When it comes to musical instruments, the guitar is undoubtedly one of the most popular and versatile choices. With its ability to produce a wide range of sounds and its universal appeal, the guitar has found its place in various genres of music. However, not all guitars are created equal.
In this guide, we will explore the different types of guitars, each with its own unique characteristics and purpose.
Whether you’re a beginner looking to buy your first guitar or an experienced guitarist seeking to expand your collection, this guide will help you navigate through the diverse world of guitars.
The classical guitar originated in the 19th century and introduced the shape commonly associated with guitars today. Unlike acoustic guitars, classical guitars have nylon strings, which produce a soft and mellow tone.
The wider fretboard of classical guitars is ideal for fingerpicking techniques, while acoustic guitars are more suited for strumming and using a pick. Common tonewoods for classical guitars include mahogany, spruce, cedar, and maple. The back and sides are typically made of rosewood, mahogany, maple, or Hawaiian koa.
Acoustic guitar origin dates back in 9th century. It is the most common guitar type and often comes to mind when we think of guitars. It is found in almost every genre of popular music.
Acoustic guitars are characterized by steel strings and various tonewoods used in their construction. When a string is plucked, the vibration travels through the bridge to the top, side, and back wood of the body, resonating through the air inside and creating sound. Common tonewoods include spruce, mahogany, and ebony.
Acoustic guitars produce a bright and precise tone, especially in higher frequencies. There are different body shapes, such as dreadnought, double-O, and grand auditorium.
Electric guitars first appeared in the early 20th century, and they can only produce a sufficient sound level if they are connected to an amplifier.
The body of an electric guitar is made of solid wood, and the string vibrations are picked up by pickups, converting them into electrical signals. These signals are then reproduced as sound through speakers. Electric guitars have thin and comfortable necks, allowing for easy playability, particularly for single-note soloing.
They offer a wide range of tones, which can be further modified using preamps, pedals, and digital processors. Distortion is a common tone associated with electric guitars, especially in genres like blues, rock, and metal.
The statistics show that electric guitars have claimed the majority of the market, capturing a significant 60% share compared to acoustic guitars, which hold a 40% share, as reported by NAMM.
Also known as acoustic-electric guitars, electro-acoustic guitars combine the acoustic guitar’s design with built-in pickups for amplification. Without an amplifier, they sound similar to acoustic guitars.
However, when connected to an amp, their sound can be modified using effects like reverb, delay, and chorus. Due to their highly resonating body, electro-acoustic guitars don’t typically produce a desirable distortion sound.
Extended-Range Electric Guitar
Extended-range electric guitars, such as 7-string, 8-string, and 9-string guitars, provide additional strings beyond the standard six-string configuration. These guitars allow players to reach lower notes, sometimes even matching the range of a bass guitar.
Extended-range guitars are popular among guitarists in heavy and technical music genres like progressive metal. Some extended-range guitars feature slanted frets, also known as “fanned” frets, which enhance playability and intonation.
A twelve-string guitar is a fascinating variation of the traditional six-string guitar, featuring double the number of strings.
The tuning of a twelve-string guitar remains the same as a standard six-string guitar, with two strings assigned to each note. This configuration results in a significantly more powerful and resonant tone.
One of the unique aspects of the twelve-string guitar is the tuning of the lower strings in octaves. This means that for each note, there is a combination of thicker and thinner strings.
The difference in string thickness creates distinct vibrations, producing a natural chorus effect. This chorus effect is perhaps the most remarkable and authentic characteristic of a twelve-string guitar, giving it a lush and vibrant sound.
The fretless guitar is a special type of guitar that doesn’t have frets on its neck.
Playing a fretless guitar can be quite challenging, especially if you’re a beginner. It’s a good idea to have some experience playing a regular guitar with frets, whether it’s acoustic, classical, or electric, before trying out a fretless guitar.
Usually, a guitar with frets has 12 frets per octave, which allows for specific musical intervals. But with a fretless guitar, you can explore a whole new world of sound. It lets you play microtones, which are notes that fall between the usual whole tones and semitones. On a fretted guitar, you would need to adjust the tuning or use bending techniques to play microtones.
Fretless guitars have a unique and natural sound that gives players a fresh and unconventional musical experience. While it may take time and practice to master the fretless guitar, getting familiar with the fingerboard and the absence of frets opens up a whole new range of expressive possibilities.
The bass guitar, often associated with the backbone of a band’s rhythm section, plays a crucial role in shaping the music’s groove and foundation. While both acoustic and electric versions exist, the electric bass guitar is more prevalent.
Bass guitars typically feature four strings, although models with five or six strings can also be found. The instrument’s larger size and longer scale length allow for the use of thicker strings, which produce a lower and more resonant bass tonal range.
Bass guitars provide the essential low-end frequencies that add depth and richness to music across various genres. Bassists contribute to the rhythmic structure, harmony, and overall dynamics of a song, working in conjunction with the drums to create a solid and driving foundation.
