The longstanding association between guitars and singer-songwriters is almost quintessential…and for good reason. The guitar is perhaps the simplest way that a lyricist or vocalist can bring their compositions to life.
If you know how to play even the most basic chords, you can become your own accompaniment.
That said, I’d like to answer some common questions about guitars and maybe help you decide if you should pick one up…and which one you should choose, as well.
- Why Should I Consider Playing the Guitar?
- What is Standard Guitar Tuning?
- What Octave is Standard Guitar Tuning?
- What Key is Standard Guitar Tuning?
- Should I Use an Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
- What Sizes Do Acoustic Guitars Come In?
- What Size Acoustic Guitar is Right for Me?
Why Should I Consider Playing the Guitar?
Guitar provides an easy and popular way to accompany your vocals and compose music on the fly. Out of all the musical instruments on the market today, there is a reason why the guitar remains the top pick for songwriters.
The main advantages of playing guitar include:
Guitar is always on the list when it comes to most popular instruments, and not just for songwriters. In the United States alone, over a million guitars are sold each year.
Due to it’s widespread use, you will easily find a vast wealth of educational materials both on and off the internet like:
- tutors, and
Mainstream acceptance means more than just finding help when you’re learning how to play. A guitar’s tone appeals to a wide audience. Most people are willing to listen to guitar music. That can’t be said for more novel instruments like the accordion or cavaquinho.
A guitar can be used in practically any genre or style of music. I’ve heard hit songs featuring guitar in pop, rock, indie, alternative, jazz, R&B, hip hop, emo trap, folk, blues, country, zydeco, you name it!
The instrument will not typecast your sound to a specific genre. That is more than can be said about instruments like the banjo or ukulele (not that I’m hating on either of those, I play them as well). Electric and acoustic guitars have a wide range of tones and genres that all have mass market appeal.
Guitars are quite easy to pick up and carry. The average weight of an acoustic is 4 lbs or less. A electric guitar will weigh anywhere between 5 lbs (like a duo-sonic) to 12 lbs (a dense Jazzmaster or mahogany Les Paul).
Pianos, while versatile and popular, tend to be big and heavy. If you opt for a digital piano, then you must also carry a PA amp around with you.
Yet an acoustic guitar can be thrown in the backseat and played anywhere you go.
Being in such constant demand by musicians, guitars come in a wide variety of styles and designs to satisfy every corner of the buyers market. There is a dizzying amount of electric and acoustic guitars for sale, with new models being introduced every year.
On top of that, cheap guitars have dramatically improved in quality since the time I started playing fifteen years ago. Thanks to the huge selection in both the new and used markets, it’s quite affordable to find a well-made guitar without selling the farm to finance it.
What is Standard Guitar Tuning?
Standard guitar tuning is E A D G B e. The big “E” is the string at the topmost edge of the fretboard, closest to your face. The little “e” lies at the bottom edge of the fretboard, closest to the floor.
This tuning is also known as “E standard” due to the first note being an E.
Guitars can also be down-tuned, where you lower the pitch of all the strings by the same amount of notes so that you have the same intervals between each string as you would have in E standard, but you will instead by starting on a different and lower note.
The most common down-tuned versions include Eb standard (one note or “half step” lower than E) and D standard (two notes or a “whole step” lower than E).
What Octave is Standard Guitar Tuning?
The correct octave of standard guitar tuning is E2 A2 D3 G3 b3 e4. Each number next to the notes signifies in which octave that pitched is located compared to middle C (which is C4). The lowest “E” note is at a frequency of 82.4 Hz.
However, be aware that sheet music for guitar is written one octave higher than it’s played. If you are writing your melody down on staff paper, you will use the treble clef rather than the bass clef.
For the average singer-songwriter or pop producer, the octave notations won’t really matter—most of us don’t bother with standard notation for our music. But if you do use score-writing software and that software includes standard notation, then it will use the octave transposition principle I just mentioned.
What Key is Standard Guitar Tuning?
Guitar is a chromatic instrument with equal temperament which means it can play in any key. All 12 notes are available on a guitar and in several octaves. Technically speaking, standard guitar tuning is most applicable for playing in the keys of C Major or G Major. That is, the easiest open chords to play in standard tuning happen to be in either C or G.
Should I Use an Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
In general, beginners may feel more comfortable playing electric guitar because the strings are smaller and require less finger muscle to fret. This question is quite subjective beyond that. It depends on your style of music and how you plan to use your guitar.
Both acoustic and electric guitars work for many styles and, once you can play one, the other isn’t that hard to transition into. Ask yourself these two questions when deciding between acoustic or electric:
- What kind of music do you want to play?
