What’s Better, a 38 Or 41 Inch Guitar For Beginners?

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So, you’re considering a guitar. If you are intimidated by the hundreds of terms to learn just to purchase a guitar, don’t worry, you’re in good company! Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have some more confidence on the size of the guitar to buy.

If you’re shorter than 5’2″, then a 38 inch guitar is going to play more comfortably. Otherwise, if you are taller than 5’2″ then there is less probable reasons not to get a 41″ guitar longer than 38 inches. In either case, the 41 inch guitar will likely have a bigger body which means it will be louder with more bass in its sound.

I have to say that it’s not so simple as all that–I’m only talking about the experience I have with me and my wife. We have a smaller Fender acoustic that is about 40 inches long and my 5’0″ wife much prefers to play the Fender than my 41 inch long Takamine.

It turns out that total guitar length in inches is not the golden standard to compare guitars (even when talking about sizes) Read on to find out what’s most important in picking out a guitar to play.

Deciding Between a 38 Inch or 41 Inch Guitar

What does the length of the guitar even mean? Let’s find that out real fast:

What Is Calculated In Total Length

So, the guitar is made up of multiple parts and sections. The total length of a guitar takes into account the body, neck, and headstock of the guitar.

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When you are asking about 38 inches or 41 inches, you are asking about the total length of the guitar.

As it turns out, the total length isn’t really all that useful because luthiers (people who make guitars) can design a guitar in such a way that the neck takes a greater proportion of the total length than another design.

In other words, you might not get the exact size of guitar you are looking for if you’re basing your decision solely based on the total length of your guitar.

That being said, total length is correlated with the size of the rest of the parts of the guitar. In other words, if you have a 41 inch guitar and a 38 inch guitar, there is a very high chance that the body of the 41 inch guitar is going to be bigger than the body of the 38 inch guitar.

Why Don’t All Guitars Show The Total Length?

You may have noticed in your research that only some guitars advertise the total length, while others use weird terms like “dreadnought”, or “jumbo”, or GS-Mini. This is because total length isn’t really a great measurement. It’s easily understood and communicates a lot of information quickly, but isn’t always helpful.

An analogy would be to talk about cars in terms of their length. Yes, a longer car might have more headroom than a smaller length of car, but it might not! It totally depends on the design.

It doesn’t mean that if the total length is advertised it’s a bad guitar, it’s just not the most helpful measurement.

How To Choose Between 38-Inch and 41-Inch Guitars

There are actually a number of reasons why you would choose one guitar size over the other. You are probably here because you are looking for a guitar for a beginner, so I’ll talk about reasons that make sense for what you are after.

Reasons To Go With a 38-Inch

As a beginner, you would want the 38-inch guitar if you’re a small person for the following reasons:

  • Smaller guitars can have thinner fretboards–this means it will be easier to reach from the top of the fretboard to the bottom (something that’s extremely necessary to do while making chords). This is not true when comparing classical guitar bodies to acoustic steel string. Read here for more details on the differences between classical and acoustic steel string guitars.
  • Smaller guitars can have shorter bodies–this means that the guitar will be lighter and easier to carry, and it will be easier to hold. Big guitars can be downright uncomfortable (if not impossible) to effectively play
  • Smaller guitars can have frets that are closer together–if you have small hands, you may find this to be critically important. Hand cramps plague all guitarists, but you might hurt yourself if you are stretching your hands beyond what you need to. (A more helpful measurement for this is scale length)

As a beginner, you would want the 38-inch guitar for sound purposes for the following reasons:

  • If you don’t want a boomy (lots of bass in the sound) guitar, then a smaller guitar is absolutely a great decision. Smaller guitars can have shorter bodies which means there is smaller resonance chamber. The smaller the resonant chamber, the less bass.
  • If you want a quieter instrument. Smaller guitars can have shorter bodies which means there is a smaller resonance chamber–this means a lower volume.
  • If you want to cut through the mix better. Because smaller guitars can have shorter bodies, this means that you will have less bass in your sound, which can help your guitar actually be heard if there is already a lot of other sound going on, especially in the low-end. Imagine a conference room with everyone having deep and low voices except for one person with a high voice. Even if the one person has a quiet voice, they will easily be heard in the crowd.

Reasons To Go With A 41-inch Guitar

This section is a lot more boring. If you’re an average or large person with average or large hands, then there really aren’t any restrictions as to the size of the guitar. (I suppose, though, if you have very large hands that might make playing small guitars feel cramped).

Sonically, though, there might be more reasons you want a 41-inch guitar

  • You want to be louder. Longer guitars can mean bigger bodies, and therefore bigger resonance chambers, which means you will be vibrating more air and creating more sound
  • You want more bass. Longer guitars can mean bigger bodies, and therefore bigger resonance chambers which means a boomier bassier sound.
  • Your mix is simple. If there aren’t a lot of instruments with you then larger guitars really broaden out the sound spectrum. It can fill out your song, in other words.

Is A 38 Inch Guitar Considered Full Size?

Great question, and the answer is yes. Even though the size of the components will vary, the 38 inch guitar is indeed considered a full-size guitar.

What’s misleading about this is to think that the size doesn’t vary that much from full-size guitar to full-size guitar, which is untrue. If you pick up a jumbo guitar, and then pick up a triple-O guitar–even though they are both considered full-size guitars, the jumbo guitar is going to feel like a monster in comparison to the triple-O.

So, in short, the term full-size is incomplete without more information. Have no fear, a 38-inch guitar counts as a full-size guitar, though.

Peter Mitchell

Founder of this website. Lover of sound, music, hot sauce, and technology.

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