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Old 02-10-2009, 09:06 PM   #1
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Owning an Acoustic: Facts and Fallacies

This idea behind this thread is to put to rest the boatload of half-truths, myths, and blatantly wrong ideas about acoustic guitars. I get the sense that some readers (and lurkers) in this forum get bombarded with so much information regarding humidity, storage, general guitar upkeep, and beyond that they lose the big picture of what playing an acoustic is all about. In truth, owning an acoustic (of any caliber) isn't the big hassle or high-tech science that it is often made out to be. Hopefully this will clear things up.

Please feel free to ask for explanations and provide advice, but be mindful that this thread is to clarify, not start arguments. I strongly recommend that those who choose to post facts stay away from hearsay comments and stick to personal experience or proof from reputable sources. Remember that just because someone else on the internet said it, it isn't necessarily truth.

Also, feel free to post any disputes you may have. For the comments I post, I'll be glad to give in-depth explanations if needed.

So I'll begin with some big ones...


Myth: All acoustic guitars require a humidifier.

Truth: Some guitars need to be humidified under some circumstances.

Explanation: Deciding whether or not you need to buy a humidifier is determined by a few things; the climate where you live, the storage conditions of your guitar, the value of your guitar, the material of your guitar, and so on... There is a big helpful thread on it, so I wont go into much detail, but the most important parameter is how wildly the humidity and temperature changes in your home.

To give you a bearing, I've lived in northeastern CT all my life. My guitars sit in my room, sometimes in cases and sometimes on stands, without humidifiers, year round (and have so for more than 10 years). Never once has humidity caused any sort of damage. It wasn't luck, it just came from basic sense and a little care. If I take a guitar to another climate (say our colder playroom), it stays in its case for an hour or two before I open it up to play.

But most readers are concerned with whether or not they need to humidify their guitars, not my personal stories. I'll switch it around and explain when you may NOT need to spring for a humidifier.

-Your guitar is all laminate. It is virtually immune to all but the most violent environmental changes.

-Your guitar is very inexpensive. Cheapo guitars generally wont be used for the longevity of a nicer instrument and spending cash on a humidifier is like putting 20" rims on your first 1996 Dodge Neon - not worth it. Save for an upgrade.

-You live in a really moderate climate. If you aren't in a climate where you regularly need to heat or air condition your house, nature will provide a great environment for an acoustic. If a bad day comes around, put it in a case (preferably hard shell). It will be insulated just fine. Places like North Carolina and Tennessee come to mind, but I'm no climatologist.

-There are more, but these are just a start. I will add more if anyone needs me too.


Myth: Acoustic guitars are harder to play than electrics.

Truth: Acoustic guitars play differently than electrics.

Explanation: Every guitarist will hear that the higher action, heavier strings, and fatter necks make acoustics "harder" to play. It's just not true. Granted, if you take a novice BC Rich electric player (no offense to novice BC Rich players) and give him a dreadnought with 13's on it, he wont be able to hit a single bar chord, but thats because the guitars are different animals. Conversely, if you take a life-long player of a heavy-stringed Jumbo and stick him on an Ibanez Jem, he/she will feel weird as hell. There is no easier or harder, it is a matter of personal experience. There are guitarists (myself included) who feel most comfortable on an acoustic.

Beyond that, no one ever said that acoustics are required to be set up with inch-high action and suspension bridge cables for strings. If you don't like heavy strings, try some 10's or 9's. If you don't like high action, set it lower or look for an instrument that can be setup with ultra-low string height (Ovations come to mind). Any acoustic guitar can be tailored to personal preference. Next time someone says they can't play acoustics because the action is too high, just roll your eyes... or refer them to the UG acoustic forum.


Myth: There is one good tone.

Truth: Good tone is the one (or ones) you like.

Explanation: If you're curious about how the acoustic you're buying (or bought) stacks up against the rest of the acoustics in the world, you might be inclined to ask "what is good tone?" Contrary to what many will tell you, there is not one good type of tone. I've been playing for years and I don't have the slightest idea what causes some people to like certain tones...

Before you start deciding what your tone of choice is, it's best to understand what tone is. Many classify it as a combination of timbre, sound quality, and note clarity, but I'd even go as far as saying it encompasses playability and general feel of the instrument. Onomatopoeic words describe tone best; boomy, thumping, jangly, snappy; but clever adjectives like bright, dark, gentle, and clear also work well.

If you can't tell the difference between your $130 laminate starter guitar and a $3500 breedlove, don't worry. It takes a long time to develop what most would call a "mature" ear. To speed up the process, ask an experienced guitarist to explain the differences with guitars in hand.

