Steel-string acoustic guitar

The steel-string acoustic guitar is a modern form of guitar that descends from the nylon-strung classical guitar, but is strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound. Like the classical guitar, it is often referred to simply as an acoustic guitar.

The most common type is often called a flat top guitar, to distinguish it from the more specialized archtop guitar and other variations.

The standard tuning for an acoustic guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E (low to high), although many players, particularly fingerpickers, use alternate tunings (scordatura), such as open G (D-G-D-G-B-D), open D (D-A-D-F-A-D), or drop D (D-A-D-G-B-E).

Steel-string acoustic guitar
Gibson SJ200
A Gibson SJ200 model.
String instrument
Classification String instrument (plucked)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification321.322-6
(Composite chordophone sounded by a plectrum)
Playing range
Range guitar
Related instruments
Playing acoustic guitar
Fingerpicking a steel-string guitar
Fender DG-41SCE Electro-acoustic guitar
Fender DG-41SCE
Epiphone PR-5E VS Cutaway Acoustic Electric Guitar (Vintage Sunburst)
Epiphone PR-5E VS


Steel-string guitars vary in construction and materials. Different woods and approach to bracing affect the instrument's timbre or tone. Many players and luthiers believe a well-made guitar's tone improves over time. Decrease in the content of hemicellulose, crystallization of cellulose, and changes to lignin over time all result in its wood gaining better resonating properties.


Steel-string acoustic guitars are commonly constructed in several body types, varying in size, depth, and proportion. In general, the guitar's soundbox can be thought of as composed of two mating chambers: the upper bouts (a bout being the rounded corner of an instrument body) on the neck end of the body, and lower bouts (on the bridge end). These meet at the waist, or the narrowest part of the body face near the soundhole. The proportion and overall size of these two parts helps determine the overall tonal balance and "native sound" of a particular body style – the larger the body, the louder the volume.

  • The 00, double-O or grand concert body type is the major body style most directly derived from the classical guitar. It has the thinnest soundbox and the smallest overall size, making it very comfortable to play but lacking in projection -volume - relative to the larger types. Its smaller size makes it suitable for younger or smaller-framed players. It is commonly called a "parlor steel", as it is well-suited to smaller rooms. Martin's 00-xxx series and Taylor's x12 series are common examples.
  • The grand auditorium guitar, sometimes called the 000 or the triple-O is very similar in design to the grand concert, but slightly wider and deeper. Many 000-style guitars also have a convex back to increase the physical volume of the soundbox without making it deeper at the edges, which would affect comfort and playability. The result is a very balanced tone, comparable to the 00 but with greater volume and dynamic range and slightly more low-end response, making this Classically shaped body style very popular. Eric Clapton's signature Martin, for example, is of this style. Martin's 000-xxx series and Taylor's x14 series are well-known examples of the grand auditorium style.
  • The dreadnought is a large-bodied guitar which incorporates a deeper soundbox, but a smaller and less-pronounced upper bout than most styles. Its size and power gave rise to its name, from the most formidable class of warship at the time of its creation in the early 20th century. The style was designed by Martin Guitars[1] to produce a deeper sound than "classic"-style guitars, with very resonant bass. Its body's combination of compact profile with a deep sound has since been copied by virtually every major steel-string luthier, making it the most popular body type. Martin's "D" series guitars, such as the highly prized D-28, are classic examples of the dreadnought.
  • The jumbo body type is bigger again than a grand auditorium but similarly proportioned, and is generally designed to provide a deep tone similar to a dreadnought's. It was designed by Gibson to compete with the dreadnought,[1]) but with maximum resonant space for greater volume and sustain. These come at the expense of being oversized, with a very deep sounding box, and thus somewhat more difficult to play. The foremost example of the style is the Gibson J-200, but like the dreadnought, most guitar manufacturers have at least one jumbo model.

