History of the Acoustic Guitar

Most acoustic guitars come in 6 string or 12 string variations, but there are many custom made guitars that include more strings and or other features. Acoustic guitars are popular with blues, jazz, rock, folk and country styles, though it has a smaller volume compared to that of an electric guitar.

Instruments similar to the acoustic guitar have been noted throughout history dating back to over 5000 years ago. These different instruments eventually lead to the evolution of the six string classical guitar which originated in Spain.

Acoustic guitars are made using different types and combinations of wood. There are several types of acoustic guitars including classical and flamenco guitars that are strung with nylon strings. Animal gut was used before nylon strings.

Before flamenco and classical guitars, Renaissance and Baroque guitars were used. These guitars were smaller in body size and sound compared to the flamenco and classical guitars that followed them and had 8 to 10 strings tuned similar to modern 12 string guitars. Early Romantic Guitar Information

Flamenco guitars are traditionally made using Spanish cypress for the back and sides, and spruce for the top of the guitar. Flamenco guitars use thinner wood for the top or soundboard, and are usually slightly smaller in size than a classical guitar. To protect the guitar's surface from the rhythmic tapping of the fingers, a pickguard or, golpeador, is sometimes found at both sides of the sound hole. Wooden tuning pegs are traditionally used on flamenco guitars because they increase the attack of the strings. The strings are typically set lower to the fretboard compared to classical guitars.

Classical guitars are very similar in appearance to flamenco guitars, but are typically made with rosewood for the back and sides and a top made of cedar or spruce. The wood used for the top or soundboard is usually thicker than a flamenco guitar making its sound much different. Classical guitars typically have a rosette, but are usually seen without pickguards since the strings are usually played with the fingers rather than a pick.

A Dell'Arte Sweet Chorus Gypsy Jazz Guitar with D hole used by Gypsy Jazz Caravan

flat top acoustic guitarFlat-top guitars usually refer to another type of acoustic guitar and perhaps one of the more common types. Flat-top acoustic guitars are similar to classical guitars, but differ in body structure and often size for reinforcement to the tension of the steel strings used instead of nylon like the classical guitar. With steel stings and more string tension its very common to use a pick to pluck the strings. A pickguard is found under the sound hole with the rosette. The bodies of flat top guitars are usually made wider and deeper, giving it different sound characteristics than a classical guitar.

Archtop guitars were produced by Gibson® Guitars founder, Orville Gibson around the 1890's. Inspired by the violins design, archtop guitars use flatwound, steel strings. Archtop guitar bodies are curved rather than flat and have f-holes like a violin. These guitars became very popular with country and jazz guitarists and are also common in swing and big band. Luthiers began making archtops with humbucker pickups, making the guitar electric as well as able to be played acoustically.

Resonator guitars came about from attempts to make the acoustic guitar louder prior to electric guitars and amps. These guitars are similar to flat-top acoustic guitars in structure, but use a metal resonator mounted to the top of the guitar. These guitars are typically used in slide and blues and come in a couple different neck types. The square neck resonator guitar is played face up on the lap using a slide. Round neck resonator guitars can also be played this way, but are not limited to this position like the square neck resonator.

Gibson Dobro Logo

Dobro®: founded in 1928 in Los Angeles by John Dopyera and his brothers, brand name derived from DOpyera BROthers; made resonator guitars with single aluminum amplifying cone, also one of the earliest electric guitars (in 1933); merged with National in 1932 to become the National-Dobro company, then Valco in 1943; brand not used by Valco after World War II but resonator guitars made by the Dopyera brothers under various brands; brand name revived by Dopyeras in 1964; rights sold to Semie Moseley in 1966; brand name reacquired by Dopyera family, dba Original Musical Instrument Co., in 1970, based in Huntington Beach, CA; acquired by Gibson in 1993 and moved to Nashville in late 1997 as part of new Original Acoustic Instruments division; made since 2000 in The Gibson Bluegrass Showcase in Nashville.

From the Gibson® Website

Twelve string guitars use another set of smaller guage strings to give the guitar an effect similar to a chorus ef ect. In standard tuning, the low E string up to the G string, the smaller guage strings are tuned an octave higher than the normal guaged strings. The B and high E strings tune in unison to make a pair of the same noted strings. Example: eE, aA, dD, gG, bb, ee

acoustic guitar bridgeAcoustic guitars made today often come equipped with a piezoelectric pickup allowing it to be plugged into an amp or mixer. These pickups are often installed in the bridge under the saddle. Other acoustic pickups are placed in the sound hole under the strings. Before these types of pickups, the guitar was an instrument that did not produce as much volume as other instruments it was commonly accompanied with. As you will read in the Electric Guitar section of this site, during the big band and swing era, a shared effort began to amplify the the guitar.