Playing the acoustic guitar can be a lifelong source of fun, fulfillment, and even income. I hope to help the reader here today with some basic knowledge should they be in the market for a particular type of acoustic guitar, the "steel string flat top." First of all, our steel string guitars are not using steel strings, I'm referring to acoustic guitars that use what are called steel strings, but are actually either phosphor bronze wound strings, or brass wound strings. We just like to call them steel strings to keep you confused, haha!
What is meant by the term "flat top," is really self explanitory, a flat top is an acoustic guitar that is not an arch top, arch top acoustic guitars are usually very expensive, and while flat top guitars can get as pricy as any other fine instrument, a base level, or even a professional level acoustic flat top guitar is generally a much less expensive instrument. I've played the acoustic guitar since I was twelve years old, and the picture at top is me, at twelve years old, struggling to play rhythm in time with my uncles and my grandfather. Of course, you can't really tell so well, but a trained eye could spot that I'm playing a youth model flat top acoustic guitar, and you could guess, and it would be correct, that this is a "steel string guitar."
Often times, people get. . . .confused about what the purpose of the guitar is, if your purpose is to have a beautiful and flashy guitar as some sort of glamour statement, then kindly move along, this article is not for you at all. This article is only for people who are interested in acoustic steel string flat top guitars for the joy of making music, and not being some sort of media. . . .image of ill repute. The guitar is an instrument that is best judged by the sound that it produces, and this is a complicated subject, but to shorten it all up, you should like the sound of the guitar, or not buy it. I should mention here that not all people interested in acoustic flat top steel string guitars are "pickers," or people who play with plectrums, some are fingerpickers, or fingerstyle players; but if you play with a pick, then you'll never get a good sound from an acoustic guitar of any kind using a thin plastic pick, you have to at least use a medium gauge pick, but the sound produces will always be better still should you use a heavier gauge pick.
Now, in two of the pictures of me that I've put here, you see me playing my Santa Cruz model "D" guitar, now, please don't call my guitar "ugly," that would be somewhat like telling a man that he's got an ugly wife, it's just not the thing to do; but my Santa Cruz isn't all out "beautiful." Here's the thing, I got that guitar a long time ago, and it was sort of beat up then, but you know what? When I play that thing a festivals, people think that it's a pre war Martin D 28, which is basically the brand and model that my Santa Cruz was modeled after. Can you read the depth in the comment? I'll break it down for you: Often, older guitars sound MUCH better than do new ones. Logically, older guitars are going to have "runs, drips, and errors," or, "bumps and bruises" that brand new ones do not have. Mine's got a nice crack in one of it's sides. . .big deal, it plays and sounds beautifuly; and that is what I want from it.
But why would an older guitar sound and play better than a newer one? Well, that question leads us to the topic of tonewoods, the woods used in a guitars construction. It is a fact that woods start to "breathe" more over time, and that the vibrations of being played, or having been played often loosed the woods up, and allows for this "breathing," and this makes any acoustic guitar not only louder, but sound better, and produce notes that sustain for longer periods. Having said THAT, I must then say, just like always, if you prefer the sound and playability of a newer model to a similar older model, then by all means, go for the newer one. It's all subjective, really, but I'll try to produce the facts for you.
Here's what I'll call "rule number one:" Solid wood construction trumps laminate wood construction every day of the week. If you find yourself trying to decide between a guitar that is all solid wood construction and one that is constructed with laminate woods; then the solid wood acoustic guitar will always hold a greater resale value, have the ability to produce a better tone, and be constructed more durably than a guitar that is similar, but made with laminates.
"Rule number two:" Solid wood construction starts with a solid wood soundboard. What is a soundboard? A guitar's soundbard is the top of the guitar, the part with the sound hole in it, and the first level of "up" from laminate guitars are guitars that have a solid wood soundboard, and laminated wood back and sides. Soundboards typically are either spruce, or cedar; but can also be mahogany, and even maple. By far, the most common soundboard is spruce, and cedar would be second. Solid spruce soundboards give an acoustic flat top steel string guitar louder and clearer notes than do laminates, or other types of wood; cedar soundboards are also very good, but sometimes the tonality of a cedar soundboard guitar can become "muddy," or "distorted," or "overdriven" when played aggressively with a pick, but at the same time cedar soundboards are sometimes the soundboard of choice for fingerpickers, who play with a light attack.
After the solid wood soundboard, the next thing that makes a steel string acoustic flat top desirable is, of course, solid wood construction in respect to the backs and sides of the guitar. There are many different types of tone woods that can be used for this, and all of them are good choices so long as they are solid wood, and not laminates, The most commone tone woods for backs and sides of an acoustic guitar are rosewoods, and mahogany, and either is a very good choice for a tonewood, but they have very different properties so far as the tonality produced is concerned relative to any acoustic guitar. As a rule, rosewoods are more expensive, but this does NOT mean that they are "better," it's just an economic fact that they are more expensive. Many people prefer mahoganny. I'll discuss tonewoods in much greater detail in a future article.
Finally, and of MAJOR importance here, is the neck of the guitar. Typically there are fourteen frets clear of the body, but some guitars have just twelve frets clear of the body. I'm told that this affects the sound, but I'm not certain that that is true or not. Acoustic steel string guitar necks come in various sizes, and you should be certain that the neck feels comfortable to you. You are, hompefully, planning to spend many hours with your hand around it, so make sure that it's comfortable, and that you can reach the strings on all frets. When purchasing a used acoustic guitar, it's of paramount importance to make sure that the neck is straight. Steel strings excert a lot of pressure, and the neck could get warped if left in the heat, so I suggest that you hold the guitar up horizontally, on eye level, and look down the length of the neck from both ends, and make certain that it is straight, and not curved. Often times, a warped neck can be repaired, but this is a complicated procedure best left to a professional who repairs stringed instruments.
I hope that this article has been helpful in helping you understand what types of things to look for in a good acoustic steel string flat top guitar, if you have any questions, then I'd be delighted to answer them for you. Thanks