Any of these body type can incorporate a cutaway, where a section of the upper Below the neck is scalloped out. This allows for easier access to the frets located atop the soundbox, at the expense of reduced soundbox volume and altered bracing, which can affect the resonant qualities and resulting tone of the instrument.

All of these relatively traditional looking and constructed instruments are commonly referred to as flattop guitars. All are commonly used in popular music genres, including rock, blues, country, and folk.

Other styles of guitar which enjoy moderate popularity, generally in more specific genres, include:

  • The archtop, which incorporates an arched, violin-like top either carved out of solid wood or heat-pressed using laminations. It usually has violin style f-holes rather than a single round sound hole. It is most commonly used by swing and jazz players and often incorporates an electric pickup.
  • The Selmer-Maccaferri guitar is usually played by those who follow the style of Django Reinhardt. It is an unusual-looking instrument, distinguished by a fairly large body with squarish bouts, and either a D-shaped or longitudinal oval soundhole. The strings are gathered at the tail like an archtop guitar, but the top is flatter. It also has a wide fingerboard and slotted head like a nylon-string guitar. The loud volume and penetrating tone make it suitable for single-note soloing, and it is frequently employed as a lead instrument in gypsy swing.
  • The resonator guitar or resophonic guitar, also called the Dobro after its most prominent manufacturer, amplifies its sound through one or more metal cone-shaped resonators. It was designed to overcome the problem of conventional acoustic guitars being overwhelmed by horns and percussion instruments in dance orchestras. It became prized for its distinctive sound, however, and gained a place in several musical styles (most notably blues and bluegrass), and retains a niche well after the proliferation of electric amplification.


Traditionally, steel-string guitars have been made of a combination of various tonewoods, or woods that have pleasing resonant qualities when used in instrument-making. Foremost for making guitar tops are Sitka spruce, the most common, and Alpine and Adirondack spruce. The back and sides of a particular guitar are typically made of the same wood; Brazilian or East Indian rosewood and Honduras mahogany are traditional choices, however, maple has been prized for the figuring that can be seen when it is cut in a certain way (such as flame and quilt patterns). A common non-traditional wood gaining popularity is sapele, which is tonally similar to mahogany but slightly lighter in color and possessing a deep grain structure that is visually appealing.

Due to decreasing availability and rising prices of premium-quality traditional tonewoods, many manufacturers have begun experimenting with alternative species of woods or more commonly available variations on the standard species. For example, some makers have begun producing models with red cedar or mahogany tops, or with spruce variants other than Sitka. Cedar is also common in the back and sides, as is basswood. Entry-level models, especially those made in East Asia, often use nato wood, which is again tonally similar to mahogany but is cheap to acquire. Some have also begun using non-wood materials, such as plastic or graphite. Carbon-fiber and phenolic composite materials have become desirable for building necks, and some high-end luthiers produce all-carbon-fiber guitars.


The steel-string acoustic guitar evolved from the nylon- or gut-string classical guitar, and because steel strings have higher tension, heavier construction is required overall. One innovation is a metal bar called a truss rod, which is incorporated into the neck to strengthen it and provide adjustable counter-tension to the stress of the strings. Typically, a steel-string acoustic guitar is built with a larger soundbox than a standard classical guitar. A critical structural and tonal component of an acoustic guitar is the bracing, a systems of struts glued to the inside of the back and top. Steel-string guitars use different bracing systems from classical guitars, typically using X-bracing instead of fan bracing. (Another simpler system, called ladder bracing, where the braces are all placed across the width of the instrument, is used on all types of flat-top guitars on the back.) Innovations in bracing design have emerged, notably the A-brace developed by British luthier Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars.

Most luthiers and experienced players agree that a good solid top (as opposed to laminated or plywood) is the most important factor in the tone of the guitar. Solid backs and sides can also contribute to a pleasant sound, although laminated sides and backs are acceptable alternatives, commonly found in mid-level guitars (in the range of US$300–$1000).

