What’s in between a 1/4 and a jumbo guitar? Well, as it turns out, a lot of other guitar sizes. Many brands make unique sizes of guitars, making it hard to shop for the right fit. However, this guide will give you key factors to guide your search.
First, How Do You Measure Guitar Sizes?
There are two main ways you can measure the size of a guitar: by its scale or by its total size. This rule applies to both acoustic and electric guitars because they can follow similar size metrics. But which one is more important?
Measuring Scale Length
Your guitar’s scale length runs from the nut right under the headstock down to the bridge. In simpler terms, it’s where the strings on your guitar are. It’s more important to measure this than anything else because it’s what you’ll be directly using to play music.
Yes, your guitar’s body can make a difference in how comfortable it is. But even the most comfortable guitar body won’t work if the scale length feels awkward to you. Plus, you can have different guitar sizes with the same scale lengths.
If you want to calculate a guitar’s scale length, lay it flat on a table. Use a ruler to measure from the nut to the bridge for a rough estimate.
You might notice that some guitar bridges have an angle, which makes measurements uneven. In those cases, try this trick: measure from the nut to the twelfth fret and multiply it by two. So, if you get 12 inches, then your guitar’s total scale size is 24 inches long.
How Does Scale Length Affect Music?
The most apparent way that scale length affects your music is through comfort. To give you an idea of what we mean, larger guitar sizes tend to have the first fret sit much farther away from the body. It can be difficult for a smaller person to properly hold their guitar, if it’s too big.
If you play music while standing up, it can become a challenge to reach and hold it while playing. You might not notice it the first time you play, but it can add up to body pain over a long period.
Beyond comfort, more extended guitars allow for tighter string tension. That produces a more profound, humming sound. They also feature thicker strings, which you might prefer if you’re going for a rounder sound.
Basically, your guitar size directly affects what its strings can do. Before you buy a guitar, you should consider your target genre to get the most of its scale length and body. Later in this article, we’ll cover what some of the most popular genres are for different sizes of guitars.
Measuring Total Length
Even though the total guitar length doesn’t always make a difference in how you play the guitar, it can make a difference for traveling or storage. This measurement captures your guitar’s total size from the end of its body to the tip of its headstock.
When you’re playing a song on your guitar, you never really touch the headstock or below the bridge. So even though it’s good to know the total size of a guitar you’re eyeing, it can be a misleading way to compare two options.
Regardless, a full-size guitar will typically be around 25 inches. It may be slightly higher or lower depending on what brand you buy from.
What Are the Most Popular Acoustic Guitar Sizes?
There are plenty of different sizes for guitars. They can come with special strings, materials, or cutaway designs that make each one unique.
While that can make shopping for it fun, it can also get overwhelming fast. Thankfully, many brands will break down their guitar sizes into four relative options:
- ¼ Size
- ½ Size
- ¾ Size
- 4/4 (Full) Size
When you look at that, you might think that a ¼ guitar is precisely a quarter of the length of a 4/4. However, that’s not the case.
Companies use these measurements to make it easier for customers to pick their fit. It would get complicated if they only listed each guitar’s exact scale length, especially for new guitarists.
For that reason, we encourage you to check a guitar’s scale length, even if you’re comparing two ¼ size options.
If you’ve checked these four sizes but want to know if there are any in between, you’re in luck. Below, you can read about ten different acoustic guitar sizes and their best genres in more depth.
¼ Sized Guitars: The Guitarlele
A guitarlele has a higher-key noise than its larger counterparts but still offers a balanced sound.
For most adults and teenagers, this will still be too small. But for a child, it can be the right size for their learning stage. A standard guitarlele has a scale length of around 19 inches.
½ Sized Guitar
These guitars add a few more inches at around 22 inches total. For that reason, they’re still best for younger people or children. A ½ guitar size is the smallest you could typically go without removing the traditional large acoustic guitar sound.
¾ Sized Guitar
A ¾ sized guitar is a step behind the first full-size option. Petite adults or those with small hands might get this as a comfortable alternative to a traditional dreadnought. These guitars will normally run around 24 inches long at the scale.
