So…OK – you’ve decided to take on the challenge of learning how to play the guitar. First off, congratulations! You’re about to head on a journey that will lead to a great deal of personal gratification—being able to play maybe one of the most satisfying things that you’ll do.
That being said, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot to learn. One of the first things you’ll find yourself asking is ‘what kind of type of guitar do I need to hit the ground running? It may be a bit more involved than you think. There are numerous styles, and picking the best one for you may seem like a hard decision to make.
No need to let yourself get overwhelmed – we’ve got you covered! Let’s take a few minutes and look at all of the different kinds of available guitar types. Once you are well informed, you can make the best decision as to which guitar type is the right one for your needs.
We’ll start where it all began – the time-honored acoustic guitar.
When you play the 12-string guitar, you spend half your life tuning the instrument and the other half playing it out of tune. – Pete Seeger
Acoustic guitars are about as simple as you can get from a construction standpoint. The overwhelming majority of models are made entirely of wood, with a select few using more modern materials.
Overall construction consists of a wood ‘neck’ and a hollow ‘box’ called the ‘body.’ The body has a top, back, and formed sides that can be found in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, each with its own characteristics.
For example, a dreadnought style tends to be bigger, giving more volume projection and deeper sound. In contrast, you can also get much smaller parlor models, making them potentially better to play for those with smaller hands. They are easier to transport as well.
As far as strings are concerned, there aren’t many options other than using steel. Some other metal materials are used, such as nickel and bronze. For the most part, you’ll hear acoustic guitars referred to as ‘steel-string acoustics.’
Popular acoustic manufacturers are Martin, Taylor, and Yamaha, with each one having a complete line of guitar types with different sizes, features, and options.
Acoustic guitar variations
- Flat top
- Selmer (Maccaferri)
- Silent guitar
- Steel-string acoustic
- Tailed bridge
With an acoustic electric (A/E) guitar, you’ll have the ability to take the classic steel-string acoustic (not to be confused with a ‘classical’ guitar…more on that later) and adding the ability to amplify the sound easily.
A/E guitars have some pickup and preamp systems installed in them right off the shelf. This allows you to plug it into a guitar amplifier or a direct box to a PA for live performance. You can also use it directly into an audio interface if recording is your thing.
Pickup types differ from units that fit under the bridge saddle and transfer the vibrations to models that use a small microphone inside the guitar’s body. Some of the best setups have both, as each provides its own unique tones that can be blended into a very rich, full, and defined tone.
A/E guitars are typically considered extended models of traditional acoustic guitars, so all major manufacturers offer them as part of their product lineups.
Classical guitars may be considered a derivative of the traditional acoustic, as the overall construction is the same. Just as with a conventional acoustic, you’ll find a hollow wood body and neck, but there is where the similarities end.
The shape of a classical guitar’s body tends to be more of a traditional form without having larger sizes to choose from. The neck is more of a departure as it typically is broader and flatter, making it potentially more comfortable to play for some.
Another big difference is the type of strings that you’ll find. Nylon is the material of choice, with the thicker (lower sounding) strings wrapped with a thin steel wire. Nylon strings take less tension to get them to pitch (that is, sounding the proper note when tuned). That makes them a more attractive choice for beginners as they are easier on the fingers.
And as any beginner will tell you, your fingers will get sore at first. This is a good reason why many choose classical guitars to start with – every little bit helps, right?
Classical guitars are more of a niche end of the market. Most of the significant acoustic manufacturers do offer them, but there are other players in the market to contend with, such as Cordoba.
Electric Solid-body guitar
While acoustic-type guitars are very functional and capable instruments, electric models are a different beast altogether.
There are several types to consider, but the most popular may be the solid-body electric. Yeah, it has a body and a neck just like any acoustic you’ll find, but the overall design is entirely different. The body is – as the name implies – made out of a solid piece of wood, and it’s almost always much thinner than what you’ll find on an acoustic.
