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Steel String Guitar

Used throughout a number of musical genres, including rock, folk, pop, and country, steel string acoustic guitars are incredibly versatile. These instruments can deliver stinging lead lines, percussive rhythms, sophisticated multi-harmonic textures, and more.

Sometimes called a western guitar, the steel string acoustic guitar is distinct from a classical guitar in that it is strung with steel strings. These can include bronze, phosphor bronze, aluminum bronze, brass, polymer-coated, and silk and steel. These acoustic guitars are commonly played with either a pick or fingers (finger picking). An acoustic guitarist can accomplish finger picking with finger tips, nails, or plastic or metal finger picks that fit over the player’s fingers and thumb.

Materials and Construction

Because of the extreme tension on the neck, steel string guitars generally include a truss rod, a metal bar running through the neck that can be adjusted to compensate for the string tension. The neck, and top, back and sides of the body are most commonly made of spruce, rosewood, mahogany, and cedar; all these are considered to be “tone woods,” which means they have desirable resonant qualities. Fretboards are generally made of ebony or mahogany.

The bridge, saddle, nut, and tuning gears can be made of wood, plastic, metal, or bone, depending on the price point of the guitar. The best acoustic guitars, of course, are the most expensive because of the finer woods and component parts used in their construction.

Acoustic Guitar Body Styles

Steel string guitars come in many different shapes and sizes. However, there are four common styles:

Grand Concert / Parlor Guitars
The smallest of the common body types, these also have the thinnest soundbox. Due to their size, they are extremely comfortable to play, especially for younger players. They are also the quietest guitars, and fit well in smaller venues.

Grand Auditorium Guitars
Similar to the Grand Concert models in shape, they are larger, sometimes even incorporating a convex back to provide a greater soundbox without unduly increasing the overall body size. They offer increased dynamic range while maintaining comfort and ease-of-use.

Dreadnought Guitars
By far the most common body style, these models have a slightly larger body than the above (especially in the lower half), and produce a rich, deep sound that has made them popular throughout the world.

Jumbo Guitars
While their larger soundbox provides a very rich tone, the larger size necessary for that feature renders these instruments difficult to play for some guitarists.

12-String Acoustic Guitar

Developed in the early part of the 20th century, the 12-string guitar utilizes a double string configuration to provide an incredibly rich tone. The lower four strings are tuned in octaves, while the higher two strings are tuned in unison. One of the most distinctive uses of these guitars is the accompaniment for the Eagles’ seminal song “Hotel California,” both the studio and the live versions.

Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Whether searching for a job, learning about the "Mozart Effect," looking for a summer music camp, or choosing the right instrument string, you need look no further.

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Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in under-served communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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Information and helpful articles about the music and instruments we love.

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