The acoustic guitar has proven to be one of music’s most enduring and popular instruments. Featured in a broad range of musical genres including blues, jazz, rock and roll, folk, country, and newer forms of alternative rock, the acoustic guitar is a flexible instrument capable of conveying a variety of moods and emotions. Its flexibility, price, and pick-up-and-play style make it an ideal instrument for beginners, while offering enough depth to keep even the most seasoned players engaged. Sorting through the array of styles and types of acoustic guitars can be challenging, so understanding the selection before beginning the purchasing process can save a buyer time, effort, and money.
Determining Acoustic Guitar Needs
Choosing the appropriate acoustic guitar involves a number of careful considerations. The primary factors that should be considered in any purchase include the style of music to be played, the venue in which it will be played, the physical size of the instrument, the quality needed, and the brand or manufacturer.
There are two principal categories of acoustic guitar. One is called a classical guitar and is used specifically for playing flamenco or classical musical styles. Classical guitars use nylon strings, which are easier on a player’s fingers and offer more flexibility in their movement. These instruments are meant to be played by plucking the strings with one’s fingernails as opposed to strumming. Classical guitars also have a wider neck that allows for greater spacing between strings. The other type of guitar uses steel strings and is simply known as an acoustic guitar. These instruments are more popular than their classical counterparts, as they are capable of playing a broader variety of musical genres. It is important to never put steel strings on a classical guitar, as the tension will warp the neck of the instrument. In addition to acoustic and classical models, acoustic bass guitars are also available for players who prefer a supporting role in a band or just enjoy the sounds of the low-pitched instrument.
Acoustic guitars are excellent for small, intimate venues due to their natural ability to project sound. However, when playing in larger spaces or with a band, it will become necessary to have some sort of amplification for the instrument. Many players are comfortable attaching a specialized microphone to the front of their instrument or simply setting up a microphone stand in front of the guitar while playing. Alternately, many manufacturers produce acoustic-electric models that feature built-in pickups and a stereo jack for a cable connection to an amplifier. These guitars are not to be confused with hollow-bodied electric guitars, which are shaped differently and designed to utilize distortion through amplifiers and effects pedals.
In addition to standard, full-size guitars, smaller models exist for children or for people who are uncomfortable using the standard size. Three-quarter-size acoustic guitars exist and are often called travel guitars, as they are lighter and easier to transport than a full-sized instrument. Many high-quality travel guitars retain the sound quality of standard-sized instruments. Half-size acoustic guitars are also produced and are designed specifically for children.
Beginners may want to stick to inexpensive models to learn on, though as skill levels develop the need for higher-quality instruments will become apparent. With a quality acoustic guitar, the tone will actually mature and mellow with age, producing a richer, fuller sound. In addition, well-made guitars will retain their value and may even appreciate over time.
There are many manufacturers of acoustic guitars, each with its own unique sound and playability. Some popular brands of acoustic guitars include Fender, Gibson, Martin, and Taylor. There are also a number of private manufacturers that produce quality instruments. When buying a guitar from a private manufacturer, be sure to ask questions about its construction. Some private manufacturers are true craftsmen who love the art of making acoustic guitars. Others mass-produce their guitars to maximize profits and do not focus on the quality of parts or construction.
Parts of the Acoustic Guitar
The construction of an acoustic guitar is crucial to its playability and sound quality. While acoustic guitars can vary in terms of their construction process, all of them feature the same basic parts, including the body, neck, head, and strings.
Acoustic Guitar Body
The hollow body of an acoustic guitar resonates when a string is plucked or strummed. The most important part of the body is the soundboard, which is the top or front of a guitar. The soundboard transfers the string’s vibrations to the body, which in turn amplifies the sound, making it loud enough to be heard. The type of wood the soundboard is made from has a determining role in the instrument’s sound. The following chart lists some of the most common types of wood used in acoustic guitar construction, as well as the respective characteristics of each.
