There are so many types of guitars out there in the wild. It can get very confusing. But we have the ultimate guitar guide for all the different types of guitars! Today we take a look at each kind and look at the differences between the models and designs.
Different Types of Guitars: An Intro…
There is an image that everyone conjures in their mind’s eye when it comes to picturing their idea of what a guitar looks like. Try it right now!
What did you think of? Was it acoustic? Was it an electric?
There are so many different types of guitars, that you can ask ten people to do the same thing…and every answer might be different! everyone, even professional guitarists have their own idea of the ideal guitar. This is because there are so many different types of guitars, and they all have their own applications and purposes.
It can be a bit daunting when you are first looking at all the different types of guitars. Perhaps you’re a first-time buyer just starting your musical journey, or maybe just trying to research guitars in general. Either way, the many different types of guitars can get confusing really fast.
Today we are going to take the time to really break down the different types of guitars, how they are constructed, and what they are used for. I am going to keep this mostly in chronological order, so you can see the evolution of the guitar.
We are also only going to look at mass-produced production models. there will be no custom shop “one-off” designs. These will be the types of guitars that are widely available for everyone. Perhaps we should start from the beginning…
Being a website that is dedicated to all things Metal, we rarely talk about acoustic guitars. It’s not because they don’t have a place in Metal music. But we definitely focus more on electric guitars here at Electrikjam. There are tons of brands that make amazing acoustic guitars including the big brands like Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez.
Every company has a different “style” when it comes to making an acoustic guitar. But almost all of these differences are usually aesthetic choices. The acoustic guitar is one of the many types of guitar that has remained literally unchanged over the centuries that it has existed.
That’s right! The acoustic guitar as we know it has been relatively the same for a very long time, however, it’s more refined these days. Unlike the electric guitars that we will discuss later, the acoustic guitar is defined by it’s construction and the woods used. Starting with the soundboard.
The soundboard, or “the top” as we call them these days is a solid piece of wood (or sometimes laminate) that vibrates and creates the sound of the guitar. many different types of woods are used for the top and they all have different characteristics. For example; Spruce wood is very common because it creates a very bright tone.
On the contrary, something like Cedar will be a softer, warmer-sounding wood. Some tops have a matte finish, while others have gloss. This also makes a huge difference in tone. The back and sides of an acoustic guitar are usually a darker wood. Something like Mahogany.
Other than the woods used in the construction, the actual style and shape of the acoustic guitar make a difference in the sound as well. The difference can be subtle, or it can be huge. The different shapes and styles make up all types of guitars in the world of acoustics.
Acoustic guitars come in a few different styles, and all of them have different sizes and purposes:
Types of Acoustic Guitar
- Parlor Style: Usually used for blues, these are smaller bodied guitars with a mid range focused sound. These also typically have a shorter scale length, rarely having the neck past the 12th fret. This is because they are usually used for rhythm playing.
- Dreadnaught: This is the most popular style of acoustic guitar that you usually see. This is a mid-sized guitar that relies heavily on the wood types to produce it’s tone. These are often seen built out of Spruce or Mahogany. Different woods make a different sound, and a dreadnaught sized acoustic can cover a ton of bases.
- Jumbo: Jumbo acoustics are exactly what they sound like: Bigger! These are usually dreadnaught shaped but on a slightly larger scale. Jumbo acoustics have a big and bass-heavy tone. They sound as big as they look!
- Classical: Classical guitars are usually in between the size of a dreadnaught and a parlor size guitar. The big difference here is the wider fretboard/neck and the use of nylon strings. These are not easy guitars to play! But out of all of the different acoustic guitars, the classical is the closest to it’s ancient cousin, the lute.
- Concert Size: Concert size usually sits between Jumbo and dreadnaught style guitars. These are large, and produce a bass heavy tone. However, depending on the woods used…it can have plenty of treble/mids.
- CE or Cutaway: These come in many shapes and sizes. A Cutaway has the lower bout of the guitar “cut away” to allow you to reach higher up the fretboard. This is very good for playing complex chords and solos!
Different types of guitars in the acoustic world generally fit into two main categories, Nylon and Steel string. Almost all of Classical style guitars are nylon string. This is to simulate the cat gut (Eww!) that guitar strings once were made of. A nylon stringed acoustic sounds very warm, and lacks the brightness that a steel stringed acoustic has.
Nylon string acoustics have a wide fretboard radius and the strings are more spaced out from one another. This is to compensate for what we call “moving chords” and even some more complicated chord structures. These are hard to to play if you are used to a more traditional guitar. However, their sound is remarkable and unmistakable.
