Under the hood of an acoustic guitar some the magical things happens. Because thanks to an intricate web of small pieces of wood, an instrument gets its unique voice.
On the outside every acoustic guitar may seem like just a few pieces of wood with a soundhole topped of with a few strings. Take a look at the inside of an acoustic guitar and you will find a lot of clever engineering. To make sure a guitar sounds good, the top needs to be reinforcement with small pieces of wood at the right place, this is called bracing. Without bracing the top would vibrate too much, making a acoustic guitar sound chaotic. But where and how do you put those little pieces of wood to give a guitar its own voice?
Invented by Antonio de Torres well over a century ago to make the top as thin and yet as sturdy as possible: small pieces of wood in the shape of a fan. Then revolutionary, nowadays the standard for nylonstring guitars. By adjusting the shape of the fan or adding an extra bar, there are now a lot of fan-braced versions available and each have their own distinct accent.
Before fan-bracing was invented, there was ladder-bracing. It is the most straightforward and obvious way to place the crossbars under the top, as it results in a strong construction. That's why ladder-bracing had a bit of a revival in the 1920s and 1930s. Guitarists were looking for a little more volume and used steel strings more often. Great to make yourself heard, but it also puts more tension on the guitar. Ladder-bracing handled that much better than fan-bracing. Besides a solid construction, ladder-bracing also gives guitars a specific sound: lots of projection, lots of mids and very 'honky' . A smaller parlor-model with ladder-bracing often sounds amazingly loud and is ideal for blues. But for strumming chords these guitars often lack some balance.
The ultimate: X-braced
More than a century ago, guitar builder Martin tried to find that perfect balance: a sturdy guitar that had no problems with steel strings and at the same time gave a balanced sound with plenty of volume. By fiddling with the pattern of the crossbars he managed to find that perfect voice with what turned out to be an X-shape.
As with Antonio de Torres, it was revolutionary at the time, but now it's the standard. An X-brace gives an acoustic guitar the voice we know today. And just like fan-bracing, there are now many versions available, such as scalloped bracing. This means that some of the bracing is scraped thinner, weakening the strength of the bracing and hence allowing the top to vibrate more.
Taylor came up with a completely new bracing system a few years ago: V-bracing. The tip of two long pieces of wood start at the back of the guitar and they run right past the sound hole. That provides firmness where you want it, while leaving room for vibration in other places of the top. These guitars have a new, modern sound with lot of precision, clarity and sustain. Want to know more about V-bracing? We wrote an article about it which you can find here.
The best bracing for acoustic guitars?
Besides the choice of tonewood, the craftmanship of a luthier clearly shows through the bracing and voicing of a guitar. Most acoustic guitars have a web of dozens of small wooden bars, glued to the top at over 100 points. Even the choice of the glue type has an effect on the tone! Because each piece of wood is different, each top is also different and reacts differently to its bracing. The outcome of that interplay determines the voice of a guitar. There's no way to tell what's best. Looking for an all-rounder? You'll probably end up with an X-braced guitar. Want a more vintage character? Waterloo has revived ladder-braced guitars for a good reason, because with that sound you will get noticed. Looking for a more modern touch? Then you could just fall head over heals for a V-brace. When our store is open again you can visit us to try it out yourself. We have hundreds of guitars in stock and our Fellows are happy to help you make your choice. We can also be reached via
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