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ACOUSTIC
G U I TA R G U I D E
THE
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AC O U S T I C
G U I TA R G U I D E
THE
E V E RY T H I N G
YOU NEED
TO KNOW
TO BUY AND
M A I N TA I N A
NEW OR USED
G U I TA R
Revised and Updated
Larry Sandberg
F O R E W O R D
B Y
A RT I E
T R A U M
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sandberg, Larry
The acoustic guitar guide : everything you need to know to buy and maintain a new
or used guitar / by Larry Sandberg—2nd ed., rev. and updated.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. )
ISBN 1-55652-418-8
1. Guitar. 2. Guitar--Maintenance and repair. I. Title.
ML1015.G9 S3 2000
787.87'19—dc21
00-031788
Cover photo: Guitar and bass guitar by Harry Fleishman
Photo by John Youngblut, courtesy Harry Fleishman
Cover and interior design: Lindgren/Fuller Design
Line art by Fred Hickler, based on computer drawings by Larry Sandberg
©2000 by Larry Sandberg
Foreword ©2000 by Artie Traum
All rights reserved
Second edition
Published by A Cappella Books
An imprint of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
814 North Franklin Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
ISBN 1-55652-418-8
Printed in the United States of America
5 4 3 2 1
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CONTENTS
Foreword . . . . .
Acknowledgments
Introduction . . .
PART I:
1
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All About the Guitar
The Guitar Through History
Ancient Origins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Dark and Light Ages . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Development of the Modern Classical Guitar
C. F. Martin and the American Guitar . . . . . . .
The Early Years of the Steel-String Guitar . . . . .
Bigger Guitars for the 1930s . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The 1940s and 1950s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Folk Boom and Beyond . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Nostalgic Baby Boomer Market . . . . . . . .
New Sounds for a New Generation . . . . . . . . .
Guitars in a World of Scarce Resources . . . . . .
2
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xvii
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3
4
5
7
9
10
12
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16
17
It Takes All Kinds
Folk Guitar: The Steel-Strung Solidbody Flattop .
The Twelve-String Guitar . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Classical Guitar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Flamenco Guitar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Baritone Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bass Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Archtop Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How Archtops Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Great Archtop Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . .
Electric Archtops . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Contemporary Archtop . . . . . . . . . . . .
Is an Archtop the Guitar for You? . . . . . . . . .
Solidbody and Semi-Hollowbody Electrics . . . .
Hawaiian and Other Lap-Style Guitars . . . . . . .
The Pedal Steel Guitar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resophonic Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Maccaferri (“Django”) Guitar . . . . . . . . .
Synth Guitar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Harp Guitars and Other Oddities . . . . . . . . .
Seven Strings, Ten Strings, and More . . . . . . .
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25
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26
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27
28
29
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33
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The Harp Guitar .
Multineck Guitars
Air Guitars . . . . . .
3
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35
35
36
Guitar Sound
Tone . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tone, Timbre, and Pitch . .
Volume . . . . . . . . . . . .
Presence . . . . . . . . . . .
Dynamic Range . . . . . . .
Separation . . . . . . . . . .
Balance . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sustain . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cutting Power . . . . . . . .
Voice . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Wraparound and Projection
You . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ambience . . . . . . . . . . .
Facts and Impressions . . .
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4 Wood, Finish, and Glues
Plywood and Solid Wood . . . . . . . . .
Most Guitars Are Plywood . . . . . . .
The Mystique and Value of Solid Wood
Laminates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Buyer Beware . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Laminate Construction . . . . . . . .
Stability and Durability . . . . . . . .
Detecting Plywood . . . . . . . . . . .
Laminate Tops . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Laminate Backs and Sides . . . . . . .
Laminate Fingerboards . . . . . . . . .
Laminate Necks and Headstocks . . .
Materials and Tone . . . . . . . . . .
Seasoning and Milling Solid Wood . . .
Seasoning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Milling Lumber . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Prime Cuts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Grain and Figure . . . . . . . . . . . .
Slab Cutting . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Quartersawed Wood . . . . . . . . . .
Bookmatched Tops and Backs . . . . .
Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Blanks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tonewoods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Wood Naming Conventions . . . . . .
Table: The Major Guitar Woods
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Spruce . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Spruce Mystique . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Selecting Spruce for a Top . . . . . . . . .
