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Guide to Acoustic Guitar Body Styles

acoustic guitar body styles

The effect of acoustic guitar body styles is significant in the instrument’s sound and aesthetics. Understanding these shapes and their relation with tone is essential whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or a beginner. 

In this article, I will explore the range of acoustic guitar body styles, demystifying various body shapes to help you choose one that suits your musical style. From the common ones to the near-obsolete ones, you’ll find everything here!

What are the different acoustic guitar body styles?

Acoustic guitars come in a diverse array of body shapes and sizes. Some emphasize portability, some focus on the resonance of sound, some cater to higher playability, and some just want to look like the coolest out there. Each offers unique characteristics that influence the instrument’s tone, playability, and overall feel. 

Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common acoustic guitar body shapes:

Dreadnought

The dreadnought guitar shape is an enduring symbol of acoustic excellence. Its distinctive, robust design features a broad body with square shoulders, contributing to its iconic appearance and powerful sound. Dreadnoughts are large guitars with upper bouts that are only slightly smaller in width than the lower bouts. 

This shape was first popularized by the Martin Guitar Company in the early 20th century and has since become a staple in the world of acoustic guitars.

The scale length of a dreadnought is usually around 645mm (25.4″) with body depth approx 121- 124mm (4.9″).  Round shoulder dreadnoughts also exist, though rare to find.

Why Are Dreadnoughts Special

Known for its volume, deep bass, and pronounced midrange, the dreadnought excels in genres that demand strong projection, making it a preferred choice for artists dabbling in folk, country, and bluegrass music. Pop artists who incorporate a lot of strummed sections have also found much love for it.

Image by Martin Guitars

Grand Concert

The grand concert guitar shape is a refined and versatile acoustic instrument design. Characterized by its compact, narrow-waisted body, it offers excellent playability and sonic intricacies. This shape’s structural attributes create a tonal profile marked by balanced frequency distribution, ensuring clarity and articulation. 

Why Are Grand Concerts Special

Its pronounced midrange and well-defined tonal spectrum make it a preferred choice for fingerstyle guitarists and soloists who require precise note articulation. Its short scale and lighter string tension help achieve technical excellence across various musical genres, including classical, folk, and contemporary acoustic styles.

Check out the best classical guitar strings here.

Image By Taylor

Grand Auditorium Cutaway

The grand auditorium cutaway guitar, a descendant of the classic grand auditorium design, boasts a unique and practical feature—a cutaway that allows easier access to frets past the 12th fret.

Originating in the early 20th century, this design was popularized by brands like Taylor Guitars. Renowned artists such as Taylor Swift, Jason Mraz, and Dave Matthews have embraced the grand auditorium cutaway for its versatility and balanced tone. 

Why Are Grand Auditoriums Special

The balance between resonance and high-notes accessibility and its ability to blend rich, warm lows with crisp, clear highs makes it an ideal choice for musicians spanning diverse genres, from pop to folk and beyond.

Image By Martin

Parlor Guitars

Parlor guitars, originating in the 19th century, were designed for intimate gatherings and parlors, hence their name. While their small bodied limits projection, i.e., volume, they offer a unique charm and tonal warmth that resonate with aficionados of folk, blues, and vintage styles.

Famous for their portability and vintage aesthetics, parlor guitars tend to be 18 1/4″ or less long, 4″ deep, have 9 1/2″ or less upper body width, and 13 1/4″ or less low body width. 

Why You Must Hava A Parlor Guitar

Artists who travel around a lot or feel comfortable playing on small-bodied guitars love the parlor guitars. The guitar is ideal for players who perform in small venues or close gatherings.

Concert, or Model “O”

Concert guitars represent a timeless and revered category within the world of acoustic instruments. Characterized by their smaller, symmetrical slope-shouldered bodies, these guitars offer a distinctive playing experience. They feature nylon strings that produce a warm and mellow tone, making them ideal for classical, fingerstyle, and flamenco music. 

Check out some budget classical guitars here.

What Makes A Concert, or Model “O” Unique

With a shorter scale length and a wider, flat fingerboard, concert guitars facilitate precise fingerpicking and intricate chord progressions. Renowned for their rich resonance and sustain, they have become vessels for expressing the beauty and emotion of classical and flamenco compositions.

