Terminology for the sound of an acoustic guitar

In the guitar world, guitarists discuss the timbres guitars produce in terms that may not be familiar to many musicians. This glossary briefly describes some of these terms, without aiming for completeness. Judging sound is of course very personal. For example, one guitarist prefers sparkling highs and the other prefers warm bass tones. Tastes differ and that is of course allowed. But to get to know those different flavors, here is a glossary:

Attack: The response of a guitar – or in other words, how quickly the sound reaches its peak volume. By playing with a pick, for example, you get much more attack.

Balance: A guitar where lows, mids and highs support each other and the notes flow into one harmonic entity.

Bassy: A guitar where the bass tones dominate. The larger the guitar, the more powerful the bass response. 

Bright: A guitar where the high tones dominates, in other words a guitar in which the treble is emphasized.

Complex: A guitar sound in which the tones contain a lot of harmonic detail in both the higher and lower frequencies.

Compression: The way a guitar produces a natural equalization effect. A mahogany top produces more equalization than for instance spruce. The equalization effect can reduce the attack when strumming vigorously.

Crispy: A ‘crispy’ sound can be characterized by its sharp tone with a clear and precise attack. The emphasis is on the high tones. 

Dark: the bass tones dominate.

Dry: Tones with a strong low focus, minimal overtones and a short sustain.

Fierce: A fierce guitar sounds sharp with a high attack and lots of treble

Growling: A particular overdriven sound produced by a guitar with a larger body, often as a result of a hard playing.

Intonation: The accuracy with which the notes on the different frets match the correct pitch.

Piano-like: A guitar that sounds like a piano with bright sparkling tones and excellent clarity of individual notes.

Projection: The physical range of the sound, in other words, the sound of a guitar with a lot of projection extends beyond those with a low projection.

Resonant: A guitar with a high resonant sound is characterized by long sustain with a strong presence in the lower and midrange frequencies. The guitar has a high reverberation and the tones blend harmoniously. See also warm, woody, complex and rich sound characteristics .

Responsive: A guitar’s response refers to how the guitar reacts to being played. A responsive guitar makes it easy to play soft and loud tones with subtle variations in volume and tone. The sound is then clear and full.

Rich: When an acoustic guitar produces a rich sound, it exhibits a well-balanced frequency response across the low, mid and high ranges. A rich sound refers also to the terminology of warm, resonant, woody and complex timbres. 

Round: Guitar with a round sound does not sound sharp. Low and mid are more dominant than high.

Sparkling: Usually used to describe acoustic guitar tone with pleasing clarity and tone definition, often with more overtones and no distortion. Especially the tones higher on the neck sound ‘sparkling’. See also “Piano-like”. The high tones also often linger for a relatively long time. Sparkling is often used as a counterpart to ‘warm’.

Sustain: The length of time that a note continues to be heard.

Warm: A sound with relatively many low and mid frequencies and somewhat softer high frequencies.

Wide: A ‘wide’ guitar sound refers to a sound that has clearly audible lows, mids and highs, in other words, guitars with a spacious or expansive character. In addition, the ‘wide’ sound is also characterized by natural reverberation and a lot of sustain.

Woody: A woody sound refers to a warm, resonant tonal quality that resembles the natural characteristics of wood. The emphasis is mostly on the midrange frequencies. 

Woolly: Warm sound, but with less sustain.

Which tones characterize Homestead guitars?

To answer that question, as we are not objective, we use the comments from the test reports of the magazine Guitarist.

“An impressive volume, with a warm timbre. The sound is perfectly balanced in proportion. This guitar sounds very exuberant and responsive right out of the hardcase, with a nice sustain. The intonation is perfect, so is the adjustment” (test of a Grand Auditorium with cutaway, Guitarist no. 319, October 2017).

“It is noticeable that the Slopeshoulder Dreadnought has a slightly firmer low end and sounds a bit less bright (than an OM with cutaway).” (Guitarist no. 333, December 2018).

About a 12-fret DS: “The sound of this DS is indeed a breath of fresh air. Lows, mids and highs are perfectly matched and the guitar is also very responsive, reacting instantly to the dynamics of your playing. The volume and projection are also impressive.” (test of a 12-fret Dreadnought Slopeshoulder, Guitarist no. 344, November 2019).

About the two Danny Vera models, a jumbo and an OM: “The sound of both guitars is equally impressive. The jumbo has a slightly louder and wider sound, which occasionally resembles a piano. The OM sounds were lighter and more defined. The difference in sound cancels out the similarities: a particularly beautiful, balanced sound.” (Guitarist no. 359, February 2021).

Robin van de Poll, 18 July 2023