Opinions Unplugged 2: Further Reflections on Acoustic Guitars

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Most serious guitar players can precisely describe their first guitar. They can tell you what it felt like as they ran their hands down the smooth wood and how it sounded when they first started strumming those beginner's chords. The musician feels an intimate connection, and many guitarists speak of "that one special guitar" like it was their first love.

Here are some more stories from a few passionate string pluckers who share about their love affair with the guitar, and offer some advice to novices looking to find the perfect match.

Free as a Bird Now

Ana Free
Photo: Rui David

Ana Free fell in love with playing guitar when she was just eight years old. By the age of 11 she was writing her own songs and performing. In 2008, after she graduated from university in the UK, Ana was already well on her way to success, with over 35 million views on her YouTube channel, when her independently released single, "In my Place," took the number-one spot on national charts.

Ana has toured all over the world, and played on the stage with artists like Shakira, Linkin Park, and Colbie Caillat. She has written over 600 original songs to date. Ana is currently living in LA and working on her next EP project. We asked Ana what her favorite guitar is and her answer was touchingly personal.

I'm the proud owner of over ten great guitars. I've got some guitars I favor over others. My Gibson J-50 was my first steel string guitar. It was my father's and he gave it to me when I was 12. I was so little that the body of the jumbo used to cut the blood flow to my strumming arm! I really cherish that guitar for emotional reasons.

When asked if she recommended electric or acoustic for beginners, Ana stated that it was really based on personal choice and where you are in your stage of learning.

A big part of that choice is what kind of genre you'd like to learn in. I think it helps to try playing around on an electric because the action is low and it gets you a clean, instant result which can be encouraging for a beginner. If you're committed then I would recommend beginners stick with acoustic because after that everything else is a smooth ride on the fingers.

As far what to look for when buying your first acoustic, Ana is all about the feel and shape that suits the musician best.

Although it's almost a science in itself, the best guitar wood types depend on factors like what style the musician plays in (fingerpicking, strumming etc.) because the sound, age, and feel of each guitar changes from wood to wood. Maple tends to be loud and bright and might be more apt for players who do a lot of fingerpicking while a sweeter koa wood will brighten in the hands of a strummer.

It's a good idea to spend some quality time playing around at the guitar shop and see which one strikes your fancy.

Born a Ramblin’ Man

Maneli Jamal

Maneli Jamal is the definition of a traveling musician. Maneli moved 20 times before he turned 18, and has lived in five different countries: the US, Iran, Belarus, Germany, and Canada. All this travel has exposed him to many different cultures and given him some unique musical sounds.

Maneli has won a number of music competitions, including placing in the top three of a worldwide competition, Guitar Idol. Maneli has shared his talent on world tours in places like New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, and Europe.

When searching for your first guitar, Maneli says a good wood is crucial for a good sound.

Making sure to have solid woods on the acoustic is very important for a good sound. Also, over the years the wood will grow and sound better and better. A great advantage for people seeking a warm balanced sound. Different wood combinations contribute to the sound you are going for too. I personally like to use a spruce top with Indian rosewood back and sides for a brighter, punchier sound.

Quality can be expensive, but it's worth it. As you get more experienced, you may notice guitars made from more pricier woods will give you a special sound.

A lot of the more exotic woods are costly but do have specific sounds that one may desire. Solid woods are a must for a good sound and that would only come with a price. It's all worth it in the end though. The one that I love to play right now is my Cole Clark Triumph. It's got all-Australian tone woods. Bunya top. Quilted Queensland maple back and sides. It's a dreadnought size and sounds so big while maintaining a clear high-end sound.

Unlike some other instruments, guitars may sound slightly or significantly different from one another. You may need to ultimately own several in order to produce the sounds that satisfyingly serve your full repertoire of songs.

More than a Feeling

Chloe Charles

Chloe Charles grew up playing in the beautiful, lush woods of Ontario, Canada. Chloe's unique and colorful sound is reminiscent of Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse, and Joni Mitchell. Her gorgeous, sultry voice and impressive guitar skills have given her the start to a successful career, with over 300 performances in six countries already under her belt.