The Parlor Guitar
If you don’t want a full size nor a ¾ sized guitar, the parlor meets you in the middle. Many women enjoy this size because it produces a rich, balanced, midrange sound without getting so large it’s uncomfortable.
You can find parlor guitars with a cutaway shape that makes them suitable to rest on your knee while you’re sitting.
The parlor guitar was famous from the late 19th century to the 1950s. Turn on an older song from the blues, folk, or classical genres, and you’ll probably hear this one in action.
The only downside is that its size stops you from reaching a deep booming sound. Parlor guitar scale lengths tend to go from 25 inches and lower.
The Concert Guitar
This size of guitar is the parlor’s larger cousin. It offers the same sound but with a slightly richer, more comprehensive range due to its larger body. It’s ideal for finger-style playing and leans toward a scale size of 25 inches that keeps it comfortable.
There’s also the Grand Concert Guitar, a small bridge between this one and the next size. Unlike the larger Auditorium size, though, the Concert guitar tends to have a shallower body.
The Auditorium Guitar
At this stage, your guitar would have a 25-inch scale length on a bulkier body. It can still have a cutaway shape for comfortable knee placement, and it offers more depth for lower range noises.
As the name hints, you could use this for a great sound in live performances. It might be easy to confuse with its smaller counterparts, the Concert and Grand Concert guitars. But listen to their noise to tell the difference. The Auditorium has a more resonant, bass-filled sound than the bright Concert guitar.
The Dreadnought Guitar
The dreadnought guitar has a bulky, hollow body that’s fit for playing deep, lower range sounds. It’s a standard among musicians who play bluegrass songs or folk music, and it weighs about four to five pounds. Today, it’s arguably the most popular guitar body on the market.
Like the auditorium guitar, the dreadnought usually has a scale length of 25 inches. But it has a wider waist, so it’ll fall on your body differently from the others.
Regardless, the dreadnought has earned a reputation as the “Swiss Army Knife” of guitars. You can use it on stage, in a studio, in a group, or solo. A staple for playing lead guitar, you’ll NEED a dreadnought in your collection. In any use, you can count on it to be crisp and adaptable.
The Jumbo Guitar
It’s a great strumming guitar, but it’s also, of course, a jumbo. This is the kind of guitar that might make you consider investing in an attachable strap. On the flip side, if you take a jumbo to travel with you, it’s case size makes it the perfect canvas for world tour patches.
It can run over 25 inches on its scale and have a body around 40 inches.
Be sure to learn how to clean your guitar strings properly, no matter which size or style you choose!
Why Should I Consider a Smaller Guitar?
Small guitars are best for travel and children.
If you’re shopping for a kid, though, you might not know what age warrants what size. Use our quick guide below to see how smaller sizes of guitars fit different age groups.
Age to Guitar Size Guide
Even though we’ve covered acoustic guitars, the following guide also works for electric guitars.
- Ages 3-5: ¼ Size
- Ages 6-8: ½ Size
- Ages 8-10: ¾ Size
- Ages 10-12: ⅞
- Ages 11-12: 4/4
This rough guide can help start you on your search, but remember that even a ½ in two brands can have different scale lengths.
For example, a ¼ steel-string guitar tends to have between 483 and 486 millimeters in length. Meanwhile, an electric guitar has a lower range starting from 440 to 486 millimeters.
Your mileage may vary. Some kids around nine years old are happy to play a full-sized guitar with no problem. That has an added benefit of getting them used to the whole experience early on.
Some people suggest getting a size larger than what you expect they’ll play. At least that way, they can grow into their size like shoes.
Also, electric guitars often have thinner body depths than their acoustic counterparts. So you can likely get away with a larger electric option while shopping.
Guitars for Travelling
If you’re a musician planning to get on the road, you should know that some companies make guitars specifically for that. For example, the Martin Steel String has a narrow body but keeps a longer scale length of 24 inches.
Generally, though, travel guitar scale sizes stick to around 22 inches long.
