Does Guitar Body Shape Affect Tone? Let’s Find Out!

Published Categorized as Tuning

Some people certainly do believe that the shape of a guitar’s body can have an impact on the tone of the guitar overall, yes. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the basics. Keep on reading to find out the answer to the question – does guitar body shape affect tone?

Main Guitar Body Shapes

First, let’s look at the main guitar body shapes you are likely to encounter on an acoustic guitar out in the wild:

  • Dreadnought: this guitar has a classic, traditional shape, invented in 1916 to shine through in big band and orchestra settings without amplification. These guitars are characterized by a wider waist and square shoulders. A dreadnought will sound reasonably balanced, with robust lows, snappy mids, and brilliant highs.
Yamaha FG800J Solid Top Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar, Natural
  • Grand Auditorium: first introduced in 1994 by Bob Taylor, this shape is most often thought of as the Taylor guitar. Take the dreadnought shape, narrow the waist slightly, and you have a Grand Auditorium. Pinching the waist takes away some of the low-end boominess, making way for a defined, balanced sound.
  • Grand Pacific: this shape offers a round-shoulder variation of the more square-shoulder dreadnought shape. The subtle curves give you the warm sound of a dreadnought, without the barking characteristic in the midrange, expanding its musical versatility.
  • Grand Concert: unveiled in 1984, this shape is one of the smallest on offer commercially, with narrow shoulders and a tapered waist. Its compact size translates to a lower volume ceiling, and it lacks the boominess you might find in dreadnoughts and other larger body styles. Instead, you’ll find it to have an incredibly controlled sound.
Ibanez 6 String PC12MHOPN Grand Concert Acoustic Guitar, Open Pore Natural
  • Grand Symphony: designed in 2006 by Bob Taylor and updated by master builder Andy Powers in 2020, this shape is really something to behold. Take a Grand Auditorium, push the waist up and out, slightly increase the size of the lower bout, and you have the GS. The added real estate translates to more volume and bass than some smaller options listed above.
  • Grand Orchestra: this is a modern take on the jumbo acoustic guitar, with its wide lower bout and 5-inch body depth from the soundhole. An immense body like this brings an immense sound, and while you’d be right to expect booming bass from this shape, it doesn’t overshadow the mids and treble. With the Grand Orchestra, it’s all about balance and singing sustain.
  • Grand Theater: this guitar offers a massive sound without the size. With a shorter body length and reduced depth, this shape is built to deliver rich, powerful tones in a compact package. The Grand Theater’s bass response is robust for its size, and the highs are crisp and clear.
  • Travel: although “travel guitar” isn’t necessarily defined by a specific body shape, these instruments are worth including in the conversation. The travel guitar category is more about overall proportions than the silhouette, as you’ll find these scaled-down guitars in many of the shapes we’ve explored, hence why it’s so good for traveling with an instrument.
Martin Steel String Backpacker Travel Guitar with Bag

Does Guitar Body Shape Affect Tone?

As seen above, this is a question we can answer with a resounding yes, at least in the case of acoustic guitars.

When it comes to acoustic guitars, the shape and type of wood are among the most important factors. It is important to have a guitar that fits your body size, for if you have an oversized guitar, you will have trouble playing guitar the right way to begin with.

The shape of the guitar will have a huge influence on the guitar’s sound. Apart from the type of wood used for the guitar body, the shape of the guitar can make a big difference in the guitar’s resonance.

On the other hand, we also have guitar playability and comfort. You can find a lot of guitars today that have an interesting body shape, but some of them may not be too comfortable to hold and play.

For beginner guitar players, having an incorrect guitar size and shape that is not comfortable can seriously affect their learning process. When buying a new guitar, remember that the looks of the guitar should not overshadow the comfort of holding and playing it.

How Does the Body Shape of an Acoustic Guitar Affect the Tone?

As already seen above, in the history of the guitar, we have witnessed many guitar companies introducing something new to the shape of the guitar. While most of them did this to make the design unique, some of the changes were there to improve the sound and quality.

No matter the size of the guitar, each of the shapes will bring a different character to the sound. Today, we have the five most famous and recognizable shapes: Dreadnought, 000/OM, Grand Auditorium, Jumbo, and Parlor, alongside all the others listed above.

One of the most used shapes is Dreadnought. This guitar shape is all rounded, producing a great bottom end with a high end that sticks out while playing. This guitar body is great since it allows you to play a wide range, from strumming to soloing.

The Parlor was the root of the design for the Dreadnought and the other guitar shapes. The Parlor is smaller than the others. This size of body and shape results in a natural compression and mid-oriented sound. The Parlor shape is perfect for players who travel a lot and are small.

Why Does the Body Shape of the Electric Not Affect Tone?

Just to be clear, if you have a hollow-body electric guitar, the shape affects the tone especially when unplugged because it is a direct fusion of the electric and acoustic guitars. This, however, isn’t necessarily the case for strictly electric guitars.

When you play electric guitar, strings vibrate and pickups pick up that vibration. Pickups register vibration mainly directly from the strings, not from the body.

