Most people know that strumming the strings on a guitar causes sounds to occur. However, the way the sound is generated is different for acoustic and electric guitars. Electric guitars create sound through electromagnetic impulses that travel from pickups to an amplifier. The shape and type of wood from which the body is constructed isn’t a big factor in how the guitar sounds. For acoustic guitars, however, the body shape has a major impact on the sound and volume.
The body of an acoustic guitar has a front, back and sides. The front is called the sound board. The hole in the middle of the sound board is the sound hole or chamber. The hole allows the sound to escape from the inside of the guitar.
When a guitar sting is strummed or plucked, vibrations move down the string and into the interior of the guitar body. The string vibrations also cause the sound board to vibrate. These vibrations bounce around inside the body and escape back out through the sound hole. If the strings are manipulated more stridently, the vibrations will increase. The increased vibrations will be louder as they exit through the sound board.
The shape and size of a guitar body has an impact on the tone of notes. When the inside area of the guitar is larger, the guitar will be louder with a booming quality. A guitar that is deeper or thicker will sound more authoritative than a thin guitar. The width of the body also causes a deeper louder sound.
The shape of a hollow body guitar somewhat resembles a figure eight or hourglass. The narrower part of the body is often called the waist. The placement of the waist and its width changes the way the vibrations move around inside the guitar. The internal braces that support the guitar also can influence the sound quality.
Some guitars have a cutaway on one or both top sides or shoulders. The cutaway causes the sound to be a little brighter with less thickness in the tone. It can also reduce the low tones a little. The cutaway strains the thin wood of the sound board.
Other factors in the construction of the guitar body also influence tone. The type of wood can sharpen or dull the volume and richness. Harder woods produce brighter sounds because the vibrations bounce more strongly off the sound board into the interior. Soft woods absorb some vibrations and dull the sound.
The quality of the construction can also improve or impair a guitar’s sound. A poorly-made guitar with weak joints will not produce sharp clear tones. The thickness of the sound board will also impact tone and volume.
Many factors change the sound of guitar. The type of strings chosen and how hard the strings are manipulated influences the sound. So does the type and thickness of wood used in the neck. All the different parts of the guitar work together to produce the guitar’s unique sound.
By Liz Becker
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