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. To diversify our musical options, a variety of guitars have been created over the decades.
There are 7 types that are different enough to get their own category as prime guitars. Everything else is basically a subset of one of the main kinds. Yet, the variations mostly depend on the strings, body style, and playing technique.
So if you are getting started, this guide will help you understand the many types of guitars in music today.
Types Of Guitars
There are 7 types of guitars that are used by players of all skill sets. Each category also features variations. These include, but are not limited to:
- Classical Guitar
- Steel String Acoustic
- Electric Guitar
- Bass Guitar
- Lap Steel
All others in the guitar family, no matter the size or shape, will normally fall into one of these categories. Given that they cover such a wide range of musical genres, each of them offers players something unique.
While some overlap slightly, in the end, the one you choose must be the best fit for the music you want to play. Let’s take a look at the types of guitars 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 instruments were available, gut was used to produce long cords. They were then used as strings.
Classical guitars are lighter than steel-string acoustics. This is because they don’t need to be made to handle the same string tension and have a smaller body than a dreadnought. A classical guitar could never handle the tension of steel strings and would be damaged as a result.
The sound produced by a classical guitar is much softer, warmer, and quieter than that of any other. This is because of the nylon string material and smaller body size. They resemble each other, it’s true! And both are acoustic guitars, but they are different in sound and design.
Classical players will often use finger-picking techniques. In some cases, they place the instrument on the opposite leg from what is typical. A right-handed player will place the guitar on their left leg, for example.
This gives you the ability to slightly raise the neck’s angle. This improves your fretboard control. Compared to other variations, classical guitars feature a wider neck. This will improve fret accuracy for those with larger hands in particular.
When it comes to music styles, the classical guitar is great for all sorts! But it’s preferred for styles like pop, jazz, flamenco, and folk. This is because the music is soft, warm, and very technical.
This guitar type is a more modern offering but uses steel strings. It’s the most favored acoustic style today in most genres. This is because of its brighter, louder sound. It’s also the most common guitar that beginners start with.
The steel-string acoustic comes in many sizes and shapes. It has a more structurally sound body made to handle the extra string tension. The added support also creates a more rigid resonance chamber. Slightly affecting the sound produced. It really stands out and is one of the more popular types of guitars.
There are many acoustic guitar sizes, but 6 that are the most popular:
Each of the acoustic guitar sizes produces different sounds and volume levels. Bigger bodies are not only louder, but normally have a fuller, deeper bass response. Smaller bodies punch more in the lower mid-range and have articulate treble frequencies.
When selecting a steel-string acoustic guitar, it’s important to be aware of the body sizes. Some people might struggle to play with larger ones. Especially if they are a smaller person. So be sure to select the size that is most comfortable for you.
Travel guitars have become popular for this very reason. They have helped players with small hands find the perfect fit! But when it comes to beginners, the acoustic guitar is perfect. Plus, music like country, folk, bluegrass, rock, and blues are all excellent on the acoustic.
Further reading: Can the guitar also be a percussive instrument?
12-String Acoustic Guitar
Another version worth exploring is the 12-string. This variation produces a sound that only it can. The addition of 6 strings creates some rich, beautiful harmonics. This will surely inspire you to want 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 the extra strings means it requires better fretting accuracy. Finger pressure must be increased to press two strings down with one finger for each note. Which for a beginner could be rather difficult.
Further learning: 6 vs 12-string guitars.
Sometimes the guitar needs to be amplified or run through a PA system to make it louder. This is perfect when performing in large rooms or at gigs. Acoustic-electric 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 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, but a cutaway in the body as well. Adding a cutaway lowers the volume an acoustic will produce slightly. But if the guitar can be used with an amp, some players feel it’s a nice trade-off. To be able to reach the frets higher up the neck.
The semi-acoustic or hollow-body guitar is a cross between two types. The electric and acoustic guitars. While they look slimmer, they are slightly bigger than solid-body electric guitars. As a result, the volume they can produce is also centered between the two types.
Primarily when played acoustically. They are not overly loud. But are not as quiet as an electric guitar without amplification. As such, they are considered to be more a part of the electric family. But overall, are still a type all their own.
One of the issues with this type 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’s in.
There are 2 different variations in the semi-acoustic guitar family:
- Hollow Body
As we’ve mentioned, feedback is more likely in hollow bodies. It can be downright annoying! But compared to electric guitars, this version has a very different sound. It sort of sounds the same as an acoustic with a pickup system. Yet, it’s a bit larger in the mid-range. It’s also apparent in the sound that the guitar is hollow. It has a tone that is distinct from other kinds.