Type of Wood
Spruce is usually considered the most desirable wood for an acoustic guitar, though it also tends to be the most expensive. It features strong volume with clear tones in both high and low ends.
Most American guitar manufacturers use cedar or redwood for their soundboards. Cedar is a common choice for classical guitars and offers a bright, quick tone.
Like cedar, redwood has a bright, clear tone.
Though mahogany guitars tend to be quieter, they produce a warm, mellow tone that is suitable for blues or country music.
Koa is similar in personality to mahogany and is used with similar frequency.
The least-expensive guitars available are usually constructed with plywood. Plywood guitars tend to be quiet and do not offer the rich tones of natural woods. Due to their durability and price, however, plywood guitars can be useful for camping or playing at the beach where the risk of damage to the instrument is great.
In the center of the soundboard is the sound hole, which allows the vibrations to escape the hollow body of the acoustic guitar. The strings are connected to the soundboard at the bridge, which rests between the sound hole and the bottom of the guitar, away from its neck. The bridge and saddle are what actually transmit the vibrations from the strings to the soundboard.
The body of acoustic guitars narrows toward the center, which makes it easy to rest the guitar on a knee while playing. The bulges on either side of the narrow portion are called bouts. The large bottom bout accentuates lower notes and the smaller upper bout accentuates higher notes. The size and shape of the bouts will change the tone of the acoustic guitar.
Acoustic Guitar Neck
The neck of an acoustic guitar contains the fingerboard. The fingerboard contains metal bars called frets. Applying pressure to a string causes its vibrating length to be shortened by the fret. The note produced by the string changes accordingly.
The number of frets on an acoustic guitar can vary, creating a larger or smaller range of available notes to be played. Standard acoustic models do not exceed 24 frets.
Acoustic Guitar Head
The acoustic guitar head is connected to the neck and houses the nut and the tuning heads. The nut, along with the bridge, keeps the strings suspended and taut. Tuning acoustic guitar heads increases or decreases string tension and adjusts the pitch of the sound the strings produce.
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Acoustic guitars use either steel strings or nylon strings. Nylon strings produce a warm, mellow tone appropriate for classical and folk guitar. Rock, blues, and jazz need the bold, strong sound of steel strings, Because steel strings should never be placed on a classical guitar, the type of string used is determined by the instrument.
Acoustic Guitar Accessories and Equipment
Finding the right accessories is important to get the most out of a guitar. From protecting the instrument to choosing a pick that is comfortable, accessories will help shape a player’s experience with a guitar.
A guitar can be an expensive purchase, and it is worth investing in the proper protective equipment for it. Cases offer protection and have compartments that are useful for holding picks or extra strings. Lightweight soft-shell cases and gig bags work well for students and people who have to tote their guitar around town, though they offer mostly superficial protection. A hardshell case is preferred for serious performers and expensive instruments. Many high-quality guitars come with their own custom hardshell case.
Acoustic packs that include a guitar and a case are available for beginners looking to simplify the buying process. A few common case abbreviations in are worth knowing: HSC (Hardshell case), SSC (Softshell Case), OHSC (Original hardshell case), and OSSC (Original softshell case).
Strings and Winders
New strings tend to hold their tune longer and are less likely to break than worn strings. Buying strings in bulk can save players money, and it is always useful to have extra strings around. A reserve set of strings can be a lifesaver during a live show when a backup guitar is not available. String winders are small cranks that enable fast tuning while restringing an instrument and should be in every player’s case.
Picks are necessary for playing many styles of guitar and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Guitarists lose picks all the time, so keeping a stash of them handy can pay off. Many players like to keep extra picks on top of their amplifiers or nearby while playing in case they drop the one they are using. Nothing is worse than hunting around for a pick in the middle of a show, so know where to get a backup fast.
Though guitars are often tuned when purchased from a store, it will be necessary to learn how to tune a guitar. Electronic tuners can achieve a high level of precision and are especially helpful for beginners who cannot yet tune by ear.
