There is a vast range of acoustic guitar types on the market today. With the different shapes and sizes come varying appearances and sounds. This is what makes playing the acoustic guitar so fun and enjoyable.
You could play the same riff on two guitars but they can sound completely different in terms of tone as well as how they feel.
While you want an acoustic guitar to sound as top-quality as possible, most of us are drawn to the visuals at first. The shape and size of a guitar can determine your decision on whether it’s right for you or not.
Nevertheless, there are other factors and elements you should consider before purchasing an acoustic guitar as well.
Different guitar body shapes will directly affect the instrument’s tonal qualities. There is also the matter of choosing between steel or nylon strings. Do you want solid wood or a laminate construction?
Will you require a fully acoustic guitar or an electric/acoustic model? You must ask yourself these questions to figure out what kind of guitar suits you best.
At the end of the day, your decision should be based upon what style or genre of music you intend to play and your playing style.
There are no ‘set in stone’ rules when guitars are being manufactured. This is why there is a vast difference in the tonal properties and projection of sound in many acoustic guitars.
In today’s blog, we will be guiding you through the different shapes, body styles, and dimensions of acoustic guitars. By the end of this article, we hope you will be more enlightened as to what type of acoustic guitar will suit your needs best.
Best of all, the only way to find out is to play as much as possible. It’s a hard life but someone has to play guitar as much as possible. It may as well be you!
Acoustic Guitar Body Styles And Shapes
When you start out on the acoustic guitar, you can be forgiven for thinking they all look similar or even identical. Yes, the style and color of guitars differ but the overall shape and size may appear similar.
However, as you develop on your musical journey, you will start to recognize the different body shapes, sizes, and styles of acoustic guitars. And, it’s very important to understand these differences.
You may think that most electric guitars are similar in size and shape but this isn’t the case either. There are many styles and sizes to choose from with both electric and acoustic models.
But, acoustic guitars do not rely as much on electronics as electric guitars, especially when achieving certain tones, volumes, and responses.
Instead, acoustic guitars tend to rely on their construction and design when it comes to tonal properties. This includes the dimensions of the guitar, the material used in its build, and its body style.
Overall, there are 9 common body styles with acoustic guitars. In the order of largest to smallest, these are:
- Modern Classical
The first jumbo guitar was introduced in 1937 and became an immediate hit with guitarists. This was thanks to its ability to accompany many styles of music in the following years.
Its larger dimensions also meant the sound reverberated further creating a volume that no other type of guitar could match.
Fast forward to today and jumbo acoustic guitars remain a popular choice for musicians who play in front of large audiences but do not possess any additional amplification.
With its elaborate design and decorations such as intricate fretboard inlays and exquisite designs on the bridges and headstocks, you may recognize this iconic style of guitar from seeing some of the music greats play it.
These include George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Presley.
Although jumbos are not as popular as they once were, they are still used by many performers. But, for beginners and kids alike, we do not recommend starting with a jumbo as it may be too large and uncomfortable to try and play.
Dimensions Of A Standard Jumbo Acoustic Guitar
Body length: 20.5 inches
Lower bout: 17 inches
Upper bout: 12.5 inches
Depth: 4 ⅞ inches
This is by far the most used and versatile acoustic guitar shape and style in the world. Introduced by C.F. Martin in 1916, the dreadnought guitar is said to be named after the battleship HMS Dreadnought.
When you study the body of this guitar, you will find it is deep and wide. However, its waist is not as defined as some other models as it sports a rather large soundboard.
In general, dreadnought guitars produce high and clean acoustic sounds alongside a powerful bass tone. Many guitarists love these models because of the powerful projection they offer with a rich, bold tone.
Out of all the body styles, the dreadnought probably produces the most volume.
Dreadnought acoustic guitars are popular amongst country musicians and famous artists such as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. It has square, wide shoulders and a pretty cumbersome internal cavity that helps accentuate the booming bass frequencies.
This makes the dreadnought ideal for bluegrass playing.
With a convenient size, affordable price, and an easy-to-play nature, the dreadnought guitar has been popular for many years. And this will undoubtedly continue.
Yes, you may not be able to achieve a light, calm touch as easily with these guitars but if you want balance, clarity, and a high volume, the dreadnought is a perfect option, especially for beginners and children.