Steel string acoustic guitars are usually the standard these days when it comes to learning guitar. They are not only the most common to find, but they are also easier to play than a classic-style nylon guitar. When it comes to a good “starter” guitar, a steel string dreadnaught is the obvious choice!
Electric acoustic guitars are exactly what they sound like! Electric acoustics have a microphone/pickup inside the guitar that picks up the sound of the guitar. This is almost exclusively used on steel string acoustic guitars (pickups are magnets and need steel to produce sound). There are many types of guitars, and each sub-model has many variants. Electric acoustic included!
The electric acoustic is great for playing on a large stage, where usually an acoustic guitar would need to have a microphone in front of it. The built- in preamp on an electric acoustic guitar will plug directly into the venue’s sound system. No microphones needed!
The electric acoustic has evolved over the past few years, adding more features to the built-in preamps. Like more control over the EQ and sound from the controls on the side of the guitar. Most of these also have a built in digital tuner these days. Even the budget friendly models have these features!
Electric acoustics are also fantastic for direct recording. Just like the stage, there are no microphones to set up. This bridges the gap between electric guitars that were originally invented for more volume, and acoustic guitars seamlessly. It is important to note that these are NOT electric guitars and should not be used with any fuzz or gain effects. Those kind of effects are strictly for other types of guitars.
Speaking of the different types of guitars, and electric guitars in general…
Electric guitars seem to dominate the market these days, and there are all kinds of variations. When it comes to types of guitars, electric ones have many brands, styles, and designs. There are many major brands that cater to different play styles and aesthetics. But even with the umbrella term “electric guitar” there are many subsets.
Electric guitars are designed to be used with an amplifier. This completely sets them apart from the acoustic guitars, as they do not make a lot of sound on their own. especially solid-body designs. Electric guitars are usually fitted with magnetic pickups that catch the frequency of the string vibration, and make sound through the amplifier.
Early electric guitar was used in Big Band/Jazz music during it’s inception. The guitarists needed more volume on stage to compete with the louder sounds of horns and piano. But over the last 80 years or so, electric guitar has definitely evolved into it’s own thing. Entire genres (like Metal) are built around the sounds of an electric guitar!
But what separates the different types of electric guitars? There are tons of things these days that can make an electric guitar unique. We are going to take a look at the most popular designs today, and see what makes them all unique and different!
From the past to the present…
Hollow Body Electric Guitars
Hollow Body Electric Guitars were one of the first incarnations of the electric guitar, and they are still used today. The hollow body electric can be seen as not only a stepping stone to modern electric guitars, but also as a unique guitar in it’s own right. Of all the types of guitars out there, the full hollow body electric is one of the most rarely used these days.
A hollow body guitar is essentially a “sealed up” acoustic guitar with a pickup mounted under the strings. This puts the player in more direct contact with the nuances of picking and attack. The hollow body electric is usually a little thinner than a traditional acoustic guitar, also. They usually sport “F Holes” on either side of the strings and this increases resonance.
Gibson and Rickenbacker made history with these guitars in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. There are many types of electric guitars now. But there were not many electric guitars at all back then. These guitars were at first, rejected by purists.
Once they were embraced though, history changed forever.
The Gibson hollow body models that are produced today are almost identical to the ones from the past. The same goes for many companies that make “replicas” of the original hollow body models. They are used in many genres today, still. They are also very collectable pieces of art!
This first real incarnation of the electric guitar solved a lot of issues for guitarists when it came to amplifying sound at a live show. Finally, you could hear your guitar in a live mix over the other instruments when combined with an amplifier! But they came with a downside as well: Feedback.
A Fully hollow body guitar resonates almost too well to be amplified. At higher volumes, this creates a high pitched squeal sound from the amplifier. But remember, this was the only real option back then. There may be many types of guitars these days to choose from, but the electric guitar was brand new and very innovative for the time. So feedback issues were something you just had to deal with.
This problem would later be solved with the solid body guitar and humbucking pickups. But this would take over a decade to achieve!
Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitars
The next step in our look at the history of the different types of guitars, is the Semi-Hollow Body models. These became very popular, as they solved a lot of problems that the original electric guitars had. The first being the size of the guitar.
These Semi-Hollow guitars were must thinner, while still holding plenty of acoustic resonance. This meant they were easier to transport to shows, and easier to play a long set on stage with. These were light-weight solutions that became hugely popular with people who already embraced the new electric guitar lifestyle. Gibson was dominating the market with their new ES series.
At the time, fully hollow body guitars were still very popular, but as amplifiers got larger and had more wattage to compete with louder bands, the original innovative hollow body fell to the wayside. Without one, there would not be the other, though!