Image by Alhambra

Grand Concert, or Model “OO” Guitars

The Grand Concert Model 00, often referred to as simply “Model 00,” represents a classic and iconic design in the world of acoustic guitars. This guitar shape is characterized by its smaller, more intimate body size, making it highly appealing to musicians who prioritize comfort and precision.

What Makes Grand Concert, or Model “OO” Guitars Unique

With a typically shorter scale length, a narrow waist, a cutaway, and a well-balanced tonal spectrum, Model 00 guitars excel in delivering a clear and articulate sound. This makes them well-suited for fingerstyle playing, intricate picking techniques, and solo performances.

Image by Alvarez

Orchestra Model, Grand Auditorium, or Model “OM” or “GA”

In the 20th century, the Orchestra Model was originally intended to be a large guitar capable of being heard over other orchestral instruments. It is a technically sophisticated acoustic guitar design celebrated for its tonal equilibrium and ergonomics.

The OM boasts a narrow waist and meticulous bracing patterns that contribute to its exceptional sound. Its body is a bit smaller than a dreadnought, with a 15-inch-wide lower bout and a body depth that tapers from 4-1/8 inches to 3-1/4 inches.

What Makes An Orchestra Model, Grand Auditorium, or Model “OM” or “GA” Unique:

This model’s tonal signature is typified by a pronounced midrange, making it a prime choice for fingerstyle aficionados and soloists. 

Jumbo and Super-Jumbo

In the realm of acoustic guitars, jumbo, and super jumbo models stand tall. These giants, known for their broad-shouldered bodies, deliver commanding soundscapes.

Jumbo Guitars

Originated by Gibson in the 1930s, jumbo guitars offer booming bass and robust projection. Ideal for country and bluegrass, they’ve become an emblem of acoustic authority.

Image By Gibson

Super Jumbo Guitars

The biggest of the big guitars “super jumbos” take size to the extreme, boasting even larger bodies and unmatched volume. Artists like Elvis Presley and John Hiatt favor them for their stage presence.

Image by Tanglewood

Where they shine: Though not for everyone due to their size, these guitars are unparalleled for filling rooms with thunderous resonance and melodic might.

Choosing the Shape That’s Right For You

Picking one out of the numerous acoustic guitar body styles is a difficult choice. You should do it with careful consideration of your playstyle, tone preference, performance setup, and aesthetics. You already know which shape offers what perks, so go all out!

How do cutaway and non-cutaway guitars differ from each other?

Cutaway guitars have a “cut” in the body near the neck, allowing easier access to higher frets. Non-cutaway guitars have a traditional body shape, offering a fuller sound but limiting access to those higher notes. If you’re into lead guitar or soloing, a cutaway might be beneficial. For a rich, full-bodied tone, you may prefer a non-cutaway.

Can you explain the distinctions between Dreadnought and Slope-shoulder guitars?

Dreadnought guitars have a square-shouldered design and a larger body, which produces a bold, loud sound perfect for strumming and flatpicking. Slope-shoulder guitars, on the other hand, have rounded or “sloped” shoulders, yielding a mellower tone. They’re often favored for fingerpicking and softer styles. Which one is better? It really depends on your musical needs.

What sets the O/0 acoustic models apart from each other?

The terms “O” and “00” refer to the body sizes of acoustic guitars, with “O” being smaller and “00” being slightly larger. The smaller O size often produces a brighter, more focused sound suitable for fingerstyle and solo performances. The 00 size offers a bit more volume and is low-end, making it versatile for both strumming and fingerpicking. Both are more compact than a Dreadnought, but each has its unique tonal qualities.

Could you differentiate among Classical, Spanish, and Flamenco guitars?

While all three types of guitars have roots in Spanish tradition, they vary in construction and tone. Classical guitars usually have nylon strings and a wider neck, tailored for classical music and fingerstyle techniques. Spanish guitars are a broad category that generally includes Classical guitars but can also refer to any guitar developed in Spain. Flamenco guitars are a subtype of classical guitars but are built to produce a brighter, more percussive sound, catering to the quick finger techniques used in flamenco music.

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Sabih Safwat

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