Different Electric guitar types and models all have a different sound. But there are some myths and legends about which guitar is best for a genre. Today we try to put the myths to rest, and talk about what really matters: Tone
Electric Guitar Types And Models: Everyone Has An Opinion…
And just because someone has an opinion, it doesn’t mean that they are right. There are all kinds of misconceptions out there about what electric guitar types should be used for different genres. In general, guitarists tend to pick guitars that fit the style of music they play based on a few different conditions. These can be a lot of factors, but what it boils down to is really just a few reasons:
The first three things on that list are about practical things. Do you need a Floyd Rose to play Jazz guitar? Probably not, and the same can go for pickup types and other features. Those are personal preferences. But the big one we want to talk about today, is the last word on that list: Tradition. The whole idea of tradition is why we think things like “Telecasters are for Country Music”. But that isn’t always the case, and sometimes going against the tradition is what makes an artist unique.
Now I’m not one of those people that think that tradition is a bad word. If you like to play Blues Music and you think that a Stratocaster is the best choice because it has been for 60 years, then that’s ok. But electric guitar types do not define a genre as a whole. Another example is playing the same guitar as your heroes. If you love Slash or Adam Jones and they are the reason you play guitar, then it is totally fine to want a Les Paul.
There is nothing wrong with tradition, but sometimes I think it hampers your possibilities when it comes to getting different tones and being original as an artist. Making music is all about being creative, and trying something new. This is when different electric guitar types can be a huge benefit. Because different guitars make you play different stuff. We recently discussed something like this when it comes to 22 VS 24 fret guitar types.
I have been wanting to do an article like this for a while now. Because I like to think outside of the box when it comes to my guitar tones. We have gone over “Do it all” guitars before, and I think those can work for a lot of guitarists. But for me, I buy guitars because they have utility, and they all do something different for me.
Certain electric guitar types seem to be compartmentalized for some guitarists. They lump all Fender guitars into the “Dad Rock” category, or Ibanez is only for the shredders. When in reality, the trailblazers often experimented with different electric guitar types and models until they got the sound they needed. Hell, some famous guitarists switch guitars like they change their underwear! Joe Perry is like that, and he plays Fender, Gretsch, Gibson, and custom guitars.
So let’s take a look at the different electric guitar types and talk about what they are usually used for, but also how each one is really limitless in potential. There really is no “one guitar for the job”. Just because it may be deemed a classic for some people, doesn’t mean it has to sound like a classic. The same goes for more modern guitars! So lets take a look at some examples…
The Telecaster: Simple, Yet Versatile
The Fender Telecaster is a real work of art, and one of the most famous electric guitar types of all time. The telecaster is iconic for a myriad of reasons, but one of them is the fact that it is the first solid body electric guitar to be mass produced. Suffice to say, Leo Fender got the design right the first time. people have been rocking the Telecaster since the 1950’s, and the actual design remains almost Identical as back then. The telecaster has not changed a whole lot over the years, and that’s why we love it.
Most guitarists will automatically associate the Telecaster with Country/Western music. This is because of the bridge pickup that has that signature Telecaster twang. Lots of guitarists play Telecasters in the country music scene because of the unmistakable tone of the guitar. The neck pickup is also popular for rhythm playing since it has a warm sound that still cuts through the mix. Country artists like Brad Paisley still use the Tele for the twang, because it holds a legacy.
But I didn’t use Brad for the image, I used John 5. John’s longest running gig is with Rob Zombie, but he has also played with Marylin Manson and has his own solo career. John exclusively plays Fender Telecasters in the studio and on stage, and while he can play some great Country licks…I think we all know he is more of a shredder than anything else. Check out some of his solo show videos where he plays Van Halen on a Tele!
The Telecaster is also a big instrument in the Indie Rock scene. Death Cab For Cutie and Radiohead are both known for using Telecasters in their music. Some players keep these stock, with the single coil setup. Others use a humbucker/single configuration, or even a dual humbucker setup. The Telecaster is often called the most versatile of all the electric guitar types, and I can agree with that statement. You can do just about anything with a Tele.
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The Fender Strat: Another Masterpiece By Leo
Leo Fender was no slouch when it came to designing guitars in the 1950’s, as he seemed to be full of great ideas. Funny though, he couldn’t even play the guitar! Almost every guitar model that Leo designed has become absolutely iconic over the years, and the Stratocaster is just as legendary as the Telecaster. In my opinion, it is also just as versatile when it comes to tones.
The Stratocaster gets associated mostly with Texas Blues, and Blues in general. Stevie Ray and Clapton are two of the most famous players that use a Strat, as well as John Mayer. You also see Strats wielded by Rock guitarists like David Gilmour as well. This is because the three single coils offer 5 different tones with the pickup positions. The Stratocaster is a classic that is not going out of style anytime soon, because it can do so much, tone-wise.
But as a testament to its versatility you also see the Fender Strat in Heavy Metal all the time! Look at Iron Maiden for example, they totally shred on a Strat. Kurt Cobain used a black Fender Strat live all the time, along with other Grunge artists like Pearl Jam. But my best example would have to be Billy Corgan, who has done all kinds of music with a Strat slung over his shoulder, since The Smashing Pumpkins have changed styles so many times over the years.
Don’t even get me started on R&B and Funk. The Strat is almost a necessary tool when it comes to the classic sounds of Niles Rodgers or Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you want to get funky, the the Strat is probably the #1 choice.