From the 1960s through the 1980s, "by far the most significant developments in the design and construction of acoustic guitars" were made by the Ovation Guitar Company.[2] It introduced a composite roundback bowl, which replaced the square back and sides of traditional guitars; because of its engineering design, Ovation guitars could be amplified without producing the obnoxious feedback that had plagued acoustic guitars before. Ovation also pioneered with electronics, such as pickup systems and electronic tuners.[2][3]


A steel-string guitar can be amplified using any of three techniques:

  • a microphone, possibly clipped to the guitar body;
  • a detachable pickup, often straddling the soundhole and using the same magnetic principle as a traditional electric guitar; or
  • a transducer built into the body.

The last type of guitar is commonly called an acoustic-electric or electro-acoustic guitar, as it can be played either "unplugged" as an acoustic, or plugged in as an electric. The most common type is a piezoelectric pickup, which is composed of a thin sandwich of quartz crystal. When compressed, the crystal produces a small electric current, so when placed under the bridge saddle, the vibrations of the strings through the saddle, and of the body of the instrument, are converted to a weak electrical signal. This signal is often sent to a pre-amplifier, which increases the signal strength and normally incorporates an equalizer. The output of the preamplifier then goes to a separate amplifier system similar to that for an electric guitar.

Several manufacturers produce specialised acoustic guitar amplifiers, which are designed to give undistorted and full-range reproduction.

Music and players

Until the 1960s, the predominant forms of music played on the flat-top, steel-string guitar remained relatively stable and included acoustic blues, country, bluegrass, folk, and several genres of rock. The concept of playing solo steel-string guitar in a concert setting was introduced in the early 1960s by such performers as Davey Graham and John Fahey, who used country blues fingerpicking techniques to compose original compositions with structures somewhat like European classical music. Fahey contemporary Robbie Basho added elements of Indian classical music and Leo Kottke used a Faheyesque approach to make the first solo steel-string guitar "hit" record.

Steel-string guitars are also important in the world of flatpicking, as utilized by such artists as Clarence White, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, Doc Watson and David Grier. Luthiers have been experimenting with redesigning the acoustic guitar for these players. These flat-top, steel-string guitars are constructed and voiced more for classical-like fingerpicking and less for chordal accompaniment (strumming). Some luthiers have increasingly focused their attention on the needs of fingerstylists and have developed unique guitars for this style of playing.

Many other luthiers attempt to recreate the guitars of the "Golden Era" of C.F. Martin & Co. This was started by Roy Noble, who built the guitar played by Clarence White from 1968 to 1972, and was followed by Bill Collings, Marty Lanham, Dana Bourgeois, Randy Lucas, Lynn Dudenbostel and Wayne Henderson, a few of the luthiers building guitars today inspired by vintage Martins, the pre–World War II models in particular. As prices for vintage Martins continue to rise exponentially, upscale guitar enthusiasts have demanded faithful recreations and luthiers are working to fill that demand.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b Denyer, Ralph (1992). "Ovation guitars (Acoustic guitars)". The guitar handbook. Special contributors Isaac Guillory and Alastair M. Crawford; Robert Fripp (foreword) (Fully revised and updated ed.). London and Sydney: Pan Books. p. 48. ISBN 0-330-32750-X.
  3. ^
6- and 12-String Guitar

6- and 12-String Guitar is the second album by Leo Kottke, a solo instrumental steel-string acoustic guitar album originally released by John Fahey's Takoma Records in 1969. It is popularly known as the Armadillo album after the animal illustrated in the distinctive cover art (by Annie Elliott). Although Kottke has had a prolific career as a recording artist, 6- and 12-String Guitar remains his best-known album.

Acoustic bass guitar

The acoustic bass guitar (sometimes shortened to acoustic bass or initialized ABG) is a bass instrument with a hollow wooden body similar to, though usually larger than a steel-string acoustic guitar. Like the traditional electric bass guitar and the double bass, the acoustic bass guitar commonly has four strings, which are normally tuned E-A-D-G, an octave below the lowest four strings of the 6-string guitar, which is the same tuning pitch as an electric bass guitar.

