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Online Guide Acoustic Guitars
Sound

 

The steel-strung acoustic guitar has a range of sounds that are unmistakeable and not easily replicated with any other type of guitar. Steel strings produce a different
Harmonic1) Adjective describing the aspects of music associated with harmony (several differently pitched notes sounding together). 2) A clear, pure tone produced on the guitar by lightly placing a finger of the fretting hand directly above a mathematically determined position on the string. The easiest harmonics are found at the twelfth and (approximately) seventh and fifth frets.
harmonic
spectrum from nylon strings, and the hollow body amplifies this sound in a very different way from the electric guitar.

In fact, ‘amplify’ is really the wrong word - all the energy in the guitar’s sound comes from the vibrating string itself, and ultimately from the player. The more efficiently this is transmitted by the body, the faster the sound will
DecayThe second parameter in a four-stage ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release) envelope found in synthesizers or effects units. The decay is the time it takes for a signal to fall from peak to sustain level.
decay
, which is why the sound of the acoustic guitar is characterised by relatively sharp
AttackThe beginning of a sound. Attack defines the time taken for the sound volume to go from silence to maximum level; a critical consideration when applying processing such as compression, gating, etc.
attack
and fast
DecayThe second parameter in a four-stage ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release) envelope found in synthesizers or effects units. The decay is the time it takes for a signal to fall from peak to sustain level.
decay
.

The guitar has a very broad frequency range. Like a good piano, the richness of the lower strings is a product of harmonics that span most of the audible frequency spectrum. Their characteristic ‘zing’ is produced by a complex mixture of upper harmonics against the
FundamentalThe frequency of a musical sound that is perceived as being its essential pitch, other (higher) frequencies being harmonics contributing to the character or timbre of the sound.
fundamental
frequency, and the balance of these frequencies is one of the things that marks out a really good acoustic guitar. Inferior instruments tend to sound ‘boxy’ at the bottom end, as the upper harmonics are swamped by
BassThe lowest part of the audio frequency range; in popular music, a (generally) rhythmic, low frequency melodic line emphasising the root notes of the chord progression.
bass
and mid frequencies. The condition of the strings is also very important – the zing can disappear rapidly as they accumulate deposits of sweat and dirt. For this reason, most serious acoustic players change strings very frequently – even before every gig.

The sound of the acoustic guitar can vary considerably, not just with the type of guitar, but also with musical style, choice of strings and playing technique. Acoustic players tend to be divided between those who use a plectrum, and ‘fingerstyle’ players. Whether strumming or playing single notes, using a plectrum generally produces more
Volume1) In audio and music, the loudness or amplitude of a signal. 2) In computing, a fixed amount of storage space, addressed as a single entity ('C:', 'D:' etc). A physical drive may contain more than one volume, but a single volume may also span more than one drive!
volume
, and particularly more treble than fingerpicking. Heavier strings also produce more
Volume1) In audio and music, the loudness or amplitude of a signal. 2) In computing, a fixed amount of storage space, addressed as a single entity ('C:', 'D:' etc). A physical drive may contain more than one volume, but a single volume may also span more than one drive!
volume
, but they can be harder on the fingers, and make techniques such as string bending difficult or impossible.

These days, many playing situations will involve amplification. For this reason, electro-acoustic guitars, which are essentially acoustic guitars with integrated
PickupA device for converting sound into an electronic signal, usually by direct contact with the instrument body or by magnetic interaction with the strings, as opposed to a microphone which picks up sound vibrations in the air.
pickup
systems, have become very popular. In contrast to electric guitars, these generally use piezo-electric
PickupA device for converting sound into an electronic signal, usually by direct contact with the instrument body or by magnetic interaction with the strings, as opposed to a microphone which picks up sound vibrations in the air.
pickups
which capture sound through the body, although occasionally, magnetic
PickupA device for converting sound into an electronic signal, usually by direct contact with the instrument body or by magnetic interaction with the strings, as opposed to a microphone which picks up sound vibrations in the air.
pickups
are also found.
PiezoA ceramic transducer, often used in acoustic instrument pickups. Piezo technology can also be used to make small speakers.
Piezo
systems aim to capture the sound of the whole guitar, and some models even incorporate an internal
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphone
for added depth. Because of this, the acoustic properties of the instrument are important even if it will always be amplified, and you never know when you might record, which will almost always be done with
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
microphones
.

The type and quality of wood used is one of the most important factors in shaping the guitar’s sound. The top and back are generally made of the same wood, and this is usually solid, though the cheapest instruments use ‘laminated’ wood – a polite name for plywood. Solid wood transmits sound much more efficiently and evenly though - a tight, straight grain is essential here too. The favourite woods are spruce and, less commonly,
Cedar1) Member of the Pinaceae tree family and often used for the tops of acoustic guitars. 2) CEDAR Audio Ltd is a company dedicated to audio restoration formed in 1988 after research funded by the British Library National Sound Archive.
cedar
. The sides and neck of most guitars are made of darker, denser hardwood - rosewood has long been a favourite for depth and balance. Ebony and rosewood are the traditional
BridgeThe part of a guitar where the strings are fastened to the body. Vibrations from the strings are transmitted through the bridge to the body or soundboard of the guitar. 'Bridge' is also the name for a transitional piece of music connecting two parts of a song.
bridge
and
FingerboardThe part of a stringed instrument against which the strings are pressed when playing. Usually called the fretboard on fretted instruments.
fretboard
materials.

Lastly, the shape of the guitar also has a considerable impact on sound. Unlike the classical guitar, which has a more or less standardised shape, acoustic guitars come in various shapes and sizes. As a general rule, a bigger body produces more
Volume1) In audio and music, the loudness or amplitude of a signal. 2) In computing, a fixed amount of storage space, addressed as a single entity ('C:', 'D:' etc). A physical drive may contain more than one volume, but a single volume may also span more than one drive!
volume
and more
BassThe lowest part of the audio frequency range; in popular music, a (generally) rhythmic, low frequency melodic line emphasising the root notes of the chord progression.
bass
, but smaller bodies tend to give more
SustainA general term with various specific meanings in music/audio production: 1) In general terms, how well an instrument's sound persists once played. 2) The third part of the ADSR envelope used by many synthesisers, Sustain ('S') determines to what volume a note decays after it is triggered, but before the key is released. (Decay 'D' controls how fast this happens) 3) The piano pedal which removes the dampers from the strings, so that notes will continue to sound even after the keys have been released. This is implemented in MIDI as a specific message with 2 possible values: 127 (pedal down) and 1 (pedal up).
sustain
, and a more immediate response.

 

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Contents:

[Contents] [The Steel-Strung Acoustic Guitar] [Defining Features] [Sound] [Features] [Dreadnoughts] [Jumbo/Super-Jumbo] [Mini-Jumbo] [Small-Bodied Guitars] [Archtops] [The Electro-Acoustic Guitar] [Roundback Guitars] [The Twelve-String Guitar] [Conclusion] [Hotdeals] [Feedback]