Today, the guitar is one popular instrument with a very rich history. It has shaped our music for many decades and inspires us through the people who play them. As time has gone by, many types of guitar have been created to broaden our musical playing field.
Most people will gravitate towards one of the main categories based on the tone they know and love. Whether it is because they have been inspired by an artist or just love music, there is an instrument that is a perfect fit.
So if you are just getting started or are simply curious, this guide will help you understand the different types of guitars and where they fit in music today.
Types Of Guitars
There are three main types available today, bass, acoustic and electric guitars. But with all the many variations, there are 8 categories that make up all the different kinds.
- Acoustic Guitars
- Hollow body
- Electric Guitars
- Extended range
- Lap Steel
All other types of guitars, no matter the size or shape, will normally fall into one of these categories. Each of them means something different to players, as they span so many genres.
While some overlap, in the end, the one you choose will be the best fit for the music you want to play. Let’s take a look at the categories and types and explore their roles.
The Spanish or classical guitar uses strings made of nylon or gut and has been around for many centuries. Before steel string acoustic guitars were available, the gut was used to produce cords to be used. Classical guitar types are slightly lighter than a steel-string acoustic.
This is because they don’t need to be built to handle the same tension and have a smaller body than a dreadnought. A classical could never handle the tension of a steel string acoustic guitar and would be damaged as a result.
The sound produced from a classical guitar is much softer, warmer, and slightly quieter than that of a steel-string acoustic because of the nylon and the smaller body size. Though they resemble each other and are acoustic in their own way, they are very different in terms of sound and build.
Classical guitar players often use finger picking techniques and place the instrument on the opposite leg, we find conventional with other styles. For example, a right-handed classical player will place the instrument on their left leg.
This adds the benefit of being able to angle the neck up slightly and have better control and reach of the fret board. Classical guitar models have a wider neck than most of the other types, which can make fret accuracy easier for people with bigger hands.
Strings used on Classical Guitars
Like we mentioned above, classical guitar types use nylon strings to produce the soft, warm sound that they are appreciated for. This sound is only something that a classical guitar can produce and is where they differ between the different types.
So if you are seeking the music style they are known for, then you should consider this one. Nylon strings are easy on fingertips, which is a benefit for beginners, but this type should not be selected for this reason. As we will learn, the guitar type you select will need to be based on interests.
Classical nylon strings are made with many types of nylon.
Each material creates different types of sounds, from brighter to warmer. Some are a bit louder as well. So you have options for your classical guitar depending on what sound you might be going for. But it will be worth exploring and is not expensive to do so.
Classical Guitar Music Styles
Classical music is soft, warm, and technical among other things. This makes the classical guitar type the perfect choice for a player seeking this genre. While classical music can be played on other kinds as well, the impact is very different. This particular instrument is also great for:
All of which are softer and warmer sounds. If you are a beginner looking for a classical sound, then your best choice will be this guitar type.
Artists That Play Classical Guitars
The classical guitar is a very old guitar type. It has been around for many years and is preferred by many musicians. Some of the artists that play classical guitars are:
- Pepe Romero
- Andres Segovia
- Paco de Lucía
- Ana Vidović
- John Williams
While the classical version is also an acoustic guitar, this particular type is a more modern offering that uses steel-strings. It is favored in most genres because of its brighter, louder sound. It is also the most common guitar that beginners play.
The steel-string acoustic comes in many sizes and shapes, with structurally rigid bodies made to handle the tension of the material.
This additional support also creates a more rigid resonance chamber, which affects the sound produced. It really stands out and is one of the more popular types of guitars.
While there are many acoustic guitar variations, there are 4 that are the most popular:
Each of the acoustic guitar models produces different sounds and volume levels. Bigger bodies are not only louder, but normally have a fuller, deeper bass content. While smaller bodies punch more in the lower mid-range and have articulate treble frequencies.
When selecting a steel-string acoustic guitar, it is important to be aware of the different body sizes for comfort as well. Some people might struggle to play larger ones, especially if you are a smaller person or child. So be sure to select the size that is most comfortable for you.
Travel guitars have become popular for this very reason and have helped players with small hands find the perfect size.
12-String Acoustic Guitars
While there are many sizes of acoustic guitars, there are also 12-string versions that are worth exploring. The 12-string acoustic guitar produces a sound that only it can. The addition of 6-strings creates some rich, beautiful harmonics that will inspire you to learn how to play one.