The semi-hollow models are like their hollow body cousins in a lot of ways, but there are a few differences that made them easier to use on stage. The first being the center block of wood that connects to the neck tenon. This was designed to combat on-stage feedback problems by filling space inside of the guitar.
These Gibson ES series guitars also had PAF Humbucking pickups that were game changers on the stage and in the studio. These reduced noise, and made the output more clear. These guitars are still popular today with all types of guitarists. They play well, look great, and have a distinct sound that other electric guitars cannot provide.
The Beatles were known for using these semi-hollow guitars in the studio, especially the Epiphone Casino. You can hear this guitar being played by John Lennon all over the famous “White Album”. John loved the tone and versatility of the semi-hollow guitars, and he could get them VERY loud when recording in the studio!
Around the same time, Chuck Berry was using Gibson semi-hollow guitars to help invent Rock N Roll itself! Chuck was a Blues player at heart, but he used these guitars to speed up your normal Blues riffs, and create the quintessential “Rock” sound. he could use his Gibson on stage and be as loud as he wanted. Chuck actually never changed his preference over the years, and played his semi-hollow guitars for his entire music career.
Lately semi-hollow guitars have been making a comeback in heavy music. This is very apparent in Doom and Sludge Metal. People like Chelsea Wolfe, and Queens of The Stone Age have used these wonderful guitars to get their signature sound for quite a while now. You wouldn’t think that a semi-hollow would be great with gain and fuzz applied, but the fat character of the natural tone sounds incredible.
This is a testament to just how versatile these semi-hollow guitars are.
Solid Body Electric Guitars
Solid Body Electric Guitars are by far the most widely used and available electric models on the market today. In the many types of guitars, the solid body electric reigns supreme. Solid body electrics became a cultural norm in the 19050’s as a brand new approach to electric guitars. You can thank Leo Fender for making that happen!
Leo Fender was one of the first people to make a solid body electric, and then mass produce it. Surely there were other types of guitars that used a solid body design. But fender took it upon themselves to make the electric guitar easy to carve, assemble, and build en masse. Maybe that is the reason Fender guitars are still being made to almost identical specs from the past.
At the time, more traditional electric guitars were definitely popular. But with the advent of Electric Blues and Rock N Roll, the solid body electric started popping up on stages all around the United States. Later, Fender would become popular overseas as well. The famous “British Invasion” were big fans of Fender!
But what makes up a solid body electric guitar? Spoiler alert: the name gives it away!!
While many electric guitars in the 1940’s were fully hollow, like acoustic guitars…solid body guitars are made of a solid piece of wood for the body. These days, sometimes the body of the guitar is made up of two or three pieces and glued together, but this doesn’t effect the sound of the guitar. There was a practical reason that with all the different types of guitars, the solid body electric became so popular.
Acoustic guitars, semi-hollow, and early electric guitars all have a pretty big problem. They have issues with feedback as the volume gets turned up on the amp. This is because they are hollow, and resonate the pickups. The easiest solution was to take this feature out of the equation! Solid body guitars still resonate, but not in the way that a hollow body guitar does. This eliminates the feedback issue when it comes to amplifier volume.
Solid body guitars have all kinds of different components and construction options. mahogany is a very popular wood for the solid body electric guitar. It is used for the body itself, as well as necks. Maple is another common option for neck material as it is very stable and solid. Over the years, many wood combos have been used.
Solid body electrics are the most iconic electric guitars on the planet, and they come in many different types of guitars, for tons of different uses.
Fender solid body guitars became a staple of both Rock music, and Country music. Johnny Cash’s guitarist, Luther Perkins famously used a Fender Telecaster with the Tennessee Three. The Fender helped to shape the Rockabilly sound that Johnny helped to invent. At the same time, these same guitars were being used to shape Rock N Roll as well.
Buddy Holly was often seen using a Fender Stratocaster during live shows. It may seem tame now, but this new sound was loud! Rock N Roll was in it’s infancy, and other acts like The Beach Boys started using solid body guitars on stage and in the studio as well. But history was about to be made at the end of the 1960’s…
The late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw the rise of Psychedelic Rock, and Hard Rock. probably the most famous fender solid body player would be the legendary Jimi Hendrix. Around this time, Fender saw their sales sky-rocket! While Gibson once dominated the market for all types of guitars, it would seem that Fender had taken over entirely. But Gibson also had some solid body models that were making history.
Gibson released the famous Les Paul guitars in the late 1950’s to much critical acclaim. Gibson knew they had to make new solid body models, to keep up with Fender. Several Gibson models became a staple of Rock music, like the now famous Gibson SG Model. Many artists took to these new solid body guitars by Gibson, especially overseas in the UK with a little band called Black Sabbath.
