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Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide

The tone of an acoustic guitar is produced by the vibration of the strings, which is amplified by the body of the guitar, which acts as a resonating chamber.

Guitar Diagram

Things to consider when buying a guitar

Budget & Goals-How much do I have to spend/save?                                                                                                                   -

What will I be using the guitar for? – Fun, live performances or recording.                                  

What’s my style of playing? – Heavy or light strummer, fingerpicker, blues, or folk.

Assess Guitar for  -Cracks, dents & bridge separation.                                                                                                                                                -Neck relief.                                                                                                                                                                              -Fret board, do frets stickout or overhang?                                                                                                                                      -“Action”-i.e. is the space between strings and fret board either too low or too high.

                               -Neck size, the thicker your fingers then the wider the neck.

                               -Does the guitar stay in tune?

                              - Intonation – refers to how well the guitar stays in tune between the 1st and 12th frets.

 

Which acoustic guitar body style? Classic, Dreadnought or JumboGuitar Body Styles

Tonewoods – The wood used for the top of a guitar is either laminated veneer top, which is several woods glued together (usually cheaper guitars), or solid top which is constructed out of a solid piece of wood. This type of top is going to resonate better and is more expensive.

  • Sitka Spruce – allows guitar player the ability to strum very hard, thus being played louder.
  • Engelmann Spruce – when played at softer volumes, the tone will be much richer and clearer than that of Sitka Spruce, this example is from.
  • Western Red Cedar – will mature quicker than spruce. Tonally red cedar has warmer, darker tones and a good bass response.
  • Redwood – although similar to western red cedar, it tends toward a more darker sound. Some say that redwood is a bit comparable to spruce in that it has a bit more of a crisp, bolder and punchier tone than cedar.
  • Mahogany – gives a very clear sound with defined trebles and mid-range. The sound can almost be described as “woody” and “punchy”, which makes it a popular choice for many country blues fingerpickers.
  • Koa – similar to mahogany making it great for rhythm. Sounds best at louder volumes, although it doesn’t produce as much volume as spruce.
  • Bubinga is a wonderful wood in every respect. It has a bright and punchy tone. It is as hard as the rosewoods, but has a finer texture with no pores to fill. It bends easily and holds its' shape.

 

Back & Sides also affect the overall sound and tone of the guitar:

  • East India Rosewood – built in strong resonance & sustain.
  • Brazilian Rosewood – takes indian rosewood to another level.
  • Mahogany & Koa – not as much sustain as rosewood, but does have high reflective tonal qualities.
  • Maple & Walnut – both tonally transparent allowing the top to take over.

 

Necks are generally Maple (Poppy sound), Mahogany (Woody sound), or Rosewood (Fatten mid-range)

 

© Raymond Henderson 2012

Piano Buyer's Guide

Buying a piano can be a daunting task for most people  – we thought we’d help with a how-to-guide for buying a piano.

So what are the first questions you need to ask yourself?

Most people decide on either an acoustic Piano or a digital (Electric) Piano, later in the month we will be writing a guide for Digital Piano Buyer’s Guide and Acoustic Versus Digital Pianos. Other factors to take into account are whether you want a grand piano, high-end piano or a piano for a school or musical institution. For now we’ll take it that you have settled on an upright piano for a student at the start of the learning curve.

The next step is to decide on a budget. Theoretically you could be lucky buying a “starter piano” for a few hundred pounds from an auction, friend or newspaper but this can be very risky as you really don’t know what you are buying.

The piano could be defective requiring a lot of money spent on it, it could be beyond economical repair or may even be a danger to your home because of woodworm infestation. The “fear factor” can be removed by buying from a reputable dealer like Henderson Music who has been in business for over 40 years.

New piano prices start from around £2,000-00, include a 5 year manufacturer’s warranty and provide long term peace of mind particularly if buying from a piano dealer with a long established reputation. Where possible get an opinion from someone you know who has had a good experience with a dealer. A good review travels fast – A bad review travels faster!

There are of course “previously owned” or “second-hand” options which could also be considered which are very good choices and offer long term solutions for buyers who want good quality, an instrument with good lifespan but with savings due to accumulated depreciation compared to the price of a new equivalent Piano. Without the protection of a manufacturer’s warranty it is important that you only consider these pianos which have a good retailer warranty. If the Piano is as good as the dealer says it is then his recommendation should be backed up with a good warranty!

Typical good buys second-hand would be Japanese made Yamaha and Kawai Pianos. Those over 20 years old may have lost some of their tone but will still be okay if in good condition and have been serviced regularly. Good examples of these Pianos range from £2,500 upwards.

The optimum height of an upright Piano is 120cm. This size will have good string length which is an important factor in determining the Pianos tonal qualities. Other important factors governing tone is the combination and quality of woods, wools, felts and strings used in the Pianos construction.

The final important ingredient is the Piano Artisan/Technician whose experienced ear and craftsmanship will bring out the best in the instrument through voicing, regulation and tuning. All of these attributes will determine where the piano will rank musically.

In terms of cost German made Pianos would be at the most expensive end of the market with upright Pianos starting from £8,000-00.  Japanese made Pianos have prices starting at £4,000-00 ranging up to the higher category uprights (120cm and above) starting at £5,500-00 and above.

Chinese manufactured Pianos start at £2,000-00 approx. and will suit those students at the beginning of their musical journey. Historically with lower production costs and less costly components these Pianos have their place in the market place however a trade up to a better quality instrument may be considered after a few years when the student has progressed to the more advanced Examination grade levels.

Where limited budget and space dictate then most manufacturers have Piano models from 108cm which are modern styled and are less dominant in a room compared to the taller upright Piano models. With restricted string length these Pianos usually have less tone but will be less costly than the higher category models.

The advice of a piano teacher or experienced Pianist can be helpful when choosing a suitable Piano as they will have a knowledge of good “tone and touch” both of which are central characteristics of a good instrument.

As to the care of your piano, its acoustics and accessories we’ll back to in further articles.