In this piece we'll be delving into the world of small bodied acoustic guitars, also commonly called parlor guitars, and unpacking five reasons why I think you will love them!
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Bigger isn't always better and in fact, what is considered 'big' in the world of guitars changes over time. The guitar I'm holding here is a 1920 Martin 00-18, which was one of Martin's largest guitars at the time it was created! This was the size that most people wanted then, but aesthetics and preferences change. Today, larger bodied guitars which translate to a more bass-heavy sound are the preference for most people.
But does that mean that small bodied guitars simply aren't good anymore? Definitely not! As I've mentioned previously it was simply a change in aesthetic preference, and this preference is subjective. Just because majority of people gravitate toward something doesn't mean that you have to as well.
Now, here are five reasons why you might find a small bodied guitar to be the perfect fit for you.
1. Balanced Tone
A balanced tone refers to an even distribution of various musical qualities across the frequency spectrum. These qualities include volume (how loud or soft), sustain (how long a note lasts), and timbre (the quality of each note). While a larger guitar tends to emphasize the bass frequencies, which many people like, a smaller guitar has a more even tone throughout the frequency spectrum. Bass notes don't overpower the trebles, and the notes seem to blend complement one another more equally.
But is a balanced tone a good thing? It depends on your personal preference, the style of music you play, and your role as a guitarist. For me, a solo fingerstyle guitarist who emphasises the melody in my arrangements, I love to have a balanced tone where the trebles sing clearly without being buried by the bass notes. On the other hand, if you love travis picking where a constant pounding bass note is essential, you might prefer a larger bodied guitar with basses emphasised.
Now when you're shopping for guitars the big bassy ones tend to immediately sound richer, fuller, and better at first strum. However, my recommendation is to not be tricked by the booming bass, as the guitar may actually be too boomy for you. Play both large and small bodied guitars and slowly decide which gives you more musical satisfaction over a long period of time.
2. Shorter Scale Length
Scale length refers to the length between the nut and saddle of the guitar. Smaller bodied guitars tend to have shorter scale lengths. My Martin 00-18 has a scale length of 24.9 inches which is short compared to larger guitars in the range of 25.5 inches.
A shorter scale length translates to less tension in the strings, making it generally easier to play and execute bends. Tonally, a shorter scale also tends to sound mellower and softer, as opposed to brighter and louder. Which you prefer is ultimately subjective, but do try out a short scale guitar, you just might like it.
3. Size Adaptability
Nowadays, steel string guitars tend to be much larger than their nylon counterparts. However, a 00 sized guitar like the one I'm using is probably the closest equivalent in size to a classical or flamenco guitar.
This means that you can easily switch between a classical and steel string guitar without having to reorientate yourself too much between them. This is of great benefit if you're someone like me who plays multiple styles of music that require different guitars. I study flamenco guitar, and playing flamenco material on my steel string guitar feels very comfortable because of their similarity in size.
A big plus for me is the portability of a small bodied guitar. A smaller body translates to less weight and less bulk, and ultimately greater convenience especially if you are someone who takes your guitar out a lot.
While I wouldn't necessarily pick a small bodied guitar just for portability, I see it as a big bonus on top of all the other benefits it already provides. Alternatively, if you already have large bodied guitars, perhaps getting a smaller one just for your travels will be a great idea.
5. Overall Comfort
Lastly, smaller bodied guitars simply feel more comfortable to hold and play. Of course this varies from person to person, but generally a guitar with less bulk, especially in depth, is more comfortable.
I find myself able to play this 00 guitar for hours at a time, and it just feels like an extension of my body. It's also great for lounging on the couch and noodling around.
That being said, sometimes guitars that are too small can be uncomfortable as well. My advice is to try out different sizes to find one that suits you the best. This Martin 00 just hits the spot for me!
Now, are you a small or large bodied guitar person? Let me know in the comments below, and do share which model of guitar is your ace axe! Do also follow along my musical journey on my YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and website as I share new videos every week.
Until next time, I'll see you again!
By Neil Chan