Because it can sometimes be difficult to hear an acoustic bass guitar without an amplifier, even in settings with other acoustic instruments, most acoustic basses have pickups, either magnetic or piezoelectric or both, so that they can be amplified with a bass amp.

Traditional music of Mexico features several varieties of acoustic bass guitars, such as the guitarrón, a very large, deep-bodied Mexican 6-string acoustic bass guitar played in Mariachi bands, the león, plucked with a pick, and the bajo sexto, with six pairs of strings.

Blind Joe Death

Blind Joe Death is the first album by American fingerstyle guitarist and composer John Fahey. There are three different versions of the album, and the original self-released edition of fewer than 100 copies is extremely rare.

The recording of steel-string acoustic guitar solos was "incredibly avant-garde" in 1959. It was released on Takoma Records, Fahey's own label. It was not marketed and made no impression on the American record-buying public.Its popularity, significance in guitar music, and critical reception have grown over the years. The music historian Richie Unterberger characterized Blind Joe Death as "a very interesting record from a historical few if any other guitarists were attempting to interpret blues and folk idioms in such an idiosyncratic fashion in the late '50s and early '60s." Richard Cook of the NewStatesman wrote, "Only 100 copies were pressed. Incredibly, it was still enough of a milestone to secure him an almost worldwide reputation."On April 6, 2011, the album was deemed by the Library of Congress to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" and added to the United States National Recording Registry for the year 2010.

Bodega (band)

Bodega was a Scottish band based in Glasgow, formed in March 2005. Its members met while they were studying together at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton, Scotland, from which they all graduated. The group was originally called Fiddle Dee Fiddle Dum. They disbanded at the end of 2011, citing the changing musical trajectories of the band's principal founding members.

Classical guitar strings

Classical guitar strings are strings manufactured for use on classical guitars. While steel-string acoustic guitar strings and electric guitar strings are made of metal, modern classical guitar strings are made of nylon and nylon wound with wire, which produces a different sound to the metal strings. Classical guitar strings were originally made with animal intestine and silk wound with animal intestine up until World War II, when war restrictions led Albert Augustine Ltd. to develop nylon strings. Nylon guitar strings were put into production in 1948. Strings made from fluorocarbon polymers have since been developed and are the main alternative to nylon strings.


Duofel is an acoustic guitar duo from Brazil. The duo, consisting of Fernando Melo and Luiz Bueno, was founded in 1977 and has released several recordings. They have collaborated with the tabla player Badal Roy.

The group uses classical guitar, steel-string acoustic guitar, and twelve string guitar.

Gibson Dove

The Gibson Dove is a flattop steel-string acoustic guitar made by the Gibson Guitar Corporation since 1962.

It Don't Bother Me

It Don't Bother Me is the second album by Scottish folk musician Bert Jansch, released in December 1965. The album was produced by Nathan Joseph and Bill Leader, although Leader was left uncredited.The album features nine songs composed by Jansch, one by Alex Campbell ("So Long (Been on the Road So Long)"), and the traditional "900 Miles". For this last Jansch accompanies himself on the banjo rather than the steel-string acoustic guitar which he uses elsewhere. "A Man I'd Rather Be" features lead vocals by Roy Harper. "My Lover" also has Harper playing some additional guitar, while John Renbourn is playing the lead acoustic guitar part. "Lucky Thirteen" is a guitar duet with Renbourn, based on a song written by the latter and apparently recorded during the Bert and John session. Finally, "Tinkers Blues" and "The Wheel" are guitar instrumentals composed and performed by Jansch.