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37
39
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40
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51
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59
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Cedar and Redwood . . . . . . . .
Rosewood . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Rosewood Substitutes . . . . . . . .
Mahogany . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Maple . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Koa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Walnut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ebony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Woods . . . . . . . . . . . .
Finish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Stain and Filler Preparation . . . .
Nitrocellulose and Acrylic Lacquers
Sunburst Finishes . . . . . . . . .
French Polish and Spot Finishes . .
Glues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5
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63
64
66
66
67
68
69
69
70
70
71
71
72
72
72
How Your Guitar Works I: Where the Action Is
Action and Setup . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Action Strictly Defined . . . . . . . . .
Action Loosely Defined . . . . . . . . .
Setup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Mechanics of Setup . . . . . . . .
Setup and Style . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Neck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Neck Materials and Construction . . .
Neck Shape and Contour . . . . . . . .
Relief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Truss Rod . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Truss Rods and Relief . . . . . . . . .
Truss Rod Adjustment . . . . . . . . .
Warped Necks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Warp and Bow . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Diagnosis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Cure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Joining the Neck to the Body . . . . . .
Neck Joints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Neck Set . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resetting the Neck . . . . . . . . . . .
Fingerboard and Frets . . . . . . . . . .
Fingerboard Materials . . . . . . . . .
Position Markers, Inlay, and Binding
Twelve- and Fourteen-Fret Necks . . . .
Fingerboard Width . . . . . . . . . . .
Fingerboard Shape and Contour . . . .
Replacing and Repairing Fingerboards
Frets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fret Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Refretting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fret Placement . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Nut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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75
75
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76
76
76
78
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80
81
82
84
85
86
86
86
87
87
87
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90
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Function . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Materials . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nut Height and Grooves . . . . . . . . . . . .
Scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Long and Short Scales . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fanned Frets for Mixed Scales . . . . . . . .
Headstock and Tuners . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Headstock or Peghead . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Handstop or Volute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tuning Machines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Here’s What You Need to Know About Tuners
6
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96
96
97
99
99
100
101
101
102
102
103
How Your Guitar Works II: Body Language
The Top or Soundboard . . . . .
The Soul of the Guitar . . . . .
“Playing In” a Top . . . . . . .
Laminate and Solid Wood Tops
Top Materials and Building . .
The Sound Hole . . . . . . . .
Sound Hole Shape and Size
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The Pickguard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Top Bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Transverse Bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fan-Bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
X-Bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Voiced and Scalloped X-Bracing . . . . . .
Kasha and Other Bracing Systems . . . .
Damaged Braces . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Bridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Function and Structure . . . . . . . . . .
The Bridge Plate . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bridge Woods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bridge Shapes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bridge Pins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Saddle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Function, Structure, and Materials . . . .
Adjustable Saddles . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Compensation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Keeping Your Temper . . . . . . . . . . . .
Back and Sides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Back Bracing and Side Reinforcement . .
Linings, Bindings, and Blocks . . . . . .
Size and Shape . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Table: Approximate Standard Guitar Sizes
Shape . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cutaway Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Putting the Guitar Together . . . . . . . . .
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105
105
106
106
107
107
108
108
109
109
110
110
110
112
113
114
114
114
115
115
116
118
118
118
119
119
121
122
123
124
124
124
126
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Suiting Yourself
Making a Good Marriage with Your Guitar
The Ideal Guitar Does Not Exist . . . . . .
Guitars Differ Differently . . . . . . . . . .
Suiting Your Body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Size and Shape Make a Difference . . . . .
Cutaways
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Left-Handed Guitars
Guitars for Kids . .
Suiting Your Eye . . . .
Ornamentation . . .
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Headstock and Neck Inlay . .
Binding, Purfling, and Rosette
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Finish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Suiting Your Style . . . . . . . . . . .
General Playing and Casual Styles
Bluegrass and Old-Time Music . .
Blues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Contemporary Fingerpicking . . . .
Acoustic Jazz . . . . . . . . . . . .
Suiting Your Suitcase: Travel Guitars
Suiting Your Pocketbook . . . . . . .
Under $300 . . . . . . . . . . . . .
$300 to $450 . . . . . . . . . . . .
$450 to $750 . . . . . . . . . . . .
$750 to $1,000 . . . . . . . . . . .
$1,000 to $2,000 . . . . . . . . .