This body shape is similar to standard six-string acoustic guitars. But a twelve-string body needs to be more rigid to handle the tension of 6 more.
The 12-string is a more difficult acoustic guitar to learn on. The addition of an extra string with every note means more fretting accuracy. Finger pressure must be increased to press two strings down with one finger, for a beginner this could be rather difficult. Not to mention tuning and closer proximity.
Sometimes the guitar needs to be amplified or run through a PA system to make them louder. This is normally something that is desired when performing in large rooms or at gigs. Electro acoustic guitars are only different in that they have a pickup system installed.
In most cases, you will find a pickup, output jack, and possibly an EQ or tuner built-in. This allows you the freedom to simply plug it in and perform, instead of trying to use a microphone to amplify your acoustic.
In some designs, not only do you get a pickup system installed, but a cut away in the body as well. Normally, adding a cut away lowers the overall volume an acoustic will produce. But if the guitar can be amplified, some players feel it a nice trade-off to be able to reach the frets higher up the neck.
Strings used on Acoustic Types of Guitar
Even though the strings on this type of acoustic are referred to as steel, there are 3 different materials that are used along with it:
These 3 materials are what manufacturers use in most of their recipes to wrap steel cores. Of course, not all of these materials are used in the different strings on the market. This all depends on the sound they make and are advertised to produce. Bronze for example is said to produce a bright ringing sound, while brass is more jangly and metallic.
Acoustic Guitar Music Styles
Because of the brighter, bolder sound of a steel-string acoustic, many people use them for different genres of music. A few of these genres include:
And because there are so many shapes and sizes, the steel-string acoustic is a perfect match when you find the right body design.
Hollow Body Guitar
The hollow body guitar is a cross between an electric and an acoustic. While they look slimmer, they are slightly bigger than solid body electric guitars. As a result, the volume they can produce is also in the middle of the two types when played acoustically. They are not overly loud, but are not as quiet as an electric without amplification.
As such, however, they are considered to be more a part of the electric guitar family but are still a type all their own. One of the issues with this kind is that they are prone to feedback with high output pick-ups. This is because the body is hollow and reacts to the environment it is in.
There are 2 different types in the hollow family:
- Hollow Body
- Semi Hollow guitar Body
The hollow body, as we have mentioned, is prone to feedback. But this type produces a sound that is much different from the electric. It is almost the same sound as an acoustic with a pickup system, but a bit broader in the mid-range.
It is apparent in the sound that the guitar is hollow however and is distinct all its own.
The semi hollow guitar body is designed to have a support block that runs through the middle. This essentially parts it into 2 hollow sides. As a result, the sound is similar to a full hollow body, but is closer to that of a full electric.
To some guitarists, this is harder to play than other types. They have a bigger body than an electric and have an almost boat-like neck with jumbo frets.
For some, it can be a struggle to play this guitar, especially with the added feedback issues that it brings to the table. They have their place in music, but are not well received by all players.
Hollow Body Guitar Music Styles
While the hollow body guitar is unique in its own way, it does have a home in different music genres.
These guitars were very popular in the 1930 era, but are still widely used by many players. BB King, John Lennon, and even Dave Grohm have been known to use them for their warm sound. For clean tones, they have a unique vibe all their own and are worth trying out!.
The electric guitar is a very popular type that is well received by many players. This is because there are an enormous amount of variations, shapes, sizes, and hardware options. Some electrics also add additional strings! This makes it very desirable to play electric guitars.
7 and 8-string types of guitars have become popular over the last little while, adding more versatility for players who want it, as we will see. But among all the types, the electric guitar is the one most people strive to play.
When it comes to sounds, the electric guitar can get the tone you seek in your head. With all the different parts that they can be equipped with, it is very easy to get there. The bodies are normally thin and light, and the necks are easy to play.
And to add to the benefits, you can now use different effect pedals and amps with the rig to change your sound tremendously. There truly is no other type like the electric guitar.
Strings used on Electric Types of Guitar
The strings for the electric range in material and diameter. Not only can you change the weight of your strings to get different sounds, but the materials also help too. Some of the materials we find on electric guitars:
- Zinc plating
The amount of variations you can find in strings is incredible. There are also coated sets available that help with longevity and play ability. The sky truly is the limit when it comes to strings and what they add to sound and feel. We have many articles about them if you want to learn more about them!
Electric Guitar Music Styles
The electric guitar has had its place in pretty much all music genres we know as humans! It’s true, the electric models and all the variations are able to produce just about any sound you could ever want.
