Asking yourself what size acoustic guitar you should get is something that many guitarists ponder regardless of their ability. It’s also a point that many people often misjudge.
Judging what size acoustic guitar you want depends on your playing style, the type of music you play, and the overall sound you want to achieve.
Size is not just one strict term either. That’s because the shape, as well as the size of the guitar, also matters in your final choice.
Finding the blend of size and style then gives way to help you make that decision. With so many combinations, finding the perfect style for you might be tricky. So what should you consider when thinking: what size acoustic guitar should I get?
Defining size and style
When it comes to knowing size and style, there is a lot to take in. Some places may merge both points in a single description to complicate things further.
However, when breaking it down, the definitions are simple
- Size – the length of the guitar itself – forms include full, ¾, ½, etc
- Style – the shape of the body – styles include dreadnought, orchestra, archtop, etc
You will find that many of these points will overlap in places. For example, some mainstream models will be available in various sizes, but all have the same style.
Therefore, check carefully about the combination you are looking at and see which guitar works best.
What size acoustic guitars are available?
For most people, a guitar only comes in one size. Except that’s not true. Many brands will market a guitar without specific the actual size. What you discover is that these are often at full size.
Scratch a little deeper, and you will find that acoustic guitar sizes vary significantly. The sizes are based on a scale ratio which can be deceptive.
The scale length is not the length of the entire instrument, though. This is instead the length from the nut to the bridge on the body – essentially the length of where the strings and frets reach.
A full-size scale length is around 25in, although exact lengths may vary depending on the brand and style of the guitar. From here, the sizes are scaled down such as:
- Full (25-26 in)
- 3/4 (23-24in)
- 1/2 (21-22in)
- 1/4 (19-20in)
As you can see, the sizes are not quite the ratio you may think of in classic measurements. The realistic proportions of the scale length decrease by around 1/8 of the true instrument size.
This makes it easier to determine a true playing style. For example, most 1/4 acoustic guitars are usually ukuleles, smaller than the full-sized classical guitar that many might imagine.
Determining the right size
Here’s a quick table that will show you a few options:
|Age Range||Guitar Size|
|Ages 5 – 11||1/4 Guitar|
|Ages 8 – 15||3/4 Guitar|
|Ages 13 (or higher)||Full-Size Guitar|
You’ll find there’s a bit of flexibility because not every kid is the same size. To help you find the best size, take them down to a guitar shop and ask them to hold an instrument. If it looks natural and they say it’s comfortable, you probably have the right guitar.
For many players, a full-size guitar would be enough for people to enjoy playing without any significant discomfort. However, that is not always the case.
Picking a smaller guitar is better for some players – particularly younger or inexperienced players. Young players are often thought to be better at learning on smaller models and working up the scale as they get older.
For example, many brands may target 1/2 or 3/4 size guitars at a younger audience with that in mind. This comes as the shorter reach distance between the frets helps them grasp fret positions and techniques without stretching too far.
By doing this, many kids find it easier to transition to a full-sized instrument when they are older and more experienced.
Of course, those looking purposely for a smaller instrument – like a ukulele – know the benefits of playing a smaller instrument and can adjust their playing size accordingly.
Learning about different body styles
Knowing what the different sizes entail, it’s time to get to grips with the style of the instrument as well.
This is where the variations make a much more significant impact on the instrument’s tone and purpose. You will also find that the style impacts the sound of the instrument.
From the body shape to how everything joins together, all these slight differences can make a massive call as to what guitar suits your needs.
In terms of styles, there is a lot to choose from. You will find the most common types are:
- Orchestra/Grand Auditorium
But what do all these names mean?
Parlor guitars are the smallest and slimmest types of acoustic guitars around. Defined by their slender bodies, parlor guitars are known for producing fine and higher-pitched tones. The smaller design makes them excellent for fingerpicking and for those who like to highlight individual notes.
What you will find with parlor guitars, though, is they come in three distinct sizes:
The difference between the three sizes is that each is slightly larger than the other. However, all are well suited to finer styles and won’t need much adjusting, regardless if you are playing a Baby or 000 models.
Orchestra (OM) & Grand Auditorium
Whether you know it as an OM, Orchestra, or Auditorium guitar, these are mid-sized acoustic guitars. These are often identified by a thin waste and relatively long fretboard. These are well-suited to most playing styles, allowing for rich sounds whether you strum or pick a note.
You will notice a slight variation between an OM or Auditorium, though. This comes in the actual body style. While OM models have a rounded end, many Auditorium bodies will have a cut-out underneath the bridge. This variation helps balance the slightly larger body while playing and is suited for seated or on your feet.
By far the most common type of acoustic guitar, dreadnought guitars are easy to get hold of no matter where you look. Defined by the straighter body and rounded end, dreadnoughts are excellent for playing modern pop or rock.