Over $2,000 . . . . . . . . . . . .
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146
Strings
String Basics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From Catgut to Stainless Steel . . . . .
Picking Your Strings . . . . . . . . . . .
What Are Strings Made Of? . . . . . . .
Bronze-Wound Strings . . . . . . . . .
Coated Strings . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nickel-Wound Strings . . . . . . . . .
Compound (“Silk and Steel”) Strings .
Flatwound and Groundwound Strings
Winding and Squeaking
Flatwound Strings . . .
Groundwound Strings .
Nylon Strings . . . . . . .
String Gauge and Tension .
Gauging String Gauge . .
Ultralight and Superlight
Extra-Light Gauge . . . .
Compound Strings . . . .
Light Gauge . . . . . . .
Medium Gauge . . . . . .
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Heavy Gauge . . . . . . . . . . .
Measuring String Gauge . . . . . .
Typical String Gauge and Tension
Table: Typical String Sets
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Making Up Your Own String Set . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Strings and Setup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
String Brands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bad Vibes, Heavy Metal Fatigue, and Other Tough Breaks in
the Life of a String . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
When to Replace Strings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9
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160
161
Pickups and Amplification
Amplified Versus Natural Sound . . . . .
Transducers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Introduction to Transduction . . . . . .
Contact Pickups . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Pickups, Preamps, and Impedance . . .
Internal Mini-Microphones . . . . . . .
Magnetic Pickups . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why Plug In? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Great Signal Chain of Being . . . .
Aftermarket or Factory Installation? . .
Electro-Acoustic Guitars . . . . . . . . . .
Amplifiers and Sound Systems . . . . . .
Electric Guitar Amplifiers . . . . . . . .
On-Stage Sound Systems . . . . . . . . .
Acoustic Guitar Amps . . . . . . . . . .
Acoustic Guitar Amp Power and Volume
Microphones and Other Inputs . . . . .
Equalization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Notch Filters and Parametric Equalizers
Reverb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Processing Devices . . . . . . . . .
10
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174
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Used, Vintage, and Modern Guitars
Looking for Mr. Goodfret . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Owning More Than One Guitar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Vintage Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Nature of a Collectors’ Market . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Nature of Collectors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Vintage Guitars as Investments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why Some People Think Old and Vintage Guitars Are Better
Why Some People Think New Guitars Are Better Anyway . .
Modern Luthiery: The New Golden Age? . . . . . . . . . . .
Longevity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Table: Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Guitar
Fine Guitars . . . . . . . .
Becoming an Expert . .
Great Names of the Past
Junk Chic . . . . . . . .
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Page xi
At the Point of Purchase
Dealing with Dealers . . . . . . . . . . . .
Finding a Good Dealer . . . . . . . . . .
Negotiating Setup . . . . . . . . . . . .
Negotiating Approval or Warranty Terms
Negotiating Trade-In . . . . . . . . . . .
Sales and Marketing Techniques . . . .
Discounts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mail-Order Brides . . . . . . . . . . . .
Checking Out the Guitar . . . . . . . . .
Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Playing Qualities . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What If You Can’t Play Yet? . . . . . . .
12
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Taking Care of Your Guitar
Around the House . . . . . . . . . .
Temperature and Humidity . . . . .
Changes in Climate . . . . . . . .
January Is the Cruelest Month . .
No Cure for the Summertime Blues
Good Guitars Finish Last . . . . .
Routine Cleaning and Maintenance
Spit ’n’ Polish . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tuning Machine Maintenance . .
Cases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cracks and Breaks . . . . . . . . . . .
Routine Crack Repair . . . . . . .
Bridge and Fingerboard Cracks . .
The Trauma Unit . . . . . . . . .
PART II:
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Market Survey
How to Use This Section
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Table: Approximate Standard Guitar Sizes
How to Read Guitar Sales Literature
Caveat Emptor . . . . . . . . . . .
13
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213
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215
Guitar Manufacturers
Breedlove Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Collings Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
J. W. Gallagher & Son Guitars . . . . . . . . . . .
Gibson Musical Instruments . . . . . . . . . . . .
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Old Gibsons for Gibson Lovers . . . . . . . . .
Godin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
James Goodall Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Guild Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Larrivée (Jean Larrivée Guitars Ltd.) . . . . . .
