Gear & Tech Tips / 7 September 2021

Guitarology 101: Acoustic Guitar Body Shapes

Guide to acoustic guitar body shapes

Details matter! Especially if you’re talking about the subject of acoustic guitar body shapes. 

Take a second to think about it – acoustic guitars change tonally depending on a myriad of factors (woods, construction, strings, you name it!). You can even read the article we did on bracing types for an example of how even reinforcement struts below the top can materially change the tone of your acoustic guitar!

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With that seed firmly planted in your mind, how do you think acoustic body shapes will affect your sound? Well if you’re curious to know, join us as we go through some of the most popular acoustic guitar body shapes.

Read more: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners

Acoustic guitar body shapes – do they matter?

The body dimensions of acoustic instruments are a big factor in influencing their projection and tonal characteristics – hence why a violin doesn’t sound remotely anything like a cello. Typically, a smaller body will produce a more transparent voice with a higher frequency shimmer, while a bigger body will have a louder voice with more low-end response. More factors like the depth of the body and the size of its waist play a part in how the acoustic guitar will sound too.

Travel/Small Body

Taylor Baby Taylor acoustic guitar body shapes
The Taylor Baby Taylor is one of the best-selling Travel acoustic guitars today.

Let’s start with the smallest size and work our way up. Often termed as the Travel or Small Body, these guitars are often half or 3/4-sized to make them both portable and easy to play.

Due to their smaller size (and consequentially scale length), these guitars are great options for beginners or children looking to get into the acoustic guitar. This is because a smaller scale length entails a slinkier string tension, shorter fret distances, and comfy ergonomics – features that make guitars of this shape a lot more forgiving for new players. 

Who will like a Travel/Small Body:
Beginners, children and globetrotters are just some of the people who should consider these instruments. While these guitars are usually entry-level, there are some higher-end models that are regularly used for live performances and studio sessions. 

Prominent users: Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran

What it sounds like: 
Due to their smaller dimensions, these body shapes tend to be quieter and less bass focused when compared to the larger acoustic body shapes we’ll see in the latter part of this list. However, these guitars are usually very responsive and tend to have a sweet trebly voice.

Parlor

Parlor guitars like the Fender CP-60S produce a distinctive tone like no other.

The Parlor guitar is the most petite shape you can get outside some “travel” and “baby” guitars” that some manufacturers make. Make no mistake though, these guitars have a full-sized scale length (usually 24.9” to 25.2”) but are slimmer around the bout in comparison to other silhouettes we’ll see in this list. Parlors are usually 12-fret models (the neck of the guitar joins the body at the 12th fret) – so keep this in mind if you plan to play on the higher registers.

The Parlor saw the peak of its popularity during the first half of the 20th century  – becoming the de-facto choice for blues and folk musicians of the era. The steel-stringed Parlor produced a distinct tone that no other guitar could reproduce. However, due to their ergonomic qualities (smaller size) and sweet tones, this petite guitar has seen a resurgence in recent years among modern acoustic players.

Who will like a Parlor:
Blues and folk guitarists are the number one names that come to mind. Though finger-stylists, flatpickers and slide guitarists have been champions for these instruments as well.

Prominent users: Bob Dylan, Blind Blake, Justin Holland, Robert Johnson

What it sounds like: 
Clear, well-balanced and focused. There is a large emphasis on the mid-range and upper frequencies. However, there will be less attack in the bass-end in comparison to the larger acoustic guitar body shapes.

Concert

Fender CC-60S Concert acoustic guitar
A popular guitar shape thanks to its slightly smaller size, the Concert shape on this Fender CC-60S is a great all-rounder acoustic guitar.

We’re going wider (and slightly thicker) with the next acoustic guitar body shape! The Concert (sometimes known as the OM) model sits nicely in between bigger-bodied acoustics like the Dreadnought, and smaller guitars like the Parlor. Due to this midway nature, this acoustic guitar body shape takes some of the best aspects of both silhouettes to offer massive tonal versatility.

Like the smaller Parlor, the Concert has ergonomic qualities which make it a joy to play. With its flat shoulders and narrow waist, the Concert is a guitar shape you can pull in close for an intimate playing experience. However, the Concert usually has a scale length of around 25.4″. This gives the strings more tension which also helps with increasing its overall volume and projection.

Why is the Concert popular:
Just like a talented decathlon athlete, the Concert is a solid all-rounder. This guitar is capable of taking over strumming, fingerstyle, flatpicking, and singer-accompaniment duty.

Prominent users: John Mayer, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon

What it sounds like: 
Prominent mid-focussed quality. An increase in volume well as a more pronounced low-range (in comparison to the Parlor) due to its larger depth. The boost in the bass balances out the treble-centric frequencies that are found in the aforementioned smaller-bodied guitars.

Grand Auditorium

Taylor 214ce-K Grand Auditorium Koa acoustic guitar
A guitar shape designed by Taylor Guitars, the Grand Auditorium has gone on to shape the sound of acoustic guitars today. In picture: Taylor 214ce-K Koa Grand Auditorium.

This next one is a relatively new design in comparison to the other long-standing shapes in this list. Designed by Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars in 1994, the Grand Auditorium aimed to bridge the gap between the two categories sandwiching this body shape in this list.

More traditionally, the Concert shapes were pigeonholed as being the fingerstyle guitars while Jumbos and Dreadnoughts are stereotyped as the flatpickers and strummers guitars. But what if you want to play both styles and you only have room for one acoustic?

