Why do electric guitars have a single cut? Does this design have a purpose or is it just a detail added to enhance the guitar’s appearance? Read on to learn why these guitars are shaped the way they are.
The Cutaway Design
Both electric and acoustic guitars initially had curved upper and lower bouts, but today almost all electric guitars have a single or double-cut design. The cutaway design was first incorporated in acoustic guitars. The earliest examples of the design are found in the guitars built by an Italian luthier and renowned musician Mario Maccaferri in the early 1920s. However, the design gained popularity and was instantly adopted by other guitar manufacturers when Gibson released the single-cut “L-5 Premier” acoustic guitar in 1939.1
At the time, guitars were mostly built to appeal to the artists of the Bluegrass genre. However, as rock music began to evolve from the blues, its popularity had a significant impact on electric guitar design. As guitar companies began to design and manufacture instruments for rock music, the cutaway became a common feature in electric guitar design.
What is the point of single-cut electric guitars?
An indentation in a single-cut electric guitar is made in the upper bout on the side of the first string. This curve is carved out in electric guitars to make it easier for a guitar player to pick the higher notes. Higher notes in guitars are played where the body and the neck meet; without the cut it would be difficult for our hand to reach the correct positions to play the higher notes.2
There are several different types of cutaways, which include Venetian, Florentine, soundport, soft, and beveled. Electric guitars generally have a Florentine cutaway which has a horn-like shape and is sharper at the end compared to the other types. As the name implies, single-cut electric guitars have an indentation on one side of the electric guitar, and double-cut electric guitars have them on both sides. Cutaways are also commonly added to other types of guitars.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Single-cut Design
Without the cutaway, the musical range would be limited as a lack of indentation in this area of the guitar would make the higher notes inaccessible. Cutaways diminish some aspects of the sound quality of acoustic guitars. The hollow bodies of these instruments resonate the sound produced from the vibrations of the strings. The smallest details of the guitar’s structural design, such as a cutaway, can significantly improve or diminish the quality of the sound and volume.3
However, electric guitars have solid bodies without any hollow cavities, and sound is generated through electronic amplification. Due to this, almost all electric guitars have cutaways on one or both sides of their upper bouts, as the design only impacts the sound quality and not the volume.4
Due to the extra wood, single-cut electric guitars have a thicker sound and are slightly heavier than double-cut electric guitars. The tone of the guitar is fuller with more sustain.5 The only disadvantage of the single-cut body shape is that the access to higher frets comes with some discomfort. While the indentation on one side makes it easier to play the higher notes, the lack of it on the other side leaves no space for the thumb to rest. 6
So, the single-cut in electric guitars is not just an aesthetic detail; it changes the tone of the guitar, adds to playability, and makes the instrument lighter. However, it doesn’t really serve a purpose that cannot be carried out by a double-cut electric guitar and vice versa.7
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1. Johnston, R., Simmons, M. J., Ford, F., & Gerken, T. (2005). Acoustic Guitar. Hal Leonard.
2. Cutaways. (n.d.). Taylor Guitars. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.taylorguitars.com/guitars/acoustic/features/cutaways
3. Mitchell, P. (2020, March 13). Cutaway vs Non-Cutaway: Does it affect the sound? Sound Adventurer. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://soundadventurer.com/cutaway-guitar-pros-and-cons/
4. Tanner, B. (2022, April 29). 5 Benefits of Cutaway Guitars [5 Advantages, 1 Disadvantage]. Strummingly. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://strummingly.com/benefits-cutaway-guitar/
5. Singlecut vs Double Cut Guitars: Which Are Better? (2021, November 2). CMUSE. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.cmuse.org/singlecut-vs-double-cut-guitars/
6. Matt, P. (2022, April 4). Single Cut Vs. Double Cut Guitar (Differences Explained). The String Crew. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.thestringcrew.com/single-cut-vs-double-cut-guitar/
7. Camila, C. (2020, December 11). What Is A Cutaway Guitar? (Plus Pros And Cons And Popular Models). Musicaroo. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://musicaroo.com/what-is-a-cutaway-guitar/#:%7E:text=to%20higher%20frets.-,History%20of%20the%20Cutaway%20Shape,body%20shape%20with%20no%20cutaways