You’re not alone in wanting answers to this dilemma. There is so much misinformation it’s hard to know right from wrong.
So, 3/4 or full size, which is best?
3/4 guitars are great for kids, beginners, or anyone with a smaller build. The scaled-down dimensions also make them superb travel companions for guitarists of all skill levels. Full-size guitars, in most cases, offer superior sound quality and louder projection so are better for studio recording.
In this article, you’ll learn all the differences between a 3/4 size and a full size guitar. Believe it or not, there are more differences than size alone.
Read on to figure out which size is right for you. You’ll be able to buy in confidence, knowing you’ve explored all the options.
Check out our full guide on Guitar Sizes
What is a 3/4 Size Guitar? – Overview
A 3/4 guitar is a generic term for a guitar of a certain size. Sizes can vary less than an inch depending on the manufacturer and body shape. But all 3/4 guitars are smaller than full size yet larger than a 1/2 size guitar.
The idea of a 3/4 guitar is to scale down the standard size, making the instrument more manageable to play. The smaller size caters towards younger players and musicians who like to travel with their instruments. But their qualities have caught the attention of guitarists of all skill levels.
Check out our guide on Children’s Guitar Sizes
What is Considered a Full Size Guitar? – Overview
You’ll sometimes see a full size referred to as a standard guitar. Again, there are small disparities in dimensions of the standard size depending on body shape and manufacturer. For example, a parlor shape is smaller than a dreadnought even though both are full-sized. In general, a full size guitar is 40 inches in length and 15 inches wide.
3/4 Size Guitar vs Full Size Guitar: What’s the Difference?
Let’s dissect the difference between 3/4 and full size guitars further. This section will help you make your decision on which size is best for you.
As we’ve established, a full size guitar is larger than a 3/4 one. It’s important to remember that sizes can vary slightly depending on the manufacturer and shape for both 3/4 and full size instruments.
But as a guide, while a full size is around 40 inches lengthways, a 3/4 is around 36 inches. At the widest point, a 3/4 guitar tends to be around 13 inches compared to 15 inches on a standard-size guitar.
Because full size guitars are longer, they have a higher scale length of 24 inches or above.
But even a standard guitar can either have a long or short scale length. A scale length above 25.5 is long, while anything below is short.
The scale length of 3/4 guitars is anything below 24 inches. It’s common for a 3/4 to have a scale length of around 23 inches. The 3/4 sized Baby Taylor has a scale length of 22.75 inches, similarly, the Little Martin X1 measures 23 inches.
Number of Frets
Because the scale length is longer on a standard guitar, they have more frets compared to a 3/4. A full size has 19 frets or above, whereas a 3/4 has below 18.
But the type of guitar also affects the number of frets. Electric guitars have more frets than acoustics. A full size electric has between 21 and 24 frets, with the body connecting to the neck around the 17th fret.
Acoustic guitars connect around the 14th fret, so playing higher than this is difficult. But this is common for all acoustics, regardless of size. There are examples of full size and 3/4 guitars having the same number of frets. The Martin 3/4 LX1 connects around the 14th, likewise, the standard-sized Martin D-28 connects at a similar point.
So is there a difference in sound between a 3/4 and a full size guitar?
Simply put, yes. Full size guitars are louder than smaller ones. The role of the body and soundboard is to amplify string vibration. More air coming out of the soundhole results in louder projection. So, if the body and soundboard are smaller, there’s less energy amplified. This also contributes to full-sized guitars sounding fuller.
We’ve established that 3/4 guitars have a smaller scale length. This also affects the sound. A shorter scale length means there’s less tension on the strings. So what does this mean for tone? Because the strings on a longer scale are tauter, they have a tighter and punchier tone.
Not that 3/4 guitars sound bad. Many 3/4 excel in sparkle and brightness, making them an alternative tonal option in the studio.
Playability is important for every player, but the 3/4 size offers more in this area for particular guitarists.
Kids will find it difficult to hold a full size instrument. 3/4 guitars offer a manageable shape and size to hold and the depth will allow the elbow to reach beyond the ridge.
A smaller body size makes 3/4 guitars lightweight, so they’re a gentle introduction to become accustomed to the feel of holding a guitar.
Smaller-scale lengths also play a part in making the 3/4 size suitable for kids. The frets are closer together, so smaller hands can stretch for notes and form chords easier.
Because the lower scale length on 3/4 guitars causes looser strings, it takes less effort to press the strings down on the fretboard. This is key for reducing hand fatigue while practicing.
