The history of the acoustic guitar can be traced back over 4000 years. The instrument has evolved much during, becoming perfected during the last century.
There is not just a single type of acoustic guitar though, there is a lot of variety in shapes, size, body style and sound.
Here is a video that will let you hear the difference in the sound the various body shapes produce.
Now that you have some idea of what the differences are between the various body styles, let's dive deeper into their intricacies.
Acoustic guitar body styles
There are many-many styles of acoustic guitars, the most popular ones being the following.
The jumbo is the loudest and biggest acoustic guitar shape (at least on this list). Introduced first during the late 1930s by Gibson as the J-200, jumbos are targeted toward professional guitarists who seek volume in their guitar sounds. Thanks to acoustic amplification system advances, jumbos have gone down in popularity.
However, they are far from being extinct.
Commonly referred to as the cowboy guitar’, jumbo acoustic guitars are quite widespread among country players.
The guitar style’s lower bout should offer widths of close to 17 inches (ca. 43 cm), delivering a high volume ceiling and huge projection. In other words, the guitar can churn out louder sounds without any distortion.
As far as the tone goes, jumbos are usually well-balanced and have a large low-end boom.
Not to mention, jumbos can be often seen adorned with fretboard inlays, specially-designed bridges, and headstocks.
The dreadnought is extremely popular and a true classic when it comes to acoustic guitar body styles. The shape is made available at both budget and the more expensive acoustic guitar price ranges.
Created in 1916 by Martin, the dreadnought can be identified by its wide, large soundboard. The body length is typically 20 inches (ca. 51 cm) and the width is close to 16 inches (ca. 41 cm).
Thanks to its bigger shape, dreadnoughts produce a balanced, bold sound with bright trebles, a snappy midrange, and a strong low-end. These attributes make the guitar popular with rock, bluegrass, and country music players.
Thanks to the very high volume ceiling, dreadnoughts are ideal for flat pickers and aggressive strummers, particularly those who seek a solid low-end.
The parlor is an extremely petite acoustic guitar, which came to the fore during the late 1800s. Though parlor acoustic guitars are not as popular as they were up until the 1950s, the body type still has its legion of fans, which is why some important guitar brands are continually making the parlor acoustic guitar body.
The parlor is compact and elongated, with the overall length being small compared to other body styles. The style retains a conventional nut width, making them ideal for all playing styles, from fingerstyle to strumming.
Tonally, parlors are light, well-balanced and focused. The emphasis on the mid-range and bass is less.
Parlors are also known for their boxy’ sound that traditional players fancy, which explains why the guitar type is still relevant after so many decades. It appeals to slide, folk and blues players in particular.
Orchestra Model (OM)
Shallower at around 4.1 inches (ca. 10 cm) and narrower than a dreadnought, the orchestra model (OM) guitar body style sits right between a parlor and dreadnought guitar. Since there isn’t much mass curving your strumming hand around, the OM body style feels more comfortable and intimate, making it ideal for stage use as well.
With more emphasis on the mid-range, this guitar style keeps pace with both fingerpicking and strumming styles. Regardless, a well-built OM would sound great irrespective of how you play it.
The fairly small waist and elongated lower and upper bouts are some noteworthy design features of an OM.
Auditorium/ Grand Auditorium
The auditorium is possibly the second most popular acoustic guitar body style after dreadnought, primarily for the performance it delivers and its tone versatility.
It was introduced by Martin and the Grand Auditorium was introduced later by Taylor. The major and perhaps the only difference between the two guitar body shapes is that the Grand has a slightly wider body than the regular auditorium body type.
Auditorium guitars sit between a concert and a dreadnought, with the lower bout width being typically around 15-16 inches (ca. 38-41 cm) in the case of the Grand Auditorium. Compared to dreadnoughts, the auditoriums have a narrower waist, which makes playing them in a seating position extremely comfortable.
Auditorium acoustics provide a well-balanced, clear and warm tone, making them fairly versatile. Also, the auditorium body style can manage strumming, fingerstyle and flatpicking techniques fairly well.
Concert/ Grand Concert
The concert acoustic body shape is among the smaller varieties that are still in production. Also called O’ sized guitars, concerts sit between a classical guitar and a dreadnought when things come down to the design, thanks to the slightly narrower, slightly shorter, and a standard 13.5-inch lower bout width. Like auditoriums, a concert’s waist is quite narrow, which helps playing the guitar while being seated.
Concert acoustics are a tad shallower in depth, which result in quieter sounds. This less bass response, however, is more than compensated for with the guitar’s excellent treble clarity and robust mid-range.
A Grand Concert, as the name suggests, is slightly bigger than a concert, with the lower bout width falling in the 14-15 inches (ca. 35-38 cm) range. Thanks to this marginal increase in size, Grand Concerts produce slightly larger sounds.
The classical acoustic guitar is a genre of its own, since there are different types to it and quite a few manufacturers come up with their own classical guitar specialties. Unlike other guitar styles on this list that feature steel strings, the classical guitar has nylon-stringed acoustics.
Besides the difference in string material, classical guitars also have a wider neck and fretboard, with the nut width usually being at least two inches. This gives players an increased surface area, which is also flatter when compared to steel-string acoustics’ radiused fretboards.
At 26 inches (ca. 66 cm), classical guitars tend to have a longer scale length than steel-string acoustics.
As far as styling is concerned, classical guitars usually have a slotted headstock and come with open-geared tuners. Also, they are attached to the body by the 12th fret.
Travel/ Small Body
Travel acoustics are travel-friendly, small body acoustic guitars. Most of these guitars come with full-size fretboards, which offer a playing experience that’s quite similar to full-size guitars.
These guitars are compact and cute, but are no toys. In fact, some of these guitars could cost more than a regular acoustic guitar.
Travel guitars are usually made from laminated woods so that they are lightweight and resistant to humidity and temperature changes. Needless to say, these small body guitars are perfect to travel with, whether you are moving across cities on a bus or flying to another state or country.
How do you choose an acoustic body shape?
If you are having trouble deciding what kind of acoustic guitar shape would suit you best, consider the main differences between the various stypes:
- Sound: Even though you can play any type of music on any guitar, some music is better suited to specific body shapes. I talked about this above.
- Size: The size of the guitar might also be a consideration. Many people do not want to get a jumbo guitar, because it is simply too big.
All else being equal, the Dreadnaught is the most versatile acoustic guitar shape. You can't go wrong with it.