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, or 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 too “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 where 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 and then immediately pick up a Taylor have a quick reaction – “Man, the Taylor sounds way better!”
Watch my Taylor vs Maton Video so You Can Hear the Acoustic and Electronic Differences…
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 the 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 is usually already built-in
- Probably less prone to feedback due to stiffer bracing & build
- Will be a tool for the 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
That’s super that you have found a “best of both worlds” scenario.
I hope this info helps and informs your decisions about buying a guitar…and please comment below!
RELATED:10 Tips for Healthy Guitar Practicing
Ready to take the next step in your guitar journey?
Learn fingerstyle guitar from a world-class guitarist and teacher. Let Adam guide you and show you exactly how to improve your guitar skills. Grab the rarest opportunity to Study With Adam FREE for 14 days, right now!
I have a “living room guitar”that I use on stage . Took a while to find the right pickup though
That is of course a super option that I didn’t really mention 🙂
Adam, don’t you think good guitares are like good red wine ?
They should sound better and better even if they had been beaten over the years…
The wood of good guitares should get softened after having playing on it for years!!
And last question: should a begginer buy a 2000€ guitare, even if he is not sure to play for a long time ?
I personnaly think yes, because you can always resell a good instrument, when it’s difficult to get ride of a piece of wood with strings!!
Of course they do! And no a beginner should keep a budget. Yes, a good instrument can always be resold. However – if you play on stage, I’d suggest a Maton for that job instead of a Taylor 🙂
You’re absolutly right, I find the Taylor excellent at home, but they are super “fragile” for travelling and stage. ..I have already send back my Taylor to their factory in Amsterdam , after having knocked it (not loudly) on its side. Fortunetly, they have a very good product support service…They don’t repair, they change all the broken pieces for a low price.
Piotr Waszk says
I live in poland
I went to the Czech Republic to the municipality where the factory is located, “Furch”
They have great guitar handmade from wood,
For 800 Euro I bought a guitar “Furch” D-20
I think that it can compete with the guitar for the 2000 – 2500 euro
I am very happy with it.
“(My skin was very pink that day…)” 🙂 dobre uśmiałem się
Can i ask how much you payed for you Kilbin ? I can’t seem to find prices anywhere.
Ha, I’m definitely the type with the “living room guitar”. I doubt I’ll need a stage guitar soon… Either way, it’s just great having a guitar. Thanks for the helpful and informative post!
Great article! I like the idea of a living room and a stage guitar. I’ve always viewed my instruments as my good guitar and my backup guitars, but I like this way better. I primarily play nylon string guitars, however I believe the same concepts apply. I will be saving this article and have students read it before they go shopping, thanks!
Wondering what you think about parlor guitars. Probably not suitable for the stage a lot of the time, but an interesting option for home use. I was quite surprised at the huge variety of cool parlor’s that are available right now.
Parlors are good on stage guitars because of their compact sound and less feedback. On stage, it’s much, much more about the pickup and equipment between the pickup and PA system than about the guitar itself.
Adam Rafferty says
Yes Matt, absolutely – thanks for commenting!
steve baber says
You did’nt say what model of Andre Kibin guitar that you use
Hey, although you posted this article a wile ago, maybe you can still answer my question: I tried a Kibin in my local guitar shop in Germany and liked it (cedar with mahagony). Unfortunately there is very little to no information out here in the internet about the guitars of the luthier. The guitar I played doesn’t even have a model number attached. Where did you get yours? Do you have any further info about the luthier or the guitars? Although I like the guitar it is hard to make a decision about whether to buy it or not, without any model information or feeling for the price range. Thanks, Konstantin
Tobias Knecht says
you can get the Maton AP 5 pro Pickup-System separate. I live in Germany and the Thomann-Store ordered it for me.
Scott Haubursin says
Great article Adam. I have a Maton Artist and find it to be a great guitar for Home playing and recording. Not going to play on stage but I just love the Maton sound.
Monica Harrison says
What do you think about the new Epiphone PRO-1 ultra ?
Basing and on your chose as well I bought my Guitar from Andrei Kibin.
