Tell a musician that you play guitar, and you’ll more than likely get blank stares or peppered with questions as they wait for you to elaborate. Although even children can benefit from learning to play, many adults make this claim without understanding all the different types of guitars that actually exist.
What are these guitars, what genres do they work with, and how do they function? These questions and more we’ll answer below. That way, the next time you tell a professional musician that you play guitar, you can tell them exactly what you play and not look like a fool in the process.
Let’s start with the basics: The acoustic guitar. Every self-proclaimed musician you’ve ever met at a party that busted out “Wonderwall” likely played one of these babies. Many artists that now work with electrics or forgo instruments entirely once practiced on an acoustic guitar.
These guitars all function the same way. You pluck the string, vibrations travel through the neck, and sound resonates through the hollow body. While the type of wood used in these guitars can affect the sound quality, they generally carry the same bright sound owing to their steel strings.
Now we’re rocking. Unless you listen to indie, classical, or jazz, you’ve most likely heard an electric guitar in your life. Many of the best guitars of all time are electric guitars. For the curious, these guitar brands rank among the best that exist today.
Most electric guitars that you can buy nowadays are solid-body guitars. These guitars have no holes to allow sound to resonate, meaning that they require amps. When you strum one of these bad boys, pickups pick up the vibrations. They then transform the sound into electrical signals that get amplified by loudspeakers.
The sound these guitars produce, being electronic in nature, is endlessly customizable. Indeed, many genres of rock and metal rely upon the ways you can alter the sound as you play.
At a glance, it can be hard to distinguish classical guitars from acoustic. They have similar shapes, after all. Classical guitars tend to have wider fretboards, which makes it easier for people to play with their fingers. Acoustic guitars, by contrast, should be played with a pick by design.
Another key difference between the two rests in their strings. Classical guitars use nylon strings with the final 3 wrapped in steel. Modern acoustic guitars use all steel strings. This gives the classical guitar a more mellow sound rarely heard in the music industry these days.
If you want to show off your mad guitar skills and look cool doing it, then multi-neck guitars are the best guitars for you. As one might guess, these types of guitars come with two or more necks.
While you can get these guitars in both electric and acoustic format, electric is by far the most common choice. The double-necked electric guitar, specifically, tends to be a showpiece for a skilled lead guitarist in a band.
These guitars can come in a variety of configurations, including fretted and fretless neck boards. Or, one 6-string neck and one 12-string neck.
Speaking of 12-strings…
As the name would suggest, 12-string guitars are guitars that use 12 strings instead of 6. They use the same sort of tuning that a typical 6-string does, which makes them easy to adapt to. Their 12 strings give them a much stronger sound than a 6-string could ever achieve naturally.
One cool thing to note is that the lower strings get tuned in octaves. This gives this unique musical instrument a natural chorus or harmonic effect while playing.
These types of guitars, alas, seem to be going the way of the dodo. Resonator guitars came into existence in a time when there was no electric amplification available. So, any guitar players that would stand beside a blaring jazz band or an orchestra would need a way to amplify the sound of their instrument.
These guitars use a metal cone rather than a wooden body to amplify their sound. This gives them a loud, distinct tone when compared to acoustic or even electric guitars.
These guitars are all but forgotten now. However, they still see some use in genres like bluegrass.
Do you like the loudness of the electric guitar but the tone of the acoustic? Have you ever wished that you could alter the sound of your acoustic guitar on the fly?
Electro-acoustic guitars fill this exact niche. They serve as a combination of the pickups of the electric guitar with the body of an acoustic guitar. Their main purpose is to be an acoustic guitar, but loud enough to play to a stadium.
If you do decide to use distortion on electro-acoustic guitars, take care. The hollow body of this instrument can cause serious feedback issues.
Everyone forgets about the bass player of the band. Unless you’re lucky enough to be one of the greatest bass players of all time, if you choose to play the bass guitar, people will forget that you exist until they need a bassist.
You can find these guitars as electrics or acoustics. However, electric bass guitars are much more common. They often feature 4 thick strings. These strings can get tuned to much lower, more bassy frequencies than standard guitars, hence the name.
While they’re rarer, in the jazz field, you may hear about higher-voiced counterparts to bass guitars. These include tenor, alto, and soprano guitars, each tuned to higher frequencies, respectively.
A harp guitar is essentially the type of instrument you would get if a guitar and a harp had a baby. These guitars come with the standard 6-string bodies of an acoustic guitar, but with some extra features added on. These features include unstopped, open strings that you’d play just like a harp.
This creates a unique sound experience. However, it should only be played by a professional musician, as it essentially requires the ability to play two separate instruments at once.
Archtop guitars get their name from their unique arch-shaped tops. This differs greatly from the usual flat-bodied guitars that you see nowadays. These types of guitars also have f-holes drilled into them like a violin. This allows sound to resonate outward from their hollow bodies.
You may also see this type of guitar referred to as a hollow-body electric guitar. The reasoning behind this is that the archtop was one of the first types of electric guitar to develop. While most electric guitars these days are solid body, you can still hear archtops play in jazz bands.
Lap Steel Guitars
These guitars sometimes get referred to as Hawaiian guitars due to their popularity in that island’s music. They are, as the name would suggest, steel-stringed guitars that sit on your lap as you play. You play these guitars with a slide, rather than your fingers.
This is because the fretboards on lap steel guitars serve as markers. If you press the strings down, it could prevent the sound from ringing out.
Need to practice your guitar skills on the road, but don’t have enough space to cart your guitar case with you? Never fear, the pocket guitar is here.
These portable beauties eschew the body of the guitar, leaving only the neck behind. In many cases, even that neck gets shortened, reducing its sound even further. Thus, these guitars only work as practice instruments, rather than tools for performance.
The Ukelele and Keytar Debate
Want to watch the music lover in your life squirm? Ask them if keytars and ukeleles qualify as guitars.
Many people who make their living by playing guitar will argue that a keytar is more of a keyboard. And they’d be right since you mainly play the instrument like a keyboard rather than a guitar. However, since you wear this instrument like a guitar, it gets regarded as a combination of the two instruments.
As for the ukelele, they tend to have much softer strings than even classical guitars. They have 4 strings, as opposed to a guitar’s 6. So, while they are a stringed instrument alongside the guitar, most do not consider the ukelele to be a type of guitar.
Want to Learn More About the Types of Guitars?
From electric to acoustic, modern to classic, there are so many types of guitars that you can learn how to play. Whether you want to shred a sick metal riff or pluck your heart out to some twangy country blues, you can find the perfect musical instrument for you in the guitar family.
Did you find this guide to the many types of guitars helpful? Would you like to learn more about the guitar or music in general? If so, then check out our blog each day for more informative content like this.