Monday, July 17, 2006

Getting a guitar with the right "feel"

Before you purchase a guitar you plan on keeping a long time, you have probably given a lot of thought as to what type (acoustic or electric; flat-top or archtop), and style (solidbody, semi-hollow, hollowbody) of guitar you want, perhaps you have even the make, model and color decided on. But independent of your decision, have you played enough different guitars to know which ones fit your hand best? There are many factors that affect the "feel" of a guitar:

Neck width
Neck thickness
Neck shape
Fingerboard radius
Fret height & width
Fret shape
Fingerboard material (ebony, rosewood or maple)
Bound fretboard or unbound
String gauge
String composition

It is possible that two different models of the same style guitar, or two different years of the same model feel completely different.

You can always "force" yourself to adapt to the feel of the guitar you choose, but it may never feel quite right to you. Another guitar might feel much better the first time you try it, and this would allow you to be more comfortable with the guitar, therefore making you a better player.

I notice this a lot because I have many different guitars. I usually have reasons for owning each of my guitars, but I must admit that some of them feel "right" and some feel "wrong." I make fewer fingering mistakes when I am playing a "comfortable" guitar.

Please try out enough different guitars before you sink a lot of money into a guitar that you might hate the feel of. Once you can tell the difference in feel from one guitar to another, you are ready to pick one that feels "right."

There are three other factors that affect the feel of a nice, comfortable guitar:
1. Body width, particularly in the lower bout
2. Body depth
3. Weight

For example, I love the sound of the large bodied guitars, such as a dreadnaught flat-top acoustic or a big 17" Gibson L-5 or 18" Gibson Super 400, but I cannot get comfortable with these guitars, so I personally choose smaller bodied instruments, in both width and thickness. This is why I play the 000-28EC Martin acoustic. It is thinner than and not as deep as other acoustic guitars. This is also why I play the 16" Hofner New President jazz guitar and the Epiphone Emperor Joe Pass model - smaller, thinner bodies!

As far as weight goes, I recently purchased a Carvin AE-185 thin semi-hollow acoustic-electric guitar as my main axe. It has all the features I want, can do all the sounds, and it is extremely light - one of the lightest guitars I ever played! After playing this instrument for four consecutive hours, I can't imagine ever plying a super heavy Gibson Les Paul guitar or something similar.

Let me know if this article has been helpful!


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