3/4 Guitar vs Full-Size (Key Differences & Selection Tips)

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  • If you thought 3/4 guitars were only for children… think again!
  • Discover if it’s easier to use 3/4 guitars
  • Find out who uses 3/4 guitars
  • And how guitar sizes influence the sound of the instrument

Purchasing an instrument that fits the player can make or break one’s experience, especially in the case of beginner guitars.

Nothing will stop a budding guitarist dead in their tracks faster than an instrument that is uncomfortable to play, sending many a six-string to the back of the closet to gather dust.

Fortunately, guitar manufacturers are well aware of this, and as a result, the market is abundant with a plethora of guitar types adopting various shapes, and sizes.

While this provides an immediate solution, it can also breed confusion about what size instrument is appropriate for you.

In this article, we’ll go over the differences between 3/4 and full-size guitars, so you can make a more informed buying decision before you part with your hard-earned cash.

Key Differences: 3/4 vs Full-Size Guitars

The immediate and most notable difference between a 3/4 size and full-size guitar can be attributed to guitar scale length. The scale length of a guitar is determined by measuring the distance between the nut and the bridge saddles.

  • Full-sized guitars will have a scale length that is longer than 24 inches whereas a 3/4 guitar will have a scale length between 20 and 24 inches.

Guitar scale length will directly influence how a guitar feels to play as string length will influence how much string tension is present while playing.

The shorter scale of a 3/4 guitar will result in a lighter, slinkier feel making it easier to fret and pull the guitar strings.

In addition to this, the shorter scale will lead to the distance between frets being shorter, resulting in a more effortless playing experience for those with smaller hands and shorter fingers.

Unfortunately, a downside of the short scale of a 3/4 scale lies in how this may affect the instrument’s ability to hold tune.

The good news is that this phenomenon can be combatted by utilizing various gauges of guitar strings while setting up the guitar for peak performance.

The longer string distance on a full-size guitar will result in more tension on the strings and further distance between the frets.

Inherently this will lead to players with larger hands feeling less cramped than they would on a 3/4 size guitar, enabling ease of motion for the player’s fretting hand.

Besides scale length, another factor that will differ between full-size electric and acoustic guitars and their 3/4 variants will relate directly to the body size of either instrument.

Usually, a 3/4 guitar will feature a body size of 36×13 inches, while a full-size guitar will be 40×15 inches.

This difference in size will immediately impact how the instrument feels in the lap of the player and also how it will hang from a strap while standing.

It is also worth mentioning that the size of the body will have an influence on the sound of the guitar.

This is especially true when talking about the tone of a full-size acoustic guitar, as the hollow body of an acoustic guitar will determine the depth of the instrument’s sound and how far the sound is projected from the soundhole.

A full-size acoustic guitar will have a noticeably fuller tone than a 3/4 guitar, which will sound inherently brighter.

This applies more to the nature of acoustic instruments but may also be noticed by some on electric guitars.

Guitar Size Considerations

Just like the guitars, players come in all shapes and sizes, so it is needless to say that someone with smaller hands, such as a child, will benefit greatly from a 3/4 size guitar.

On the other hand, a 3/4 size guitar will likely feel too cramped for an adult, and the continued use of a 3/4 instrument will be uncomfortable and could even lead to potential problems such as tendonitis over time.

However, it is wrong to assume that 3/4 guitars are only an applicable option for kids, as many adults have made good use of them in popular music over the decades.

A 3/4 bass may be a fantastic option for guitar players transitioning to bass or laying down bass tracks in the studio.

Usually, a 3/4 bass will have a scale length of around 30″, much closer to the standard 25.5″ scale of an electric guitar than the more traditional 32″-34″ scale found on many basses.

This will make the transition between instruments far more comfortable.

Who Has Used 3/4-sized Guitars?

You may be surprised to find out that some working musicians have adopted the use of 3/4 “also affectionately known as parlor” guitars in their performances, both live and in the studio.

Likely the most well-known example of a professional musician utilizing a 3/4 guitar is the case of 4 x Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran.

Ed has even had a signature model parlor guitar bestowed on him by acoustic guitar behemoths Martin guitars.

The reasons why Ed favors 3/4 guitars can likely be attributed to the fact that he had spent much time busking during his formative years.

The diminutive form of the 3/4 guitar would also be a great for traveling and regularly setting up public performances.

He has also mentioned that he prefers the bright chimey tone of a 3/4 for his music as opposed to the deeper rounder sound of a full-size acoustic guitar or classical guitar.

Another instance in which a professional musician has utilized a 3/4 guitar in their performance throughout their career can be found in the case of the late Edward Van Halen.

During the 1980s Eddie could often be seen brandishing a tiny 3/4 Les Paul custom-made by boutique guitar builder David Petschulat for the song “Little Guitars” from the 1982 Van Halen album “Diver Down”.

It is also worth noting that Petschulat had also built miniature guitars for the likes of Nancy Wilson and Howard Leese of the Seattle Band heart as well as international sensation singer/songwriter Jackson Browne.

Finally, the great Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson was famously photographed with his worn Gibson L-1 model parlor guitar during the 1930s.

He most certainly would have taken to the crossroads with him, firmly establishing the folklore that would permanently integrate into Rock n’ Roll history.

Which is Right For You?

While exploring the topic of guitar sizes some readers may still be left scratching their heads as to which type of instrument is most appropriate for their uses.

Needless to say, in the case of a beginner under the age of 12, a 3/4 size instrument will offer the most comfortable playing experience.

This is most desirable as it will encourage the player to keep developing until they feel the need to move onto a full-size guitar further down the line.

In the case of older players, it is a matter of experimentation and acknowledging what you require from your instrument.

Typically one may be quick to draw the line and summarise that a full-size guitar is the best option for an adult player.

However, despite this notion, some more adventurous adult players could find that experimenting with a 3/4 may provide some pleasing tonal variations.

It may even provide extra functionality that they simply cannot obtain from a full-sized instrument.

As to which guitar size is right for you — it depends on your own specific needs and requirements.

Therefore, I recommend that you try everything that you have at your disposal to answer this question for yourself.

Regardless of your final decision, hopefully, this article has aided in providing some insight and perspective into the world of guitar sizes and how they apply to the arsenal of the modern-day musician.