When strummed, you will hear rich tones that will instantly fill a room, making it a top choice for many mainstream acts, no matter their genre. With bass overtones also easy to hear in your overall sound, it’s the go-to guitar for many people to use.
As the name suggests, a jumbo guitar is the largest type of acoustic guitar available. The main strength of a jumbo guitar is that it gives off huge sounds – easy enough to drown out a crowd! With the body sporting more defined curves than a dreadnought, these are meant to be played standing out in full swing.
They also pronounce lower notes more than other guitars. This is why they are often used in many acoustic rock or metal acts when looking for a mellower sound.
Archtop acoustic guitars are made for a particular purpose. With no hollow in the body and a large solid frame behind it, these are designed for very precise playing – similar to how a parlor body is used.
Generating minimal sustain, these are designed for players to accentuate every note they hit. While less common than other varieties, archtops are still used widely in some genres. For example, jazz musicians use these when performing improvised solos or more intricate sections.
You will also find that some guitars incorporate features from multiple styles and mold them to a specific purpose. For example, flamenco guitars look similar to a dreadnought or OM model. However, they will be strung with nylon strings and metal plates on the fretboard. These features still drive the sound you would expect from a standard form, but the variant has been tweaked to suit the genre and playing style it is used for. Think very carefully if you are ever looking for one of these guitars.
Things to consider when finding the right type
As you can see, there is a distinct variation between all the different types of guitars that alters their sound and how they should be played. But how does this all factor in deciding what size acoustic guitar you should pick? Let’s take a look:
Believe it or not, your overall reach plays a big part in what type of guitar you get. After all, your playing style will depend on what you can do moving up and down the fretboard. If you don’t have a long reach, trying to get hold of a full-sized jumbo guitar is anything but practical.
That is where a smaller model may come in handy for someone struggling with a full-size instrument. These little differences can make it easier to adjust your overall playing style to suit what is comfortable.
The overall playing style is also key to the type of guitar you want to pick. It’s worth noting how each guitar type sounds and what resonates best with how you play. For example, anyone looking for a full sound to fill a stage wants something different from a virtuoso playing in a basement.
Larger guitar types, such as dreadnought or jumbo guitars, are renowned for producing big sounds that are strong in both treble and bass levels. On the other hand, smaller guitars pick up higher notes that accentuate individual notes much better.
Of course, the smaller the guitar is, the higher the note range it produces. It’s why 1/2 guitar models and ukuleles have a much higher sound than their larger cousins. Keep this all in mind when selecting your guitar.
Don’t forget to look at finer details too. This includes the type of strings that it comes with. That is because guitars can be strung with either nylon or steel strings. And there is a big difference between the properties of each string type.
You will find that most general guitars will come with steel strings by default. This is because steel strings give warmer sounds suited for more mainstream styles. The warm tones also promote all sound levels meaning you get a good balance between lower and higher note forms. They also tend to last longer and are strung at a lower tension than a steel-stringed instrument.
On the other hand, nylon-stringed guitars are designed for more guttural sounds and complex playing. These are often included on instruments designed for specific genres or purposes. This may be for a flamenco guitar or bluegrass, where individual notes and a particular style are needed.
Finally, it would be best if you thought about the genre you want to play. After all – that defines the exact nature of how you will play and what you want from the instrument itself.
Many full-sized instrument styles can be used across the mainstream spectrum, and it’s why dreadnought or OM models are prevalent anywhere you go. Yet – not every style is well suited for all-round use.
As noted, if you will be mostly fingerpicking or playing a very technical style, then you would opt for a smaller guitar model such as a parlor or 000.
On the other hand, if you want to replicate the sounds of Elvis or Keith Richards, you opt to get a guitar designed for blasting out chords, such as a Jumbo Dreadnought. These are known for picking up lower note registers, highlighting power chords, and strumming.
What size acoustic guitar should you pick?
When it comes to making your choice, there is always going to be a lot to consider. When working out what size acoustic guitar to pick, there is much to consider.
First off, there is the size of the instrument itself. There are models beyond the standard full size, and it is worth exploring smaller models if you are looking for younger players involved in playing. Even when it comes to full-sized models, there’s a variety of different sizes that defines the style of the guitar.
From here, the style of the guitar will define who you are as a guitarist. Opting to go with a smaller parlor model will suit anyone who likes to opt for finesse and pick using their fingers to play. At the same time, anyone who loves a more bombastic approach can look into getting a dreadnought or jumbo to wow crowds with a full sound on stage. There are also types, such as archtops and flamenco guitars, giving guitarists even more choices.
Once knowing how all these impact your style and the sound you are looking for, you will know what size acoustic guitar to get.