Most guitarists probably don’t know much about the insides of their acoustic guitars, other than their inexplicable ability to make picks disappear into the ether. The focus is typically on guitar wood choice and body type of an acoustic guitar rather than what’s going on inside. However, the inside of an acoustic is home to an incredibly important feature—bracing.
Bracing is an essential and often overlooked part of acoustic guitars that players should know more about. This article will cover the basics of what bracing is, why it matters, and the most common acoustic guitar bracing types. So get ready and brace yourself to learn all about acoustic guitar bracing.
What Bracing Is and Why It Matters
The top and the back of acoustic guitars are reinforced on the inside with strips of wood. This reinforcement is known as bracing. Bracing is added to minimize the pressure the strings exert on the top and back of the guitar. Since tops and backs are a thin, flat piece of wood, they would begin to bend and break without bracing.
On top of that, bracing has an impact on tone. Braces will change the way the top and back of the guitar vibrates and resonates, which in turn helps shape the tone. Having more braces will limit the top’s vibrations, and having fewer braces will allow the top to vibrate more. This all plays a very important role in how an acoustic guitar sounds.
It should be noted that bracing is subject of much debate. The resonance of an acoustic guitar is an incredibly complex thing, even for those with high end tools and decades of experience. Like most things with guitar, bracing is largely a subjective thing.
Also, many lower end manufacturers use bracing as a marketing point. For example, some cheap acoustics are advertised as having the coveted Martin-style X bracing. But fancy bracing won’t have much impact at all on a cheaply made guitar with a poorly made top. Bracing only becomes a very important factor on higher end guitars with well made tops, so keep that in mind when shopping for acoustics.
Types of Bracing
Acoustic guitar manufacturers use many different types and forms of bracing on their guitars. There are three common types of bracing that are used on most acoustic guitars, and those will all be covered here. There are also other types of bracing though, and some manufacturers like Martin even have their own styles of bracing. Without further adieu, let’s delve into acoustic guitar bracing types.
Transverse bracing, also known as straight bracing or ladder bracing, was one of the earlier types of bracing used by guitar manufacturers. It was invented by George Fullerton in the early 1900s, though its roots date back to Spanish guitars from the 1500s. Transverse braces are placed horizontally or at a slight angle across the guitar, going perpendicular to the top grain.
In terms of modern acoustics, full transverse bracing has become rare. It provides little support to the guitar’s top, and most agree that it just doesn’t sound as good as other forms of bracing for most music. Transverse bracing was largely replaced with X bracing in the 60s due to X bracing’s improvements in support and sound. It is still used occasionally for back bracing though.
Transverse bracing has gained some popularity though for players looking to capture the sounds of older blues, folk, and country music. It can produce a more treble heavy sound that works well with those older styles.
Fan bracing originated in the 1800s from luthier Antonio de Torres, and it is predominantly used on gut and nylon string guitars. It has tons of variations, but the basic principle is to use thin braces that fan out from the sound hole in parallel with the top’s wood grain.
In general, fan bracing produces a warmer and more mellow sound from the guitar, allowing the top to resonant more freely. This makes fan bracing perfectly suited for classical guitars, as players typically want a warmer, more organic sound. Fan bracing is still the main form of bracing used on classical guitars, though manufacturers and luthiers have made many modifications and improvements over the years.
However, fan bracing does have its downsides. It typically doesn’t provide enough support for high tension, steel string acoustics, which is why it is usually used on classical guitars. Tonally, the warmer sound can be a negative depending on your preferences. And again, the warm tones produced by fan bracing are often undesirable for steel string acoustics.
X bracing was introduced by Martin Guitars in the 1850s. There were two things that prompted Martin to create and implement X bracing—acoustics needing more support and players wanting more volume from their acoustics. To this day, X bracing is one of the most common and popular acoustic guitar bracing types.
X bracing involves creating an X shape with braces just under the sound hole, as well as other support braces across the top. The top having more support means that it can be made thinner, allowing it to resonate better. In general, X braced guitars a more warm and full tone with an emphasis on bass and midrange.
As with everything though, X bracing has tradeoffs. The biggest issue with X bracing is the sustain vs volume issue. A stiffer top means more sustain and less volume, while a flexible top means more volume and less sustain. Since X bracing is more sturdy, a sacrifice is made in terms of sustain.
Scalloped X Bracing
As the name implies, scalloped X bracing is just regular X bracing but with scalloped braces. That means the braces are worked down in the middle to create a smooth and symmetrical curve. Scalloped X bracing allows the top to resonate more freely at the cost of less support. Many laud scalloped X bracing for its bass response, particularly on full sized dreadnoughts. It can also create more overtones and increase treble response.
Originally, all Martin steel string acoustics featured scalloped bracing. In the 40s, Martin stopped scalloping their braces due to issues with durability. The lack of support led to many guitar tops bending and breaking, and non-scalloped braces fixed that issue.
Despite that, players seemed to love the scalloped bracing. Eventually, Martin started to use scalloped X bracing on certain models in the 70s due to the demand. Martin still uses scalloped X on many of their popular models.
Newest but not least is V bracing. V bracing a relatively new innovation from Taylor Guitars, and it immediately became a popular form of bracing. It involves two long braces that start at the bottom of the guitar, stretching up to go to either side of the soundhole. V bracing also typically uses a few other small braces to further support the top.
The end result is a top that can resonate more freely and produce more sustain and volume. V bracing tends to bring out more of the highs, as well as create more distinction between notes. This makes V bracing a very popular option amongst fingerstyle players, as that note separation is crucial for that style of playing.
The main downside of V bracing comes down to tonal preference. Many players prefer a more mid or bass heavy sound, which V bracing does not provide. While V bracing is a great option for certain sounds and style, X bracing is still the predominant type of bracing used on modern acoustic guitars.
Other Types and Variations of Bracing
Though those are the main acoustic guitar bracing types, there are other types of bracing used less commonly. Tone bar bracing is often used on archtop guitars and mandolins, and many luthiers have their own custom bracing types.
There are also many different variations of the common bracing types. Many manufacturers shift bracing up or down within the guitar for different tones. Martin has various models with forward or rear shifted X bracing. Some emphasize the use of quartersawn braces, meaning wood that is cut perpendicular to the grain for improved stability.
Though the insides of our acoustic guitars may be a mystery to many of us, they shouldn’t be. The bracing used in acoustics has a huge impact on their durability, tone, sustain, and more. Each of the types of bracing has their own advantages and disadvantages, making them more or less suited for certain styles. When looking at acoustic guitars, be sure to do your research and understand what the different acoustic guitar bracing types are and how they impact the guitar.