As earlier mentioned, acoustic guitars can be broken down into 2 distinct groups, steel string and nylon string. Let’s look at them in greater detail.
Steel string acoustics are, by far, the most commonly played acoustic guitars. What’s funny is most actually use a bronze alloy string but they’re called ‘steel’ string anyway. There are several different kinds of steel string guitars and they are probably best described by the name given to the body style. The most common are:
The Grand Auditorium
And many, MANY others some being copies or variations of the above.
Now, for the sake of this thread, in order to not overwhelm with too much data, let’s sort of group these into 3 categories we can generally call, big, medium, and small. There is going to be a bit of overlapping but in very general terms, the dreadnought, the jumbo, the grand auditorium and the OM could be called ‘big’ guitars. They generally have large bodies, the necks join the bodies at the 14th fret, and they are ‘full scale’ guitars coming in somewhere around 25 inches in very broad terms. The dreadnought and Jumbo are the biggest of that group and by far and away the most popular steel string body style sold is the dreadnought. It a very large, loud guitar made for solid rhythm strumming and is best played standing up. It’s very commonly used in Rock, Country, and Bluegrass.
In the medium group we could have the Grand Auditorium, the OM, the 000 and the Folk. These guitars will handle rhythm strumming but are probably best suited for finger picking. Many in this group do not have a pickguard. These guitars are also typically full scale and usually have the neck join at the 14th fret. They are more comfortable to play sitting down than a larger guitar and are often found in Rock, Country, Blues, and ‘fingerstyle’ jazz.
In the small group we have the 00, the 0, and the parlor. Another type of guitar we could put in this group are ‘scaled’ guitars such as a ¾ size dreadnought. Small guitars usually feature a shorter scale, the body and neck join at the 12th fret, there’s usually no pickguard, and these guitars are best suited for finger picking and they are incredibly comfortable to hold and play sitting down. They are typically found in Blues and some fingerstyle jazz.
There is another category of steel string acoustic and that would be the jazz guitar, either a ‘gypsy’ jazz or an archtop. These models typically exceed the entry level price point of a first time player so I’m not going to address them.
The nylon string guitar is basically placed into 2 groups, the classical guitar and the flamenco guitar. There is not near the selection of body styles and sizes. Typically there is a full size and a scaled size as in a ¾ classical. There are some other models out there such as 2 models of Parlor sized bodies from the Godin company, but the focus is really on the full size models.
I’ll use this opportunity to highlight some major differences between steel string and nylon string guitars. As I mentioned in the other thread, to just identify them by string type is shortsighted.
Most nylon string guitars do not have an adjustable truss rod because the necks are under so much less tension from the nylon strings. This is one of the most attractive reasons many new players opt for a nylon string; they are much easier on the fingers in the beginning. The necks are wider and flatter than steel string guitars. They are played with the fingers not a pick. The guitar is held over the left leg and the left foot is usually on a footstool. They are never played standing up. They always join the body to the neck at the 12th fret. They often do not have as many side position dot markers and never have dot markers on the fretboard itself. The construction method is different than a steel string typically using a ‘fan brace’ method as opposed to the ‘X’ brace method of steel string acoustics. The strings tie onto the bridge whereas steel string guitars use a ball end string with bridge pins. Can you see how different these guitars are from steel strings? Here’s another remarkable difference.
In the classical guitar market there is really no middle ground of models and prices. There are basically 2 groups; student models and performer models. Understand that in this realm, a $2000 guitar is still considered a ‘student’ model! Any classical guitar by a major guitar company like Washburn, Fender, Ibanez, etc. would be considered a student model. 99% of student models sell from $100-$1000. A serious performance instrument begins at around $4000. In the lower end of product offerings, nylon string guitars are not as loud as steel string guitars.
Things to look for in ANY acoustic guitar:
A solid top will have a more pleasing tone and a louder tone than a laminate top. Guitar companies do many things to make the unobservant purchaser think they are purchasing a solid top guitar when the top is actually a laminate. For instance:
All spruce top
100% spruce top
Vintage toned spruce top
Beautiful spruce top
All of the above are LAMINATE tops! Unless the word ‘solid’ is next to the word ‘top’, it’s a laminate top. ‘Solid spruce top’ is a solid top. Anything else is a laminate. In an entry level instrument, expect to purchase a guitar with a laminate back and a laminate body/sides. I’m also not inferring that a laminate top does not have a place in the guitar world. They are more durable for kids that tend to knock them around a bit more, they hold up better to abuse/knicks when camping, etc. They fight feedback better when used in a louder, amplified environment. If your first guitar has a solid top, you’ll probably keep it longer. The longer you keep a guitar, the more value it imparts to you.