Chloe is the winner of the 2012 Soundclash award, and appeared in Guitar World's "Top 10 Female Guitarists You Should Know." Chloe is currently working on funding her second album on PledgeMusic, and is inviting fans to join her in the effort.

When asked about how price affects guitar quality, Chloe argued that more expensive doesn't always mean better.

Higher price doesn't mean better guitar for you. It generally means, more expensive wood and likely a more respected luthier who hopefully spent more dedicated time on that particular guitar.

To her, the most important part of choosing the right guitar is how it speaks to you personally.

To be honest, I'm not so interested in wood type, shape, or price. More than anything I want it to feel right for me. I tend to play every guitar until I find the one that speaks to me, usually one with darker tones, and very warm. I've found that although guitars can reach exorbitantly high prices, price doesn't equal individual fit. So much depends on all of the other factors at play. In the end, your relationship with your guitar is so personal.

The right one will "feel" right, regardless of brand or price.

Wherever I May Find Her

Merel Van Hoek

Twenty-year-old Merel Van Hoek started playing guitar at age 13. A year later, she learned fingerstyle guitar and begin to compose her own unique, angelic music. Merel is currently studying music in the Netherlands at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. She released her first EP Pieces of Nature in 2011, and is in the process of creating her first full album.

Merel shares how her best experiences in her music career come with her own growth as a guitarist.

Personally, the best experiences are when I write a new piece and I notice that I've really improved. Or when my guitar technique becomes better. I think that's really important right now, to just learn and learn and the rest will follow.

As far as the best guitar she's ever played, it's her own guitar that fits her just so.

My favorite guitar (and the best guitar I've ever played) is my Greenfield GF guitar. This is a hand-built guitar by Michael Greenfield. The guitar is extremely balanced, dynamic, touch-responsive with a very fat tone! It is a very musical instrument that really complements my playing. It is slightly larger than an OM-sized guitar and has an Adirondack spruce top and Indian rosewood back and sides.

When it comes to guitars, to each his own. Spend some time researching and testing, and soon the right guitar will be in your loving hands.

Tell Us Your Love Story

What is your favorite guitar and why? Do you remember the first time you played it and what it felt like? What do you recommend for a beginning guitarist? Tell us here.

For part one of this series, please visit Opinions Unplugged: Musicians Reflect on Acoustic Guitars

Learn more with our expert Acoustic Guitar and Electric Guitar buying guides.

Tags: Acoustic Guitars


# Brian 2014-05-31 14:53
I have found that the name on the head-stock really doesn't make that much difference. When trying out guitars to buy, find one that YOU like. Every guitar I have ever played or owned has a different personality. I truly believe that your guitar will adopt you and when it does it is a magical thing.
# Dave Y 2014-05-31 08:47
I have a number of vintage acoustic guitars, but my favorite one to play is a newer Martin DX1. The sound is deep and almost sounds like an SJ. The guitar was very affordable; I got it as a beater to take anywhere, and not have to worry about what may happen to it. I fell in love with the feel & sound of this one. On certain sets I prefer The DX1 over my D35 or vintage 00018. The price, model, or any other hype about any guitar is superseded by one's love of the feel, sound, comfort, and play-ability of it. (no finger or wrist fatigue, & no matter how heavy a gauge string used, you can bend, and do hammers and pull offs with great ease). Some guitars you can just play for hours and get lost in sounds coming forth as you and your favorite guitar are one.
# AJ Baker 2014-05-30 10:19
I play a Alvarez PD85 with Rosewood sides and back and a Cedar top .i get rave reviews from everyone who hears it.I play fingerstyle mostly because i feel the music that way.This guitar and i were made to be together.It is my favorite and i have had many.It sounds better than guitars that are twice the price.
# Grinch 2014-05-04 13:53
The first guitar I had readily available to me was an old beat up Applause my cousin picked up at a garage sale for $25. The thing had a plastic neck! But we put some 13's on that thing and it oozed tone. It was like playing rail road tracks strung across a telephone pole, but it made me a better player. I will never [blocked]et that guitar.
# Dave B 2014-05-04 11:26
I have a Larrivee rosewood and spruce. had it about 10 yrs now. it keeps getting better the more its played. definatly go for all solid woods'
# Macarena 2014-04-28 15:26
I love Ana Free :) She is my inspiration!

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