Straps attach to the body of a guitar and loop over a player’s shoulder to support the weight of the instrument on the player’s neck, shoulders, and back while standing. Many acoustic guitarists prefer to play while seated and therefore do not need a guitar strap, though it is recommended that beginners purchase and play with a strap to get a feel for it.
Pickups allows for electronic amplification of an acoustic guitar and are necessary for plugging into an amplifier. Changing the setup of pickups can greatly alter a guitar’s sound.
Proper cables are also needed to connect a guitar to an amplifier. Cables come in many lengths and can vary greatly in quality and price. Buying a high-quality cable is important once packing and unpacking equipment becomes commonplace, as good cables are more durable and can be relied on for quality sound.
Guitar stands are a valuable accessory to have for all guitar payers. Stands allow easy access to an instrument. In addition, they are important to a guitar’s longevity. Leaning a guitar against a wall causes unnecessary stress on its neck and can result in warping over time that will damage its sound and playability. Using a display stand that allows the neck to stick upwards without contact at its head is ideal and second only in terms of safety to allowing a guitar to lie flat in its hard case.
Slides are metal tools that attach to a player’s finger and allow guitarists to quickly change pitch by moving up and down the fretboard. This style of playing is known as slide guitar.
A capo is a clasp that attaches to the fretboard of a guitar, holding all the strings down and uniformly raising pitch. This allows for easier fingering in different keys than would be possible in an open setup.
Find Acoustic Guitars on eBay
Once a type of acoustic guitar or accessory is decided upon, go to the All Categories tab on the eBay home page and click Musical Instruments in the drop-down page. Once there, click the Guitar link. The Categories list on the left side of each page will help narrow the listings by item type.
From here, start searching. For example, to find a travel acoustic guitar with a spruce body, type "travel acoustic spruce" (without quotation marks) into the search box. Visit eBay’s Customer Support pages for more tips on searching with keywords. If keywords are not producing the desired results, try shopping eBay Stores and following the Musical Instruments link in the Stores Directory. Alternately, inform the eBay community about a desired item by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay, and eBay will send an email when a match becomes available.
Buy Guitars With Confidence
Before making a purchase on eBay, be clear on the guitar and accessories included in the listing. Research sellers and understand how eBay and PayPal protect purchases. Carefully read the details in item listings, and figure delivery costs into the final price. If a guitar or accessory is an expensive one, be sure the seller will insure it when it ships. If more information is needed, ask by clicking the "Ask a question" link at the bottom of the listing page.
Always make sure to complete transactions on eBay with a bid or Buy It Now option. Transactions conducted outside of eBay are not covered by eBay protection programs. Never pay for an eBay item using instant cash wire transfer services through Western Union or MoneyGram. These payment methods are unsafe when paying an unknown party. In the unlikely event that an item is not received or is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection will cover the purchase price plus original shipping.
Research sellers to feel positive and secure about every transaction. Check their feedback scores, as well as the number of transactions they have completed. What percentage of positive responses do they have? What do buyers say in their feedback? Did sellers receive praise? Most top eBay sellers operate like retail stores and have return policies, sometimes including money-back guarantees. Always check the terms and conditions of a transaction before buying.
Questions about a particular listing should be directed to the seller. Experienced sellers will want to satisfy questions in order to encourage buyers to return for future transactions. When a quality seller is found, inquire about an eBay Store, especially if the seller specializes in a favored guitar brand or piece of equipment. Forging relationships with experienced sellers who have a reliable transaction history can provide increased peace of mind.
Acoustic guitars have been a popular instrument for centuries and remain an integral part of American music today. Learning to play an acoustic guitar is a fun and challenging process, one that offers years of musical exploration. Playing acoustic guitar is also a solid foundation for learning other types of guitars. Understanding the different brands, models, and materials of acoustic guitars will narrow the search and increase the odds of finding a guitar that is just right for a given situation.