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How to Choose an Acoustic Guitar by Body Shape

Dec. 7, 2012
Posted in: Guitar
Learn how to choose an acoustic guitar by the shape of it's body. The shape will affect the guitar's sound, and your comfort in holding it.


Founder & CEO | Sage Music

Not all acoustic guitars are shaped the same.

The guitar’s shape will affect the sound and your comfort when you hold it. We recommend narrowing your search for a guitar by starting with the sound that you want. Then you can search for guitars that have the shape that will more likely produce the sound that you want. If you are taking guitar lessons with us, we'd be happy to give you our personal advice.

In the end, you should really use your ears when deciding. Design differences between makers can produce some starkly different sonic qualities between guitars that have the exact same shape!

To demonstrate this difference, we’ve made a short video using 3 different guitars built by Jean Larivee.

All three guitars are made by the same maker, with the exact same tone woods and construction methods. The only difference between them is the shape of the body.

This should give us a fairly good test of the effect shape has on sound, all other things being mostly equal. When you watch the following video, you can really hear a difference in their sound. The strumming test makes the differences most obvious.

Notice that the smaller bodied guitar has the most even sound. That means that the loudness of the lower, mid and high sounds are similar.

As the size of the guitar and lower bout increases, you’ll generally notice that the low pitches are louder compared to the high sounds. This leaves the guitar sounding less balanced. But less balanced doesn’t mean it is less good! There are many instances where having a heavier bass actually sounds better. This may include when strumming chords to accompany a singer in popular music. The heavier bass can make the sound more full and help the singer feel more supported.

This wouldn’t work, however, for early music where a lighter sound will be more authentic and sound better. This is often because the guitar (or lute or vihuela) parts for Renaissance and Baroque era music are often polyphonic, where the guitarist will play many melodies at the same time. It is important in that style to have a balanced sound so that every melody is treated more equally.

Thanks to Gary at Chagar Music for lending us the guitars for this video!

What are the different acoustic guitar body shapes?

Different guitar shapes produce different sounds. This is the most important thing to remember.  But what are the most common guitar body shapes?  In general, the shapes listed from smallest to largest are: Parlor, OO, OOO, Orchestra Model, Grand Auditorium, Dreadnaught, Slope-Shouldered Dreadnaught, and Jumbo.

If you are looking for Martin, Takamine, and other major guitar brands, you will have seen these body shapes names before. However, a quick internet search will show that guitar shapes and names may not be consistent. Its very common for individual guitar makers to invent new names for their models. Everett guitars names their acoustic guitar models “Sofia”, “Catalina” and “Alienzo”. Collings takes a more traditional approach, even though they vary the standard names. For example, they call their rounded-shoulder dreadnought the “Collings Jumbo”. Their model 0 equivalent is called the “O series” with variations “01”, “02H”, and “03”.

The descriptions below are not exact standards, because each different maker produces variations upon these general shapes, which also affects the sound. Instead consider the descriptions as a general guide which will have many exceptions.

Always remember to use your ears and first as you shop around and try many different guitars as you can. Choose a guitar that is easy to play and sounds great.  The look should be secondary.

The guitar shapes we list here are ordered from smallest body size to largest body size. We don’t list dimensions because they can vary greatly by manufacturer or maker.

Acoustic Guitar Bodies

Parlor Guitars

Parlor guitars have the smallest acoustic guitar body size.  The have a light, focused and balanced sound. They are generally good for fingerpicking.

Recommended Options:

Low End

Dean AXS Parlor Guitar

Mid Range

Yamaha CSF3M


Blueridge BR-371 Historic Parlor Guitar

Concert, or Model “O”

“O” guitars, like parlor guitars, are balanced in tone and response. They are slightly larger in size than the parlor, and are also suited well for fingerpicking.  Some guitarists love the deep bass tones of the larger body types. We love the way the brightness of this guitar cuts through the texture of an ensemble.

Recommended Options:

Low End

Martin X Series LX1

Grand Concert, or Model “OO”

The Grand Concert is based on the shape of the classical guitar, which was standardized by the work of Antonio Torres. Its one of the quietest models of guitar. It has a solid mid-range register, so it is a great all-around guitar. That mid-range sound is what made the classical guitars of Thomas Humphrey and most concert guitars so popular. Its sound is not as bright or balanced as the smaller models, and not as bassy or boomy as the larger sizes.

Recommended Options:

Low End

Ibanez PC12MH

Mid Range

Martin X Series 00X1AE


Martin 00-16E

Orchestra Model, Grand Auditorium, or Model “OM” or “GA”

This model is also sometimes called an Auditorium or “OOO”.  It is a mid-size guitar, with great balance, volume, and projection.  It has more presence than the Parlor or “O” guitars, but lacks the heavy bass response of the guitars below. This makes for a good finger-style guitar, or one used for solo gigs.

Recommended Options:

Low End

Alvarez RF26CE

Mid Range

Taylor 1114ce 100


Takamine Pro Series 3 P3MC


This is the most common acoustic guitar shape.  Its a large-bodied guitar named after a British Battleship of the same name for its size.    The dreadnought has a lot of bass response and is a favorite among flat-pickers.   Its also a great instrument for accompanying the voice, since its full-sounding lower registers support the voice well. You will see lots of these guitars being used by strummers and singer-songwriters because of the full sound.

Recommended Options:

Low End

Fender CD-60SCE

Mid Range

Blueridge BR-140


Blueridge BR-180A

Jumbo and Super-Jumbo

These are the largest guitars, often used for strumming because of their great bass response. They are often found in country music.

Recommended Jumbo Options:

Low End

Guild Jumbo Junior

Mid Range

Yamaha L-Series LJ16


Breedlove Premier Jumbo

Recommended Super Jumbo Options:

Mid Range

Blueridge BG-1500E


Blueridge BG-2500

Now that you have an idea of the different types of acoustic guitar, consider checking out a few other postings across the web to see find the guitar that is right for you, or determine if an electric or classical guitar is better. Or head on over to your local music store and try a few out!

We're proud to offer acoustic guitar lessons in San Antonio, New York, and online. Get in touch to learn more.

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