The playability features of a 3/4 guitar aren’t exclusive to kids. Any player with smaller hands will find a 3/4 easier to play so they’re great for beginners regardless of age. Even some skilled adults prefer the playability of a 3/4 as opposed to a full size.
If you’ve got a big tour bus to travel to gigs in, then space isn’t an issue, so a full size guitar is fine.
But the portability of a 3/4 guitar has many benefits if you want a travel companion. The smaller and lightweight build makes them easier to carry in a rucksack-like case without causing shoulder pain.
Smaller cars often have little trunk space, so a 3/4 guitar saves precious room. Likewise, on buses and trains, the smaller size is less stressful to carry.
Airlines have different rules and regulations with luggage size. But a 3/4 size guitar is much easier to board and can often slot into overhead storage.
Classical and mini dreadnoughts are the common shapes for a 3/4. But beyond these, there’s little choice. This is because manufacturers consider 3/4 guitars niche instruments for beginners.
Full size guitars come in many shapes and sizes. For example, jumbo acoustics offer a weighty low-end tone. But this type of shape is rare in a 3/4.
The different specifications mean you can get a full size guitar to suit your every need. Beyond shape, there’s more variety in materials, build quality, neck profiles, nut width, fret radius, fret sizes, and head shapes.
Price is one of the most decisive factors when buying a guitar. Every buyer has a different budget. Decide what you can afford and don’t sway from it.
So which is cheaper, a 3/4 or a full size guitar?
3/4 are largely cheaper than full size guitars. Standard sizes come in a wide range of prices. There are entry-level models which can cost as little as $100. While at the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find premium instruments priced as much as $10,000.
So how does this affect your decision?
For starters, the cheap price of 3/4 guitars has its obvious appeal… saving you money.
But, let’s look a little deeper. If you’re buying for a kid, there’s a chance that learning the guitar is a fad and won’t last.
You don’t want to spend big bucks on something that’ll be of no use in a few months. In the best-case scenario and your kid excels, you can upgrade to full size when the time’s right.
Likewise, for a beginner of any age, the cheap price of a 3/4 guitar is a good way to test the water. The cheaper price minimizes the risk should it not be for you.
3/4 guitars, sometimes known as travel guitars, are portable, so this is another reason the price is important. If you’ve ever traveled with an instrument, you’ll know there’s a strong chance it’ll get damaged. So traveling with a cheaper guitar lessens the pain should your guitar encounter scratches and dents.
One last thing on the price. While it’s true that many premium brands don’t make this size, some have ventured into the 3/4 market. You can get hold of a guitar with a reputable brand name on the headstock at an affordable price. Just look at the Little Martin or Baby Taylor.
Materials and Build Quality
The difference in materials and build quality between 3/4 and full size guitars is a question with many caveats.
We know that 3/4 guitars are niche instruments to accommodate kids and beginners. So, to keep costs low, they’re often built overseas using mass production techniques. The quality of tonewoods is also not of the best stock.
Many full size guitars are built with intermediate and pros in mind. So, they have better quality tonewoods, materials and are built to a high standard by skilled luthiers.
But there are anomalies to this trend. There are many entry-level full size guitars made from inadequate materials and built to a low standard. A good 3/4 guitar will outperform these cheap full size ones. For example, a Taylor GS Mini is a much better guitar than many standard ones priced around $100.
Just because you opt for a 3/4 size, it doesn’t mean it’s built from shoddy materials and of poor build quality. Thus, the size of the guitar doesn’t directly relate to the quality of craftsmanship or build quality.
But here’s the thing, because 3/4 guitars are for kids and beginners, there aren’t the same options as a full size. So a premium 3/4 is rare.
All solid wood acoustic guitars are premium instruments. Solid wood resonates for a full rich tone. 3/4 tend to be constructed of layered woods. While layered woods are durable, they don’t exude the same resonant tone.
If a guitar has the refined details of American craftsmanship alongside solid woods, this is the hallmark of a premium instrument.
You won’t find a top-of-the-range American-built 3/4 guitar costing upwards of $3000. Whereas there are several full size pro instruments using the finest materials and crafted by skilled workers.
3/4 Size Guitars vs Full Size Guitars: Pros and Cons
Are you still sitting on the fence on whether to go 3/4 or full size? Let’s condense all the information and look at what’s good and bad about both 3/4 and full size guitars.
3/4 Size Guitar Pros:
- Easier to Play – The small dimensions of a 3/4 guitar make for improved playability. Frets are closer together, so forming chords requires less finger stretching. The shorter neck makes it easier to reach the tuning pegs and the smaller body is easier to hold with more room for the strumming arm.