Though there isn't one good tone, there are a few traits that most guitarists look for:

-Note clarity: Meaning how well individual notes are projected
-Volume: How loud the guitar sounds to the player (loud is not always better!)
-Projection: How loud the guitar sounds to the audience
-Balance: When you play, are the bass notes more noticeable? The highs? The mids? Many guitarists appreciate a well balanced instrument, but it is subjective.

There are more, but that's the basic idea.


Myth: Acoustics are for playing country (or Dave Matthews).

Truth: Acoustics play whatever you want them to.

Explanation: There is no literature anywhere that says that acoustics are made only for boom-chucka country and John Mayer covers. I know, I looked. If you want to play metal, play metal. If you like jazz, play that. Rap? No problem. The only limitation is the player's ability to get creative with a song. If you can't find acoustic tabs for your favorite grindcore-post-modern-pop-rock-opera song, chances are you'll have to get creative. Do it, make up chords, change the strumming, do whatever you need to do. It will make you better in the long run and it's more fun than following numbers on lines. It upsets me to hear players discouraged from acoustics because they can't play Enter Sandman.

I just played Enter Sandman. Moving on...



Myth: Acoustics are better to learn on.

Truth: They are just as good as electrics.

Explanation: I hesitated to say this, because it is only true under the right circumstances. Let me expound on the gray area...

Many guitarists get into guitar because they want to rip like Herman Li. Naturally, the first thing they want is to throw the knob to 11, throw on the compressor, and start yanking on their Floyd Rose hardware. In this case, it could be argued that an acoustic provides a better starting point because it limits the (wonderful) distractions of electrics and allows the player to focus on basics. I'd certainly agree with that. It's hard to watch an experienced player who can yank pinch harmonics out of anywhere, but can't find the rhythm to strum along with Good Riddance.

But I give beginners the benefit of the doubt. The majority of guitarists get sensible after a few weeks and see that they can't just jump in like that. That's when they stumble in the Acoustic forum...

The real truth is that both guitars are equally good for learning. The problems arise when the player can't control the urge to go to town every time he plugs in. The problem is, if you can't subdue your playing on an electric, an acoustic will just get boring and will often lead to dropping the hobby all together. That's no good. The solution is for the player to calm down and think about his playing for a bit. Spending extra cash on an acoustic will not only make the parents nervous (about dropping so much change on a new hobby), but could ultimately lead to the player stopping. Which is no fun.



This will be updated as we think of more things to be addressed. If anyone has anything they'd like to be added, but aren't quite sure, please message me or reply in the thread and I or someone else can help to confirm or disprove it. Thanks for listening.

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Old 02-10-2009, 09:22 PM   #2
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i kind of disagree with acoustics not being harder to play. ive played electric and acoustic for 9 years and everytime i play electric for a long time and go back to acoustic its a challenge because my fingers get weak, which makes the acoustic harder to play. Another reason why i love the idea of starting on acoustic is because you arne't going to be shredding it up when you start, i mean its all opinion but if you start on acoustic, the jump to electric is going to be that much easier because it will build your finger strength up like crazy.

however yeah, in the end they are just instruments that make noise and it doesnt matter whats easier or harder to play. i constantly jump from my acoustic to my electric, they both have their uses. i never look at it being am i going to play something hard or easy now, when i pick up either one i think which one will best suit my application that i will use it for at that time.
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Old 02-10-2009, 09:27 PM   #3
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Good thread
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Old 02-10-2009, 10:07 PM   #4
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damn thats nice

i agree that both acoustic and electric have thier uses. but i believe that electrics are better to learn on. especially strats. it will let them play around and go wank away on thier whammy but after a week or two they ussualy calm down and start to learn how to really play. but then when they try to get something to sound right its easy because strats are highly versitile. but i usually play my acoustic when i cant really play my electric. like at my dads work, while camping, at school, ect., ect...
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Old 02-10-2009, 10:10 PM   #5
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Great thread, some interesting points made.

As for the acoustic being the same as learning an electric, that will always be a debatable point. Acoustics are harder to hold the strings down, whilst it is harder to get a good sound out of an electric guitar. Acoustic guitars can hold themselves as a solo instrument, whilst electric guitars generally can't. Acoustic guitars are generally more portable, not requiring an amp. Many popular bands which inspire guitarists to play use electric guitars and learners wish to emulate their sound.

When beginning the guitar, you will generally be learning the same things regardless; chords, scales, songs, whatever. After a degree of competency is reached you'll realise that after the beginner stages, acoustic guitars and electric guitars are very different instruments, and therefore should not be compared against one another.
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Old 02-10-2009, 10:15 PM   #6
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Great thread GC! I'll try to think up of some good myths to dispell and get back here.
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Old 02-10-2009, 11:56 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AthenasGhost
i kind of disagree with acoustics not being harder to play. ive played electric and acoustic for 9 years and everytime i play electric for a long time and go back to acoustic its a challenge because my fingers get weak, which makes the acoustic harder to play. Another reason why i love the idea of starting on acoustic is because you arne't going to be shredding it up when you start, i mean its all opinion but if you start on acoustic, the jump to electric is going to be that much easier because it will build your finger strength up like crazy.


