A sound hole is an opening in the upper sound board of a stringed musical instrument like an acoustic guitar. The sound holes can have different shapes: round in flat-top guitars; F-holes in instruments from the violin, mandolin or viol families and in arched-top guitars; and rosettes in lutes. Bowed Lyras have D-holes and mandolins may have F-holes, round or oval holes. A round or oval hole is usually a single one, under the strings. F-holes and D-holes are usually made in pairs placed symmetrically on both sides of the strings. Some electric guitars, such as Fender Telecaster Thinline and the majority of Gretsch guitars have one or two sound holes. Though the purpose of sound holes is to help acoustic instruments project their sound more efficiently, the sound does not emanate solely (nor even mostly) from the location of the sound hole. The majority of sound emanates from the surface area of both sounding boards, with sound holes playing a part by allowing the sounding boards to vibrate more freely, and by allowing some of the vibrations which have been set in motion inside the instrument to travel outside the instrument. In 2015 researchers at MIT published an analysis charting the evolution and improvements in effectiveness of violin f-hole design over time.
Let’s look at the role of the soundhole in more detail and find out why it’s so important to the sound of the guitar.
Why Does a Guitar Need a Soundhole?
The soundhole in a guitar is an essential component of the instrument, whether it is an acoustic or electric guitar. The primary reason for the soundhole is to allow the sound to escape from the guitar’s body. When the strings are played, they vibrate and produce sound waves that travel through the guitar’s body. The soundhole allows these sound waves to escape, creating the familiar sound that we associate with guitars.
The Role of the Soundhole in Producing Quality Sounds
The soundhole plays a critical role in the guitar’s ability to produce clear and present sounds. Without the soundhole, the sound waves would be trapped inside the guitar’s body, resulting in a muffled and unclear sound. The soundhole allows the sound waves to escape, increasing the clarity and presence of the notes.
The Different Designs of Soundholes
There are a variety of different designs of soundholes found on guitars, each with its own unique features and benefits. Some of the most common designs include:
- Round soundholes: Typically found on acoustic guitars, these soundholes are located on the upper part of the guitar’s body and are usually quite large.
- F-shaped soundholes: These soundholes are typically found on acoustic guitars and are designed to improve the guitar’s bass tones.
- Soundholes in the side: Some guitars have soundholes located on the sides of the instrument, which allows the sound to escape in a different way than traditional soundholes.
- Alternative soundhole designs: Some guitars have unique soundhole designs that are not round or F-shaped, such as heart-shaped or diamond-shaped soundholes.
The Importance of Soundhole Covers
Despite the fact that the soundhole is an essential component of the guitar, there are times when a player may want to cover it up. Soundhole covers are designed to prevent feedback and control the audio output of the guitar. They are especially useful when playing in a live setting where audio feedback can be a problem.
Learning to Play the Guitar and the Soundhole
When starting to learn how to play the guitar, it’s important to remember the role that the soundhole plays in producing quality sounds. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Practice with the soundhole uncovered: When practicing, it’s important to play with the soundhole uncovered to get a good sense of the guitar’s sound.
- Choose the right guitar: Make sure to choose a guitar with a soundhole design that fits your style and needs.
- Hone your skills: As you become more advanced in your playing, you can start to experiment with different soundhole covers and designs to improve your sound.
- Increase the tension on the strings: Increasing the tension on the strings can result in a better sound, but be careful not to go too far and damage the guitar.
- Use nylon strings: Nylon strings can produce a different sound than traditional guitar strings, and some players prefer the sound they produce.
The Sound Hole’s Role in Controlling Acoustic Energy
Contrary to popular misconception, the sound hole of a guitar is not just a decorative element. It serves a crucial function in controlling the acoustic energy produced by the strings. The sound hole acts as a valve, allowing the sound waves to escape from the guitar’s body and reach the listener’s ears.