Most travel guitars run between ½ and ¾ sizes. You might worry that that’ll sacrifice the sounds you’d get from your favorite dreadnought or jumbo. But you can find a middle ground with foldable guitars that make it easier to pack without sacrificing body depth.
Are Electric Guitar Sizes Different??
In general, electric guitar sizes follow the same pattern as acoustic ones:
- ¼ Size
- ½ Size
- ¾ Size
- 4/4 Size
However, the right size for you in an acoustic guitar might not be the same as your size in an electric guitar. Electric guitars have a much thinner body, so they fit more comfortably than, say, a large hollow dreadnought’s body.
What truly makes electric guitars different is their weight and string count. Since they’re made of solid wood, they feel dense and sturdy.
First, we’ll cover weight. An electric guitar will weigh differently depending on if its body is solid or chambered.
There are three popular types of bodies: Hollow, Semi-Hollow, and Solid.
Also known as semi-acoustic electric guitars, these instruments have large empty spaces within the wood of their bodies. They produce a clean, warm sound that made it popular for Jazz and blues in the 1930s.
A full-sized hollow guitar will typically weigh around six pounds. If you size down to a ½, you could be looking at as low as three pounds.
Semi-hollow electric guitars also have chambers, but with a solid block of wood running through the center.
Don’t confuse this with chambered guitars, which may have holes in the shape of a honeycomb. Both of these relieve weight, but semi-hollow guitars may sound more resonant.
A full-sized semi-hollow guitar can weigh eight to nine pounds.
Solid guitar bodies don’t have chambers, allowing you to amplify them at much higher ranges without feedback issues.
The heaviest electric guitars weigh between nine to twelve pounds, like the Gibson Les Paul.
Unlike most acoustic guitars, electric guitars can have between six to twelve strings. Some, like the Gibson EDS-1275, even come with double necks. The more strings it has, the thicker and more ringing it’ll sound.
When you’re buying an electric guitar, look at these factors alongside its scale size. They can make a big difference in how you play.
What About Bass Guitars?
A standard, full-sized electric bass guitar will have a scale length of 34″. An example of this is on the Fender Player Precision Bass guitar. They can go shorter down to 30″, though.
Bass guitars are unique because their scale length runs down nearly the entire guitar. They often have solid bodies, though some semi-hollow options are available.
You can find electric bass guitars in ¾ and 4/4 sizes. There are ¼ and ½ sizes out there, but they’re rare because most kids start with acoustic guitars. They typically weigh about nine pounds.
Does Hand Length Affect Which Size You Should Pick?
Most adults can enjoy a 4/4 size guitar, regardless of how big their hands are. Even if you have small hands, you can often find a large guitar with a narrower neck to accommodate you. If you’re curious, though, you can measure your hand to see if a smaller size of the guitar will suit you.
Take a ruler, and sprawl your hand out over it. Then, measure the end of your pinky to the end of your thumb.
If your sprawled hand is under 170 millimeters, you might benefit from using a ⅞ sized guitar. Still, the measurement can be so subtle that you might not notice the difference at all.
What’s great is that there are plenty of guitars for those with small hands, so fear not if yours are on the smaller side!
Does Guitar Size Affect Neck Width?
Yes, to some degree. Most acoustic guitars have a neck width between 41 and 47 millimeters. Electric guitars offer more sizes with thinner necks, running from 41 millimeters and lower.
A narrow neck makes it easier to grab your guitar from any position. The downside is that it can also get crowded for your fingers or make it harder to strum properly.
With a wide neck, you give yourself more space to grip the right strings. But small fingers will have a hard time reaching across the entire neck.
Overall, there’s less variation in guitar neck width compared to scale length. But it doesn’t hurt to check your guitar’s specifications to see if this size would affect your playing.
Ultimately, picking the right guitar size comes down to what you’re comfortable with. That may sound obvious, but it’s crucial if you’re going to be playing it for a long time.
If you’re just starting to learn the guitar, the wrong size can discourage or even deter you from continuing. But the problem is in the instrument, not on you.
If you’re experienced, you might still benefit from having more than one size of guitar available. In either case, we encourage you to use this as a comprehensive guide to making an informed choice.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.