Resonator guitars were originally created to solve a volume problem in big orchestras before electric guitars and amplifiers existed. They may not be as popular as they once were, but people still love the unique and captivating sound of resonator guitars, especially in bluegrass and folk music, especially when played with a slide.
What makes resonator guitars special, including the Dobro guitar, is the use of a spun-metal cone. Instead of relying only on a wooden top, this metal cone helps conduct the vibrations from the strings, giving the instrument a louder and highly distinctive sound.
Resonator guitars are often played in a lap steel guitar style, where the player uses a slide to create smooth and soulful melodies. It’s a beautiful way to play and adds to the charm of the instrument.
The archtop guitar is an important part of music history and played a role in the early development of electric guitars. While it’s not as common nowadays compared to more affordable semi-hollow and solid-body guitars, the archtop guitar still has a special charm.
One of the things that makes the archtop guitar unique is its arched top, which sets it apart from guitars with flat tops. Instead of a regular round soundhole, archtop guitars have f-holes that resemble the ones you see on violins, and they also have hollow bodies.
In today’s music scene, archtop guitars are highly valued and can be quite expensive. They are especially loved by jazz guitarists who appreciate their distinctive sound and rich resonance. The hollow body construction gives them a warm and nuanced tone that suits the expressive nature of jazz music.
Semi-hollow Electric Guitars
Similar to archtop guitars, semi-hollow electric guitars find favor among jazz players for their distinct tonal characteristics.
While they share similarities with archtop guitars, there is a notable difference in their design. Semi-hollow guitars feature a solid block of wood in the center of the body rather than a hollow chamber. This design element provides better sustain compared to fully hollow instruments but sacrifices some of the natural resonance.
Semi-hollow electric guitars offer a balanced combination of acoustic and electric properties, providing a versatile sound suitable for various musical genres. Their warm and expressive tone, combined with increased sustain, allows players to explore a range of musical styles with ease.
The multi-neck guitar, as the name suggests, features two or more necks with separate fretboards. These guitars can be either acoustic or electric, but the most common configuration is the double-necked guitar, which typically combines 6-string and 12-string necks.
However, there are also models that incorporate different combinations, such as fretted and fretless fingerboards, 6-string and bass guitars, among others. Multi-neck bass guitars are also popular.
Multi-neck guitars offer a unique and visually striking instrument that allows musicians to access a wide range of sounds and techniques. They require a high level of skill to master, as players must navigate multiple necks simultaneously to create harmonious and complex arrangements. These guitars are often used in specific musical contexts, where their versatility and distinctiveness are showcased.
The quad-neck guitar represents the pinnacle of guitar complexity, boasting four necks with different string configurations. The top two necks typically feature seven strings each, while the bottom two have six strings. Playing a quad guitar requires exceptional skill and dexterity, making it a highly specialized instrument.
Visually, the quad guitar is a captivating spectacle, with each neck angled outward diagonally. While its primary purpose is to be visually striking, the quad guitar is a playable instrument in its own right. The necks work together to harmonize with each other, and skilled musicians can play chords and melodies across multiple necks simultaneously.
Travel or pocket guitars are designed to be small, lightweight, and easy to carry, making them perfect for travelers or situations where a regular-sized guitar isn’t practical. You can find both acoustic and electric versions, so you can pick the one that suits your playing style.
It’s important to know that travel guitars might not have the same volume and tone as full-sized guitars.
However, they still give you the chance to practice and play music in places like hotel rooms without disturbing others. While they may not have the same level of sound quality and projection, travel guitars are convenient companions for musicians who are always on the move.
The harp guitar is a unique instrument that incorporates additional features beyond those found in a regular guitar. It includes several unstopped strings, which can be played similarly to open strings, akin to playing a harp. The name “harp guitar” derives from this characteristic. Compared to standard guitars, harp guitars offer increased flexibility but require greater skill and technique to master, making them more suitable for experienced players.
Harp guitars provide expanded tonal possibilities, thanks to the additional strings, and can create a more orchestral or layered sound. The player can utilize the main fretted strings and the unstopped strings simultaneously, resulting in a rich and complex sonic palette. While beginners may find the harp guitar challenging, experienced guitarists can enjoy the added expressiveness and creative potential it offers.
A curious fact about the Harp guitar is that it is mentioned four times in the Bible.
Lap Steel Guitar
Lap steel, pedal steel, and Hawaiian steel guitars are fascinating instruments that have a similar look to regular guitars but require a unique playing style. To play these guitars, you either place them flat on your lap or use a stand, and instead of using your fingers to pluck the strings, you typically use a sound bar or slide.
Playing a lap steel guitar requires a different approach and technique compared to a regular guitar. While some knowledge of the fretboard can be helpful, you’ll need to learn new skills and techniques to fully unlock the instrument’s potential. Lap steel and pedal steel guitars are closely associated with Hawaiian music, but they’re also used in country, bluegrass, rock, jazz, blues, and many other genres.