LaSiDo (Godin, Seagull, and Simon & Patrick)
Lowden . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Page xii
C. F. Martin & Company . . . . . . . . . . . .
Martin Scholars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
C. F. Martin and the Martin Bracing System
The Mystique of Pre-War Martins . . . . . .
The Martin Dreadnought Guitar . . . . . .
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Table: Martin’s Largest-Sized Guitars Since 1854
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Martin Since 1950 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Martin Products . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Name That Number: Martin’s Size and Style Designations
Table: Martin Guitar Size Prefixe
Table: Martin Guitar Style Suffixe
15
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Martin Serial Numbers . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ovation and Adamas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Graphite Fiber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Santa Cruz Guitar Company . . . . . . . . . . .
Tacoma Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Taylor Guitars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resophonic Guitars Manufacturers . . . . . .
National Reso-Phonic Guitars . . . . . . . . .
Original Acoustic Instruments (Dobro Brand)
Regal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
14 Custom Luthiers
Why Commission a Custom Guitar?
Finding Luthiers . . . . . . . . . . .
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245
245
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248
248
Selected Importers, Distributors, and
Manufacturers of Student, Mid-Line,
and Laminate-Body Instruments
Glossary . . . . . .
For Further Reading
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Books . . .
Magazines
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Guitar Shows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Page xiii
FOREWORD
This is the Age of Acoustic Guitars: a time of fine luthiers, pick-players,
fingerpickers, strummers, alternate tuning freaks, and a generation of
what can only be called the great unplugged. Our current romance
with guitars started to take shape in the 1960s when thousands of young
people with proto-Luddite tendencies sought to discover America’s gentler past through Appalachian folk music, country blues, and Woody
Guthrie ballads. The pickaxes that unearthed this deep mine of folk
music were acoustic instruments: banjos, mandolins, and, of course,
guitars. In those days, hipsters sought out funky pre-war Martins,
scratched-up Gibsons from the 1920s, turn-of-the-century Washburns,
and any old guitar with deep scars and character. Character was what
acoustic guitars were about: the more beat up, the better they seemed
to sound. And, of course, everyone knew that aged wood meant more
resonance, more warmth, and more passion.
Acoustic guitars have always had a place in the American parlor;
however, since the 1960s, their influence on American music, and music
around the globe, has become profound. From the resurrected recordings of Robert Johnson, Son House, and Skip James to the influential brilliance of James Taylor, Doc Watson, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, and
CSNY, the place of the acoustic guitar in pop music has been sealed forever. Now, with the turn of the century, guitarists have incorporated the
styles of Earl Klugh, Pat Metheny, Tony Rice, Alex de Grassi, Preston Reed,
and many other innovative players into the world’s musical consciousness.
That Larry Sandberg should come to write The Acoustic Guitar Guide
was no surprise to me. Larry and I were best friends in high school and
his passion for the acoustic guitar was undeniably inspiring to me. Not
only was he an exceptional player with that mysterious gift of “touch,”
he was also one of the first players I knew who actually composed for six
strings and arranged traditional pieces like “Buck Dancer’s Choice.”
Larry’s interest in music started with folk music but he easily gravitated
to classical and flamenco players like Julian Bream, Segovia, and Sabicas, and jazz maestros Charlie Byrd, Kenny Burrell, the MJQ , and even
Ornette Coleman. This wide range of interests makes Larry the perfect
person to describe the potential of the guitar and how to choose, fix,
analyze, and play them.
When the first edition was published in 1991 I thought it was a
snappy looking book, but one I’d only browse through. I didn’t expect
xiii
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Page xiv
to be pulled into the text but nevertheless I found myself reading it and
learning a lot of things I thought I already knew. When you’ve been
playing and reading about guitars as long as I have, there’s a tendency
to think you know it all. The first edition of The Acoustic Guitar Guide was
smarter, faster, and more interesting than I’d thought possible. I
shouldn’t have been surprised; my old buddy Larry Sandberg knows his
stuff and he knows how to write.
There was some information in the book that immediately caught
my notice. Sandberg’s descriptions of the various woods used in guitar
making and the way they are sawed, finished, and glued together was eyeopening. I found his discussion of strings, pickups, and guitar maintenance equally interesting. My favorite chapters were about the history of
guitar companies and luthiers, including Martin, Taylor, and Santa Cruz.
I’m always curious about how people got started in doing what they do.