Positioning and Size of the Sound Hole
The sound hole is usually located in the upper bout of the guitar’s body, directly below the strings. Its size and shape can vary depending on the guitar’s design and the desired tone. The larger the sound hole, the more bass frequencies it will allow to escape. However, a smaller sound hole can create a more focused and direct sound.
Influence on Tone
The sound hole’s size and shape can have a significant influence on the guitar’s tone. Different designs and placements can produce multiple unique sounds. For example, guitars with sound holes in the side, known as “sound ports,” can create a more immersive playing experience for the player while still projecting sound outward. Additionally, guitars with additional sound holes, such as the Leaf Soundhole design published by a Chinese company in July 2021, can improve the overall tone of the instrument.
Electric Guitars and Pickups
Electric guitars do not require a sound hole since they use pickups to convert string vibrations into an electrical signal. However, some electric guitars still have sound holes for aesthetic purposes. In these cases, sound hole covers can be used to prevent feedback and unwanted noise when the guitar is plugged in.
The Role of the Bridge and Pins
The bridge of the guitar is positioned directly over the sound hole and serves as a connection point for the strings. The pins that hold the strings in place are also located near the sound hole. The sound waves produced by the strings are carried through the bridge and into the guitar’s body, where they are trapped and released through the sound hole.
Using Sound Holes for Recording and Amplification
When recording or amplifying an acoustic guitar, the sound hole can be used to achieve a desired tone. Placing a microphone outside the sound hole can create a rich, full sound, while positioning it inside the guitar can produce a more direct and focused tone. Players should be careful when removing the sound hole cover if they want to achieve a certain sound or measure the action of their guitar.
The Impact of Sound Hole Positioning on Acoustic Guitars
The position of the sound hole on an acoustic guitar is a crucial factor in determining the instrument’s tone and sound quality. The sound hole is the opening in the body of the guitar that allows sound to escape and resonate. The goal is to create a rich, full sound that is balanced across all frequencies. The main idea is that the location of the sound hole influences the guitar’s sound in a significant way.
The most common location for the sound hole is in the center of the guitar’s body, directly below the strings. This positioning is known as the “conventional” placement and is found on most acoustic guitars. The size and shape of the sound hole can differ between guitar models, but the location remains the same.
However, some guitar makers have experimented with alternative sound hole positions. For example, some classical guitar makers place the sound hole a bit higher up on the body, closer to the neck. This positioning creates a larger air chamber, influencing the soundboard and creating a slightly different tone. Jazz guitar makers, on the other hand, often place the sound hole closer to the bridge, creating a more extreme sound.
Positioning Depends on the Desired Tone
The positioning of the sound hole depends on the desired tone and the specific construction of the guitar. For example, a smaller sound hole may be used to create a more focused, high-end tone, while a larger sound hole may be used to create a fuller, more resonant sound. The positioning of the sound hole also affects the relationship between the strings and the soundboard, influencing the guitar’s overall sound.
Additional Factors Influencing Sound Hole Positioning
Other factors that guitar makers consider when positioning the sound hole include the scale length of the guitar, the size and shape of the body, and the bracing and reinforcement of the guitar. The precise location of the sound hole is also influenced by the individual maker’s tradition and style.
The Impact of Sound Hole Positioning on Electric Guitars
While sound hole positioning is not as crucial for electric guitars, some models do feature sound holes or “F-holes” that are designed to create a more acoustic-like sound. The positioning of these sound holes is also important, as it can affect the tone and sound of the guitar.
The Influence of Shape on the Soundhole of a Guitar
The shape of the soundhole of a guitar is an important factor in determining the tone of the instrument. The size, position, and design of the soundhole all affect the way sound waves are released from the body of the guitar. The shape of the soundhole can also affect the way the guitar’s strings vibrate and produce sound. Some common shapes of soundholes include round, oval, and f-shaped designs.
Size and Design
The size of the soundhole can also affect the guitar’s tone. Smaller soundholes tend to produce a more focused and direct sound, while larger soundholes can create a more open and resonant tone. The design around the soundhole, such as the rosette, can also influence the guitar’s sound.