I have always said that every guitar player needs a Stratocaster in their collection. Even if you play some of the heaviest music on the planet, nothing quite replicates the sound of a Strat for clean tones. Coil splits try, but they never sound right to my ears. There are so many different pickup combos that you can use with a Stratocaster, but I like the classic SSS/HSS models the best. My NJ Traditional is one of my favorite guitars because of the iconic tones that you can get out of it. The Strat is one of the most used electric guitar types in all genres!
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Semi-Hollow Guitars: Tons Of Potential!
Gibson is famous for making the Les Paul, which is absent from this list because I think we can all agree on how many different types of guitarists use them. But one of the outliers when it comes to electric guitar types is the Semi-hollow body style. We are all super familiar with them, and their design is just as iconic and popular as a Fender. But we really don’t see them as often as we should, in my opinion.
Because we usually think about semi-hollow guitars as a “Jazz Box”. While it is true that many Jazz players use a semi-hollow as their main guitars, they are also very prevalent in Blues. BB King famously played a Gibson ES model. They are known for their dual humbucker design, and having a really warm-sounding tone. This works well for Jazz and Blues music alike, but there is some serious untapped potential with a semi-hollow guitar.
Chelsea Wolfe (pictured above) wrote her first two electric albums on her Gibson ES semi-hollow. If you aren’t familiar with her work, giver her Doom Metal “Hiss/Spun” album a listen! Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age also used Epiphone Dot guitars to record with. Both artists crank up the fuzz, and tune down to C Standard to make some heavy riffage with their semi-hollow guitars. They aren’t just for Jazz, that’s for sure!
When it comes to electric guitar types, I feel like semi-hollow guitars often get overlooked when it comes to heavy music. But if you are looking for something truly different, and you have tried all of the other classic options, maybe a semi-hollow is up your alley? They have a great midrange, as well as a warm tone that gets fatter than your regular solid body guitar. Ben Weinman formerly of The Dillinger Escape Plan even uses one for his math-oriented sonic onslaught!
I have always been a fan of semi-hollow guitars because they feel so different. If you are used to playing a Strat or Les Paul style, then a semi-hollow will seem almost alien to you at first. It is one of my favorite electric guitar types, and I feel like the guitar that invented Rock N’ Roll when Chuck Berry took the stage shouldn’t be ignored as a viable instrument for rocking out. From the Beatles to Doom Metal, the semi-hollow can do it all.
Extreme Shapes: Flying V And Explorer
So far, we have been taking the different electric guitar types and showing you that just because they are a classic, doesn’t mean they can’t ROCK. The whole point of all of this is to show that it doesn’t matter what guitar you prefer, you can do any genre on any guitar. Flying V guitars are almost always associated with Heavy Metal, as are most other extreme shapes like the Explorer. But just because a guitar “looks” Metal, doesn’t mean it has to be used to rock hard and shred.
But Albert King was an incredibly talented Blues-Man who just so happened to play a Flying V! Albert is most famous for “Born Under A Bad Sign” as well as a whole catalogue of classics. His main axe was a 1959 Gibson Flying V for years, and he had quite a few more Flying V guitars in his collection. he loved the shape, and the access he had to the upper frets on a Flying V, since there is no horn to get in the way.
Albert also tuned his guitar pretty low for the time, way before Metal was even a thing! He often used “C-B-E-G-B-E” tuning, as well as open F tuning (C-F-C-F-A-D). This was definitely different for the time, and his playing influenced tons of guitarists. Explorers have also been used in Blues Music, by many different guitarists over the years.
The whole “pointy guitars=Metal” thing didn’t really start until the late 70’s and the 80’s. The Flying V was released in 1959, along with the Explorer. Unfortunately, the world just wasn’t ready for them yet and Gibson thought of them as a failure at first. But they took a while to catch on, and they finally joined the pantheon of iconic electric guitar types.
Gibson may have started it, but all kinds of companies make “extreme” shapes these days. BC Rich made a killing in the 80’s with their Warlocks and Mockingbirds. These days, extreme shapes still lean more towards Metal when it comes to genre, but they don’t have to…as Albert King has shown us.
Electric Guitar Types And Genre: Who Cares?
The electric guitar types we talked about today are just a small example of how you can do just about any genre, with any electric guitar. I think we have made up a lot of misnomers in our minds as guitarists when it comes to electric guitar types and the genre you play. I used to be guilty of this when I was younger, but since I have owned over 100 guitars in my life I have changed my opinion.
In fact, I would be more likely to watch a guy playing Blues Rock on stage with an Ibanez RG. Would it look slightly out of place? Hell yes it would! But you can bet I would pay attention, because it is so far from being the norm. All the audience cares about is how good you sound.
A good friend of mine has a cheap, old acoustic that is a 3/4 size parlor guitar. To most guitarists, we wouldn’t even give it a second look. But for whatever reason, that guitar inspires him to write some great riffs. he seems to come up with an idea every time he picks it up, and that’s the kind of guitar everyone wants.
The electric guitar type that you choose to play really has no bearing on the music you make with it. We see so many posts on guitar forums about “What Kind Of Guitar Do I need To Play XYZ Music?”. And the answer to that question is usually rooted in tradition. Most answers are typical, and predictable when the question is brought up by a beginner. But I think you should play whatever you want to play.
At the end of the day, the right guitar for you is the one that makes you want to pick it up and play. The right guitar is going to inspire you to create and learn, no matter what it looks like. If you want to play Jazz on a Flying V, I say do it. There are no real rules, and if there are rules, they should be broken. Play whatever makes you inspired, no matter which of the electric guitar types it may be.