Dimensions Of A Standard Dreadnought Guitar
Full length: 40.5 inches
Body length: 19 ⅞ inches
Upper bout: 11 ⅜ inches
Lower bout: 15 ⅝ inches
Fingerboard width: 1 ¾-inch
Depth: 3 ¾ – 4 ¾ inches
Orchestra Or Auditorium
Orchestra acoustic guitars, also known as ‘auditorium’ guitars, became widely used from the 1920s onwards. After the dreadnought guitar, these are considered to be the next most popular style.
These acoustic guitars sport a larger width and depth than the similar concert guitar which we will discuss further down. Orchestra guitars tend to boast a lower bout but have a relatively tight waist.
This allows the guitar to have a less “square” and block appearance than the more popular dreadnought. Therefore, orchestra/auditorium acoustic guitars generally have a larger soundboard resulting in a greater projection of volume.
Orchestra guitars are popular as they can be used in various ways from fingerpicking to general strumming. Nevertheless, the tighter waist of these models tends to heighten the mid and upper tones.
This means the tonal quality is neither like a dreadnought or a concert guitar. Instead, it lies between the two. This is why many prefer to play orchestra guitars as they offer the best of both types.
If you’re wondering where you have seen an orchestra guitar before, you may recognize it from the unplugged sessions of Eric Clapton during the 1980s and 1990s.
There are also grand auditorium guitars that are larger versions. Taylor Swift frequently uses this type of guitar.
It offers a much stronger volume and its superior size to the orchestra model results in a well-defined tone that works perfectly both on stage and in the studio.
Dimensions Of A Standard Orchestra Guitar
Body length: 18 – ⅞ inches
Upper bout: 10 ⅞ inches
Lower bout: 14 5/15 inches
Depth: 3 11/32 – 4 ⅛ inches
Concert guitars are relatively small models that offer a balanced tone and less bass. They tend to have a narrow waist making them a favorite to play while sitting down.
It is a superb option for beginners or for those who require smaller-sized guitars. However, if you prefer more aggressive tones, a concert acoustic guitar is probably not the right choice for you.
A parlor, which we will look at further down, would be a better choice if this is the case.
Concert guitars generally have a robust mid-range. Most models have a clear clarity in the treble allowing certain notes to shine through brighter than other types.
These are designed to be louder and brighter than many other models but, specifically, to offer higher volumes than the similar parlor guitar.
When comparing a concert guitar’s size, it is similar to that of a standard classical guitar.
And, although a lot smaller than jumbo and dreadnought guitars, the concert model was considered to be the standard size and style of all acoustic guitars during the mid 19th century.
Concert acoustic guitars are made with a more rounded body than other models such as dreadnoughts. They have a narrower waist and contrasting lower and upper bouts.
In fact, the lower bout is around 3 to 4 inches wider than the upper bout. This results in a more distinguishable appearance between both.
The concert model also has a narrower depth than the dreadnought providing a more pleasing and comfortable playing experience, especially when seated. This results in a greater projection of sound and a smaller cavity space in the guitar.
Compared to a larger-bodied guitar, the concert model does not produce as much volume. But, it makes up for this with a more balanced tone and an improved degree of response.
This is why it is largely favored for melodic playing and fingerpicking instead of strumming. This is also the reason why you will often see concert guitars used in folk music as its mid-range is not as prominent as some other models.
This allows a singer-songwriter’s voice to shine through with more clarity and volume. Think of Ed Sheeran and Bob Dylan and you may start to get the picture.
There is also another variation of the concert guitar known as the grand concert model. This is typically wider at its bottom bout and shallower than a standard acoustic guitar. This slightly larger grand concert guitar tends to offer a slightly more powerful sound as well.
Dimensions Of A Standard Concert Guitar
Body length: 18 inches
Lower bout: 13.5 inches
Upper bout: 10 inches
Depth: 4.25 inches
In recent years, the small size of the parlor guitar has grown in popularity. This is mainly down to its intimate and warm sound. Invented in the 19th century by the prolific guitar maker, C.F. Martin, the parlor guitar has been a mainstay of many genres including blues.
If you ever hear any early blues recordings such as Robert Johnson, the guitar you hear will usually be a parlor.