Pickups and Soundhole Covers
Pickups can be used to connect the guitar’s strings to an amplifier, and soundhole covers can be used to reduce feedback and trap sound molecules inside the guitar’s body. However, it’s important to note that these additions can also affect the guitar’s tone and output.
Legendary Guitars and Soundholes
Some legendary guitars are known for their unique soundholes, such as the upper-bout soundhole found on jazz guitars. These soundholes were designed to improve the instrument’s tone and allow for greater sound projection.
Exploring Unique Soundhole Designs for Acoustic Guitars
While the traditional round soundhole is the most common design found on acoustic guitars, there are several alternative soundhole designs that can produce unique and interesting sounds. Here are some of the most popular alternative soundhole designs:
- Multiple Smaller Soundholes: Instead of one large soundhole, some guitars have multiple smaller soundholes placed in the upper bout area. This design is said to produce a more balanced sound, particularly for bass notes. Tacoma Guitars developed a composite architecture that uses multiple soundholes to create a clear and bright sound.
- Soundhole in the Side: Ovation guitars are known for their unique soundhole design, which is located on the upper side of the guitar’s bowl instead of the main soundboard. This feature allows the sound to be projected towards the player, making it easier to monitor while playing.
- F-Hole: This design is commonly found on hollowbody electric guitars, particularly those with archtops. The F-hole is a single, elongated soundhole shaped like the letter “F”. It is positioned on the upper bout area and is said to produce a clear and bright sound. The Fender Telecaster Thinline and Gibson ES-335 are two examples of guitars that use this design.
- Leaf Soundhole: Some acoustic guitars incorporate a leaf-shaped soundhole, which is particularly popular in Chinese instruments like the khuurs. This design is said to produce a characteristically bright and clear sound.
- Rosette Soundhole: The rosette is a decorative pattern around the soundhole of a guitar. Some guitars, like the Adamas, incorporate the rosette pattern into the soundhole itself, creating a unique oval-shaped soundhole. The Maccaferri D-hole is another example of a guitar with a unique oval-shaped soundhole.
- Upward-Facing Soundhole: Private guitar company Tel uses a signature supplementary soundhole that faces upward, allowing the player to monitor the sound more easily. The CC Morin guitar also features an upward-facing soundhole.
Positioning and Bracing
The positioning and bracing around the soundhole can also affect the sound of an acoustic guitar. For example, guitars with soundholes positioned closer to the bridge tend to produce a brighter sound, while those with soundholes closer to the neck produce a warmer sound. The bracing around the soundhole can also affect the guitar’s tone, with some designs providing more support and resonance than others.
Choosing the Right Soundhole Design
Ultimately, the soundhole design you choose for your acoustic guitar will depend on your personal preferences and playing style. Consider the type of music you play and the sound you want to produce when choosing a soundhole design. Experimenting with different soundhole designs can also be a fun way to explore the unique sounds that acoustic guitars can produce.
Sound Hole on the Side: A Unique Addition to Your Guitar
The typical sound hole of an acoustic guitar is located on the top of the body, but some guitars have an additional sound hole on the side of the body. This is a custom feature that certain guitar brands offer, and it allows the player to hear the sound of the guitar more clearly while playing.
How Does a Side Sound Hole Improve the Sound?
Having a sound hole on the side of the guitar allows the player to hear the sound of the guitar more clearly while playing. This is because the sound is directed towards the player’s ear, rather than being projected outwards like a traditional sound hole. Additionally, the shape and size of the side sound hole can influence the sound of the guitar in different ways, allowing players to achieve a certain desired tone.
What Are the Differences Between a Traditional and Side Sound Hole?
Here are some differences to consider when deciding between a traditional and side sound hole:
- A side sound hole allows the player to hear the guitar more clearly while playing, while a traditional sound hole projects the sound outwards.
- The shape and size of the side sound hole can influence the sound of the guitar in different ways, while a traditional sound hole has a typical round shape.