John Fahey (musician)

John Aloysius Fahey (; February 28, 1939 – February 22, 2001) was an American fingerstyle guitarist and composer who played the steel-string acoustic guitar as a solo instrument. His style has been enormously influential and has been described as the foundation of American Primitive Guitar, a term borrowed from painting and referring mainly to the self-taught nature of the music and its minimalist style. Fahey borrowed from the folk and blues traditions in American roots music, having compiled many forgotten early recordings in these genres. He would later incorporate 20th-century classical, Portuguese, Brazilian, and Indian influences into his work.Fahey spent many of his later years in poverty and poor health, but enjoyed a minor career resurgence in the late 1990s, with a turn towards the avant-garde. He also created a series of abstract paintings in his final years. Fahey died in 2001 from complications from heart surgery. In 2003, he was ranked 35th on Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list.

Jungle Suite

Jungle Suite is an album by Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, released in 1985 through Dancing Cat Records. Recorded in 1982, it is the only known recording of Sete playing a steel-string acoustic guitar. Jungle Suite was his final album before his death from lung cancer in 1987.

Martin D-45

The Martin D-45 is a steel-string acoustic guitar model made by C. F. Martin & Company. The model was manufactured from 1933 to 1942, and in a second production series since 1968. Martin originally made the guitar's sides and backs of Brazilian rosewood. Martins are ranked among the highest-quality, as well as among the most expensive guitars, and the D-45, regarded as one of the first "luxury guitars", was listed in 2011 as the most valuable production-model guitar.

Michael Gurian (luthier)

Michael Gurian (born 1943) is an American-born guitarist and luthier of Armenian descent. He had some initial furniture making experience when he became a guitar teacher at the Guitar Workshop, Roslyn, New York in 1961.He studied classical guitar making with, among others, luthiers Gene Clark, David Rubio, and Manuel Velazquez. His interest in the classical guitar and subsequently, the steel-string acoustic guitar stimulated experiments in guitar building which led to the formation of the Gurian Guitar Company which was active from approx. 1965 to 1981. Gurian guitars were well received by acoustic and folk players of the day but the company suffered a disastrous fire in 1979 and was closed in 1982.

Subsequently he formed a new company, Gurian Instruments, which currently supplies materials and custom parts for the musical instrument, furniture and wood craft supply industries out of a floating facility in Seattle, Washington, although according to one video interview (see "External Links") he has not completely discounted the idea of returning to guitar making one day. As one of the "first wave" of independent luthiers working in the U.S.A. he mentored a number of younger makers in the field including Joe Veillette, Michael Millard and William R. Cumpiano of Froggy Bottom Guitars, Scott Hausmann, Thomas Humphrey and David Santo., as well as being a precursor to other "boutique" guitar making operations which followed such as Mossman, Santa Cruz, and Collings.

Miles Gilderdale

Miles Gilderdale (born in Kingston, Jamaica) is a member of smooth jazz group Acoustic Alchemy and plays the steel-string acoustic guitar and electric guitar.

In 1996, Gilderdale became a member of the contemporary jazz group Acoustic Alchemy and has collaborated on seven releases, including 2001's Grammy nominated AArt. Gilderdale contributed to the group's 1998 release Positive Thinking... and was selected by Greg Carmichael for the steel string acoustic chair which was left vacant by the passing of the group's original founder, Nick Webb.

A seasoned guitarist and performer, Miles Gilderdale first became known in the UK and Europe to audiences in the 1980s as the lead singer and guitarist in York/Harrogate-based soul band Zoot and the Roots which also included the sax player Snake Davis. He has worked on stage with artists as diverse as Ben E. King, Ronnie Wood, and Jools Holland, as well as having done numerous live BBC Radio 1 broadcasts and TV appearances.

Gilderdale has composed material for the award-winning computer game Broken Sword by Revolution software and regularly has incidental music feature on TV and Radio which he writes with the independent production company MZen

When not touring with Acoustic Alchemy, he can be often spotted gigging around the UK with The Blueflies, a funk/blues outfit composed of Miles, ex-Zoots bassist and co-songwriter Gavin Ewing and drummer Paul Stipetic. While allowing Gilderdale to rock-out and improvise, The Blueflies hard-edged funk blues sound is in contrast to his 'smooth jazz' solo work and performances with Acoustic Alchemy.

