There is a comfortable simplicity to the acoustic guitar that frees it from many of the constraints of any specific music genre or cultural era. It is a great beginner’s instrument, and a strong tool for professional musicians. A new acoustic guitar is an exciting investment, and an old, well-used one is a treasure. From campfires to studios, bluegrass to rock, and basements to arenas - acoustic guitars are right at home.
We talked to some devoted acoustic guitar fans and experienced guitar writers, along with instructors, prolific performers, and talented musicians, to find out how their acoustic guitars have impacted their careers - and their personal lives as well.
Finding the Perfect Fit
Josh Evitt runs GuitarLifestyle.com, a website dedicated to celebrating the guitar, educating new guitarists, and inspiring experienced guitar players. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, he has been playing, and learning, guitar for about 15 years.
Evitt remembers the lengthy, but rewarding, process of finding that perfect guitar:
It took me quite a while to find the perfect acoustic for me. I've gone through all different sizes, finally settling on the 00 size from Martin. This size gives me the best combination of comfort and sound. It's just large enough to give a full, rich sound, and just small enough to be comfortable to play for hours.
Discovering a Unique Sound
Peter Hodgson is the guitar player and writer from Melbourne, Australia, who runs IHeartGuitarBlog.com. He has been playing guitar since the age of eight, and has worked as a guitar teacher and a setup tech. Hodgson contributes to several music industry publications, including Gibson.com and Australian Guitar.
Hodgson found a hidden gem in a pawnshop one day, and proves that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to acoustic guitars.
I found this Ibanez Charleston acoustic in a pawnshop in 2000. Initially, I was drawn to the cool retro styling. I soon found that it had a really unique, soft tone that reminded me of a gypsy jazz guitar, and I like having something a little different than a 'regular' acoustic sound. It's set up with light strings and low action to help me pull off Tommy Emmanuel-style fingerpicking tricks without hurting my fingers.
A Casual Collection
G.L. Wilson currently lives in Wales and is a passionate guitar player and a prolific writer, and is the man behind the blog, Guitarz. He is also the author of 500 Guitars, published in 2010 by Chartwell Books. In 2013, his latest musical project, Spurious Transients, was signed to nanoBOX Records.
Primarily an electric guitar player, the two acoustics that Wilson has held on to over the years remind us that beauty is in the eye (or the ear) of the beholder, and that you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get the sound you’re looking for.
I use acoustics mainly for playing songs with friends or at open mic sessions; which mainly means banging out cover versions, rather than my own material. For my own compositions and recording projects I tend to use my electric guitars, instruments which I am much more attached to.
These days I have just two very basic dreadnaught style acoustics. One is a Japanese-made Hurricane BF-402, which probably dates to the 1980s and which is essentially a Martin D18 copy. I bought it from eBay for just £20. No one else was bidding because it was an ugly duckling. Personally, I don't care what it looks like because it plays beautifully.
My other acoustic guitar is a Kent-branded acoustic, probably made in Korea or China in the 1990s and which I bought on eBay for £30. I converted this into an 8-string guitar because I wanted a 12-string sound for certain songs I was playing but didn't want to have buy a new guitar.
A First Love
Zack Urlocker, of GuitarVibe.com, learned how to play guitar on an acoustic:
My first guitar was a slightly used Ovation acoustic guitar, with it's classic roundback and hard shell case. It cost me $300, which I could barely afford since I was a student at the time, more than 30 years ago. I learned how to play open chords, bar chords and even some scales. I've moved mostly to playing electric guitar since then, but I've kept the guitar for sentimental reasons. I only pick it up a few times every year and it still sounds as rich and full as ever.
In addition to hosting GuitarVibe, Urlocker is now a guitar player and bassist who plays a variety of genres in two California-based bands.
An Old Friend
Emon Hassan is a filmmaker and photographer based in New York City, who has contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. He also runs Guitarkadia, a website devoted to telling unusual and untold stories based on guitars, in a variety of media formats.
Hassan also picked up an acoustic guitar when he decided to learn how to play, and his has become about more than just music:
My favorite guitar is an Ibanez nylon string purchased almost 14 years ago, for less than $300. I bought it when I'd decided to take Flamenco guitar lessons from a well respected teacher in New York City, who taught me, among many things, to not take life too seriously. The guitar lessons only lasted a year but his wisdom, and this guitar, stayed with me through thick and thin - through numerous recordings, gigs, and jam sessions.
I don't play as much as I used to, when I was playing with bands. To this day, out of the three guitars I own - an electric, an acoustic steel string and this one - I pick up the Ibanez the most. The strings don't "sing" as a finely crafted Ramirez would, but with every pluck and every strum, it reminds me that I'm at a better place in life than I used to be, and to never take life too seriously.
Mike McClellan is an Australian singer, songwriter, recording artist, and instructor. Over the past 40 years, his talent as a songwriter and skill with an acoustic guitar has sent him all over the world - from studios to live venues, television to college campuses. You can find out more about his rich musical past on his site, MikeMcClellan.com.au. Today, McClellan is a senior tutor at the CMAA Country Music Academy in Tamworth, Australia, and is still performing extensively.
Like Hassan, McClellan’s acoustic guitar has become a part of his life’s story:
It was 1965, he was short on cash, and wanted to return to Adelaide. Would you be interested in buying the guitar? he asked. It was a red Gibson Hummingbird. We agreed on a price, and I took it home with me. I have had it ever since.
It’s the guitar on which I wrote almost all of the best songs from the early years of my career, and I still have a quite magical relationship with it. It’s not loud, but sings beautifully either finger picked or strummed, and remains among the finest examples of its type.
The saddle was replaced with a fixed one some years ago, which stabilized the tuning. The neck and fretboard have had some work done on them over the years, and the original tuning heads were replaced back in the late eighties. So it’s not in original condition. It now has an L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup in it, but I rarely, if ever, perform without a high-quality microphone in front of it. I have yet to find a pickup that can convey all the subtleties I hear coming from the sound hole.
It’s been a working musician’s instrument, and since resuming my performing career in recent years, continues to remind me of why I fell in love with it so long ago.
An Inspiring Sound
John W. Tuggle is a guitar player and teacher with a wide range of experience. Since picking up the guitar at the age of 17, and studying music in college, he has performed rock, pop, blues and R&B all over the Southeastern United States. He has taught guitar lessons for almost two decades, and has been publishing instructional books and DVDs since 2007. You can find his guitar musings and instructional videos at LearningGuitarNow.com.
Tuggle’s story serves as a reminder that when you’ve found that perfect acoustic guitar, it will not only create the sound you want - it will draw new music out of you as well.
I got my Gibson Hummingbird Acoustic back in 2007. The moment I picked it up and strummed it, I knew that this guitar had something really special. This guitar has the perfect sound for me and the feel of the guitar in my hand always inspires me to play and create music I didn't even know I had in me.
Like Josh Evitt, it might take a little time to find that perfect acoustic guitar - the one that sounds just right, and plays like it’s an extension of you. Once you find it, though, you never let it go. Even performers like G.L. Wilson and Zack Urlocker, who have come to use mostly electric guitars for their work, still have their acoustic guitars that they return to from time to time.
The right acoustic guitar will empower you to learn - whether you’re just starting, or trying to improve your skill. It will inspire you to keep playing, and maybe even to create new music of your own. You will know it when you find it, and that guitar will become part of your story as well. Share the story of your first acoustic with us - we’d love to hear it!