Guitar Aesthetics: Do Beautiful Guitars Make Better Players?

Aesthetics are important to many guitar players, as they can help make playing the instrument more enjoyable.

That was certainly the case for me nearly 25 years ago when I was shopping for my first guitar. My parents — and the music shop owner! — pushed me toward a sensible Squier Stratocaster.

But I had my eyes on something WAY cooler-looking: A Hamer Slammer Flying V in a black-silver sunburst. To 13-year-old Andrew, that instrument screamed rock n’ roll, and I knew it needed to be mine.

My parents ultimately gave in and purchased me the Flying V.

And I absolutely loved it!

I practiced until my fingers were sore and built a foundation for my guitar playing on that axe.

Of course, I came to my senses a couple years down the road and realized that particular axe didn’t fit my playing style or personality at all. People change, and that includes our tastes in instruments.

Did that cool-looking six-string help make me the player I am today? I certainly can’t argue that it didn’t help.

While there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that better-looking guitars make you play better, there is no denying that they can have an impact on your enjoyment of the instrument.

If you feel good about the way your instrument looks, you’re more likely to want to pick it up and play it. And when you’re having fun playing your guitar, you’re more likely to practice and improve your skills.

So, even though there’s no hard evidence that aesthetics makes guitar players better, there’s no harm in finding an axe that you think looks really good.

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Are the Aesthetics of a Guitar Important, and Why?

Let’s jump right into it: How your axe looks definitely carries some weight in a player’s ability to learn the instrument and ultimately play it well.

Girl holding two acoustics

There’s no exact science behind it, but like anything that can look good or bad, you’re going to be WAY more excited to play something you think looks good versus one that’s ho-hum.

Let me put it another way: Are you excited to drive a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu with 125,000 miles and a hint of rust around the bumpers? Probably not. On the other hand, if you had a 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid, you’d probably be volunteering to drive everywhere. Makes sense, right?

Of course, you can’t put all of your weight into the aesthetics of a guitar. Here are some reasons why it’s important and why you shouldn’t worry too much about it.  

Why Aesthetics Are Important

It’s worth mentioning why the overall look of a guitar plays an important role in your guitar journey.

Visual Appeal

There’s no denying the cool factor of owning a guitar that simply stands out in a crowd. Whether it’s a Gibson, a Fender Stratocaster, or a D’Angelico EXL-1, if it has flair and is aesthetically pleasing, people are going to notice.

And you know what? That’s going to feel pretty good.

Playing guitar is supposed to be fun. So, buying a guitar that looks fun can definitely help accomplish that goal.

Motivation to Play

D'Angelico jazztop

The way an instrument looks can have a significant impact on your motivation to play it.

For example, if you love the look of vintage instruments, chances are you’ll be more inclined to stick with them and practice more often, even if they’re potentially harder to play.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to aesthetics – what matters is what’s motivating for you. However, understanding how aesthetics can influence our performance is an important part of becoming a better players.

It’s Cool

People may be more likely to approach you and chat about music if you have a particularly awesome-looking guitar. This can be beneficial if you’re looking for new music fellow travelers or just want somebody to listen to your tunes.

Why Aesthetics Aren’t Important

While there is a correlation between good guitar looks and better playing, you shouldn’t overthink things. A well-crafted guitar that looks basic can still play well and sound great. Remember: the best guitar isn’t always the best-looking guitar.

Expensive

A Yamaha Strat

This isn’t always the case, but beautiful instruments also tend to be quite expensive.

Let’s be honest; you’ve never looked at a $150 Yamaha beginner guitar and said, “Whoa! That’s a beautiful-looking guitar!” Of course, you haven’t because in the case of Yamaha, most models are mass-produced using cheap materials, which, in return, look cheap.

Now, go set your eyes on a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster, and there’s a good chance you’re going to fall in love with the looks of it. That other guitar is WAY better looking. Of course, your heart will sink, however, after looking at the price tag.

