What is a Cutaway Guitar?

Cutaway Guitar

Close up of the "cutaway" feature on a guitar
Close up of the "cutaway" feature on a guitar

Overview

Guitars come in many shapes and sizes. To most people, there is very little to set one design apart from another, unless there is a dramatic color or shape difference. However, subtle features can make a huge impact on the function of a guitar.

Take the cutaway guitar for example. You'll notice in the picture that the body of the guitar has literally been "cut" away from the neck. This exposes the fretboard and makes it much easier to reach the higher notes and solo like a mofo.

Different Cutaway Styles

Venetian Style Cutaway Guitar
Venetian Style Cutaway Guitar
Florentine Style Cutaway Guitar
Florentine Style Cutaway Guitar

Venetian vs. Florentine

Cutaway guitars are useful for reaching the higher frets, but the style has no real bearing on the instrument's function. Venetian and Florentine cutaways are equally helpful and the best one is simply a matter of personal taste.

You will generally see two types of cutaways on guitars: Venetian and Florentine .

The picture on the top features a Venetian cutaway. As you can see, it has a rounded bout, or edge. On the bottom, you will see the image of a Florentine cutaway, which comes to a sharp point. There is a third type of cutaway style which features a block or squared bout, but this is rarely used.

The origin of these two popular forms of cutaway guitars, or at least their names, can be traced back to the Gibson guitar company.  Because Orville Gibson appears to have been strongly influenced by 19th century Italian design, it is speculated that "Venetian" and "Florentine" are actually tribute terms and were intended to bring additional style and history to the features themselves.

Of course, Gibson wasn't the first guitar company to produce cutaway style guitars.  Pointed cutaways, or Florentines, can be traced to French guitarist Georges Warnecke - a 19th century guitar maker.  However, because Gibson has been such a dominant force in the guitar world, they are credited with popularizing the styles and creating the terminology which is now used as an industry standard.

Double Cutaway Guitar

Cutaway on both sides of the guitar
Cutaway on both sides of the guitar

Double the Fun

So far, we have explored the different styles of single cutaway guitars .  However, there is also such a thing as a double cutaway guitar .

As you can see in the picture, a double cutaway features two cuts on either side of the fretboard.  This is actually useful, because it allows the thumb easy access to higher frets.  Chances are good that you will only find double cutaways on electric guitars, since acoustic guitars rely on body size to produce sound and an additional cut could create more damage than good.

Pros and Cons of the Cutaway Guitar

There has been a lot of debate over the years as to the effects of the cutaway on the acoustic quality of a guitar.  This is an important discussion because acoustic guitars depend on the chamber size and shape to generate the volume, tone and sustain of the sound - and cutaways alter both of those features significantly.

The disagreement seems to stem largely from personal experience.  General consensus seems to agree that the cutaway has very little noticeable impact on the sound quality, but many individual musicians disagree.  In such cases, it matters very little who is right - more important is who is happy with the instrument they are playing.

In order to avoid running into a potential problem in sound or tonal quality, you should always find a way to hear the guitar being played.  This goes for all types and styles of guitars, not just cutaways.  If you are shopping online, make sure to watch a video review so you can preview the tone, volume and sustain of the guitar you are considering.

Ultimately, it is probably better to focus on more important features.  Whether or not the cutaway style plays an impact on sound, there is no doubt that other things, such as body size and type or the acoustic-electric capabilities, have a much greater role in how your guitar sounds and plays.

Video of a Cutaway Guitar

What About You?

What Type of Cutaway Do you Use?

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