- Some players may prefer the traditional look and feel of a guitar with a single sound hole on the top, while others may appreciate the unique addition of a side sound hole.
What Should You Consider Before Adding a Side Sound Hole?
If you’re considering adding a side sound hole to your guitar, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Adding a side sound hole will require careful construction and technical skill to ensure it doesn’t negatively influence the sound of the guitar.
- Some guitar companies offer guitars with a side sound hole as a custom feature, while others may require you to have it added by a master luthier.
- Experimenting with a side sound hole can be a great way to add an additional element to your guitar playing, but be sure to try it out in a store or on stage before committing to the changes.
Overall, a side sound hole can be a unique addition to your guitar that allows you to hear the sound more clearly while playing. Just be sure to consider the technical aspects and differences between traditional and side sound holes before making any changes to your instrument.
What’s the Deal with the Design Around the Sound Hole of a Guitar?
The design around the soundhole of a guitar is not just for show. It serves a critical purpose in the guitar’s acoustic design. The soundhole’s design allows the sound to escape from the body of the guitar, producing the guitar’s signature sound. The soundhole design also affects the guitar’s tone and volume.
Advanced Tips for Soundhole Design
For those looking to hone their guitar skills, the soundhole design can be a substitute for a tuner. Here’s how:
- Pluck a single string and listen to the sound it produces.
- Check the tuning of the string using a tuner or by ear.
- Pluck the string again, this time paying attention to the way the sound rings out of the soundhole.
- If the sound is low or doesn’t ring out as long as it should, the string may be out of tune.
- Adjust the tuning accordingly and check again.
Remember, the soundhole design is paramount to the guitar’s overall sound and should be considered when choosing a guitar.
What’s the Deal with Soundhole Covers?
Soundhole covers serve a few purposes, including:
- Preventing feedback: When you play an acoustic guitar, the sound waves produced by the strings travel through the air inside the guitar’s body and out through the soundhole. If the sound waves get trapped inside the guitar’s body, they can cause feedback, which is a high-pitched squealing sound. Soundhole covers help to prevent this by blocking the soundhole and stopping the sound waves from escaping.
- Absorbing sound: Soundhole covers are often made of materials that absorb sound, such as foam or rubber. This helps to stop the sound waves from bouncing around inside the guitar’s body and causing unwanted noise.
- Projecting sound: Some soundhole covers are designed to project the sound outward, rather than absorbing it. These covers are often made of wood or other materials that are meant to amplify the sound of the guitar.
Do Electric Guitars Need Soundhole Covers?
Electric guitars don’t have soundholes, so they don’t need soundhole covers. However, some electric guitars have piezo pickups that are mounted inside the guitar’s body, near where the soundhole would be on an acoustic guitar. These pickups can sometimes cause feedback, so some people use soundhole covers to prevent this.
Are Soundhole Covers Easy to Use?
Yes, soundhole covers are very easy to use. They simply sit in the middle of the soundhole and can be removed or replaced as needed. Some soundhole covers are designed to fit snugly in the soundhole, while others are meant to be more loose-fitting.
Do Soundhole Covers Actually Help?
Yes, soundhole covers can be very helpful in preventing feedback and controlling the sound of the guitar. However, they are not always necessary. Some people prefer the sound of an acoustic guitar without a soundhole cover, while others find that the cover helps to improve the sound. It really depends on the individual guitar and the preferences of the player.
Have You Ever Seen a Soundhole Cover?
Yes, I have seen many soundhole covers. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose of controlling the sound of the guitar. Some soundhole covers are flat and hollowed out, while others are more like small pieces of wood or other materials. I’ve even seen soundhole covers that are double-sided, with one side meant to absorb sound and the other meant to project it outward.
So there you have it- the answer to the question “what is the soundhole of a guitar?”
The soundhole allows the sound to escape the body of the guitar and into the air so you can hear it.
It’s a crucial part of the instrument that affects the sound quality, so make sure you pay attention to it when you’re looking for your next guitar.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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