I kind of disagree with you disagreeing about acoustics not being harder to play. You follow? Difficulty isn't just dependent on your fingers having enough strength to hold a chord or something. I think you have a slighter narrow view of what "hard" means.
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Old 02-10-2009, 11:58 PM   #8
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Myth: Electric guitars, as a general rule, are sexier than acoustic guitars, or vice versa.

Truth: Beauty is in eye of the guitarist.
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Old 02-11-2009, 12:00 AM   #9
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Continuing... Apparently my post was a bit long. Who knew?

Myth: Inexpensive guitars are bad and expensive guitars are good.

Truth: Good guitars are good, bad guitars are bad.

Explanation: It will hopefully please the beginners (and owners of a few cheap guitars, like myself) on UG to know that just because they didn't spend $2,000 on a guitar, they may still have gotten a stellar instrument.

It goes without saying that there are great guitars that cost very little. The thing is, they aren't nearly as rare an occurrence as most would assume. There are many guitars in the $200-$500 range that get the job done far beyond what their modest price implies. Some good examples are in the "What Acoustic is right for you?" and "Guitars Under $300" threads.

A quick personal story: Just recently, I played a used Takamine Jasmine guitar (I'll find the model type later), owned by a friend, that cost a whopping $115. It was equipped with a less-than-stunning laminate top, back, and sides, a strange imitation wood neck, and some really goofy looking hardware. The odd thing is, the action was perfect, intonation dead on, and sound quality on par with some of my (much) more expensive guitars. How depressing for me. It was certainly far more than a beginner guitar. It would even be fairly safe to assume that with the automated manufacturing that I'm certain Jasmine uses, there are thousands of comparable guitars around. Don't let a guitar snob poo-poo your ax because it's laminate.

If you'd like more examples, I have many (including my main guitar which is a mid-eighties Sigma Dreadnought bought for about $300). The trick is to search carefully and play any guitar before you buy it.

That said, in very general terms, as cost goes up, quality follows. There are LOTS of really (really) bad cheapo guitars. On the upper end of the scale - I wont pick on any particularly exotic guitars that sound truly heinous, but they're around too - you generally get a bit more bang. Quality plateaus at about $4000. Beyond that, you're making an investment and/or fulfilling dreams.

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Old 02-11-2009, 12:04 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by THE NEKRYPH
Myth: Electric guitars, as a general rule, are sexier than acoustic guitars, or vice versa.

Truth: Beauty is in eye of the guitarist.

So very true. It goes without explanation.
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Old 02-11-2009, 12:16 AM   #11
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Sweet! Added to the Master Info thread:

http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/foru...d.php?t=1055204
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Old 02-11-2009, 12:32 AM   #12
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Just to comment on Jasmine, they're made by Takamine. They're a discount beginner's brand, and actually very good for their price. Ok, now to contribute....

Myth: Pure Acoustic > Acoustic-Electric at same price, and visa-versa

Truth: Not having electronics does not mean a guitar is better than a guitar with electronics for the same price, and visa-versa.
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Old 02-11-2009, 12:54 AM   #13
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How about the myth that classical guitars are for fingerpicking only, or only for classical music?
I use a pick and I don't play classical music, but I get some really good sounds out of mine. Ever seen Black Label Society play an acoustic set?
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Old 02-11-2009, 01:30 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by THE NEKRYPH
I kind of disagree with you disagreeing about acoustics not being harder to play. You follow? Difficulty isn't just dependent on your fingers having enough strength to hold a chord or something. I think you have a slighter narrow view of what "hard" means.


i don't have a narrow view of hard, just a different one. I mean physically harder, not skill wise harder, of course a guitar is a guitar, and skill wise they aren't going to be different. but acoustics are generally more physically demanding, that's what I meant, i totally understand the other "hard" that your talking about though most of my post was about the physical differences in playing the instruments.
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Old 02-11-2009, 01:49 AM   #15
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yey.! guitar myth busters are here.!
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Old 02-11-2009, 02:10 AM   #16
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I doubt Jamie or Adam could play guitar to save their lives.
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Old 02-11-2009, 09:23 AM   #17
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Sweet post! And about high time as well!

Myth: An acoustic guitar has only one adjustment point, and that is the truss rod, so this must be how you adjust the action and everything else.

Truth: A steel string acoustic's truss rod is just one of a few adjustment points. It just happens to be the only one that's clearly seen as being adjustable.

