Picking Your Next Guitar – Tone, Response & Body (Part 1 of 3)

My biggest challenge was to find a guitar with the sound I wanted. When I started, I would explain the type of sound I wanted was louder and bass-ier. As I played with the guitars at multiple stores, I realized I preferred a guitar that was brighter, louder, and more resonant.
In this article, I am sharing how I came to trust my ear, and look at other aspects of selecting the guitar – Tone, Frequency response, and Body Style & Construction. Before we talk about how to select a guitar, let us understand each of these aspects.

Tone
The first thing you should think about when choosing an acoustic guitar is the tone. When we talk about tone, we’re referring to the overall sound of the guitar. Different woods produce different tones, so it’s important to pick a guitar that has the right tone for your style of music. For example, if you want to play country music, you might want an acoustic guitar with a brighter, twangier sound. Or, if you’re into folk music, you might prefer a mellower tone. There are lots of ways to test out an acoustic guitar’s tone before you buy it. You can listen to audio samples online, or even better, go into a store and play the guitars yourself. Pay attention to how each one sounds and see which one feels right for you.

Frequency Response
Another important factor to consider when choosing an acoustic guitar is frequency response. Frequency response is basically how well a guitar can reproduce different frequencies of sound. Some frequencies are going to be more important for your style of music than others. For example, if you play a lot of chords, you’ll want a guitar with a good low-frequency response so that all of the notes in your chords sound clear and distinct. On the other hand, if you do a lot of lead playing with single-note melodies, you might want a guitar with a good high-frequency response so that your notes have a nice “sparkle” to them.
Once again, the best way to figure out whether an acoustic guitar has a good frequency response is to either listen to audio samples or go into a store and play the guitar yourself. Listen for things like clarity and balance across all frequencies—you should be able to hear all of the notes clearly without any one frequency being too overpowering.

Here is a great example of Breedlove Guitars infographic on tone and frequency response for various kinds of wood.

Body Style and Construction
Besides the tone and frequency response body style & construction play a very important role. Acoustic guitars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small parlor-style guitars to large-bodied jumbos (or Dreadnaughts). The type of body you choose will have a major impact on the instrument’s sound. For example, smaller-bodied guitars tend to have a tighter, more focused sound, while larger-bodied guitars have a richer, more resonant sound. The size of the sound chamber (part of the body size & construction) affects your playability. You’ll want to make sure that the acoustic guitar you choose is comfortable and easy to play. A large-bodied Dreadnaught guitar would have you reach out for strumming and may not be comfortable for long playing sessions. A guitar with a low action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard) and smooth, comfortable fretboard edges will also add to the playability. Do you need a narrow or wide neck; typically, beginner players do better with narrower necks since they’re easier to maneuver around; at the same time if you have larger hands, then consider a wider neck.

A great example is Taylor’s V-Class Bracing which helps make the guitar louder, and sustains the notes longer, with better intonation of each.

Another aspect of construction is the different materials used in construction – laminate, highly compressed laminate, carbon fiber, and real wood. Other than real wood, man-made materials are easier to maintain and do not get affected by temperature and humidity. Real wood requires more caring, and, in my humble opinion, also sounds better. Man-made materials are generally budget-friendly (except for some exotic carbon fiber guitars). Real wood guitars can be expensive; even higher if there are no joints in the body.

How to pick your next guitar

  1. Avoid boxed guitars from departmental stores or online stores. You do not know what you will get. It’s a gamble.
  2. Set some time aside to visit local stores and play the guitars. Go visit the local guitar stores, and play the guitars, even if you do not know how to play the guitar, just strum the strings and hear how the guitar sounds. Your ear is going to be the best judge of what you want.
  3. Have a budget. You can buy a guitar from $50 to $2,00,000. And you will always end up buying a guitar higher than your budget. According to the local guitar store Salesperson, typically folks end up spending 20-25% more than their budget. Be aware of that. When you go visit the guitar stores, share your budget range with the Salesperson, they will help you find the guitar you like.
  4. Consider a pre-owned guitar. A very budget-friendly option, look at local listings or visit local stores that carry pre-owned guitars. In general, a pre-owned guitar can have two advantages. First, if it has been played, then the material (especially wood) has opened up and will sound better than the same model brand new. Second, more than half of the guitars listed online are well taken care of. You may end up buying a nicer guitar for a much lower price.
  5. Avoid guitars with bundled accessories. Stores would generally tell you that a particular guitar bundle includes a stand, a tuner, a case, etc. Do not fall into that trap. All the accessories will cost you under $100 (maybe slightly higher with a hard case). Stores will sell you an inexpensive guitar by bundling all this and charging you a lot more.
  6. Custom Guitar. One can always work with the local craftsmen and get to design a custom guitar. Custom guitars do not need to break the bank, there is a whole range of getting a guitar built the way you want. You can get exactly what you want along with embellishments to truly and uniquely yours.
  7. DYI Kits. Yes, there are kits available, and you can customize, pick the right components, and woods build one yourself. You need to put in some elbow grease and it is recommended for those who have intermediate woodworking, painting, and finishing knowledge.

In conclusion, with so many factors to consider, choosing the right acoustic guitar can feel like a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be! By keeping body style, construction, tone, frequency response, action, and playability in mind, you’ll be well on your way to finding an instrument that’s perfect for your playing style. And always trust your ear.

