There are 3 basic types of guitars:
- Electric Guitars
- Acoustic Guitars
- Classical Guitars
Each of these types has sub-types, although it’s impossible to 100% all guitars into only one category. For instance, Fender produces Stratocaster and Telecaster Thinline models that are, technically, semi-hollow. So don’t get caught up in details, this is a short overview. Let’s start with:
Electric guitars can be broken down into three basic categories: Solid Body, Semi-Hollow Body, and Hollow Body. The biggest hallmark of an electric guitar is the use of magnetic pickups. Magnetic pickups fall into two basic categories:Active Versus Passive
Most electric guitars have passive pickups. They are called passive because they do not require a power source. Most active pickups require a nine volt battery in order to work. Active pickups are popular with heavy metal, since the active signal cuts through distortion.
Having said all that, some electric guitars are now available with piezo electric pickups.
Solid Body Electric Guitars
Solid body electric guitars have solid bodies, typically made of one or more pieces of wood. Common woods include basswood, maple and mahogany. Most electric guitars have 6 strings, although 7 and 8 strings varieties do exist. Amplification is produced using magnetic pickups, passed to an amplifier. This requires the guitar strings to be made of iron, or some other magnetic material. Solid body guitars are less prone to feedback at loud volume, or when distorted, making them the choice of heavy metal and rock guitar players.
|Example Solid Body Guitars:||Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, Fender Telecaster|
|Example Musicians:||Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page|
|Typical Music Style:||Rock, Heavy Metal|
Semi-Hollow Body Guitars
Semi-Hollow body guitars have a center block of solid wood, and hollow sides. It provides some of the benefits of a solid body guitar, like no feedback under distortion, while providing some of the resonance of a hollow body. It’s generally lighter than a solid body guitar, and thinner than a full hollow body. Often they are made with f-holes, but not always. (B.B. King had his guitar made without the f holes to cut down on feedback.) Semi-Hollow body guitars resonate more than solid body guitars, altough not as much as full Hollow body guitars.
|Example Semi-Hollow Body Guitars:||Gibson ES-335, Epiphone Sheraton|
|Example Musicians:||B.B. King, Noel Gallagher|
|Typical Music Style:||Jazz, Blues|
Hollow Body Guitars
Hollow body guitars are very popular with jazz players, being played by the likes of Pat Metheny and John Scofield. They suffer from feedback problems at high volume, and under distortion, but when played clean, they produce a warm, rich tone with lots of bassy resonance. Oftentimes, hollow body guitars are produced with arched tops/backs, and are referred to as archtops.
|Example Hollow Body Guitars:||Gretsch Country Gentleman, Gibson Byrdland|
|Example Musicians:||Pat Metheny, George Benson, Chet Atkins|
|Typical Music Style:||Jazz, Country|
Acoustic guitars come in a number of different shapes, and sizes, and generally have these characteristics:
- Hollow Body
- One(or more) Sound Holes
Acoustic guitars can have pickups, (See next section,) but they mainly rely on amplifying the string vibrations through the guitars body to produce sound. Size, shape and materials more directly influence the sound of an acoustic guitar compared with an electric. Style of picking /strumming can also more directly affect volume/tone on an acoustic guitar.
Acoustic guitars come in a variety of sizes, and shapes, the most popular probably being the dreadnought size. Some acoustic guitars, particularly dreadnoughts, come with a cutouts providing access to some of the higher frets. Since size/shape affect the guitars sound, you typically lose some volume when you have a cutout.
Acoustic Electric Guitars
An acoustic electric guitar refers to a guitar that has some kind of pickup built into it / added to it. Magnetic pickups that fit in the sound hole are available, but most acoustic electric pickups don’t use the cycling of the strings and a magnet. Most often, they are some type of piezo electric pickup installed under the saddle of the guitar. These pickups pickup the vibration of the guitar’s body and turn it into an electric signal. These pickups(like active pickups) require pre-amplification, so they require a battery to work.
Acoustic electric guitars can be useful if you’re regularly playing on a stage, but aren’t really necessary for playing in your house. They suffer from similar feedback problems as hollow body electrics.
Classical guitars(or Spanish guitars) are similar to acoustic guitars, the main difference being that they use strings that are made of nylon and nylon wrapped metal. A classical guitar’s nylon strings are at a lower tension than an acoustic guitar, so they are easier to bend, and easier on beginners fingers. The fretboard is typically much wider and flatter than an acoustic or electric guitar, making it more difficult to play chords. This is because classical guitars are usually not chorded, strummed or played with a pick. They are usually played using a guitarist’s fingernails. Classical guitars can’t use magnetic pickups, because the strings are made of nylon, but are available with piezo pickups.(See section above.) Also, classical guitars don’t have usually have a pickguard.
Flamenco guitars can be considered a sub-type of classical guitars. They are usually smaller, lighter, and thinner than a classical guitar. This makes them more resonant, and they often have tap plates for the guitarist to tap their fingers on.
Those are the 3 Types of Guitar for Beginners, plus some. This can be a confusing topic, and not all guitars fit neatly into any one category. Thanks for reading!
JT currently resides in Southern California and has been playing the guitar since he was 13. He enjoys baking French pastries, drinking loose-leaf tea, and running Slackware Linux.