Guitar Shapes and Sizes. The Shape Of Things:
Aesthetics, comfort, voice, ergonomics; These are a few words that describe the importance of a guitar’s body shape to the player.
For the beginner guitarist, there is no point of reference, and so most people shopping for their first guitar don’t have a strong opinion about the size and/or shape of their acoustic unless it’s a really unusual shape, like a flying V acoustic(they do exist).
I have seen 5 year olds play dreadnoughts and jumbos, and while they can’t reach the third fret, they can still make sound. With the enormous popularity of ukulele in recent years, I don’t hesitate to recommend one as a starting point for children. A Les Paul is just too much for most kids.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the history and current shape and size options for both the professional guitarists, and those who like nice guitars and can afford them.
C.F. Martin Guitar Company used numbers originally to denote the size of a guitar. The range was size 5 to size 1, 5 being the smallest guitar.
Consequently, when they needed a number for a larger guitar, they used 0 for concert, 00 for grand concert, 000 for auditorium, and 0000 for grand auditorium.
The Om has the same body size as the 000. They used D for Dreadnought and J for Jumbo. Other builders have adopted terms such as concert, grand concert, grand auditorium, and OM. Builders such as Jim Olson, Bill Wise, and Ryan Gerber have their own modified versions of these famous body shapes. The SJ (small jumbo) is the most popular among the modern build style of guitars.
The luthiers job is a compromise between function and aesthetic.
Most will sacrifice the aesthetics in favor of a better sounding, more responsive, and dynamic guitar. Usually the shape of the headstock has a greater bearing on a buyers decision than the body shape or size, especially concerning luxury guitars.
Of course, I have known people to refuse to purchase the “perfect guitar” because of variegation in the ebony on the fingerboard. That’s for a future article about guitar player neurosis.
Increasing in popularity in recent years are the armrest, body, and finger bevel features that were once a custom option, but are becoming standard features with some brands.
How does the shape influence the sound of a guitar?
With acoustic guitars, the shape is a major factor. Considering the differences in body depth, length, and bout sizes, each shape and size is uniquely voiced. Then, when you factor in the wood combinations, you have guitars that offer a wide range of qualities that may or may not be right for you.
I approach the acoustic guitar much like an electric guitar, so I tend to prefer small bodied guitars with light string tension and a high dynamic ceiling.
There are shapes and sizes for every kind of guitar player. You might fall in love with the sound of a particular guitar, but find it to be uncomfortable to play for long periods of time.
Big guitars were designed with one thing in mind; volume.
Take a look at the current Artisan or boutique guitar builders menus. Some will offer many shapes and sizes. Others will offer a few.
Don’t get too stressed about a 1/2 inch here or there on a guitar body. Artisans spend years studying the physics and refining the sound of their guitars by altering various components.
Our job as musicians is to make music. You might need more than one size and shape to express the music in your heart, soul and mind. All you really need is one good guitar…or two….or three…or 15.
What a luxury. That’s the shape of things until next time.