There are a lot of parts in a guitar that influence the sound that comes out of it. But, if we had to point out the single part that influences the sound the most, that’s the soundboard and the way the guitar is braced—that’s the real deal.
The soundboard bracing doesn’t just minimize the distortion from string tension, but it affects the sound of the guitar itself.
Most guides out there are filled with lots of details, but unless you want to dive deep into it, you don’t need to know the nuts and bolts at the molecular level.
The goal of this post is not to give you the nitty-gritty details of each model, but to give you a simple overview so you can understand, at a quick glance, the main types of bracing.
So the best way to actually understand the variety of bracing designs is to get to know the main ones, because most of the designs out there are a variation of these four: ladder, fan, lattice and radial.
Quick note: everybody has a preference, but actually there isn’t an ultimate design—there are just different designs. (Nonetheless, if you wholeheartedly believe a particular design is the ultimate one, let us know in the comments.)
This is the oldest design in guitars. 200 years ago most guitars had a simple design called ladder bracing. It’s basically a guitar with struts glued in perpendicular to the soundboard. It’s a system where braces are distributed parallel to each other—there isn’t much more to this design. As you can see in the image below it’s pretty simple:
Even though there are a variety of modern designs, ladder bracing continues to be relevant in guitar design. It’s considered more suitable for parlor guitars, romantic guitars and lightly strung instruments.
Fan bracing is the standard pattern on classical and flamenco guitars. Antonio de Torres is considered the father of the modern classical guitar. He redesigned the guitar by giving it a larger body, a thinner soundboard and lighter bracing:
Back in the day, this was incredibly revolutionary. In fact, 150 years later, today this is one of the most used designs in classical guitars.
It was the first bracing design to include a thoughtful pattern by playing with the orientation of the bracing itself. This combined with a larger body, thinner soundboard and lighter bracing made Torres’ design create a warmer sounding instrument with a much stronger bass response than the existing designs at the time.
There are dozens of variations of the fan bracing system. The most notorious change happened in the 1950s with Andres Segovia’s Design. In the 1950s nylon strings showed up. Back then, most guitars used gut strings, so guitars where designed with that in mind.
However, gut is denser than nylon, and that made nylon sound “not as bright” with the existent designs. And since luthiers in the 1950s didn’t have the variety of strings we have today (such as carbon fiber—which is denser than nylon), they had to redesign the guitars to use nylon.
Another variation introduced by Jose Ramirez III was “the treble bar” which he claimed to make their guitars louder and brighter. It could not be considered a totally new bracing system but a variation of the existing fan bracing.
Other changes were implemented too, such as using longer scale lengths on guitars so it would increase their volume. And why would they do that? Because by increasing the length of the string, they also increased the tension of the string itself. That would give the guitar more energy, so it would make it louder.
- Alhambra 4P
- Alhambra 5P
- Alhambra 6P
- Alhambra 7PA
- Ramirez SPR (This one has a design called Ramirez Bracing)
A little aside on manufacturers and designs:
At this point, it’s worth mentioning something about bracing designs: Every brand in the end has its own designs. Even though manufacturers share their innovations with the public, they rarely share the specifics of their designs. And every brand does that.
It’s like automobile manufacturers. They show you the specs, but not the internal components of their cars. So within each category we could mention dozens of examples, but an interesting one is the SUDOKU bracing used in some flamenco Alhambra Guitars.
As you can see in the image below, SUDOKU designs could seem like they belong to the lattice bracing family—but actually it’s a variation of the fan bracing design.
Either way, I’m just picking this example but there are dozens of specific designs—if not hundreds. Alhambra, though, is one of the few that shares a little bit more about their designs—just like with the SUDOKU bracing (which, by the way, you can find in models such as Alhambra 10FC, Alhambra 10FP Piñana and Alhambra Mengual y Margarit Flamenco).
Radial designs appeared during the 1970s. There are lots and lots of variations of this design and each one sounds different.
As you can see in the image below, there isn’t a big difference in design with the Fan one:
There are a small group of Australian Luthiers who are focusing in the development of radial bracing guitars like Simon Marty, Roning Moyes and Jesse Moore but this system has not been adopted by other manufacturers in a majority way.
Lattice braced designs appeared at the end of the 1970s. Guitars with this design are still popular today and many players still use them.
The way these guitars work is pretty simple: a lattice structure is pretty rigid, which means that soundboards can be way thinner than usual and keep up with the string tension. That way these designs are able to reduce the total weight of the guitar. In simple words, it gives you more volume and faster string response.
The lattice braced guitar is a usual subject of debate. Nonetheless, 40 years later it’s still relevant and more and more luthiers are redefining its design to make it sound different.