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A Guitar for Fingerpicking

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Previous page: Guitar Tonewood Next page: Technique

A Guitar for Fingerpicking

If you are looking for a guitar for fingerpicking, you should notice that few if any of your favorite fingerpickers play large bodied dreadnought guitars, guitars I will refer to as D-type. I think it is still the most popular guitar, in the sense that it is the bestselling model. But for fingerpicking, I will recommend something smaller. If you are a flatpicker, then the D-type is probably the right choice. Sizes are often referring to Martin standards, such as 0, 00, 000, 0000, OM, D and J. Go to Martin's website for a table of the dimensions for these shapes.

There are of course exeptions to the rule. Both Rev Gary Davis and Mance Lipscomb played a Gibson SJ-200 Super Jumbo. But this is not the guitar I would recommend for fingerpicking. (It is very popular among country artists who are mainly strumming chords. And as it is an icon, I really would like to have one ...)

A guitar with a smaller body will usually have a better ballance. Large body guitar tend to be bass-heavy. They are good for rhythm, and they can cut through a bluegrass band (as they were made for). But for fingerstyle, small is beatuyful.

The big stars often play custom made guitars, vintage gutiars or a top of the line model from one of the better (and more expensive) maufacturers. But it can give you some ideas.

Eric Clapton plays Martin 000 models. As far as I know, he has several, of course including his own signature models.

Small bodied guitars

The main difference between the 000 and the OM is the length of the neck. The 000 has a 24.9" neck, while the OM has 25.4". With a longer neck, you need higher string tension to get the same pitch, given that the string gauge is the same. This will give the OM a little more punch and volume, but it will also be harder to play. With a shorter neck, the string tension will be lower, and the distance between the frets will be shorter. Both will make the guitar easier to play.

What you pay for if you choose a more expensive gutiar, is the quality of the materials and the work that goes into the guitar. The finest pieces of the best wood goes into the most expensive models. Only the most experienced luthiers in a factory or workshop work on the top models, and a lot more care is put into the making of each individual guitar. The more expensive models are usually also more decorated, but that adds to the appearance, not to the sound. But you should notice that all tone-wood have their own sound characteristcs. Rosewood is more expensive than mahogany, but it does not necessarily mean that it is better. You might prefer the sound of a mahogany (or other tonewood) guitar, over the sound of a more expensive roeswood guitar. For a list of the most commonly used tonewood, see an overview at the Martin website.

You can get guitars with tops of various synthetic materials. I am sure some of them are good. But I have no experience with them. So I am referring to guitars with wooden top.

You should go for a guitar with a top of solid wood. Cheaper guitars have tops made of plywood (laminated). You should stay away from these guitars, if you can afford to. They do not produce as good sound, and they do not last as long as guitars with solid tops. Plywood tend to buckle after some years. (Solid wood might crack, if stored in too dry climate.) The back and sides might be of another material. The top is most important for the sound, and it is the top that has to stand the tension from the strings.

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Previous page: Guitar Tonewood Next page: Technique