- Which one are you more likely to pick up and play?
What Kind of Music Do You Want To Play On Guitar?
The genres of music you want to make and the types of artists that you listen to (and probably want to emulate) will all have an impact on your decision in the acoustic vs electric debate.
Start by looking up the artists that you enjoy and see what their guitarists play. Listen to your favorite songs and pay attention to the tone you hear on them: does it sound like an acoustic guitar or electric?
Which One Are You More Likely To Pick Up Every Day?
Here are the two biggest factors in keeping a new habit:
- convenience, and
The brain resists change. So you need to make it as easy as possible to start a new habit.
The same goes for playing guitar every day. If you don’t enjoy playing guitar, then your subconscious brain will give you excuses not to do it.
So pick a guitar that you like to look at and you can grab easily.
I almost never plug my electric guitars in unless I’m recording a track. 90% of what I play is on my acoustic guitar that sits right behind my computer desk. It’s easy to get to and I don’t have to fuss with cables to start making noise on it.
If you can make a convenient setup for an electric guitar in your room, then go for it. Otherwise, consider having an acoustic guitar sitting nearby to where you spend the most time at home.
What Sizes Do Acoustic Guitars Come In?
Acoustic Guitars come in a wide variety sizes and shapes, and each variation affects the playability and tone in some way. There are a number of terms used to describe the various sizes of acoustics.
Unfortunately the terms are not standardized between manufacturers. A guitar called a Grand Concert by one company may not be the same size as a Grand Concert from another builder.
But in general, the most common sizes you’ll find for guitars are (from smallest to largest):
- Concert (also called a 0 or “single-oh”)
- Mini Jumbo
- Grand Concert (00 or “double-oh”)
- Auditorium (000/OM/Orchestra model)
Parlor guitars are also referred to as “travel-sized” instruments and are usually small and light for carrying around with you. Parlor guitars have the quietest and tinniest tone, which responds better to fingerpicking than to hard strumming.
- Martin LX1 Little Martin
- Gretsch Jim Dandy.
Concert size is just slightly bigger than a parlor, and sometimes they overlap in dimensions, but a concert will often have a longer scale length between the two.
- Martin 0-15
- Recording King RPS-7.
A mini jumbo has a similar shape as a full size jumbo, but it’s scaled down for easier travel and smaller hands.
- Taylor GS Mini
- Guild Jumbo Junior.
Grand Concert (00)
This size is like the Concert but the body dimensions are scaled up slightly. They give an intimate tone but project more than the previous size.
- Martin 00-15
- Taylor Academy 12
- Gibson L-00 Studio.
Auditorium or Orchestra models are again scaled up from the previous Grand Concert size. OM and Orchestra variations of this size also have a longer scale length than found on the 0, 00, or 000 models. More tone but with the same comfortable curves of the concert sizes.
- Taylor 114e
- Martin 000-15
- Fender FA-345CE.
This is by far the most frequently seen guitar size with a very different shape from the previous entries. Dreadnoughts are big, bulky, and boomy.
Examples aren’t really necessary here, as they tend to be quite similar in design from builder to builder.
The venerable jumbo is the biggest size you can find, slightly larger than a dreadnought and with rounder bouts. It excels at bright tone and flatpicking.
- Gibson J-185
- Epiphone J-200
- Guild F-2512
- Gretsch G5022 Rancher.
What Size Acoustic Guitar is Right for Me?
The best guitar size for you will depend on your height, hand size, genre, and style of playing (fingerpicking, flatpicking, strumming, etc).
- Smaller people with smaller hands may appreciate smaller-bodied guitars, and vice versa for taller folks.
- Big hands may prefer wider nut widths, which are usually found on Martins and jumbos, or just fatter neck profiles like those found on Guild or Art & Lutherie guitars.
- Fingerstyle players may also prefer wider nut width as it provide more room to get your finger pads between each strings.
- Buskers or people who like to walk around as they play will find smaller and mid-sized guitars easier to move with.
- Studio artists who record more than they play live will appreciate mid-sized models like a grand concert because they tend to have less bass and more scooped tone in the midrange.
- Heavy-handed strummers may gravitate towards dreadnoughts and jumbos as smaller-bodied guitars can start to compress or buzz when played too hard.
If it gives you any context, I’m a short and lean guy (5’7”) who mostly records in his bedroom, and I stick with guitars in the Concert and Grand Concert range; my current daily player is a Martin 000-Jr, (which is basically just a 00 with a shorter scale length).
Guitar is an excellent choice for singer-songwriters due to it’s easy of use and availability. Learning to play guitar, or any instrument, will make it easier for you to compose your own backing tracks.
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