A FEW POINTERS ON BUYING A GUITAR
- There are basically two types of guitar construction, factory made and hand made. Low priced entry level guitars are always factory made which means they are made by hand but in assembly line, hands-on, production. Higher quality student and concert models are made by hand in the sense that one guitar maker selects the woods, cuts them to size, assembles them and finishes them, from choice-of-woods to delivery.
- In entry level student guitars you have a choice between plywood construction and solid wood construction. Plywood means a low price but also a much duller tone than that of solid wood. Plywood is made with three thin layers of wood glued together like a sandwich. The top veneer can be of a fine grained wood and the lower layers of much poorer quality wood; the result is a sheet of wood very strong and stable but not very resonant.
- We find that among the best entry level guitars available these days are Francisco Esteve, Saez Marin and Antonio Picado from Spain and Armin Hanika from Germany. They all have solid soundboards and are exceptionally well-made by excellent craftsmen.
- The question is often asked about the relative qualities of cedar and spruce as sound board woods. Neither wood is inherently superior to the other, they just have different tonal characters in general. Spruce is harder and stiffer than cedar and gives a brighter, clearer and more focused sound, while softer cedar is darker, mellower and warmer. So it's a matter of what sort of tone the player is looking for. Take Andres Segovia as an example. He played a Hermann Hauser with a German Spruce (bright, clear, focused) top from 1928 to the 1950s, then switched to a Cedar-topped (dark, warm, rich) Jose Ramirez on which he performed until the end of his career in the 1980s. (If you're interested, the Hauser is on display at New York's Metropolitan Museum.)
- Other considerations are tuning machines and finger boards. Tuning machines vary in the thickness of the plates and the metal composition of the gears, from thin brass plated to finer brass and carbonized steel. Fingerboards are of either rosewood, black-stained rosewood or true ebony. Ebony is preferred because it is densely grained, more durable and more stable.
- Better guitars, whether student or concert models, will have solid cedar or spruce sound boards, ebony fingerboards, rosewood backs and sides, either laminated or solid, and more precise tuning machines. The saddle and nut will also be of good quality bone as opposed to plastic.
- The set-up or "action" of a guitar, whether it's a beginner's instrument or a concert guitar, is of primary importance. Ideal nylon string action provides a clearance between the first fret and the treble strings of .025 " and the bass strings of .030". At the 12th fret the clearance should be 1/8" (3 mm) for the treble strings and 5/32" (4 mm) for the basses. Most music stores sell classical guitars as they come from the factory. At THE CLASSICAL GUITAR STORE we adjust every guitar according to our exacting standards of playability and we give a full year's guarantee for free readjustment if it is necessary. The difference between a properly adjusted playing action and a factory set-up can be enormous and can make all the difference in the ease and enjoyment of playing the guitar.
- Plywood soundboards are made of three thin layers of wood glued together like a sandwich, with the top layer usually showing regular grain while the other two layers are of lower quality.
- Solid soundboards are made of a single thickness of either cedar or spruce, always in two bookmatched sections with the seam running down the middle. These are always more flexible than plywood and therefore more responsive to the string vibration, giving greater resonance and volume.
- Backs and sides may be either laminated or solid. This has less influence on the tone production of a guitar than the composition of the soundboard; in fact some concert guitars have laminated sides for greater stability.
- String length refers to the distance between the "nut" at the upper end of the fingerboard and the "saddle" on the bridge. This is the section of the string that vibrates when it is plucked. 650 mm or 25 5/8 inches is the standard string length of practically all student and concert guitars built today, though some 40 years ago 660 mm and even 665 mm were common on concert guitars to increase projection. Since then luthiers have found ways of providing strong volume with a shorter string length.
- The nut and saddle, the two points on which the string rests, are usually made of plastic on less expensive student guitars. The preferred material for better instruments is bone which is harder and much more responsive.
- Fretboards or fingerboards are usually made of Indian Rosewood (often stained black) on less expensive guitars and of ebony on better instruments. Ebony is denser and resists wear better than rosewood.
- Tuning machines vary greatly in quality, from lightly built, plain mechanisms, to heavy duty, smooth-meshing gears. Most tuning machines are adequate for the price-level for which they were intended. The main considerations with machines are their accuracy and durability.
Do not hesitate to call us or send an e-mail with further questions you might have about guitar construction and values.
Business hours: Monday to Friday noon to 6 pm, Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, and by appointment.
Telephone 215-567-2972 or E-mail us in the "Contact" section