingerstyle music. They are also chosen by players who find large body guitars uncomfortable to hold. Finally, many players are looking for a different sound, and like what they hear from a small body guitar.
Small body guitars are offered by most guitar manufacturers and luthiers. The Martin Guitar company, being one of the oldest, has several models, designated by zeros: 0, 00, 000, 0000. They also have an "Orchestra Model" called " OM " which has the same body size as a 000, but usually has a longer scale length and often a slightly greater nut width.
Many other guitar makers use the "Orchestra Model" general proportions and also the name " OM " for their small body guitars. In addition, there are other designations for unique small body shapes. Grand Concert is a popular term for small body guitars used by Taylor, Goodall and many others. Gibson has their L and Nick Lucas models, which are unique designs, often copied. Collings has a C-10 model, similar to the Gibson L model, for example.
C. Grand Auditoriums and Small Jumbos. These sizes are not small body guitars, but their design and shape often result in a big-sounding guitar with a more balanced treble and bass, making them good candidates for fingerstyle playing. Though they often have the body depth of a dreadnought, they usually don't feel as bulky to hold because they have a much more narrow waist.
D. Jumbos. Jumbos are the largest bodied steel string guitars. Depending on the materials used in their construction they usually have the most pronounced bass of all guitars. They are great for rhythm accompaniment.
E. 12-Frets. Joining the body of a steel string guitar to the neck at the 12th fret results in a longer body and more soundboard to vibrate. The sound generated by 12-fret steel strings is very big and open, even when the body is a small , such as a 000 size. Fingerstyle players especially enjoy 12-fret acoustics. On these guitars, the nuts are typically a little wider which allows for wider string displacements that better accommodate solo fingerstyle playing. The headstock is traditionally slotted, although solid headstocks are also seen. The Martin company designates their 12-frets with an "S" for "Slot-head".
Q. What is the difference between an acoustic electric guitar and an electric guitar?
Installing electronic pickups in an acoustic steel string guitar enables the steel string sound to be amplified or made louder. Electric guitars, including archtop or "jazz" guitars (which have an acoustic cavity) have a much different sound, due to their unique construction and the pickups used to amplify their sound.
The pickups used in acoustic guitars to produce a signal which can be electronically amplified are generally from a class of pressure sensitive elements called piezo (Greek for pressure) transducers. Mechanical energy is converted, or transduced, into electrical energy by means of a pressure sensitive conducting element that is either fixed to the top of a guitar or is positioned under the saddle where the downward bearing pressure of the strings is greatest. The frequency and amplitude of any vibrational energy is immediately converted into an electrical signal of matching proportion which can be conducted to an amplifer. Condensor microphones are often used singly or in conjunction with piezo transducers to help achieve a warmer, more "natural" sound. Most pickup manufacturers also make electro-magnetic coil pickups for acoustic guitars which are specially prepared to interact with the bronze wrapped bass strings of which only the nickle steel core wire induces a signal. These pickups tend to reduce feedback when used at high volume.
Archtop electric guitars and solid body electrics both use electro-magnetic coils to "pick up' the vibrational energy of the strings when they are struck. The vibrating motion of a magnetically sensitive nickle steel string causes a perturbation in the flux-field of the electo-magnetic coil which induces an electrical signal in the coil that is proportional to the frequency and intensity of the vibrating string. That signal is then conducted to an amplifier where it can be amplified, or it may first be passed through effects pedals or other processors to achieve unique and special sound qualities.
Solid body electric guitars in particular have a sound much different from an amplified acoustic guitar. They were originally designed without an acoustic cavity which helped eliminate feedback, although feedback was subsequently utilized to create distinctive sounds for electric guitars. The unique sounds generated by electric guitars has reshaped many genres of music because of the wide variety of effects available with sound processing equipment specifically designed for the electric guitarists.
Although, in the absolute sense, an acoustic guitar with added electronics functions like an electric guitar and can be amplified with effects included, the acoustic guitar player is generally only seeking to reproduce, as closely as possible, the unamplified sound of his or her guitar. In contrast, the solid body electric guitar must be amplified to be heard; by necessity, its voice is an amplifier. Experienced electric guitar players usually use many different guitars, amplifiers, and effects components to shape the sound of the music they play.