These days, because we’re in a renaissance of guitar building, playing and interest, there are more great, affordable guitars around than
ever. You don’t have to seek out pre-war instruments to have an exceptional, or even a decent, guitar. Unlike in the 1960s, good instruments
are now available at prices to fit every budget. The stores are so full of
well-made, easy-to-play, inexpensive guitars that Larry Sandberg’s guide
is more essential now than it was just ten years ago. It will help you
maneuver through the hype and avoid costly mistakes in either buying
or repairing your instrument.
The second edition of The Acoustic Guitar Guide is welcome indeed.
Whether you’re an experienced musician or an absolute beginner trying to navigate your way through the complicated world of guitars, this
book is a must. It will lead you to answers. It will separate commercial
hype from the truth. It will help you make decisions about purchasing,
repairing, and maintaining your instrument. Not every book can do
this, but you are in good hands—literally—with Larry Sandberg as
your guide.
—Artie Traum, Bearsville, New York
February 2000
Artie Traum at the Philadelphia
Folk Festival, 1984. Photo by
Larry Sandberg
xiv
• FOREWORD
Artie Traum has been a performer, songwriter, recording artist, writer, instructional video teacher, clinician, and record producer for almost forty years. Beginning in the Greenwich Village and Woodstock folk scenes of the early 1960s, he
has performed as a soloist, accompanist, or with his brother Happy Traum with
many of the best-known acoustic artists of our times, including Bob Dylan and
The Band. After a string of Rounder albums featuring his work as a singersongwriter, he turned to instrumental music. Among the several albums featuring
his guitar work, the 1993 Shanachie release Letters from Joubée spent months
on the “adult alternative” airplay charts, cresting at number one for six weeks.
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Page xv
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Thanks to all my friends and colleagues who have shared their knowledge and insights about the guitar with me over the years, especially
Edward Dick, Janet Feder, Harry Fleishman, Max Krimmel, Jon Lundberg, El McMeen, Eileen Niehouse, Larry Pogreba, David Rubio, John
Rumley, Charles Sawtelle, Marc Silber, Larry Shirkey, Kit Simon, Denny
Stevens, Artie Traum, Harry Tuft, Donny Wade, and Steve Wiencrot.
Thanks to my teachers: Bill Bell, Dale Bruning, Happy Traum, and Dick
Weissman. Thanks to editor Richard Carlin, who first suggested this
book; to Yuval Taylor, who proposed and edited the present edition; to
Lisa Rosenthal, who managed its production; and to Gerilee Hundt for
her art direction. Thanks to Abbie Lawrence for being the wife of an
author and musician.
And thanks, finally, to those who have allowed me to use their
photos. These include, in addition to many of the names above, Byers,
Schwalbe & Assoc., Flying Fish Records, J. W. Gallagher & Son, George
Gruhn, LaSiDo, Linda Manzer, C. F. Martin & Co., Saga Musical Instruments, and Santa Cruz Guitar Company.
This edition is dedicated to the memory of Charles Sawtelle.
—Larry Sandberg
Denver, Colorado, February 2000
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INTRODUCTION
How to Use This Book
This book will help you to buy a steel-string acoustic guitar and to understand how it works once you have it. Even if you already own a guitar and
have no intention of looking for a new one, you’ll find lots of information
here that will help you get the best out of it—and out of yourself as well.
The main focus is on flattop acoustic guitars with six strings—the
kind of instrument that most people think of when they think of the
guitar. Other kinds of guitars are also briefly described, but this book is
really about steel-string flattops, which are the epitome of the American
acoustic guitar.
Redundancy
You’re welcome to read through this book cover-to-cover if you care to,
but you probably won’t. This seems to be the kind of book you’ll want
to treat more like a business consultant than like a steady date. On the
theory that you’ll be visiting it from time to time to look up specific
details, it mentions things more than once if you’ll probably need the
information in more than one context. Or, to paraphrase the old saw,
anything worth saying is worth saying twice.
Money
Except through luck or trickery, a really good guitar is going to cost you a
fair bunch of money—money that’s hard to earn, or that you are reluctant to spend, or that you just may not have right now. Since the ideal is
one thing and reality is often another, this book offers sensible, balanced
advice and recommendations for entry-level and midrange buyers.