- Rock and Roll
You name it and I bet you can find an electric guitar, whether it’s rhythm or lead, in almost all music types. It’s pretty exciting and should be one of the types all players should have at least two of. Or 3.
Extended Range Guitars
With the popularity of new genres of heavier music comes an extended range of guitar types. 7-String guitars were not uncommon in a lot of different music styles for the last few decades and are quite versatile.
As players began seeking different sounds with experimentation, manufacturers began making variations to satisfy this new hunger.
This has led to guitars with 7,8,9 and even 10 or more strings on one model! To a new player, this is very overwhelming, and we suggest you stick to a 6-string guitar to get going. But to those who are a bit more seasoned, you might be wondering how the notes might be arranged on such a thing?
It is actually quite simple and utilizes the standard arrangement to make it work, but just adds another lower note on any added digits!
Depending on the guitar, an ERG will come as an electric type, but there are some acoustic kinds available as well.
Strings used on Extended Range Types of Guitar
When it comes to the sets used on the different type of guitars in this range, there isn’t much difference from what you have already seen.
The electric models use the same string materials as conventional kinds, and the same is true with acoustics. The big difference in this style is that the number of strings is greater and the weight of any added is also larger.
This means that to replace a set will cost a bit more money because there are more of them in a pack. But to anyone who has found their sound in one of these instruments, that’s no big deal!
Extended Range Guitar Music Styles
Depending on whether it is an electric or an acoustic, the music these extended range guitars show up in is quite the same. However, when you begin to get into the 8 or 9-string versions, the music gets pretty dark and experimental. In this case, you may find them in:
- Doom Metal
- Progressive metal
Artists Who Play Extended-Range Guitars
Because of the extra range and wide tone this guitar type offers, it is very popular. Some of the artists who play extended-range guitars are:
- Tosin Abasi
- Matthew Heafy
- Jeff Loomis
- Tony MacAlpine
- John Mayer
The resonator, or resophonic, is a very interesting type! It is an acoustic with a metal cone used to amplify the vibration from the bridge. This guitar type still normally has sound holes, but they are not what produces the volume across the top like a standard acoustic.
The resonator guitars were originally designed to compete with louder instruments like horns and percussion.
Because a regular acoustic guitar was simply not loud enough, this new design was the solution. But because it changed the sound so much, it became something all its own. This was a benefit for players in blues or bluegrass music genres.
Today, the resonator guitars come with both wood and metal bodies and have features like square or round necks. Square necks are played face up with a slide bar, while round necks are like your regular acoustic guitar.
Strings used on Resonator Types of Guitar
Resonator guitar strings are not like regular acoustic sets and so when selecting, you need to make sure you are getting this right. Some players complain that some materials make the tone sound dead compared to other resonator sets. They are also heavier than most standard acoustic sets, which will help with volume.
Resonator guitar strings are made from materials like
- Phosphor Bronze
Phosphor bronze is preferred by players who use resonator acoustics, as they seem to have the best sound.
Resonator Guitar Music Styles
While the resonator guitar was created to be a louder acoustic designed for big band jazz, it became used more often in genres like:
You can even find it in some country bands, depending on what type of music they are going for.
Artists Who Play Resonator Guitars
Because the resonator guitar has such a unique sound to it, this has attracted many artists to play them. Some well known artists who play resonator guitars are:
- Joe Bonamassa
- Eric Clapton
- Melissa Etheridge
- Vince Gill
Like electric types of guitars, the bass is also a well-known instrument found in many kinds of music. Normally found in 4-string models, the bass also comes in different shapes and sizes with variations.
The strings are much thicker and spaced farther apart, intended to utilize lower frequencies in harmony with the other range of instruments.
The bass comes in both acoustic and electric guitars versions. With frets and without, as well as many other options. The bass can be a very fun instrument, often played quite well by musicians who call the electric guitar their main type.
Without the electric bass, our music would not have the same impact that it does today. Most players seek to improve their skills at bass as it is a great supporting instrument in songs and music creation.
The scale length on a bass guitar ranges from 30 to 36 inches, making the strings very tense, requiring some finger strength to properly fret a note. With practice, this can become very easy and will improve your accuracy over time.
The bass also comes in upright models, which most people have seen at least once. The sound projected from an upright bass guitar can be very powerful and bold.
