The marvellous and mad world of acoustic guitars

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

This week we are going to focus on the marvellous and mad world of acoustic guitars. Marvellous because without doubt it is fascinating to see so clearly (without electronics in the way) how the woods, components and the way the guitars are manufactured give a particular character to the chords and notes that we play on them; and mad because even when playing the same guitar model, by the same manufacturer, with the same components, same woods... we find that each acoustic guitar sounds different. Every guitarist appreciates that they will need to spend a good part of their lives looking for the one that is 'theirs'.   

The sound of the acoustic guitar has always been linked to Folk and Country music, which is almost saying that it has impregnated and left a mark on almost all the styles that have formed part of the popular culture of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. The perfect example of the evolution of today's most commercial folk sound we find in two of the current music world's biggest stars: Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Something that strongly draws the attention about these two 'super-sellers of the moment' is that they use mini guitars, or what would previously have been called travel guitars. In the case of Taylor Swift, as might be expected, she lends a hand to Baby Taylor, which is the brand that carries her name; while the redhead has opted for a Little Martin. Both guitars, although they are from brands that are normally prohibitive for ordinary mortals, actually have an achievable price, and produce a sound that surprise many.


If we can increase our budget we can include a brand that has been doing very well for many years now. In fact, some of our most knowledgable colleagues say that we are probably talking about a guitar manufacturer that makes some of the best models in the world today. Specifically, we are referring to Takamine and its Japanese factory. Many artists have chosen models produced by this company over the years (Garth Brooks, Glen Frey, Don McLean and, in Spain, Antonio Vega). Over the years we have been able to test many Takamines at a reasonable price from the 1980s and even 90s, and they have always left us open-mouthed. A brand to keep an eye on.


But if acoustic guitars are the business we have to start by putting big names (and notes) on the table because that is what we are going to need to get one of the great classics of the genre. We start with the legendary Martin D-28, a guitar used by a large number of artists like Johnny Cash and Paul McCartney, athough we also need to include the early years of the career of one of the greats of American folk, Joni Mitchell, whose D-28 never left her side. Another similar model in the range is the Taylor 814, used by artists like Lindsey Buckingham.


Now we are talking about guitars in the 2,500-3,000 euro range, and we can already glimpse the possibility of extending the budget twice more. The first increase would include the guitar that is probably the most iconic within the folk movement: the Gibson L-00. This is nothing less than the guitar that Woody Guthrie used to send the message “This machine kills fascists". Probably the choice of Martin's 00 by Dylan at the start of his career is due to the fact that his idol had used it. Furthermore this model  also formed a part of the history of the bluesman who employed it in the 1930s and 40s. Probably it was one of their favourites simply because it was a smaller guitar, and therefore, cheaper and more accessible for many of the musicians that made history and that made this model the sound of the original blues and folk.


In order to finish this list we cannot leave out the “cadillac” of the acoustics: the Gibson J200, a guitar used by uncountable artists and in numerous recordings and live performances, from Elvis to Dylan, as well as Cat Stevens, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Crosby and almost any renowned artist that has recorded with an acoustic in their lives. I sincerely think that the sublime aesthetic of this guitar has always significantly influenced the sound of whatever song was chosen. It is 'the child in the eye' of so many artists that it is imposssible to name them all, but as you see its price has never been within the reach of ordinary people. Simply its dimensions (it is a jumbo) and all its adornments already add a lot of money to the top quality components, which together are only apt for full pockets. So you can start to save (it is always a good moment) or perhaps choose something more economic, as from very low budgets you can find acoustic guitars that sound incredible; as we said at the start when we spoke about the madness of these acoustic pieces. There is no reason your guitar should cost 5,000 euros...or yes, perhaps there is.