Choosing an Acoustic Guitar by Body Shape

Not all acoustic guitars are shaped the same. If you want to choose the acoustic guitar that is right for you, remember that a guitar’s shape will affect the sound. If you have a general idea of the sound that you want, then you can concentrate your search around guitars that have shapes that will likely produce the sound that you want. But in the end, you should really use your ears when deciding. Design differences between makers can produce some starkly different sonic qualities, even among guitars that have the exact same shape!  I’ve written this post to show you the effect that body shape will have on sound.

To demonstrate this effect, 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, but with different body shapes.  This should give us a fairly good test of the effect shape has on sound, all other things being equal. You can really hear a difference in their sound! The strumming test makes the differences most obvious.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dreadnought

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.

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.

Now that you have an idea of the different types of guitar, consider checking out a few other postings across the web to see find the guitar that is right for you. Or head on over to your local music store and try a few out!  You might also try taking a few guitar lessons with a qualified teacher who can help you choose the right shape.