The smooth gliding of the slide across the strings creates a mesmerizing sound that sets lap steel guitars apart from traditional guitars. While you can get some slide sounds on a regular guitar, lap steel guitars have their own unique characteristics that make them essential for musicians looking to explore the expressive possibilities of sliding techniques.
The touch guitar, also known as a tapping guitar, is designed to be played without traditional plucking or strumming. Instead, the player “taps” or “touches” the strings directly on the fingerboard, similar to a piano player striking the keys.
The strings of a touch guitar are typically thicker and more widely spaced compared to other guitar types, facilitating the tapping technique.
Playing a touch guitar requires a unique approach and technique, as the player uses a combination of tapping, hammering, and pulling-off techniques to produce notes and chords. This technique opens up a world of possibilities for creating intricate melodies, harmonies, and complex arrangements.
Plucked string instruments
In addition to the guitar itself, there are several fretted string instruments that are closely related to the guitar family, each with its own unique characteristics and musical traditions.
The mandolin is a small instrument with four doubled courses, meaning it has eight strings in total. Originating in Italy, it is played with a pick.
Due to its compact size, the distances between frets on a mandolin are much smaller than on a guitar. Mandolins are prominently used in folk, bluegrass, and country music, but they can be found in various musical genres as well.
The banjo is a distinctly American instrument that is well-known for its association with folk and country music. Unlike guitars, banjos are constructed with a membrane, usually made of plastic, stretched over a frame or cavity. Most banjos have five strings, with the highest string only reaching halfway down the neck. The banjo’s twangy sound is achieved by plucking the strings with a combination of a thumb pick and fingers.
Ukuleles are compact instruments with four nylon strings, and they come in various sizes, including soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone, among others. They are frequently used by singer-songwriters to accompany their vocals, and they are popular choices for beginners due to the abundance of easy songs to learn.
The largest ukulele is 3.99 m (13 ft 1.08 in) long and was created by Lawrence Stump (USA) and measured in Lansing, Michigan, USA, on 11 December 2015. It has the correct fret spacing required to produce notes separated by a semitone, as is the case in a normal-sized ukulele.
Lutes are ancient fretted string instruments with a rich history. They come in various types, with some courses featuring doubled strings and others having single strings.
Lutes are typically plucked with fingers and have a rounder, shorter shape compared to guitars. They traditionally use gut or nylon strings and have been utilized in a wide range of musical traditions throughout different cultures.
There are other types of historical guitars that have their own special features and played important roles in shaping the guitar we know today.
The Renaissance guitar, popular during the 16th century, is a small instrument with four courses. It was primarily used for chordal accompaniment and featured a compact size suitable for intimate settings. Renaissance guitars are quite different from modern guitars in terms of their construction and playing technique.
The Baroque Guitar, which emerged in the 17th century, has five courses and is slightly larger than its Renaissance predecessor.
Similar to Renaissance guitars, the strings and frets of Baroque guitars were traditionally made of animal gut, and the movable frets allowed for different temperaments. These guitars played a crucial role in the development of guitar music during the Baroque era.
Romantic guitars, popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, featured six strings and were larger than their Renaissance and Baroque counterparts. Although still smaller than modern guitars, they had a size and shape that closely resembled the guitars we are familiar with today.
The curved guitar shape we commonly associate with the instrument originated during this period. Romantic guitars were significant in the evolution of guitar music, particularly in the context of classical and Romantic-era compositions.
The world of guitars offers endless possibilities for musicians of all levels. From the versatile acoustic and electric guitars to the unique resonator, archtop, fretless, and travel guitars, each type has its own charm and sound.
You should take the time to explore and find the guitar that resonates with your soul. Embrace the joy of playing and let the music guide you on your musical journey. Happy playing!
Which guitar is the hardest to play?
The steel-string acoustic guitar is often considered one of the hardest guitars to play, especially for beginners. The heavier gauge of the strings and the metal composition can make it more challenging to press down the strings and cause finger discomfort. However, with practice and building finger strength, playing the steel-string acoustic guitar becomes easier over time.
What is the easiest string instrument to learn?
The ukulele is often considered one of the easiest string instruments to learn. Its small size, simple chord shapes, and softer nylon strings make it more accessible for beginners. With some practice and dedication, you can quickly learn to strum chords and play simple melodies on the ukulele.
Is it easy to transition from guitar to mandolin?
Yes, it is generally easy to transition from guitar to mandolin due to some similarities in playing technique and musical concepts. However, you will need to adjust to the mandolin’s tuning and the differences in fretboard layout. With practice and familiarization, the transition can be relatively smooth.
Does a mandolin use the same chords as a guitar?
No, a mandolin does not use the same chord shapes as a guitar due to the difference in tuning. The mandolin is typically tuned in fifths (G-D-A-E), while the guitar is tuned in fourths (E-A-D-G-B-E). This means that the chord shapes and finger positions will be different on a mandolin compared to a guitar.