Explanation: Truss rods have fallen into this myth area because they are high enough profile on acoustic guitars to be seen as the cure all. Many people don't realize that there are other options available to them to make adjustments because it's not a screw that can be turned or put a wrench to. Electric guitars are loaded(sometimes OVERloaded) with adjustment points, while the only obvious one on an acoustic is the truss rod. That is not to say that there aren't other, just as critical parts to an acoustic that may need adjusting. The bridge saddle is one of these "hidden" adjustments. It get's overlooked because it appears to be a static component of the guitar, and therefore must not be able to be adjusted. Another are the tuning machines. Many are able to be adjusted for gear pre-load, but how often does anyone recognize this as being another adjustment point?
Yet another is the strings themselves. These can be thought of as an adjustment if you desire a different tone, are performing alternate tunings frequently, want to change playing styles from flatpicking to all fingerpicking and so on.

Bottom line: Just because it's an acoustic does not mean that it can't be made to play as ecellently and smoothly as an electric.
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Old 02-11-2009, 11:30 AM   #18
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Myth: The tone of the guitar is almost purely determined by the tonewood.
Truth: Although the choice of tonewood is very important, other factors play just as much, if not more, of a factor in tone.

Explanation: Tonewoods are definitely important in the kind of tone to look for. There is no doubt about that. However, there are many other important factors that determine the kind of attack, sustain, and overtones produced by an acoustic guitar.

Saddle material - This is one of the most important, and often overlooked improvements that you can easily make to your guitar. Most cheaper guitars come with either a plastic(if they're REALLY cheap guitars) or more often TusQ(man-made ivory) saddles. The reason for doing so is because plastic and TusQ are easily mass produced. They don't need to be shaped or fitted(as extensively) by hand. They can be made in molds and require minimal shaping when fitted to the guitars.

Now why is the saddle material so important? As we know, the acoustic guitar is basically just a big soundbox. The body of the guitar vibrates to produce sound. The saddle is the main energy transfer point between the kinetic energy of the moving strings and the audible sound energy created by the body of the guitar vibrating. The more efficient the transfer in energy is, the clearer, more articulate, and louder the sound will be.

Saddle materials such as FWI(Fossilized Walrus Ivory), FMI(Fossilized Mammoth Ivory), FEI(Fossilized Elephant Ivory. Illegal without proper documentation), and bone(either cow or ox) are the better materials than TusQ or plastic. Bone is the industry standard. The fossilized ivories will tend to be a little brighter and slightly "better"(subjective).


Bracing Patterns -
The type of bracing pattern may be the most important factor in a guitar's tone. The bracing determines how stiff the top is. Too much bracing and you get a muffled sound. Too little bracing and the guitar won't last the test of time. Finding the right amount ands shape of bracing pattern is the key.

I'm sure many people have wondered about scalloped bracing. Scalloped bracing is when certain parts of the brace are scooped out in an arched shape. This process reduces the amount of bracing on the top, allowing it to vibrate more freely, while retaining most of it's structural strength. Scalloping is a very delicate process that has to be done by a skilled luthier. All wood is slightly different in it's composition/density, so each brace has to be scalloped under the worker's discretion.


Strings - Yes indeed. Strings play a HUGE role in the tone of the guitar. You can make your guitar insanely bassy and warm with some DR's, or you can make your guitar ridiculously bright with elixirs. Strings are very subjective, so you need to try them all out to see what you really like. The composition and thickness of these strings play a rather large role in sound production.

The composition determines the density, and therefore the amount of energy transfer you'll get. The thickness will determine the sustain. This can be proved by the laws of physics. An object in motion will want to stay in motion. An object at rest will want to stay at rest. The more material you have, the more it will want to stay in motion or rest due to inertia.


Well that's all I can think of at the moment. This was a fun write up.
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Old 02-11-2009, 11:52 AM   #19
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Nice one guys.
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Old 02-11-2009, 01:30 PM   #20
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^ Did the top warp? or the sides? Only the sides of the Seagull should be laminate while the top should be solid wood. I don't believe Seagull has ever made an all laminate guitar. Godin leaves that to the other brands such as Art & Lutherie.

With laminate, you can be pretty rough with it and it should still be fine. The physical strength of laminate is far greater than solid wood because it is glued together with the grains in opposing directions. Laminate, for the most part, isn't completely immune to humidity changes. However, it's not heavily affected by it either.

Edmonton is actually a very, very harsh climate for an acoustic guitar. -20C is normal over there in the winter. Lower temperatures mean that the hot air inside the house needs to be circulated more often. Circulated heating in a house means that the air is much drier. It depends on where you live, really.

I have an Art & Lutherie. Cedar top, laminate back/sides. I've just been keeping it in it's case for the whole winter since I don't play it. Haven't humidified it either. I checked on it last week and all still seems to be well. So yeah, it depends heavily on a few different factors.
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