- Portability – Smaller and lightweight, 3/4 guitars are easier to transport. When walking to and from practice, a 3/4 is less taxing to carry. For boarding a plane they’re minus the bulk, so much more convenient.
- Inexpensive – 3/4 guitars are an affordable option. Top manufacturers like Martin and Taylor produce 3/4 sizes. So for a reasonable price, you can own 3/4 guitars made by a true powerhouse.
3/4 Size Guitar Cons:
- Sound – Because there is no premium option, you’ll struggle to find an all-solid wood 3/4 guitar. So, you can’t own a 3/4 with prime sound quality. The smaller sound makes them lower in volume and layered woods lack resonance.
- Lack of Options – 3/4 guitars have little variety. There are limited options of wood type and other specifications. If you learn on a 3/4 size and want to upgrade to a premium instrument, it’ll have to be full size. This itself can cause difficulty if you’re accustomed to the size of a 3/4.
- Lower Build Quality – America, Japan, Canada, and some European countries like Spain create the best guitars. You’ll rarely find 3/4 guitars built in these countries. They tend to make 3/4 sizes in China and Indonesia. While the practices in these factories are improving, they won’t have premium build quality. Quality is lower due to mass production techniques and less vigilant quality control.
Full Size Guitar Pros:
- Sound – Full size guitars have more weight in the lower frequencies than 3/4. While every guitar varies in tone, full size guitars cover a spectrum of frequencies. Weight in the lows and high-end brightness means they offer a much fuller sound.
- Variety of Options – From entry-level for beginners to premium studio-ready guitars, there’s a full size for everyone. You’ll also be able to cater to your genre and playing style. Different wood types create varying tonal nuances, so you can sculpt your sound accordingly. Other specs like fret width, scale length, and fingerboard radius cater to your playing style and preference.
- Build Quality – With a premium price tag, comes excellent build quality. You’ll find full size guitars made in countries where the workers refine every fine detail during construction. For peak craftsmanship, you’ll have to opt for a full size guitar. These are the guitars that’ll last a lifetime and age beautifully.
Full Size Guitar Cons:
- Playability – Any guitarist of a smaller frame, or with smaller hands, can struggle to play a full size guitar. Dreadnoughts and jumbo acoustics are two larger shapes difficult for smaller players. With shorter arms, it’s difficult to reach over the body to strum and stretch to reach the 1st fret. The wider fret space is hard for smaller hands to remain in position.
- Portability – To achieve greater projection, full size guitars have an immense body. While great for sound, it can cause portability problems. Boarding planes, trains, and buses with a bulky instrument is problematic. In some cases, you can incur extra costs when boarding an airplane.
- Price – Full size guitars cover a wide range of price points. But if you want a true performer to feature on studio-quality recordings, you’ll have to pay big bucks.
Who Should Buy a 3/4 Size Guitar?
Truth is, they’re pros and cons for both 3/4 and full size guitars. But the big question is, who should buy a 3/4 guitar?
3/4 guitars are a great fit for kids. It’s often considered kids ages 8 to 12 year’s old suit the size of a 3/4. Kids within this age range are at a size where they’ll find the dimensions of a 3/4 practical.
But below this age range, a 3/4 is worth considering because it allows kids to grow into the instrument. Smaller-sized guitars like ones half the size of a standard tend to be novelty toys rather than instruments.
3/4 guitars aren’t for kids alone. Any beginner wanting to learn to play will find the dimensions of a 3/4 a good entry point. They’re lightweight to rest on the lap while the body allows room to practice strumming.
Stretching over frets to form chords is difficult for any beginner. The fret spacing on a 3/4 guitar makes it easier. This is also a feature of a 3/4 that anyone with smaller hands will enjoy.
The practicality of a small guitar has obvious benefits for travelers. If you’re a guitarist who likes to travel with your ax, a 3/4 makes it more workable.
What about the gigging musician? While 3/4 guitars for the most part won’t have the best sound quality, there are exceptions. So if you’re gigging, a good quality 3/4 can sound excellent. Ed Sheeran is a case in point who uses a 3/4 size.
Using a 3/4 guitar for gigs will save extra space when traveling back and forth. Furthermore, because they’re affordable, you can leave your expensive full size guitar at home where it’s safe.
For professionals, a 3/4 guitar is an around-the-house casual instrument to pick up when inspiration strikes. Or maybe to experiment with alternative tunings.
The truth is, 3/4 size guitars have a plethora of uses. If you or a younger family member fit the above criteria, consider a 3/4.