Do cutaways affect the sound of an acoustic guitar? Does the size and shape of the cutaway play a factor in how the guitar will sound?
The acoustic guitar has many origin stories, but it is believed to have originated in the Uruk period between 3500 B.C. and 3200 B.C. Found on a small round cylinder from the region of Mesopotamia in Iraq is an engraved image that depicts a woman playing the “oud”. It is a fretless, pear-shaped, short-neck, plucked lute that was popular in Arabic culture at the time.
In Europe in the 15th & 16th centuries, the acoustic guitar undergoes rapid improvement. The Spanish invented the vihuela, a stringed instrument that resembles the modern-day acoustic guitar. In the 16th century, the baroque guitar managed to gain popularity in Spain, Italy, and France, with the instrument surviving until modern times.
All acoustic guitars that have existed in the ancient and classic periods have a non-cutaway design.
Many believed that the cutaway acoustic guitar was designed and patented by A.B. Ventura in 1828. The design of the guitar was that the top shoulders of the soundbox were cut in the shape of half-moons.
Another version of its origin is that it was made by a little known luthier named Rolando Deterritus, as he was working in southeastern Romania in the early 18th century. It was believed that the design was made accidentally as he shouted “radatata!” which is Romanian for “oops” as he slipped up in cutting his last guitar top. After the incident, he was forced to recontour the cut matched the back, and the cutaway was born.
For modern times, it was believed that Orville Gibson, the founder of the Gibson Guitar Company, popularized the cutaway design of an acoustic guitar. The company saw the advantage of using it as it gives greater accessibility to the upper frets was needed for soloing.
Do cutaways affect the sound of an acoustic guitar?
Yes, having a cutaway body design for your acoustic guitar affects its sound in some ways.
Acoustic guitars that have a cutaway design tends to be more treble-heavy sound and produce a slightly brighter sound. In contrast, non-cutaway designs tend to have better bass and a better volume and have an overall fuller sound.
Guitars are structured initially to have a full-body shape. Any physical changes to the design of the guitar also modify its original tonality. As cutaway-style guitars have been intentionally deformed, you’re removing a usable part of the body, which primarily serves as a resonance chamber, and as one would expect, this has a small impact on the overall sonic output of the instrument.
A cutaway guitar has a slight drop in the bottom-ends of the audible spectrum, but for those who intend to play lead parts, the cutaway guitar has an advantage as it sounds thinner than non-cutaway guitars.
What is the point of a cutaway guitar?
The best reason in the question why there is a cutaway design for an acoustic guitar is that it gives the player the accessibility to actually play the top frets of the guitar. Although it is possible to play the top frets using non-cutaway guitars, it would be challenging because your hand will not have any leverage behind the neck of the guitar.
Another advantage of a cutaway guitar is that it is lighter than non-cutaway guitars, and it is easier to handle as there is less body. Other players who does not like the boomy sounds of a non-cutaway guitar, will prefer the cutaway design as it reduces some of the bass frequencies.
Cutaway guitars make it easier for you to reach the high notes, and it also helps you be better in lead playing as the higher frets are accessible. It is also great for those who want to practice the scales as it lets you use more frets compared with a traditional body shape.
Cutaways affect the sound of an acoustic guitar, certainly. However, in most cases, there is barely any noticeable difference between the two designs, especially when the sound is not amplified.
Many lead guitar players that use acoustic guitars prefer a cutaway design as it lets you reach the higher frets easily than a non-cutaway. Using non-cutaway design in lead sections is more problematic as it has a restrictive upper fret access.