In terms of size, the parlor acoustic guitar is one of the shortest and smallest. Generally speaking, any guitar that measures less than 13.5 inches is considered to be a parlor model.
These guitars have a well-balanced sound that fits all types of musical genres. This is why many folk and indie players use this type more than any other.
It offers less bass but a higher midrange than many other types of guitars. The shoulders of the guitar are usually sloped with a narrow body base.
This makes a parlor extremely comfortable to play whether you’re standing up or sitting down. And, with its small size comes a lighter weight meaning it is more portable than larger versions such as the jumbo or dreadnought.
This is the guitar of choice for many solo artists. It has a balanced tonal spectrum and a comfortable-to-play body shape. Overall, its tonal properties are superior to the vast majority of guitar types, especially for a wider range of genres and music styles.
Parlor guitars are readily available thanks to mass production in the modern era. Their relatively low price and comfortable nature mean they are ideal for children and beginners.
For more experienced guitarists, some find parlors do not offer a wide enough dynamic range. Therefore, they are not always the best choice for performers who regularly play to a large audience.
Dimensions Of A Standard Parlor Guitar
Body length: 19.1 inches
Upper bout: 9.56 inches
Lower bout: 13.56 inches
Depth: 3.5 inches
Favored by musical greats like Willie Nelson and Andres Segovia, the classical guitar is renowned for its soft and balanced tones. Unlike the majority of other guitar types, classical guitars generally use nylon strings as opposed to steel versions.
However, steel can still be used if preferred.
Classical guitars are perfect for performers who like to fingerpick and create softer tones. Although named a classical guitar, it can be used in all music genres and styles.
Originating in Spain, the classical guitar is lightweight and smaller than a dreadnought. However, it is still larger than a parlor acoustic guitar. So, if you want a guitar between those sizes, a classical model may be the best option.
Think of a classical guitar and you probably think of flamenco music. While this style of music requires a precise technique and style, the classical guitar can be used by beginners and children thanks to its softer strings.
Furthermore, its gauge on the neck is somewhat thicker than other models making it easier and more comfortable to find notes.
The modern classical guitar was influenced by earlier instruments such as the lute and Baroque guitar.
Yes, we may call these classical guitars “modern” but they were first developed in the mid 19th century but it wasn’t until the 1920s that they became prominent in music.
This was largely down to the guitar maestro Andres Segovia.
We recommend starting out on nylon strings and progressing onto steel strings to get used to comfortable finger positions on the fretboard. Moreover, nylon instruments are usually more affordable thanks to their lightweight nature.
Classical guitars are available in a variety of sizes and styles but the shape that is synonymous with these models is most similar to the body of a concert acoustic guitar.
These guitars are designed to be played in sitting positions with a narrower waist than other standard steel-string guitars such as the dreadnought.
Dimensions Of A Standard Classical Guitar
Body length: 19 ¼ inches
Lower bout: 14 ⅝ inches
Upper bout: 11 ½ inches
Depth: 3 ¾ – 4 inches
You may be a little confused as the classical guitar is often linked to flamenco music. However, true flamenco guitars differ in shape and design.
Firstly, these models are made with tap plates for guitarists to tap for that iconic flamenco sound. These plates allow that passion and aggression to facilitate as the guitarist plays.
Okay, the flamenco guitar can be considered a subcategory of the classical guitar. It is made of cypress wood from Spain and then adapted to suit the region’s gypsy music.
These guitars are designed to produce a crisper and more brittle sound to cut through the percussive aspects of flamenco such as the hand-clapping, tapping, and pounding feet.
The main difference between classical and flamenco guitars is how they are played. Flamenco guitars focus more on an aggressive attack of the strings whereas classical models put more emphasis on the softer clarity of each note.
When it comes to the design, a flamenco guitar tends to have a shallower depth than your standard classical guitar. The waist is also relatively narrow but very similar to a traditional classical guitar.
The sound plate that is built into the soundboard of the flamenco guitar allows the performer to play more aggressively. It is there as a form of protection for the surface of the instrument.
Think of the iconic strumming patterns of flamenco such as Resgueado and the super-fast fingerpicking known as Picado and you will understand why surface protection is required.
This is why the action is lower on flamenco guitars as well for the performer to have more space to play. This lower action also enhances the guitar’s brightness, especially in terms of its tone. This also results in a reduction in the mid-tones.
