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I would like a loud sound without any amplification (purely acoustic sound). Which guitar traits affect it? Do you recommend any particular styles or brands of guitar?

I assume that guitars with heavier strings and bigger body are usually louder. Are there any other criteria, like the wood, its thickness, or the bridge? Which guitar bodies are designed specifically for louder sound?

I know, that the loudness doesn't really matter, other things like intonation and tone are surely much more important, but I'm currently interested in it.

What are your experiences?

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Bodies specifically designed for a louder sound are for example archtops or the european selmer maccaferri's. –  gumo May 15 at 9:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

M. Werner is close, I think, but not quite there. More important than the volume of air per se, is the pressure differential between the compressions and rarefaction of the air and the surface area over which the kinetic transfer takes place. It's all about the top: the "drumhead" of the guitar. A larger top will hit more air as it rises and pull more air as it falls. A softer wood will beat the air harder by offering less resistance to the source vibration.

The trade-off happens because if the wood is too soft won't endure the stress of the vibration. It shakes itself to pieces. But if the wood is too hard it won't vibrate with sufficient amplitude. Various coatings including chitin from crusteceans permit a softer wood without losing structural integrity.

So for maximum volume you want large dimensions (particularly the top), and as soft a wood as will endure the tension.

Also, strings with greater mass will transfer more energy to the top. There's a brand called D&R (perhaps, others too) that has a "compressed" string. The make .030 gauge wrapped string by taking a .032 (or higher) and then squeezing it down to .030. It bends like a .030 'cause it's at normal tension, but the increased mass means more signal.

But beyond that are flatwound strings, which lose a lot of the upper harmonics. You do get more of the fundamental, but those upper harmonics carry most of the "volume" because higher pitches achieve greater sonic intensity (in the act of hearing) at the same physical intensity. If you have a Bass singer and a Soprano yelling at the same volume, you can hear the Soprano from farther away. That's just the way human hearing works, it's not in the physics.

The same mass argument would tend to suggest that strings with larger atomic mass would transfer more energy. But then elasticity comes in and I don't understand that part.

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Cutaway guitars are silenter than standard ones. So if loudness is your priority forget about this feature.

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The more air you move, the more volume produced. So generally, bigger guitars, the dreadnaughts and jumbos, tend to have the most volume. However, that's not always the case; and there are many other factors that can contribute to the instrument's overall tone. Construction, wood types, bracing styles... The loudest guitar I ever heard was a pre-war Martin D28 at a fiddle contest. Everyone was playing unamplified, and that guitar cut through the rest of the combo with amazing power.

Sheer volume isn't much prized by most acoustic players, however. It's the quality of the tone and the overall balance. Many of those big guitars tend to be bass-heavy and "thumpy".

Many years ago, before electronic amplification was available, the way street performers went for more volume was the resonator-type guitars. That's why they were originally invented.

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