The type of wood used can have some super minor impact on the tone because of the mechanical impedance – mechanical impedance measures how much certain material resists motion; in this case, it measures how much the wood resists the vibration generated by strings.

or electric guitars, all shapes will pretty much give the same sound since the major part of the sound depends on the type of magnets and wood. But still, keep in mind that different shapes will, most of the time, slightly sustain differently.

On the other hand, you have the playability aspect. This is where the shape of the guitar is the most important. As with acoustic guitars, having the guitar size too big or too small for you will affect your playing. It is also important that the guitar is well-balanced and that it is not too heavy on one side.

How Does the Guitar’s Wood Affect Guitar Tone?

Let’s see just how much the wood you use to construct both an electric and acoustic guitar can affect the overall tone, shall we?

Electric Guitars

Electric guitar body wood material can affect the tone through mechanical impedance, how much the wood resistances the vibration made by the strings, etc. These three things especially effect the impedance:

  • How dense the wood is
  • How hard the wood is
  • How much wood there is(very small effect in my opinion)

Yes, the strings are not directly connected to the wood, but the vibration made by strings transfers to the body through the bridge and the nut, and because of this, body wood can affect the tone, especially when played unplugged.

But, because pickups mostly register vibration directly from the strings, the wood type doesn’t make that much difference, unless you are something of a tonal purist.

Acoustic Guitars

With acoustic guitars, body woods affect the overall considerably more. Most of the time pickups are not used and sound waves can, thus, bounce naturally. And when acoustic guitar pickups are used, there’s usually no magnetic field involved whatsoever, all of which changes the game considerably. In acoustic guitars:

  • Sound is generated by strings. 
  • Strings make sound waves and vibrations.
  • Sound waves and vibrations bounce inside the body and resonate through the body. This amplifies the sound.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be hard to see how the wood of an acoustic guitar, acting as more of a conduit for the overall sound, comes to play a significant part in the eventual tonal output. The wood of a guitar, then, is largely for show, something to be considered in terms of weight alone.

What Effect Does the Weight of a Guitar Have on the Overall Tone?

The general consensus among guitarists says that a lighter instrument will resonate better in response to the full spectrum of string vibrations and thereby yield a more musical sound, consisting of brighter highs and a more “open” tone.

On the other hand, heavier guitars are generally praised for their richer, fuller sound which is due to the relatively massive size of the wood used to anchor the pickups, strings, and, in a way, the tone itself.

And much like going analog or digital, there are good arguments for both lighter and heavier guitars with plenty of examples for each.

Before the early ‘80s, it was pretty common for a Gibson Les Paul to weigh as much as 12 pounds. This heavy ax was responsible for much of the sonic impact, depth, and clarity that can be found in music from artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols, AC/DC, and even Boston.

Looking at the other side, the popular Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster that dominated the early ‘60s each were about 6 to 7 pounds and are known for being the instrument behind the sounds of classic music from Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd – a sound which cannot be denied its own respective greatness.

So, with that said, it’s obvious that great, classic sounds come from both lighter and heavier guitars. As far as which sounds better, by now you should know the answer depends on a player’s tonal preference. In fact, a lot of musicians use both, which is the reason why many guitarists use multiple types of guitars.

But you still have to keep in mind that a large 12-pound guitar might get uncomfortable after an extended period of play and, if you’re not comfortable, you won’t be playing at your best. So for many, a lighter guitar might be their preference overall simply because it feels better while playing, regardless of the quality of the sound.

Conclusion: Does Guitar Body Shape Affect Tone?

There’s a lot that goes into a guitar’s signature tone. There are the pickups – of course – as well as the makeup of the wood, not to mention the type of body. But beyond that, the weight of the instrument also plays an integral role.

When it comes to picking out an acoustic guitar, body shape is key. Far from being just an aesthetic choice, an acoustic guitar’s body defines its sound and relationship with the player. But with dozens of different names, sizes, and silhouettes, finding a body style that complements your unique needs can seem overwhelming.

Body shape most definitely matters, and it will make a difference in both sound and playability. With a guitar that does not have the right size and shape for you, it will be harder to learn and progress with the instrument. Plus, different shapes create different tonal characteristics, which results in different sounds.

Hopefully, you now know where to tread in choosing your own guitar body shape based on your own preferences.

FAQs Does Guitar Body Shape Affect Tone?

Does the body shape of a guitar matter?

The guitar’s shape will affect the sound and your comfort when you hold it. We recommend narrowing your search for a guitar by starting with the sound that you want. Then you can search for guitars that have the shape that will more likely produce the sound that you want.

What is the best shape for a guitar tone?

Many players gravitate towards the dreadnought for its bold sound, snappy midrange, and strong low end. This body shape is an excellent choice for emphatic strummers, singer-songwriters, and musicians playing with a full band.

Why is the shape of a guitar important?

Guitars are shaped the way they are to allow for the right amount of balance both when strapped on your shoulder and when balanced on your knee. Although most guitars have the same basic “8” shape, many variations exist which will produce different tones.

What has the biggest effect on the guitar tone?

A big part of your tone comes down to how you play — how you fret chords and how you strum or pick. At the end of the day, the electric guitar tone is a magic brew made up of a lot of factors. And the wood of the neck and body is an ingredient in that recipe.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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