For the most part, aesthetically-pleasing six-strings are pretty expensive.

Good Looks Don’t Necessarily Mean Good Tone

There’s a lot of mythology around the “good looks” of most guitars. It’s occasionally claimed that beautiful instruments always sound better.

However, there’s actually very little evidence to support these claims. That’s because no matter how good a guitar may look, 1) If you don’t know how to play it, it’s not going to sound good, and 2) fancy knobs, dials, and paint jobs don’t mean much for the tone.

Building a guitar is an art and a science. Some manufacturers, like PRS, have figured out how to create beautiful instruments that sound amazing, while other brands are only good on one end of that spectrum.

And if I’m being frank, the aesthetics of a guitar are highly subjective, while tone is slightly more objective.

Intimidating

A Gibson Explorer

The appearance of your guitar can have a significant impact on the playfulness of the instrument.

If the instrument looks intimidating or daunting, it may be harder for you to get into the groove and start playing effectively.

Some models use such a unique shape — like this Schecter E1 — that it’s downright uncomfortable to play.

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Should Beginners Worry About the Aesthetics of a Guitar?

There’s no doubt that the way a guitar looks can affect a purchasing decision, but is it essential for beginners to focus on aesthetics when searching for their first instrument? Some may argue they should, while others say stick with something basic.

Let’s look at the two arguments:

Buy a Flashy Model That’s Fun

A Telecaster

As I’ve mentioned, a flashy, good-looking instrument is fun to play. If playing is fun, there’s a high chance you’ll stick with the guitar.

And there’s nothing better than that! After all, the most challenging part about learning this insturment is getting over those initial humps, so if a great-looking axe can help you along the way, then more power to you.

Buy a Basic Model That Looks Good on You

If you’re more conservative in terms of style or just want a basic guitar that looks good, go for one that’s sleek but basic in design.

This buying strategy allows you to save money and own a reliable, basic instrument that sounds OK and that’s perfectly capable to learn on. While some beginners need a cool-looking guitar to stay motivated, that’s certainly not the case for everyone.

If looks aren’t a big deal for you, keep it basic and simply focus on learning how to play.

• • •

Does The Way A Guitar Look Determine How It Plays?

While many beautiful–looking guitars play great — just look at and listen to a Gibson Les Paul! — there’s no direct correlation between the two.

That being said, different aspects of a specific model impact its playability, sound, and overall appearance.

Let’s examine how that impacts acoustics and electrics. 

How Acoustic Guitar Looks Impact Playability

Two main facets of an acoustic guitar’s aesthetics impact its playability and appearance: Body size and the sound hole.

Acoustic guitars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but there are basically five different body types:

A group of different acoustic guitars
  • Dreadnought: Dreadnoughts are the most popular type of acoustic guitar. They’re the widest and deepest of the five, and they have a big sound.
  • Orchestra Model (OM): OMs, made famous by Martin, are an easy-to-hold version of a dreadnought with a slightly smaller sound hole. They can produce a big sound in a small package.
  • Classical: Classical guitars are typically narrower than dreadnoughts. The overall tone is typically smaller.
  • Jumbo (and Super-Jumbo): A jumbo or super-jumbo, like the Gibson SJ-200, is built like the combination of a dreadnought and an OM acoustic. They’re big and produce a big sound. 
  • Parlor: A parlor-size acoustic guitar is smaller all around, from the number of frets to the body.

How Electric Guitar Looks Impact Playability

There are many different types of electric guitar bodies on the market, and all have some kind of impact on the overall look of a guitar.

Let’s take a look at the three most popular types:

Three electric guitars

Solid Body Electric Guitars: These are the most common type of electric, and they’re typically made from a single piece of wood. They’re easy to maintain and look good, but they may not provide as much resonance as other types of guitars.

Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitars: Semi-hollow body guitars have a hollowed-out center section that makes them sound richer and fuller than solid-body guitars. They’re also easier to play because they offer more feedback and are lightweight. Since these are harder to make, they’re typically more expensive.

Hollow Body Electric Guitars: Hollow body electric guitars are unique in that their bodies are made from two or more pieces of wood that are then joined together. In my opinion, jazz guitars, like the ones manufactured by D’Angelico, typically have hollow bodies and look pretty classy.

• • •

Main Parts That Impact Its Looks

A guitar’s body is obviously the most crucial factor in the overall looks of a guitar. But other parts of the guitar have a significant impact on its appearance.

Headstock

Fender and Gibson headstocks

Headstock designs are iconic. They’re a big reason you can tell the difference between a Fender Strat and Gibson Les Pauls.

The aesthetic of a headstock can play a big part in your decision to purchase a new instrument ultimately.

Neck

neck

Manufacturers have gotten quite creative in making the necks of their guitars truly beautiful. 

Some new guitar makers put their maple wood necks through a thermal treatment process that “caramelizes” the neck, giving it a unique look and feel. 

Fingerboard

There are three main types of fingerboards:

different types of wood

Rosewood: Rosewood is the most common type of fretboard, and it offers a nice, smooth feel and a darker appearance.

Maple: Maple is a light wood that’s usually cheaper than mahogany and rosewood. It doesn’t offer as much resistance to the strings as mahogany or rosewood, but it has a warmer tone that some people find more pleasing. It’s the lightest of the three main fretboard woods.

Mahogany: Mahogany is a more resistant wood than rosewood, and it’s usually heavier than rosewood. However, it gives your instrument a brighter sound and has a longer lifespan than rosewood. It’s slightly lighter in color than rosewood.

Bridge

Some companies manufacture elaborate bridges that look really good. D’Angelico, for example, is known for its famous stair-stepper bridge used across its lineup of jazz and blues guitars.

Technically, there are three main types of bridges:

  • Fixed bridge: This type of bridge is attached to the headstock, and it stays in place throughout your playing career.
  • Tilt-back bridge: This type of bridge tilts back and forth along the length of the strings, allowing you to create different tones by varying the amount you tilt it back.
  • Adjustable bridge: This type of bridge allows you to fine-tune the height and angle of the strings relative to the fretboard.

• • •

FAQs

What makes a guitar design beautiful?

What makes a design beautiful depends on your personal taste. However, some of the main factors that might contribute to a guitar design’s beauty include its shape, color, and finish.

Is it safe to put stickers on a guitar?

A rocker jamming on a Strat

Stickers can be a fun way to personalize your guitar, but they can also damage your guitar’s paint job. This may not bother you much, especially if you own a cheaper guitar. I wouldn’t recommend putting stickers on an expensive guitar or a vintage model.

Can you swap out tone controls to improve your guitar’s appearance?

You can swap out tone knobs with new or used tone controls from other guitars that improve your instrument’s looks. Make sure they will fit the build of your instrument.

• • •

Find Your One Guitar That Looks Good

Woman with red hair checking out a red axe with a man

The aesthetics of an instrument can be a divisive topic, but there’s no denying that the way an axe looks can affect your playing experience and overall music journey. 

My best advice is to find a model that looks good to you — and is within your budget — and then practice until your fingers fall off. If you can shred on an ugly six-string, you can shred on a sexy model.

Remember: In the end, it’s just six strings and a fretboard. Just play guitar. Only guitarists who practice can make it sound good.

• • •

Image Credits

Fender Stratocaster headstock image: Beninho, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Les Paul headstock image: Martin Hesketh from London, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Guitar neck: Detlev Dördelmann (Wickler), CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons; Rosewookd stockpiles image: AnonymousUnknown author, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Mahogany lumber image: Marcin Wichary, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Maple guitar necks blanks image: Stephen Ondich, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Guitar with stickers image: Azotan78, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Featured image: Misha Frid (photo: Wayne Shotten), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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