The big question to ask yourself when buying a guitar is “Where will I play it?”
Will you be playing it on stage & at live gigs, or at home in your studio or living room?
Then you can think about the guitar choice…
- Stage Guitar: If you plan to do anything on stage, gigs, cafes, at church, you will need what I call a stage guitar.
- Living Room Guitar:If you are only playing at home & for your own enjoyment or recording you can buy what I call a living room / studio guitar.
These are 2 different animals completely.
(A third type of guitar would be a “bang around”, travel or utility guitar – maybe a guitar that will stay in a classroom and get beaten up by small children. Let’s leave that out for now, as I am addressing a major guitar purchase in this article.)
Comparing a stage guitar to a living room / studio guitar is like comparing rugged mountain outerwear compared to a tuxedo. A tux would not be rugged enough for hiking, and mountain wear would be to “unrefined” for a wedding.
That’s why you should ask yourself “Where will I play it?”
The Problem With a Using a Living Room Guitar on Stage…
On stage you have monitors and speaker volume coming at you from many directions which you don’t experience at home. At gigs, you may need to have a loud amp right next to you.
If your guitar is a very resonant LIVING ROOM guitar, the body of the instrument will pick up all those vibrations and it may feedback. Feedback is a loop when speaker output goes back into the sound input – we’ve all heard microphones squeal.
A guitar will “howl” if the monitors and stage volume go back and make the guitar vibrate.
When I played jazz, it was a huge problem to use a traditional archtop guitar in many situations, so I learned the hard way.
It was miserable, only to run “feedback control” all night instead of making music.
When I switched from a fine archtop (tuxedo) to a solid or semi solid guitar (mountain outer wear) the problems went away. And the band thought I sounded better.
Eliminating the problem was way more important than having the “best tone” on stage.
My Current Stage Guitar
I play a Maton Michael Fix model guitar. Here’s a review I once did.
(My skin was very pink that day…)
“On stage” is the place that Maton shines. They are not super resonant, and have a small acoustic sound but they kick butt when it is plugged in. Maton really figured out a perfect stage guitar.
However, I made my last CD “I Remember Michael” with one and it sounded tight and small, to be honest. My fault, I used the wrong tool for the job. For my next CD I will use my living room / studio guitar.
Many people, when they try Matons in a store then immediately pick up a Taylor have a quick reaction – “Man, the Taylor sounds way better!”
If you care about the living room sound, yes the Taylor sounds better. However I think the Taylor pickups really suck and on stage the Maton will sound 1000% better.
That’s where playing experience comes in…you have to know that the Maton is for stage when you are trying it out. It’s not trying to be a living room guitar.
My Living Room / Studio Guitar
Last year I got an Andre Kibin handmade guitar, for studio.
The Andre Kibin guitar is the most delicious amazing sounding acoustic I have, and I love it. I did in fact put a K & K trinity pickup in it, but only for a little DI when I record.
I would not plan to use this on stage – I probably could, but I have a stage tool that works.
Here is the Andre Kibin guitar action:
What About Pickup Systems?
There are plenty of systems out there, I am unfamiliar with them. I like the built in Maton APmic & AP5 pro the best, but you can only get those with a guitar, not separate.
The Cole Clark system is pretty good too. I think their guitars have probably gotten better since I played them years ago – also good for stage.
I had a K & K trinity installed on the Kibin – check those out if you are looking to put a pickup in. (Have your guitar tech do it…)
Summary – the Pros & Cons Living Room and Stage Guitars
Living Room Guitar Pros:
- Sounds Great Acoustically
- Very Resonant
- Big Sound
- Gorgeous Subtle Overtones
- In the store, this will sound best when you play it
Living Room Guitar Cons:
- Maybe not great for stage
- Could be prone to feedback
- You may need to buy and install a pickup
- May get beaten up traveling & in gig environment
Stage Guitar Pros:
- Pickup usually already built in
- Probably less prone to feedback due to stiffer bracing & build
- Will be a tool for stage, it’s ok if it gets a little beat up…it’s like having hiking boots
Stage Guitar Cons:
- May not have the most inspiring sound
- May sound small& unsatisfying in any unplugged situations
- Probably won’t be cosmetically very beautiful
I hope this info helps and informs your decisions about buying a guitar…and please comment below!