Strings Used on Bass Types of Guitar
Bass strings are normally quite a bit thicker when compared to the guitar, which makes them more expensive. Most bass players try to clean their strings when they become dull to get as much life out of them as possible. They come in flat and round wound and are made of materials like:
- Nickel Alloy
- Pure Nickel
Steel strings produce a bright tone, while pure nickel will be much warmer. So, selecting the tone you are going for will land you on one of these material types. Like most other strings, coatings can be applied to some sets helping with corrosion prevention from sweat and oils, and they tend to last much longer.
Bass Guitar Music Styles
Like we mentioned above, the bass can be found in most music types either as a supporting instrument or a main component. The bass is so close to an electric that any guitarist who is good at notes and fretboard memorization can jump in and play.
You will normally always find bass types of guitars in music styles like:
- Rock and Roll
Lap Steel Guitar
The lap steel is truly not like these other types of guitars. Also known as the Hawaiian, the lap steel guitar is played much as the name implies! In your lap. While sitting down, you place the instrument on your upper legs and play it using a metal bar or slide.
The string action is quite high, and so an apparatus like the bar is needed to play it properly. This also contributes to the tone of a lap steel guitar, as using your fingers would not produce the same sound or performance.
A player who is fluent with an electric type can use the lap steel, as the fretboards are the same. However, the way it is played presents a steep learning curve. The lap steel is the key instrument in Hawaiian music, which is why it is associated.
But this kind is also quite commonly used in other music types, as we will see. Because the lap steel guitar also uses pick-ups, the instrument does resemble an electric and can be equipped with a single-coil or humbucker.
Strings used on Lap Steel Types of Guitar
Just like the electric, we find that the lap steel uses similar materials in their strings.
- Zinc plating
There are a few different sets available as well for lap steel types of guitars, and so experimentation is key to finding your sound.
Lap Steel Guitar Music Styles
As was mentioned above, lap steel is well known for its roots in Hawaiian music. But there are several other genres that have utilized its unique sound. The Nashville classic country music scene was one of the supporting genres of the lap steel guitar. But this type was also found in genres like:
- Modern Country
Types of Acoustic Guitars
Now that you know about the many different types of guitars and the music styles they work well in, there are some that overlap. For example, the classical and steel string acoustic guitars are the same kind of instrument. There are a number of them that fit into the acoustic category, even though they might best fit a certain kind of music.
- Classical acoustic guitars
- Steel-string acoustic guitars
- Steel guitar
- Resonator guitar
As you can see, many types fall into the acoustic guitar category. The one that we did not touch on yet is the steel guitar. This is more of an acoustic lap steel instrument. They are played in the same way, but look more like a regular acoustic guitar. They are held in the lap or on a stand, but are capable of more volume because of the resonant chamber.
Types of Electric Guitars
There are a few different kinds of electric guitars that make up the few available. These are also made to serve different music styles, but are considered electric guitars.
- Solid body
- Semi-hollow body
- Hollow body
- Extended range
- Lap steel
While we covered a majority of the main types of electric guitars already in this guide, you might be surprised to see the electric-acoustic in this list. We put it in this category because it has the ability to be amplified using electronics.
While it can realistically fit into either of the two types, so can the hollow-body. But because it falls into the electric guitar type, so does this versatile model with all the unique body shapes!
Types of Bass Guitars
Just like other kinds, the bass guitar also has a wide range of models.
- Electric bass guitar
- Acoustic bass
- Semi-hollow body
While most people only really know about the solid body electric bass guitar, there are many others. They have a place in different music styles and can really add some versatility. Each one sounds unique in its own way, and most bass players will own at least a few of the different types.
Another thing that is quite popular is the fretless bass guitar. This type of model adds a whole new groove to the way a bass plays and sounds, while a bit harder to master, it is worth looking into.
Types of Small Guitars
Now that we have looked at the different types of guitars and how they fit into certain categories, it is also helpful to know which ones are smaller than others. This is great for those who want an instrument that is smaller for travel or even to tuck away in an office. These consist of:
- Travel guitars
- Mini acoustic guitars
- Parlor Guitars
You will find that the parlor and mini acoustic guitars are better suited for living room or offices, but there are some who take them when they travel. A few companies even make some that have a detachable neck, this makes it very portable. But the travel guitar is one of the more portable options and can be very easy to pack.
One downside of a travel type is that it is not very loud, like a smaller acoustic guitar with a resonant chamber will be. And so there is a cost to the portability, but it is perfect if you just want to practice for accuracy and finger exercises.
Less Common Types of Guitar
While the types of guitar that we have touched on are the more common variety you will find, there are some that are not well known. They each have their place in some music styles and techniques, but chances are you have never heard of them.
