Choosing the Best Acoustic Guitar for Blues
A Quick History of the Blues
Blues is one of the oldest genres of American music. The origins of the Blues lie in the Southern music tradition. Gospel, Jazz, Blues, and more are all branches coming from traditional Slave music. During the Reconstruction era of the late 1800’s, freed slaves started to develop old songs of captivity into the earliest forms of Blues.
While Blues legends like Howling Wolf, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy didn’t appear until the 1930s or later, there are early recordings of Blues going back to the turn of the century.
Traditionally, Blues follows the “12 Bar” structure which gives Blues its identifiable style. The guitar has always been the most popular instrument for Blues, and because electric instruments were not available during the formative years, acoustic guitars have always been the heart and soul of the Blues.
What Makes the Best Acoustic Guitars for Blues?
I should state here that there really is no such thing as a “Blues guitar” in the same way there is no “Metal guitar”. The sounds of different guitars were popularized by the artists that played them. For many, the greatest Blues player is B.B. King whose guitar, Lucille, was a series of different Gibson guitars like the ES-345-355.
In reality, Blues has been shaped by a variety of different tones and guitar styles. Thankfully, there are many options available for a great Blues tone. Any guitar that is not too bright or chime-y with good mid-range will produce the tone we are looking for.
For electric guitars, the sound they make comes mainly from the pickups and the amplifier being used. Acoustics get most of their tone from the shape of the body and the construction materials. Since many of the old Blues players played exclusively on acoustics, the warm sound they produce is a nice fit for Blues.
How do I Know Which Guitar Works for Me?
Finding the right acoustic guitar for blues comes down to two things: size and purpose.
Guitars do come in a variety of sizes that make a big difference in how they sound and how they feel. A full-size guitar is considered a 1:1 model. This is the size most adult players prefer. The sound they produce will usually project farther, have more low-end tone, and have the largest neck and frets.
Most of the acoustic guitars on this list are full-size, but there are other options. For younger players or those with smaller hands, a 15:16 model may be better. Often called “Parlor” guitars, this version is slightly smaller than a full-size but still maintains the same shape and characteristics. The differences compared to a full-size model only lie in the low-end tone.
Smaller still is a 3:4 model guitar. These are usually marketed as children’s guitars but are playable for adults. Smaller frets and body make this style quieter and easier to play.
The next thing to consider is your purpose when you play. Different guitars have different specs like electric pickups that plug into amplifiers, built-in tuners, and other small differences. You will know best what you intend to do with your guitar. For those wanting a guitar to learn on, it is good to focus on a large, rounded neck; this style is usually the most comfortable.
Players looking to take their skills to the local open mic or record may want an acoustic guitar that features built-in pickups. These can be installed in any guitar if they do not come stock. I don’t recommend butchering your prized acoustic guitar but it may be an option to consider.
Important Features to Consider in an Acoustic Blues Guitar
When picking an acoustic blues guitar, it is important to look at the body shape and construction materials.
Body shapes for guitars vary greatly, but acoustics come in four main styles: Dreadnought, Parlor, Auditorium, and Concert.
Dreadnought is the most common and features a large body with gentle curves. This design has the most low-end tone and is the loudest.
Auditorium-style guitars are similar but have sharper curves on the sides of the body. This preserves the low-end tone while making for a smaller, more manageable guitar.
Concert guitars are the same shape as Auditorium but with a smaller overall body.
Last is the Parlor guitar which has the smallest body. While it lacks the low-end of other styles, it still maintains a warm and present tone which is essential for the blues.
You will also want to consider whether the guitar has a cutaway. This is small removal of the body near the connection to the neck. Without it, playing songs that use frets beyond the body can be difficult.
Tone wood and other Materials
Aside from the shape, the construction materials give acoustic guitars their sound. Common woods are Spruce, Maple, Rosewood, and Mahogany. Knowing what a guitar is made of will give you a picture of its tone without ever picking it up.
Rosewood and Spruce offer a higher-end shimmer to a guitar’s tone while Maple and Mahogany absorb more of the tone and bring a mid-range flair to your playing. Most guitars are made with a combination of woods, but the top and sides of the body will have the largest effect on how the guitar sounds.
Our Top-rated Acoustic Blues Guitars
- Gretsch G9200 Roots Boxcar Resonator
- Fender CD-60S Dreadnought
- Martin 000-15M
- Taylor Grand Auditorium 214ce
- Gibson J-45 Studio
Last update on 2021-01-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API