Electric guitars of all kinds use pickups to amplify the sound coming from the strings. The design of an electric guitar pickup is different from an A/E pickup in that it is based on a magnet with a large amount of copper wire wrapped around it, which creates a magnetic field. Strings within that field are ‘picked up, and the signal is sent to the output jack.
Solid-body guitars are also used in almost any genre of music. From the snap and twang of a country guitar to the snarl and growl of an over-the-top rock concert, they tend to lead the pack as the ‘guitar of choice.’
Yeah, you can try to rock it out (or twang it up) on an acoustic, but trust us – it just isn’t the same.
Without a doubt, Fender and Gibson are the two heavyweight brands for the solid-body electric guitar. Fender has iconic models such as the Stratocaster and the Telecaster, and Gibson has made its mark with varied offerings like the Les Paul, the SG, and the Flying V.
Electric Hollow Body
Electric Hollow Body Guitar
Hollow body guitars are a way of taking most of what’s great about a solid body electric and having a little acoustic influence.
Not to be confused with an acoustic-electric guitar, a real hollow body uses the same guitar pickups found in a solid body. They happen to be mounted on a top on – you guessed it – a hollow body.
Semi-hollow body guitar types are variants that have center support going through the entire body. This can increase sustain by having a more solid mount for the bridge and pickups.
Hollow body guitars tend to have a warmer tone than solid bodies. They are prevalent in jazz and big band music, but don’t let that pigeonhole your perception. They are just as prevalent in rockabilly, country, and some straight-up rock applications.
One thing to consider when cranking up any hollow body – they are notorious for producing feedback at high volumes. So consider that if you intend to use one for, say, metal guitar that will melt steel.
Popular hollow-body guitars are made by brands such as Gretsch and D’Angelico, along with offerings by most other major electric guitar manufacturers.
Bass Guitar – All Kinds!
Think about that thump in a song like ‘Another One Bites The Dust by Queen…that, friends, is the bass guitar. Bass is different from a traditional six-string in that it typically has only four, and they are tuned an octave lower to get that low-frequency rumble.
As far as the bass guitars themselves, you’ll find different types which mirror what is available with six strings as well. Solidbody basses may be the most common, but acoustic and acoustic-electric models are readily available as well.
Since the strings are meant to be tuned lower, they are much thicker. That means a somewhat different approach is needed to play it correctly. However, you can still shred some fantastic bass lines if you know what you’re doing!
One big plus: bass guitarists are in the minority compared to those who play regular guitar, so there should be no problem finding a spot in a great band. It’s like having built-in job security!
Fender, Gibson, Yamaha…all of the big guys have bass guitars in their portfolio, and they are great choices if you decide that playing the bass may be your calling.
Other things to consider
Just looking at the different guitar types may not tell you the whole story when deciding which one is your best choice. Regardless of which type you tend to prefer, there are some other things that you should consider.
Guitar playing styles
Various playing styles are the result of mixing various guitar techniques.
- Down strokes picking
- Extended technique
- Guitar solo
- Guitar showmanship
Guitar types sizes
When setting out to buy a guitar, be sure to consider the size of the guitar. Guitars come in a wide variety of sizes that affect the instrument’s comfort, playability, and tonal qualities. Generally speaking, big guitars are louder but more cumbersome and less comfortable to play for the smaller framed people.
As you might expect, smaller guitar types have less volume but are more comfortable to play for smaller framed people. For example, most young children would find a Jumbo or Dreadnought acoustic guitar challenging to handle and play.
Scale length is another crucial consideration when choosing a guitar. Scale-length not only playability but tonality also.
I am not going to go into all the small variables between guitar manufacturers’ sizes and models; that would be beyond the scope of this article. I want to make you aware of certain qualities that are typically associated with the size of a guitar.
It’s essential to try as many guitars as you can; how it sounds is usually the first thing most players will be concerned with. After all, no matter how comfortable the guitar feels to play, you are not likely to buy it if it does not have the sound you’re looking for, right? However, even if the guitar sounds excellent, you are unlikely to buy it if it is uncomfortable to play either.