That’s where the Grand Auditorium comes in. First of all, the Grand Auditorium shape is able to accommodate the intensity of an overzealous strummer without flubbing out at the bass end. Conversely, this modern acoustic guitar shape also has tonal qualities and playability that’ll make fingerstyle players grin too.

Here are the vital measurements. The Grand Auditorium is wider than a standard Dreadnought across the lower bout of the body. It’s almost as deep but has a trimmer upper bout and waist. As a Taylor exclusive shape, the Grand Auditorium also comes standard with a 25.5″ scale length and their proprietary V-Class bracing system.

Why get the Grand Auditorium:
Just like the Concert, the Grand Auditorium is a great all-rounder. However, this Taylor exclusive shape offers more bass presence if that is a tone you fancy. This body shape is also adored for its stage and studio prowess due to its sound profile and versatility. Whether you play pop, prog rock, or polka – if you require a multi-dimensional acoustic guitar, you can’t go wrong with this shape.

Prominent users: Boyce Ave, John Petrucci, Switchfoot

What it sounds like: 
Expect the beefy lows of a Dreadnought and the crispy highs of Concert shapes. The GA also has a pleasantly focused midrange and impressive tonal balance for clear, well-defined notes that suits both strumming and fingerstyle (if you’re alright with the higher tension) playing. 

Dreadnought

Epiphone Dove Pro Violinburst
The Epiphone Dove Pro is an iconic Dreadnought acoustic, offering big tones and great looks too!

You’ve heard us refer to the Dreadnought multiple times in this article before we’ve even properly introduced it! 

Even if you aren’t familiar with the term, the Dreadnought is definitely one you’ve seen before. One of the most common guitar shapes you’ll encounter out in the wild, the Dreadnought has a storied history in the music business. Curious to how it came to have such a menacing name? Well, it was inspired by the HMS Dreadnought, the largest Royal Navy vessel at the time.

Just like its namesake, Dreadnought guitars have deep bodies with wide uppers + lower bouts. Its scale length is usually 25.5″ and above with a body depth of approximately 4.9”. The Dreadnought shape also comes with two different types of shoulders: round-shoulders or square-shoulders.

With such bountiful dimensions, it’s no surprise that its sound profile is just as large with volume and projection being the first thing that most people notice. However, with great amplitude comes great heft. Dreadnoughts are well, big! So if you’re a smaller person or a child, playing this beast of an acoustic might be a compromise in comfort.

Dread-yes or Dread-not:
Dreadnoughts have a good balance of bottom end with high frequencies, allowing them to cover a lot of ground – rock, country, pop, folk, you name it! There are barely any genres that dreadnoughts haven’t infiltrated. Strumming and flatpicking styles will find a home with the Dreadnought. However, its longer scale length and tighter string tension may prove to be a hindrance to fingerpickers.

Prominent users: Keith Richards, Thom Yorke, Kurt Cobain, Molly Tuttle

What it sounds like: 
The gold standard of steel-string acoustics, the Dreadnought is usually the starting point for tonal comparisons. Its sound has been in so many recordings that many people deem it to be the “right” sound – a pleasing timbre to most listeners. This big body is described as having full and rich lower mids and bass frequencies. Did we mention that it is loud?

Jumbo

Gibson Montana SJ-200 Studio Acoustic Guitar
Another iconic guitar, this Gibson SJ-200 Studio is a no-frills Jumbo that strummers will love.

Here’s the big daddy of them all. If you thought the Dreadnought was huge, you’ve got another thing coming.

Bold and brash, the Jumbo is not for the weakhearted. This opulent shape has the largest dimensions in all critical areas (depth, width, and length). Even the smallest Jumbos have 17” body width (with slim waists) and depths of close to 5” – all significantly more than your run-of-the-mill dreadnought. With all these curves, the Jumbo is ideal for players who perform sitting down or are able to cope with the sheer magnitude of this behemoth.

This guitar shape has traditionally been used for meaty chord work as they have excellent projection. In fact, when playing one you can literally feel the air move inside the body. Admittedly, the advent of acoustic amplification and the lack of ergonomics on the Jumbo has seen it lose popularity in recent years. However, this iconic shape still has a cult following due to its very unique applications.

Should you go Jumbo:
Need something bigger than the Dreadnought both literally and figuratively? You’ll find it with the Jumbo!

Although it’s not quite as tonally balanced as the Dreadnought shape, the Jumbo still has a tone that can play most genres. However, you’ll most commonly find them slung across a country or folk player. One major thing that’s most apparent on Jumbos (and some Dreadnoughts) is that you’ll have to really work that right hand to make it sing. It’ll be hard work but you’ll be rewarded with a voice that is like no other. Strummers and flatpickers, rejoice! Fingerstylists may want to look elsewhere (unless your digits have Herculean strength).

Prominent users: Noel Gallagher, Pete Townsend, Everly Brothers, The Edge

What it sounds like: 
Due to its gargantuan dimensions, the Jumbo will provide excellent projection, volume, and resonance thanks to the amount of room in the body. Its depth and wide soundboard give it loads of low-end clarity with a percussive oomph. 


Shop Acoustic Guitars

If you’d like to shop our full range of acoustic guitars head over to our online store. If you’re looking for any guitar-related advice, you can always drop us a message and we’d be happy to help you out!

Read more: Guitarology 101: Acoustic Guitar – Laminates & Solid Wood


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