The standard acoustic is also considered to be a “prime” guitar. This means that it is the kind of instrument that uses the most conventional arrangement. A soprano guitar on the other hand, while it resembles a common acoustic, is not the same. This type uses a tuning arrangement that is a full octave higher, sometimes more.
This higher pitched sound comes at a price, as the tension on this kind of guitar is substantially higher. And so it is designed to be structurally stronger than a conventional acoustic guitar. Also known as an Octave guitar, they are primarily used in orchestras and ensembles that use them for melodies and solo requirements
Another guitar type that is not as well known is the kind known as the baritone. This variety is tuned somewhere between a bass and standard guitar and has a lower frequency response. This is highly favored with players who use down tuning, as the sound they provide is unique.
As of late, they have started to become a bit more popular with certain player groups, but are not quite a household name. They have a longer scale length, and a more robust body to allow for the string size, which are normally tuned an octave below standard.
The Tenor guitar is another type that is not well known. This is a four string instrument that has a neck thickness the size of a banjo. They are well spaced, making this an easy to play guitar. According to people who play the instrument, it was created to help people transition from banjo to the guitar.
While they are not tuned like a standard guitar type, they do have a voice all their own. This instrument can be found in music genres like country, jazz, swing and contemporary folk. If you are overwhelmed by the six string standard guitar, this might be the one for you.
How To Choose The Right Type of Guitar
With this many options for types of guitars, it can be very overwhelming when trying to choose what will be best for you. There are a lot of instructors who might suggest that you start with the one that will be easier to play. This is usually the nylon acoustic guitar.
But I don’t agree with this, as there is going to come a time when you lose interest.
How so, you might ask? Well, most people want to learn the guitar because they have a favorite artist or music style. This could be a pedal steel sound or playing like your favorite jazz guitarists. If you were to simply go after a nylon equipped model, but didn’t like the music type, you will have no inspiration to continue.
Part of staying excited to continue learning is that you get to start to play your favorite songs. Learning this instrument can be tough. And so you need milestones and inspiration to make this work in your favor.
So if you like classical music, then yes, the nylon-string flamenco guitar is going to be right for you. But if you want to emulate distorted rock songs, or playing slide guitar, then it will have to be electric! So when you are choosing, find out what your favorite artists are using and start with the same type.
Maybe it’s a song that has influenced you to learn, find out what guitar was used to make it. Some types are easier to learn than others, but you can learn just as long as you are inspired and are making progress!
Types Of Guitars And Their Differences FAQ
I have put together some commonly asked questions around the types of guitars and hope you find the answers you seek! Both beginners and advanced players can benefit from the answers. Because the guitar is so popular, it is best to know as much as possible about each type.
How many types of guitars are there?
There are 3 main categories of guitar types, Classical, Acoustic and Electric. Within these 3 categories, there are many types of guitars. So many, in fact, that it makes more sense to try and determine what category is best to start with, then the type. Each kind will more or less work in many music styles, but the categories don’t overlap quite the same.
When selecting a guitar for the first time, start out with the music style you play and see what category it falls into. This way, you will narrow down the type you might need much easier.
Is It Better To Start With Electric Or Acoustic?
Many teachers will tell you that one type is better to start with than the other. But this simply isn’t true. We are firm believers that you should get the type of guitar that will keep you interested and motivated to practice.
A beginner who likes rock or metal can start on an acoustic, but it’s clear this music type is played on an electric. And so you should get and start on one.
Sometimes the argument is that the electric is loud and people won’t want to listen to a person learn on it. But today we have gear that is capable of headphones and silent playing. So if that is the case, then you should plan to buy the right gear.
What is a four-string guitar called?
A 4-string guitar with a long neck is a bass. The strings are thicker on bass, but it resembles that of an electric. These types of guitars are used in many music styles. Take a look at what some of your favorite bands are using, you may see that some use this kind.
The bass is a great type to get started on and should be considered. Just make sure you understand what is involved before getting started. Will it inspire you to practice?
Which guitar type is best?
When selecting a guitar type, the best is the one that you can play your favorite music on. Some people might suggest trying certain types of guitars because they are easier to play. But this will only lead you to become bored down the road. And it is very important to select the one that will excite you to play it.
This will be the guitar used in your favorite music, and the one that made you consider the instrument in the first place. Even thought it might b harder to play, it will be the one that keeps you motivated. And it is all about enjoyment of the hobby in the end.