This article is an attempt to answer one of the most common questions a beginner guitarist can ask, namely “Is a cutaway better than standard acoustic Dreadnought?”.
As you probably expect the answer is not so obvious and will depend on a few things.
- do you need the upper frets,
- tone preferences,
Visual differences between cutaway and non-cutaway guitars
The visual difference is pretty straightforward. There is an indentation in the upper part of the guitar body that is adjacent to the guitar neck. This design is useful if you want to have easy access to the upper frets.
How does a cutaway affect a guitar’s sound?
Some people say that the cutaway construction doesn’t affect sound, which is not true. If you change the body of a guitar where the sound resonates, it will definitely change the tonal output. The question is: will it affect sound in any considerable way, and will it affect sound in a positive or negative way.
The answer to the latter is: it depends.
The sound of a guitar without a cutaway has an overall fuller sound and better bass, while a guitar with a cutaway tent to be more treble heavy.
The difference is very slight, and if you have to compare two identical guitars from the same companies, made from the same materials, same strings, but one with a cutaway and the other without, It would be very hard to distinguish sound differences.
In this youtube video, you can compare two Gibson guitars. The only difference is a cutaway. If you have good speakers, you can try to hear two guitars and try to find differences between them.
Can you notice any differences without looking at the videos?
Which guitar you prefer will depend on your subjective taste. Some people find the sound of a cutaway guitar to be more balanced while others find it to be too bright.
But there are much more things that contribute to the sound than just cutaway, such as guitar body, the positioning of a guitar, positioning of a waist, tonewood used for the sides, top and back of a guitar, materials used for the bracing, bracing pattern, kerfing and a gauge.
As you can see a cutaway is only one of many factors when it comes to sound.
When to consider a cutaway
There are a few reasons why you should consider a cutaway.
With a cutaway, you have access to more frets on the higher octaves, which will enable you to play more notes compared to a non-cutaway guitar.
You can also consider cutaway if you are a beginner because you will have easy access to the whole fretboard. If you don’t need to use those frets, you don’t need a cutaway.
It’s a good idea to buy a cutaway guitar if you are going to play occasional leads and solos. You never know when you might want to compose a solo and the absence of cutaway can be a real bottleneck as the access to upper frets becomes more difficult.
The last reason you may consider a cutaway is aesthetics. Some people think this design looks cooler.
Some people prefer the sound of a cutaway guitar. So easy access to the upper frets may not be the only reason to choose cutaway.
When to consider a non-cutaway
Non-cutaway guitars are considered to have a fuller sound and more bass, so if you don’t need access to the upper frets, and you like the sound of the non-cutaway guitar more, then you should probably consider this design.
You like the standard symmetrical Dreadnought look more than a cutaway.
What about Electric-acoustic guitars?
Electric-acoustic guitars don’t always have a cutaway, but usually, they do. With an electric-acoustic guitar, which is plugged into an equalizer, you can boost the bass and tweak the sound any way you want.
This means that you have the advantage of a non-cutaway sound (if you consider it as an advantage) and at the same time you also have easy access to the upper frets.
Yes, it’s true that there are differences between cutaway and non-cutaway, but unless you have very discerning ears, you won’t notice the difference and if you are going to be plugged to an EQ, it really won’t affect anything.
Personally, I would go with a cutaway, but everybody has their own taste.