Dimensions Of A Standard Flamenco Guitar
Body length: 19 ¼ inches
Lower bout: 14 ½ inches
Upper bout: 11 ¼ inches
Depth: 3 ½ – 3 ⅓ inches
Now we reach the first of the smallest acoustic guitar models. The travel guitar is constructed from laminated wood and is one of the newest and most modern types of guitars.
It has grown in popularity thanks to Ed Sheeran using it on many recordings and in live performances. When you see Ed Sheeran play the guitar, you will notice how tiny the guitar’s body is.
Incredibly, despite its size, a travel guitar can still achieve the same tonal qualities as a standard-sized guitar.
Although it may look like a child’s toy at first, the travel acoustic guitar is far from it. For a start, these models do not come cheap with some of the lightest models being more expensive than standard-sized guitars.
Travel acoustic guitars come in a variety of body styles and sizes. However, the most famous and widely used model is the Martin backpacker steel-string design.
This ergonomic guitar is pretty affordable and, as the name implies, is perfect for backpacking when you want to play a few songs around the campfire.
The body has a paddle-style contoured design making it easy for transportation. Even with its lightweight design, the travel guitar can produce a pleasingly resonant sound and the Martin backpacker in particular usually outperforms most other travel models.
Dimensions Of A Standard Travel Guitar
Total length: 33 inches
Body width: 7 ¼ inches
Depth: 1 15/16 inches
Unsurprisingly, the mini acoustic guitar is the smallest of all types. As with the travel acoustic model, the mini guitar is another recent addition to the world of stringed instruments.
In fact, these are often referred to as travel guitars in their own right due to their compact size and easy portability.
That guy, Ed Sheeran, is to thank for the rise in the mini guitar’s popularity too. Guitar manufacturers such as Martin, Taylor, and Dreadnought are the leader in producing mini guitars as well as standard models.
The body style of these guitars is very similar to a concert or auditorium guitar. However, you can also find mini models that sport the dreadnought body style but these are not as readily available.
If you do fancy a dreadnought-style mini acoustic guitar, Fender and Taylor are your best options.
Most mini guitars are made with a ¾ scale length. This means they are scaled-down versions of larger models. So, if your kid wants to start learning the guitar or you have small hands, a mini guitar is a great place to start.
They are made with the same materials and method as standard-sized guitars but are more comfortable for those starting off and better suited to smaller frames.
Dimensions Of A Standard Mini Guitar
Height: 35.5 inches
Total length: 17.5 inches
Waist: 8.25 inches
Widest bout: 13 inches
Depth: 3.5 inches
Frequently Asked Questions
What Size Guitar Is Best For A Beginner?
For beginners, a 38-inch guitar is considered the best choice, especially if you have small hands and fingers. Smaller guitars have thinner fretboards meaning they are easier to reach when playing notes and chords.
We recommend starting with a mini or dreadnought guitar for ease of playability and comfort.
Is A Classical Or Standard Acoustic Guitar Better For Beginners?
Steel-stringed guitars tend to be harder on the fingers than the nylon strings on a classical model. However, steel-stringed guitars offer more resonance, volume, and the chordplay is usually a little easier.
We recommend starting with a standard acoustic guitar that has steel strings but you may have to spend a little more.
What Guitar Type Is The Hardest To Play?
Classical guitars are deemed to be the most difficult to play because of their neck shape. The neck is generally wider meaning the distance between the top of the frets to the bottom of the fret is longer.
Therefore, chords are harder to play as your fingers need to stretch further.
So, do you still think all guitars look the same size and shape? As you can see above, this is not true. Acoustic guitars vary hugely. Even within their respective categories, such as a travel guitar, they can come in different sizes and shapes.
There are many hybrids and crossover guitar types as well that feature a range of combinations. For instance, you can blend the traditional aspects of a classical guitar with the modern electronics of a dreadnought guitar.
The acoustic guitar has a complexity to its design and structure, just like the electric types. The body style, size, and dimensions of an acoustic guitar can easily be overlooked by beginners who are just looking for an aesthetically pleasing example.
We just hope this article has helped you understand the different types of guitars and what one may suit your style best. It comes down to personal preference but whichever type of guitar you choose, we know you’ll have a blast learning to play it.