Throughout the 1970’s until today, the solid body electric guitar has been the face of all genres of Rock and Metal. There are literally hundreds of companies that make them and many of these companies put a spin on classic designs, such as ESP Guitars and their ilk. Most of the innovations when it comes to the many types of guitars are solid body electrics. And those are going to be our next topic of conversation.
Extended Range Guitars
Extended range guitars have been around for a long time in the form of Baritone guitars. But over the past 20-30 years, we have seen all kinds of innovation in 7 string guitars, 8 string guitars, and Multi-scale. We have taken a nice deep dive into these types of guitars already, but I think they deserve their own section here in out pantheon of guitars.
7 and 8 string guitars have only been around a short while, and multi-scale instruments have been around an even shorter period of time. This is truly uncharted, brand new territory for the guitar. But just because these are new editions to guitar, doesn’t mean they haven’t already been used masterfully!
Extended range guitars have become very popular especially with Metal guitarists. Extended range means exactly what it sounds like. You can generally go lower in tuning with an extended range. there are many types of guitars that fall under this category and we are going to try and break them all down.
Baritone Electric Guitars
A Baritone Electric Guitar can have a million different uses and applications. Of the many types of guitars, they are usually the most rare when it comes to electrics. In fact, the baritone guitar was very uncommon until Danelectro started production of them in the late 1950’s.
Even as a full production model guitar, baritone electrics have always been a little niche. They are usually produced in small batches since the need for them is smaller than the usual electric guitar market. Many companies make baritone models in limited production. But over the past few years, they have gained popularity for their uses in lower tunings.
Most baritone guitars have a much longer scale than your standard 25.5” neck. The original Danelectro models usually had a 27” scale and were tuned to a perfect fourth lower than a standard guitar (B1–E2–A2–D3–F♯3–B3). You could take them all the way down to a perfect fifth tuning if you wanted (A1–D2–G2–C3–E3–A3). This puts these guitars well into bass guitar territory.
The longer scale length makes the strings feel natural, even though they are tuned much lower than standard. The strings would have entirely too much slack on a standard tuned guitar. The longer scale length keeps the strings taut, and feels like a standard guitar. The longer neck does take a little getting used to, since the frets are spaced out further.
Fender made huge waves with their “Fender Bass VI” baritone guitars. These were tuned a full octave down, and used a lot during the 1960’s by The Beach Boys and Duane Eddy. With the tuning being so low, they were used as a ‘six string bass” more than your regular guitar. This creates a really unique sound, though! It doesn’t sound like a bass, or a guitar. Modern day baritone electrics are slightly different.
Modern day baritone electrics are usually 26.5” scale or 27”. These are used primarily in metal for tuning down low. Like the Ibanez RGD that you see above, these guitars usually ship tuned a full step down. A baritone electric is an amazing addition to any collection.
Different tunings may help you write differently or think about the fretboard in a new way! A baritone electric could change your whole approach to guitar.
7 and 8 String Guitars
The 7 string guitar actually goes back quite a while, all the way to the Baroque Period, hundreds of years ago. But those 7 string guitars were not the ones that we know today. The 7 string guitars we will be checking out are just the modern versions.
7 and 8 string guitars are yet another version of extended range guitars. These add either one lower string, or two! The 7 string guitar came about as an idea in the mid to late 1980’s but not as the design it eventually ended up being. Several companies tried their hand at making a 7 string, but only one actually made a production model that was mass produced.
The 7 string started as having an extra high string in the late 1980’s. This would have added a high A string, but the problem was…the scale length. The neck was too long, even at a standard scale length. This caused the high A string to constantly break. So the idea was shelved, at least for a little while.
The first mass produced 7 string was a model called The Ibanez Universe. This was a collaboration between Steve Vai and Ibanez. But this 7 string was different from the original designs. This 7 string electric guitar had a low B string, instead of the high A string. Eventually the Universe Guitars became the first mass produced 7 string.
Vai took the Universe prototypes on tour with Whitesnake, and used these guitars to record the album “Slip of The Tongue”. Overnight, the different types of guitars was expanded. The 7 string was not ready to be popular for quite a few years, though. Vai eventually ditched the idea all together.
But around the same time that Steve Vai was leaving the 7 string behind, two young guitarists were buying these instruments and they would change music forever by bringing the 7 string back to the forefront. These two guitarists from Bakersfield, California would go on to form Korn.
