What is a Jazz Guitar….

Simply put a Jazz Guitar is any guitar on which you perform Jazz. Jazz is a style of music, it is not an instrument type. Musicians originally used hollow-bodied guitars because they were the first electric guitars available to them at time. It’s important to understand that every type of guitar does have a distinctive tone or sound.

Archtops/hollow-bodies tend to produce a rounder tone with a softer attach. Solid-bodied guitars tend to have stronger attach and more sustain. If the neck is bolted on they can also be much brighter sounding. They can also be played louder without feeding back through the amplifier. Whichever guitar you choose is a personal choice. Be warned though that even in 2023, some people still hear with their eyes and will think it’s wrong to play jazz on a solid-bodied guitar. 

  Semi-hollow bodied guitars fall somewhere in between the two. You can also use steel or nylon stringed acoustic guitar. However, those two choices will limit your opportunities to play with others a bit due to volume levels. 
  But f you choose an electric guitar, the amp needs to on every time you practice. It doesn’t need to be loud, but it needs to be on. Without it, you’ll have difficulty developing a touch on the instrument. 


    Roundwounds strings tend to produce more overtones. They can also produce audible squeaks when moving your fingers on them. This can be overcome with practice. As long the squeaks aren’t come through the amp, they are nothing of concern. Flatwound strings are more closely associated with the “jazz” sound. They aren’t really darker and some say. What they do is produce more of the fundamental of the note.        

   Heavier strings vs lighter strings. A lot of myths here. I used to play on 13’s these days I’ve gone down to 11’s(the string gauge I originally learned to play on). With the 11’s my guitar is also darker sounding. You’ll hear people say that heavier strings give them a darker, more jazz sound. On every guitar I’ve ever owned heavier strings have produced a bigger and brighter sound. They get the body vibrating more and pull out the sound of the woods used in the instrument more. Lighter strings make the body vibrate less, you are hearing more of the strings and less of the body than you are with heavier strings. Which strings should you use? Your choice, in the real world no one cares. The only one who ever ask you or care is another guitarist. I do however suggest that beginners use roundwound strings. You need to develop calluses on your fingertips and you also have to feel the strings under your fingers. Starting out with flatwounds won’t do that for you. Another thing to keep in mind is that flatwounds will have a higher tension than roundwound strings of the same gauge.

 Picks, this is a tough one. I use heavy gauge celluloid picks. Since also play finger style, these picks sound the closest to my fingers/nails. As a general rule the heavy the strings the lighter the pick gauge. You can experiment with all different types of picks. That’s a good thing to do as they all sound and feel  different. When starting out or working on technique, I strongly encourage you to stay with one pick. You need to develop consistency in your technique and tone. What f you’re constantly changing picks, that won’t happen. Once you can play and have a solid tone, that’s the time to experiment if you want to. I recommend any pick you like, but no lighter than medium guage. I used to make all of my students buy the Gibson large teardrop picks. They were black with either gold or silver writing on them. They aren’t the best picks out there. But what they do have going for them, if you didn’t hold them in what call the correct way, they sounded terrible. So they helped in developing a tone and also in developing picking technique. I don’t think this was done by Gibson on purpose, it was just a quirk of the cheap plastic they used in making them. 

    Which ever guitar, amp, picks, strings etc, you choose; it important to stick with it. I can’t recommend enough the benefits of staying with one guitar. While it’s true that a professional needs a variety of guitars in order different sounds, etc..the benefits of of really learning and getting inside of one instrument are tremendous. Learn everything about producing sound from it, it’s sustain, attack, dynamics, every little quirk of its personality. Learn how to get the most out of it. Develop your touch on that instrument. Then later, when you start looking for other guitars, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for. 

 Finally, if at all possible. Have your guitar setup by a professional. Don’t trust the folks working at the big box music store. They have good intentions but most of them know nothing about setting up a guitar properly. They were just assigned a job by the manager. It may cost you a bit more but taking it to a professional luthier or tech will ensure it’s done right. I’ve seen too many people quit simply because the guitar they had was unplayable. I always check my private students guitars, if I can’t play it how can expect them to. 

   I know a lot of information. Don’t over think it. When you’re starting out just start. Pick any guitar that you like and feels good to hold, roundwound strings, regular celluloid picks and go for it!!

  If you’ve been playing for a while, don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Have a listen to Jim Hall playing a 12 string acoustic.. sounds like jazz to me. (Track #3)

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