Why Are Electric Guitar Bodies, Necks, and Frets Small?


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If you have experience playing both electric and acoustic guitars, you might’ve noticed that there’s a pretty significant size difference between the two instruments. For many guitarists, it seems the most noticeable differences lie in the instruments’ body size, neck width, and fret size.

Electric guitars have smaller builds due to their different methods of amplification. They also tend to have thinner necks due to the playing style most commonly associated with the electric guitar.

This article will discuss the differences of build between acoustic, electric, and classical guitars. Read on to learn how each type of guitar build will affect your playing and which instrument is right for you.

Why Are Electric Guitars So Small?

There are a variety of factors influencing the size of an electric guitar. The most common factors that lead to a difference in size are resonance and playing style. 

Resonance

The biggest reason electric guitars have smaller bodies than acoustic guitars is that they use a different amplification method. Acoustic guitars rely primarily on resonance to create sound. Meanwhile, electric guitars rely on an electric amplifier to produce audible sound.

Because they require resonance, acoustic guitars need to have a significantly-sized hollow chamber within the body to produce a sound that is loud enough to hear. In short, natural resonance is created when the air within the chamber undergoes compression. This compression within the air amplifies the vibrations of the sound waves that the guitar’s strings initially created.

Guitars with bigger internal chambers are capable of producing louder sounds than guitars with smaller internal chambers.

Playing Style

Playing style has also influenced the evolution of the electric guitar. A thinner neck allows for more mobility, speed, and precision while playing single-note melodies or solos. Because electric guitars are featured often for solos, it’s practical for them to have thinner necks.

Are Electric Guitars Lighter Than Acoustic Guitars?

The electric guitar looks much smaller than the acoustic guitar, so it must be lighter, right? Wrong. Although there’s a significant size difference between the two instruments, it’s important to note that size doesn’t equal weight when it comes to guitars!

Electric guitars have a solid body, while acoustic guitars rely on having a hollow body for resonance. The solidity of an electric guitar body means that it’s much more compact, which makes it significantly heavier than a standard acoustic guitar.

Scale Length and Guitar Size

One factor that influences a guitar’s size is its scale length. Although scale length varies from guitar to guitar, someone may assume that electric guitars have longer scale lengths than acoustic guitars. This assumption isn’t valid. The average scale length of both electric and acoustic guitars is 25.5 inches (65 cm).

What Is Scale Length?

The scale length is the distance measured from the guitar’s nut to the saddle. The longer the scale length, the more tension you’ll place on the strings when you play it. The amount of tension on the strings can significantly impact the instrument’s tone and playability.

How Scale Length Affects Your Playing

The amount of tension on the strings affects the sound of the guitar. However, string tension also affects comfort and playability.

Guitar Tone

A guitar with a longer scale length often has a sharper, clearer tone. This change in tone is a result of the increased amount of tension on the strings. Contrarily, a guitar with a shorter scale length is known for its warmer, thicker tone.

Comfort and Playability

Believe it or not, scale length also plays a big part in your playing experience. Guitarists might avoid guitars with a longer scale length because they don’t like playing with strings holding more tension. Often, more tension in the strings can lead to discomfort as they dig into the fingertips of the fretting hand.

Do Electric Guitars Have Smaller Frets?

Standard electric guitars don’t have smaller frets than acoustic guitars. However, players may think electric guitars have narrower frets due to the longer scale length of the electric guitar. As the frets get closer to the body, they get smaller to accommodate the pitch and length of the fretboard.

Overall, the frets on an electric guitar are the same size and ratio as an acoustic guitar.

Types of Guitars and Neck Thickness

The thickness of a guitar’s neck varies depending on the type of guitar and the style it’s intended to play. The three main types of guitar are standard acoustic, standard electric, and classical nylon-string guitars.

How Neck Thickness Affects Playing

Out of the three types of guitar, electric guitars tend to have the narrowest necks. This difference in build is partly because electric guitars mainly work with strings of thinner gauges than acoustic guitars.

People that predominantly play straightforward melodies and solos often prefer to play electric guitars because the more delicate neck makes it easier to utilize the bending technique.  

On the other hand, classical guitars have the widest necks out of these three types of guitars. Intricate fingerstyle pieces are more manageable with a broader neck because individual fingers need access to different strings to play multiple lines of music at once.

The wide neck of classical guitars allows for wider spacing between the strings, which allows for more precision with intricate pieces. This added space on the fretboard makes it the instrument of choice for classical fingerstyle players.

So, electric guitars have the narrowest necks, and classical guitars have the widest necks. That means standard acoustic guitars typically have necks of intermediate width. With a neck that isn’t too wide or too narrow, guitarists experience the best of both worlds, making it possible to experiment with both strumming and picking.

Guitar Neck Thickness Throughout History

At first, electric guitars had almost the exact same necks as acoustic guitars. However, as playing styles changed over the years, so did the structure of the electric guitar. This evolution is evident in the differences in style between typical electric guitar pieces and acoustic guitar pieces.

As I mentioned before, electric guitars work well for soloing and playing single notes in succession, making a thinner neck favorable.

Acoustic or Electric: Which Is Right for Me?

If you’re thinking about buying a guitar of your own, you may be struggling to decide between an acoustic or an electric guitar. The two instruments have many differences that should be considered, like their amplification methods and portability. However, the size of the instruments’ neck and body may also influence your decision.

Amplification Methods

As I explained earlier, acoustic guitars rely on resonance to produce audible sound. Electric guitars, on the other hand, need an external amplification tool to be heard. This extra step means that not only will you have to purchase the guitar itself, but you’ll also have to purchase an amplifier to go with it.

Amplification is an essential factor in deciding between acoustic and electric guitars; if you don’t already have an amp, buying one will add to the price significantly.

Portability

The portability of acoustic and electric guitars can vary depending on individual use. Although an electric guitar might look more portable at first glance due to its smaller body size, the size of your external equipment can drastically change the instrument’s portability. If you need to pack along a large amp to use your guitar, the portability decreases significantly. 

Acoustic guitars are a different story: you don’t need to bring any additional equipment to amplify the music. Overall, this makes the acoustic guitar more portable than its electric alternative. However, this isn’t true in all cases.

Guitarists planning to play in big concert halls or larger facilities often use an amp and a guitar built with pickups to amplify their instrument. Whether or not you’ll need an amp with an acoustic guitar depends on your personal use and expectations of the instrument.

Hand Size

Because they have thinner necks, electric guitars are often easier for people with small hands to play. This demographic usually includes women and children, considering they both have smaller hands than the average male. 

However, those looking for an instrument suited to smaller hands should consider that it’s also possible to find a smaller acoustic guitar than the standard size. It’s a good idea to spend time testing out different acoustic and electric guitars to find one that feels most comfortable to you and your playing style.

It’s necessary to take all of these factors into account when deciding to purchase a guitar.

Final Thoughts

The builds of different guitars have seen a long and complex history. Overall, electric guitars are known for their smaller necks and bodies, especially compared to acoustic guitars. This change in size is due to the solo-centric style of the electric guitar and its method of amplification.

If you’re on the fence between an acoustic or an electric guitar, you should try both instruments to get a feel for their playability. Finally, don’t forget to take the portability and cost of the guitar into account when making a final purchasing decision.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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