JPS Nagi
Sept. 6, 2022

PEC E&EC Class of 1996 Reunion 2018, in Las Vegas – ‘A Musical Gathering’

A couple of months back, someone in my PEC Electronics WhatsApp group suggested a get-together.  Within the next few hours, there was a big commotion, messages flying around with potential dates and excuses. Within a day, a sub-group was rolled out of folks who had agreed upon dates to meet at the Sin City. There was a bit of arm twisting and emotional blackmail – which resulted in folks (Adarsh and Bhup) flying in from the east coast and ND from even across the pond. The decision was that we all fly into Las Vegas on December 7th, 2018 and stay there for the weekend. The dates are well clear of the Thanksgiving or Christmas breaks.

And then the process of having a theme started. After all, there were eleven of us, and we were all meeting in Vegas … Ocean’s 11 came to mind. With Pompy at the helm of this get-together, it was christened Pompy’s 11. Themed T-shirts were suggested, and I quickly put a design together, again inspired by Ocean’s 11 (more like Ocean’s 8). We gathered all the shirt sizes, kept the design and color of the shirts secret – they are red of course.

Then, an earworm made it’s way to my mind. How about a musical theme for the gathering? I bounced it off Pompy and he loved it. Since we are all children of 80s/ 90s, it has to be on a cassette tape; which I was sure most will not be able to play. Pompy and I conspired on it and I got to work. The music that started as 11 tracks (to go with the theme of 11), became a baker’s dozen because I wanted to fill in full 60 minutes, and also because there were a couple of other songs that were too hard to miss.

Thus Pompy’s 11 – A Musical Gathering came into existence.
Of course, almost all of us are challenged from being able to play the cassette, so there is a digital download included too. Here is how the music came to be.

Side A (29 minutes)
Livin’ On the Edge – Aerosmith
Aerosmith had to be included … for Ajju. Two out of fours years at college, I have stayed next door to Ajju. And invariably, I have heard the tunes of the Bad Boys from Boston coming from his room. With songs like Dude Looks Like a Lady, and Janie’s got a Gun, Ajju was instrumental in making me (and us) aware of Aerosmith.

Thunderstruck – AC/ DC
One of the great example of how the music came before the lyrics. AC/DC’s soaring crescendo of a song about being Thunderstruck, the guitar rhythm was amazing and the lyrics to fit the bill. One of the popular songs to crank up the volume on those cassette boom boxes, AC/ DC was played by one and all.

Enter Sandman – Metallica
Metallica has a special place in everyone’s heart – for those who gathered and those who did not. A favorite headbanger number from one of the greatest bands of all time. The track had the energy that complemented ours during that age.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Nirvana’s biggest hit and Cobain’s crowning glory made the grunge, cool again. It was an attempt by Nirvana to create a pop song – ended up becoming popular among all the headbangers we had at the hostel (dorm) parties.

Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams
Like Ali Haidar’s Purani Jeans, Bryan Adam’s Summer of ’69 is like an anthem for our generation. It brings too many memories of growing, high school, and hormones. The guitar riff, which underwent a lot of changes, had the energy to be played at almost every gathering we have had.

You Give Love a Bad Name – Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi released Keep the Faith in 1992 followed by Cross Roads in 1994. Both albums could be heard int he corridors. You Give Love a Bad Name was particularly played on a smallish tape player, with Pompy, Ananth, and yours truly singing along at the top of their voice relatively late in the evening, while at the Thapar Institute of Technology for an inter-college cultural competition.

Side B (27 minutes)
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
Appetite for Destruction which came 4 years prior to G’n’R’s Use your Illusions duology, had one of their most successful songs. – Sweet Child O’ Mine. Axl Rose’s soaring six-octave range made this song to be our favorite.

We Will Rock You – Queen
This is one of the few songs, that I recall, Numi loved. He would always get happy just hearing either the beat or the guitar riff of the song. It is also one of the songs that are played often during sports and radio events.

Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz made its way into our collective consciousness when Sumant suggested it for one of the mock-rock competition. Needless to say that we won that competition and the song became an integral part of the music for all of us.

Roadhouse Blues – The Doors
I had never heard of The Doors. When Akshay (our friend from Civil Engineering), another of my next-door neighbor during one of the years, shared his 90-minute BASF Cobalt mixtape with me, I turned to The Doors. I copied The Best of The Doors (German Edition) and rest is history. I played it over and over again in my boom-box. And The Doors became my favorite group. A bit of trivia, other than The Beatles, The Doors is the only other group whose group members I can name without thinking. 

Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
Deep Purple was the other Brit rock band. An instant classic with one of the world’s most popular beginning guitar riff. It was loved by one and all. One of the first songs that come to mind when we think of our time at PEC.

Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
The song that refers to war-making with reference to Norse mythology and halls of Valhalla, this song was popular among the fans of Brit-Rock likes of which included Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, and Deep Purple. Againthis one is for Sumant.

Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
The list started with Ajju, and it has to end with him too. I can still hear Ajju singing at the top of his voice while walking in the corridors of our hostel (dorm), “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. Def Leppard became one of the favorite pop-rockish band that everyone loved.

I am publishing this on the day we are all supposed to arrive in Vegas. So many may not have seen this or even known about the theme. But here it and all shall reveal today afternoon.

JPS Nagi
December 7, 2018