David Pike (PickerDad) says
I have a vintage Laskin that is absolutely brilliant, but when I started to perform, I realized I don’t want to take a $20k delicate guitar on the street, to bars, or open-mics. Fortunately I found an excellent recommendation from Jim Bruce, an English blues man living in France. He made a YouTube vid about his choice for playing on the street: the Martin X series. https://youtu.be/thknAf5S2-A?t=266 If you haven’t seen them, Martin makes them in Mexico using standard Martin moulds and tooling, with Martin Sitka Spruce tops,and everything else is 100% artificial material, developed by Martin. They come in all the standard sizes and shapes with the same options as a “real” Martin. The sides and back material (High Pressure Laminate – HPL) is somewhat like a thick Formica with multiple layers laminated so it is strong but still resonant. The rosewood grain pattern is embossed in the material, and impervious to damage. The fretboard and bridge are made of Martin RichLite, which has been around for a while, and the neck and headstock is a laminated stack of mahogany-coloured HPL. A fully sustainable and environmentally responsible product, but surely it sounds awful? Well Jim’s sounds pretty good, so I gave it a try. It’s the brightest and most responsive instrument I’ve ever played! Tremendous sustain and crystal clear. The explanation seems to be that almost all of a guitar’s sound is made by the top, and the rest of the structure just serves hold the top in position and reflect the top’s vibrations back to it. Very hard material is best. Would I record with it? No of course I’d use the Laskin, but the Martin X is a perfect living room or street guitar and virtually impervious to bumps or spills. List price new is $950 with pickup, $700 street, and much less used, of course. I picked up a 3-year old Concert size cutaway with electronic pickup, similar to the current GPCX1AE, on eBay for $270. I spent $50 to have it set up to Adam’s specs, and another $50 to get the frets polished, and it’s a joy to play. I recommend them for living room, on the street, or in a crowded pub.
Never gig with anything you wouldn’t be happy to whack a drunk ( or a dodgy bass player) with!
Adam, I have all your jazz CDs and your early books. You are a fantastic jazz player and acoustic player!! Your more than just a guitarist your a real musician! Bravo!
Music Ben says
Yes indeed! It should be the first question a guitar sales person asks… Where are you going to play it? It seem so often the first question is “what is you price range?” Like anyone needs a $800 guitar when there only audience is the cat and some houseplants, with the occasional drunken fray at a camp site. The reality is that you will add guitars to your collection if you keep playing over the years. I’v never met a player who keep playing for more than 3 years who didn’t own several guitars.
“Never gig with anything you wouldn’t be happy to whack a drunk ( or a dodgy bass player) with!
I just added a Yamaha Nylon string frame guitar. Yes it’s for stage, and perfect to whack a drunk with 🙂 Thansk for the comment – AR
Peter Gibbs says
That’s’ interesting … I have a mid range Maton EM325C which sounds great amped up … but a little light sounding in the lounge room. I don’t play gigs, so wish to switch to better sounding “lounge guitar”. I’ve never heard you mention Martin guitars. most Americans treat them like they are the Holy Grail. What are your thoughts on them? I was thinking of buying one (if I ever save that much money). Collings also has a great sound.
Adam Rafferty says
Peter – late reply here. Martins can be great or can be so-so. Depends on teh actual guitar itself. Collings are really excellent, but again, pick one that resonates with you – they all differ slightly.
Peter Bergenske says
Comment for the article, very interesting. Can you comment on use of a sound hole cover as a solution to feedback? Thanks.
Robert Harding says
Hi Adam, as mentioned above, you can also purchase Maton pickups from their factory in Melbourne (Australia). I fitted an AP5 (original) to a guitar that I had made a few years ago. It was not an easy thing to do to a finished guitar….i.e. remove saddle, fit pickup through sound hole (all the while thinking “why am I doing this”) blah, blah. I just wished that I had fitted it during manufacture !
To anyone who is interested in doing the same, I would suggest checking out the guitar’s string spacing as compared to a Maton, and then deciding whether to go ahead with the project. I also had to lower the string height considerably to get it to work.