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 guitar and have an almost boat-like neck with jumbo frets. It can be a struggle to play. 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.
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 semi-acoustic guitar is perfect for music like jazz, rock, and rockabilly.
The archtop guitar is another type of semi-acoustic or hollow body. This design features a wider body because the guitar has an arched top. It sticks out further as a result. It is worth mentioning as it too has a desired look and sound.
Some versions have both an arched top and back. This makes them exceptionally wide and has a broad, deep sound. The F holes in the body project the sound, adding to the resonance. These guitars are also popular for modern jazz and rockabilly. There are many Gibson archtop guitars that were very popular in the past. They are considered vintage or classic.
The electric is a very popular guitar type that is well-received by many players. This is because there are numerous variations, shapes, sizes, and hardware options. Some electrics also add additional strings! This makes it very desirable to play this instrument.
7 and 8-string guitars have become popular over the last little while. This adds 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, it can get the tone you seek in your head. It’s really simple to get there thanks to all the many components they can be outfitted with. Typically, the bodies are slim and light, and the necks are simple to play.
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, which also makes it perfect for beginners.
You can find this instrument type, 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.
This type is perfect for most music styles from pop, jazz, and blues to rock and metal.
Extended Range Electric Guitars
A wider variety of guitar styles has emerged along with the popularity of new heavier music genres.
For the past few decades, 7-string guitars have been common. This is not surprising as they are also quite versatile. As players began seeking different sounds, manufacturers began making these new variations.
This has led to guitars with 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’s actually quite simple and utilizes the standard arrangement to make it work. But it just adds another lower note on any added strings! Depending on the guitar, an ERG will come as an electric type, but there are some acoustics available also.
They are used in very similar types of music. Yet, when you begin to get into the 8 or 9-string versions, the music gets pretty dark and experimental. In this instance, you may find them in doom metal, progressive as well as experimental.
The resonator is a very interesting and unique type! It’s an acoustic with a metal cone used to amplify the vibration from the bridge. This guitar type has sound holes, but that is not what produces the volume like a standard acoustic. The resonator was created to compete with louder instruments like horns.
This was the answer when a conventional acoustic guitar was just not loud enough. 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, resonator guitars come with both wood and metal bodies. They also have features like square or round necks. Square necks are played face-up with a slide bar, while round ones are like a regular acoustic.
While the resonator guitar was designed for big band jazz, it became used in other genres. Styles like blues, folk, and bluegrass music. You can even find it in some country bands, depending on what type of music they are going for.
The bass is also a well-known instrument found in many kinds of music. Normally seen in 4-string models, the bass also comes in different shapes and sizes.
The strings are much thicker and spaced farther apart. This is intended to utilize lower frequencies. Especially when used within the range of other instruments.
The bass comes in both acoustic and electric guitar versions. With frets and without, as well as many other options. The bass can be a very fun instrument. Musicians whose primary instrument is the electric guitar frequently play it pretty well.
Without the electric bass, our music would not have the same impact that it does today. Most players seek to improve their skills with the bass. It’s a great supporting instrument in songs and music creation.
The scale length on a bass guitar ranges from 30 to 36 inches. This makes the strings very tense, and some finger strength is then needed 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 can be very powerful and bold.
Lap Steel Guitar
The lap steel is truly not like these other types of guitars. Also known as Hawaiian, the lap steel 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. It can also be known as a pedal steel guitar and can have different designs.
The string action is quite high, so an apparatus like the bar is needed to play it properly. This contributes to the tone of the instrument. Using your fingers would not produce the same sound or performance.
A player who is fluent with an electric guitar can use lap steel, as the fretboards are the same. Yet, the way it’s played presents a steep learning curve. The lap steel is the key instrument in Hawaiian music, which is why it’s associated.
It’s also used in other music styles like jazz, modern country, rock, and even bluegrass. Because the lap steel also uses pick-ups, it does resemble an electric guitar.
What is the most common type of guitar?
The electric guitar is the most common type and is seen more than most others. It’s also highly sought after! Mainly because it’s incredibly adaptable and can produce a variety of tones. There are also many variations available for different music styles.
Guitar manufacturers sell thousands of this type every year, making it quite common. It’s also great for beginners to start with because they are easy to play.
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 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 instrument to get started on and should really 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, choose the one you can play your favorite music on. Some people may suggest trying certain kinds because they are easier to play. But this will only lead you to become bored down the road. And it’s very important to select the one that will excite you to play it.
This will be the guitar used in your favorite music. The one that made you consider the instrument in the first place. Even though it might be harder to play, it will be the one that keeps you motivated. And it’s all about the enjoyment of the hobby in the end.