My Love (Lee Jong-hyun song)

"My Love" (내 사랑아; Nae Saranga) is a song by South Korean musician Lee Jong-hyun of CNBLUE. After being cast to play the role of Collin on Seoul Broadcasting System's (SBS) television series A Gentleman's Dignity, the song was released as the fifth installment of drama's original soundtrack on July 8, 2012, under Hwa & Dam Pictures and distributed by CJ E&M Music. A pop song accompanied with a steel-string acoustic guitar, the lyrics reflect the sentiments of Lee's character of "longing for a loved one".

"My Love" peaked at numbers two and four on the Billboard Korea K-Pop Hot 100 and Gaon Digital Chart, respectively. It ranked number six on the former's year-end chart, and number 15 on the latter. The song earned Lee five award nominations, ultimately winning Best OST at the 2013 Seoul Music Awards.

Nut (string instrument)

A nut, on a stringed musical instrument, is a small piece of hard material that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock or scroll. The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and usually holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard. Along with the bridge, the nut defines the vibrating lengths (scale lengths) of the open strings.

The nut may be made of ebony, ivory, cow bone, brass, Corian or plastic, and is usually notched or grooved for the strings. The grooves are designed to lead the string from the fingerboard to the headstock or pegbox in a smooth curve, to prevent damage to the strings or their windings. Bowed string instruments in particular benefit from an application of soft pencil graphite in the notches of the nut, to preserve the delicate flat windings of their strings.

Scale length (string instruments)

For the musical (rather than instrumental) scale, see Pythagorean tuning.The scale length or scale of a string instrument is the maximum vibrating length of the strings that produce sound, and determines the range of tones that string can produce at a given tension. It's also called string length. On instruments in which strings are not "stopped" or divided in length (typically by frets, the player's fingers, or other mechanism), such as the piano, it is the actual length of string between the nut and the bridge.

String instruments produce sound through the vibration of their strings. The range of tones these strings can produce is determined by three primary factors: the mass of the string (related to its thickness as well as other aspects of its construction: density of the metal/alloy etc.), the tension placed upon it, and the instrument's scale length.

Generally, a string instrument has all strings approximately the same length, so the scale length can be expressed as a single measurement, e.g., the violin and most guitars.


A Sympitar is a modern form of guitar combining functional aspects of the guitar and the Indian sitar. This instrument has a unique feature: there is a graphite channel which guides a series of "sympathetic" resonating strings through the neck from the bridge up to the headstock. These strings vibrate or resonate against a "jiwari" bridge, which produces the sustaining drone typically associated with Indian music. The instrument(s) also have at least 6 standard guitar strings which traverse the length of the neck just as they do for a standard steel-string acoustic guitar. Depending on the notes played and on how the sympathetic strings are tuned, the sympitar's sympathetic strings will produce long waves of resonating notes, either in harmonic or enharmonic response.The inventor of the sympitar is the master luthier Fred Carlson.

There are only a few sympitars in existence, all commissioned as custom builds. Fred Carlson also spends his time in the workshop building a variation on the sympitar called the "harp sympitar", the first of which, completed in January 2002, was the Oracle Harp Sympitar commissioned by guitarist Jeffrey Titus and dedicated to the memory of Michael Hedges.

Tenor guitar

The tenor guitar or four-string guitar is a slightly smaller, four-string relative of the steel-string acoustic guitar or electric guitar. The instrument was initially developed in its acoustic form by Gibson Guitar Company and C. F. Martin & Company so that players of the four-string tenor banjo could double on guitar.

Tomaž Pengov

Tomaž Pengov (1949 – 10 February 2014) was a Slovenian singer-songwriter, guitarist, lutist, and poet.

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