Soon after Korn started as a band, the sales of the Ibanez 7 string started to pick back up. By the late 1990’s the sales had skyrocketed, and newer 7 string models were made by Ibanez at all kinds of different price points. Other companies started to make their own versions of the 7 string guitar. These days, you can buy a 7 string in the standard 25.5” scale length or you can buy one with baritone scale for extra low tunings.
The variety that exists today was only a dream 20 years ago. The rise of Progressive Metal music changed all of that starting in 2007 with bands like Periphery and Monuments . But these are all new bands with new ideas for the 7 string. These bands are innovative and original with their approach to playing, yet they all owe their style partly to another band from the 90’s.
Another true innovator started using these guitars at the same time as Korn..one that was all the way in Sweden cooking up some seriously different ideas. However Meshuggah was not as popular as Korn…yet.
Meshuggah had started working on their sound with a 7 string, but this only lasted a few albums before the members of the band were ready for something new. Once again, Ibanez stepped up to the plate to make yet another new and revolutionary design, especially for the guys in Meshuggah.
This would be the 8 string guitar…and this would change everything.
8 String Electric Guitars
The 8 string can be traced back to many custom instruments over the years. Some were even classical, and acoustic. But the guitar that made the biggest impact on the Metal community was the first production electric solid body 8 string, made by Ibanez. This would be inspired by the wishes of the guitarists in Meshuggah.
Meshuggah had thought of making an entire album with bass guitars, as they wanted to tune as low as possible. The problem with their idea was the clarity of the bass guitars. The bass guitars worked well with distortion, but were very muddy in the mix. Meshuggah had some custom 8 string guitars made for the production of their album, “Nothing”.
When approached by Meshuggah, Ibanez took up the task! The company made several models for Meshuggah, and finally produced the Ibanez RG2228 production 8 string guitar.
Almost all of the 8 string guitars that are produced these days are a baritone scale. The two lower strings are much like a 7 string. You have a low B string, and a low F#. This gives you almost an entire octave added to the extended range. Of all the types of guitars, the 8 string is almost a completely different instrument than a regular guitar. The scale length is usually 27” but many 8 strings go longer than that, almost in the bass guitar scale.
For example, seen below is the Ibanez M80M Meshuggah Signature guitar, and it has over 28” of scale length!
For several years over the last decade it seems that 8 string guitars dominated the Metal guitar scene. As of late, their popularity has waned a bit. Most companies still have at least one production model 8 string. These guitars are often used in Progressive Metal by trailblazers like Tosin Abasi.
Deftones’ Steph Carpenter used a 9-string guitar on the band’s OHMS release.
While the 8 string guitar is more popular in metal, many Jazz and Classical players have adopted the 8 string as well. Having the extra range can be very liberating for any player, and open doors to creativity that you may never had thought of before! The newfound popularity of 7 and 8 strings brought about a brand new idea to the table, and it’s our final submission for Extended Range Guitars.
Multi-scale Guitars have been around for a little while, but they only recently became popular among production instruments. Most Multi-scale guitars in the past were custom shop instruments, or built by small luthiers. Over the last 7 years or so, they have become so popular with Metal musicians that they are now almost common! But what are they?
I think it’s better if I just show you…
Muti-scale guitars are the solution to people who want to tune down low with their extended range guitars, yet have balanced tension across the fretboard. This is done by having multiple scale lengths. Hence the name!
Most multi-scale guitars have a bass side that is longer than the treble side. This allows you to tune the low bass strings down, while keeping balanced tension on the treble strings for playing lead. The bass strings stay taut, and the treble strings are more easy to bend. The bass side may be 27” and a baritone scale, while the treble side is usually standard 25.5” scale.
These types of guitars may look hard to play at first, but the “fan-fret” of the multi-scale is easy to adapt to. It’s a case of “it looks more complicated than it is”. I have tried many different types of multi-scale instruments, and after playing them for a little while, you adapt to the fan fret experience.
So Many Types of Guitars…
There are so many types of guitars out there, but which one is right for you? As I always say, you need to get out there and try them!
As a beginner, you may just want to find the guitar that is easiest to play. This is expected as you learn to be familiar with the instrument. But as you get better and more skilled, you may notice things about your beginner setup that annoy you. This will shape your preference!
Everyone has a different preference when it comes to their guitar. My favorite guitar to play may be the worst experience for you. Likewise, many people have preferences in guitars that do not work for me at all. Choosing the right instrument is a very personal decision. Unfortunately, it also takes a little bit of trial and error on your part.
There is a guitar out there for every player, and I definitely think we have driven this point home today with this article. There are so many different types of guitars out there. Find your preference and your niche, and get to playing!
What is the purpose of different types of guitars?
Different types of guitars all have a different feel and more importantly, a different sound!