Don’t be embarrassed to carry a small notebook and write down the guitar’s name, what you do and do not like about that particular instrument. Do this even if you have a great memory. It will serve you well for all the years to come, well into your guitar-playing future.
Acoustic guitar sizes
Taylor Acoustic Guitars Body Sizes
They are generally the largest acoustic guitar of them all. Jumbos suit players who have are strong strummers. They have a big, powerful sound.
Dreadnoughts are a prevalent guitar because they have a lot to offer. They suit a variety of styles and suit strummers, fingerstyle, bluegrass, and flat pickers. They offer big strong bass and are loud. They are popular with larger framed people and much less for smaller framed people. Smaller, framed people often complain about the discomfort of draping their arms over the instrument’s body.
Is old-style and popular with guitarists seeking a smaller guitar.
A small and light guitar for people who travel a lot. Not known for their tonality or high volume output.
Designed with children in mind, they are 3/4 to half the average size of most guitars—a popular choice for kids learning to play.
Guitar manufactures have their own variations of guitar types and sizes.
Scale length for guitars refers to the approximate distance between the saddle and the nut.
- Scales lengths 25.4 inches or more are considered long.
- Scales lengths less than 25.4 inches are considered short.
Scale length may have a significant on playability and the sonic qualities of the guitar. The longer the scale length, the higher the string tension. This becomes noticeable when bending strings or strumming particularly.
For some, a longer scales length can be uncomfortable, be sure to consider scalelength when evaluating guitars.
Price does not always equal quality.
Yeah, it’s typically true that ‘you get what you pay for.’ But when it comes to all guitar types these days. It’s getting harder to draw a hard line between what you get at the spectrum’s high and low end.
Construction techniques that guitar manufacturers use have evolved dramatically over the years. That means a guitar at the lower end of the spectrum may have a quality level close to models that cost much more. It’s not uncommon at all to come across a cheaper model that will more than serve its purpose, with excellent sound, build quality, and impressive tone.
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t let a high price make you think the guitar you’re looking at is ‘better than the rest. On the flip side, don’t believe that a cheaper guitar doesn’t have anything to offer. Take the time to try out models all across your budget range – you may be pleasantly surprised at the guitar you can get at a relatively attractive price point.
How many guitars do you need?
Going along with the total price vs. quality discussion, you should take a hard look at how ‘good’ of a guitar you really need. That’s going to vary greatly depending on what your overall goals are.
As a beginner, it may make more sense to stay at the lower to mid-end of the market. Why? Because more expensive models may have features that you may not need. If you’re looking for a decent guitar to get your feet wet, then spending thousands on a top-shelf model doesn’t really make very much practical sense.
This is particularly true if the beginner is a child. Children and younger players may have great intentions to become the next Eddie Van Halen, but they can be notorious for losing interest and dropping out of the game. The number of expensive guitars that have been purchased with good intentions is now sitting around gathering dust. Maybe more than you think?.
New or used?
You can look at the whole ‘new vs. used’ debate just as you would when looking to buy a car. Many used cars out there will get you from point A to point B, all with a touch of style and reliability. And you can potentially save a ton of money, right?
The same is true with guitars. There most certainly is nothing wrong at all with buying a guitar that has some playing time under its belt. As long as the overall condition is good, the sound is right, and the value is there, then what’s to debate?
At the same time, there is something cool about that ‘new guitar smell’… don’t discount how good a used guitar can be.
Well…there you go. Each guitar type offers its own set of benefits and features, and hopefully, the information we went over will help guide you along. We won’t deny the fact that there’s a lot that you should keep in mind. But keeping an open mind and evaluating all of the factors will lead you to make the right choice.
Chat with other guitars players about all the various guitar types in our chat forum about guitars.
1. Outline of guitars | Wikiwand. Wikiwand. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Outline_of_guitars. Published 2020. Accessed May 1, 2020.