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The Effect of Guitar Design on Tone – May 2017

When contemplating the tone of their next instrument, many builders tend to fixate on the woods they want to use. Actually, the woods are a distant second compared to guitar design when it comes to the effect on the sound of the instrument.  When speaking of design, I am referring mostly to how body size, scale length, bridge placement and other similar design factors will figure into the final tonal result.

There are a wide variety of body sizes for steel string acoustic guitars. Here are some generalities about the sound of three common body sizes.

Parlor –a very small instrument, it is suited specifically to solo fingerstyle playing. Responsive and sweet, it has a very focused sound which carries nicely but is not very loud. Great immediacy and lyrical trebles are its hallmarks.

OM –This size body is well known for tonal balance from bass to treble. It’s very versatile, less prone to feedback onstage than a larger guitar, and records well.  Volume-wise, it is not overwhelming but with the mid-range not being dominated by the bass and treble, it is said to have good projection. The present mid-range helps the guitar to stand out among other instruments.

Dreadnought –Powerful bass is the calling card for this style guitar. Though a handful of well-known fingerstyle players have gravitated toward it, it is usually identified with flat picking and strumming styles. The strong low end, combined with the use of a flat pick, may give the impression of greater volume, but many aficionados of the OM will argue that the dreadnought is not a significantly louder instrument.

Here are some other important determining design factors:

  • Depth of Body –A thinner body tends to create a clearer, more focused tone, while a deeper body supports a more open or resonant tone
  • Bridge Position –If the bridge has more soundboard wood around it and is more centered, the guitar tends to be fuller sounding. If it is closer to the end of the guitar it will have a tone with a stronger fundamental, more direct.
  • Scale length –Too much information to go into here (See our article about Scale length and Intonation) but suffice to say that scale length contributes substantially to the final tonal result.

When designing your next guitar, you should spend some time considering these components, and then start to drool over all the amazing wood options on the LMI website!