Words
There are lots of reasons why one guitar is different from another. Size,
shape, wood, and design all play a part; in fine guitars, so does the magic
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of the individual craftsperson’s touch. The way you learn about guitars is
not by reading books but by playing and handling lots of instruments
until you can hear the difference between rosewood and mahogany,
between a boomy guitar and a balanced one, and so on. A book can
never teach you to hear the difference between a played-in, old guitar, a
brand-new guitar with a sound that hasn’t opened up yet, and a new guitar that will never open up. What a book can do is explain that these differences do exist, and that you need to learn why they exist and how to
recognize them.
So don’t try to memorize a lot of words out of this book. Instead,
use it to teach yourself what to look for when you visit music stores to
try out various guitars. Make it your business to do so. Memorize the
feel and sound of the guitars instead of the words about them.
You’ll also come to understand it is not just the bracing, the
choice of wood, the strings, or the instrument’s size that make a guitar
play and feel the way it does; rather, it is the way all these factors combine and relate to each other in each individual instrument.
Because so many factors are interdependent it’s not always easy to
explain something without referring to something else that doesn’t get
explained until a later section. For that reason this book includes a
hefty and detailed glossary at the end of the book where you can look
up any terms you may not know. Use it! In fact, you can probably learn
a lot about the guitar, or review what you’ve learned from this book, just
by reading through the glossary.
Generalizations
The more you know about a field the more difficult it becomes to make
any statement about it because all the exceptions and anomalies that
you’ve encountered flood your mind. It can lead to paralysis. It can also
lead to bad writing with an abundance of hedging, ambiguity, and a
proliferation of the words usually, as a rule, and generally speaking. I’ve
indulged quite heartily in generally speaking, but even so, this book contains plenty of blanket statements to which there are numerous exceptions. This is especially true of the many specifications concerning the
dimensions of parts and adjustments. Always remember that general
information is for your guidance but that the instrument you hold in
your hand may be unique.
While a general reader may find this book to be quite technical at
times, luthiers and other industry professionals will be quick to notice
that it stops short of being as technical as it could be. It’s a matter of
common interest that guitar tops seem to work best when they’re made
of fairly stiff wood. I think everyone should know this. But I don’t think
an elaborate discussion of, for instance, how to measure stiffness-toweight ratios and of their curious but debatable significance, is necessary in this book.
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Second Edition Notes
In preparing the second edition I’ve gone over the first edition line-byline, updating facts and accommodating changes in public taste and
the guitar market wherever necessary. In the case of occasional major
shifts in my own taste or opinions, I’ve generally pointed out the
change and explained why it occurred. I’ve corrected several errors of
fact that readers were kind enough to point out to me and I’ve tried to
clarify any writing that seemed obscure.
Most importantly, I’ve enlarged Part I in several respects. In many
small places I’ve added more information, expanded on my opinions,
or enlarged the treatment of a subject, all told making the book somewhat larger. In addition the chapter on acoustic guitar amplification
has itself been considerably amplified in order to keep up with the
times. Many new photos have also been added.
Part II, the Market Survey, has on the other hand been streamlined considerably. I’ve kept, and in many cases updated and enriched,
information on the major guitar companies and their histories and
philosophies. But where once there was detailed, but quickly outdated,
information on the various models available from each manufacturer,
you’ll now find listings of the makers’ Web sites so you can make sure
with a click of your mouse that the information is always up-to-date.
The listings for companies that are merely importers of instruments
made by anonymous factories along the Pacific Rim have also been condensed, since these companies lack rich histories and manufacturing
philosophies. Again, Web sites have been listed, along with the proviso
that, though I may have given these companies short space, you should
not necessarily give them short consideration in making a purchasing
decision.
The first edition also contained a list of acoustic guitar stores; this
too has been eliminated. There were too many omissions, since I couldn’t
possibly find out about each one, and including each one would have
made for too long a list to print. There were too many listings that went
out-of-date as stores folded or changed address. It was unworkable.
Again, the Web comes to the rescue. If your local phone book isn’t
helpful enough, you can look there for help. Here’s a big hint: check
out the guitar manufacturer’s Web sites, which you can find the
addresses for in this book. Many of them have dealer locations listed on
their sites. By looking at high-end manufacturers, you can more quickly
track down the location of “boutique” guitar shops in your area. But
don’t forget the surviving funky, small guitar shops as well. They’re
harder to track down but they can hold some real surprises.
INTRODUCTION •
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