The types of guitar and the differences between them. The modern guitar family is a large one; the instrument, as it has evolved, has split into several sub-groups, each of which is suited for a particular style of music or playing. Below is a description of the main types of guitar.
Types Of Guitar – Acoustic Guitar
(Also known as Steel-String Guitar / Folk Guitar)
Whilst the term ‘acoustic guitar’ strictly also applies to the classical guitar, it is usually used to describe the steel-string guitar. It’s an extremely versatile instrument, and can be played with a plectrum (pick) or with the fingers. Many people enjoy the acoustic guitar simply by learning a few chords and using it as an accompaniment instrument. However, it is capable of performing very complex music, and is a much ‘freer’ discipline than the classical guitar, with a wide range of playing styles and techniques. It is traditionally used for folk / blues music, but the use of acoustic guitars in mainstream pop and rock music is currently booming.
Famous Acoustic Guitar Players
Famous acoustic guitarists include: Nick Drake, Tommy Emmanuel, Davy Graham, John Renbourne, Bert Jansch, Gordon Giltrap
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Types Of Guitar – Classical Guitar
Also known as Nylon-String / Spanish Guitar
The classical guitar has its own technique and its players tend to concentrate more on music reading and interpretation than improvisation. (Although, as ever, there are exceptions.) Classical guitar repertoire ranges from renaissance music inherited from the lute and vihuela to modern compositions from contemporary composers. Classical guitars are strung with nylon strings, the bottom three of which are wound with metal. A classical guitar should not be strung with acoustic guitar strings – the higher tension may cause irreparable damage. Click here for an article on the origins of the classical guitar.
Famous Classical Guitarists
Famous Classical guitarists include: Julian Bream, John Williams, Andres Segovia, David Russell, Narciso Yepes.
Types Of Guitar – Electric Guitar
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Nowadays for many people the word ‘guitar’ means ‘electric guitar’. Electric guitars come in a wide array of shapes and sizes, and choice of instrument can sometimes be as much a fashion statement as than a musical choice. Today a good electric guitar can be bought for very little money. Spend $250 – $300 and you could get an instrument that will last throughout your career. Of course, you can spend much larger amounts on an instrument, and some guitars – especially if they have some sort of rock pedigree – can be bought as investments.
Electric guitars rely on amplification to produce anything but an extremely quiet tinny sound. (That said, many a song has been written using an unamplified electric guitar.) Even in hollow-bodied semi-acoustic electric guitars the sound is produced by amplification. Electric guitar playing can range from strumming a few chords as a song accompaniment to virtuoso lead playing.
The need for a means of amplifying an acoustic guitar arose when big band orchestras increased in size in the 1930’s, and the guitar could no longer be heard over the rest of the instruments. Various innovators, including Les Paul and Adolph Rickenbacher looked into ways of achieving this, and the means of using magnetic pickups to produce electrical current from the vibration of the strings that was developed at the time is still in use today.
The electric guitar is usually played with a plectrum, and its role is generally as part of an ensemble, playing either rhythm or lead parts. (Of course, there are exceptions to this, but it is far less frequent to see an electric guitar being played solo than an acoustic guitar.) Different kinds of solid-bodied electric guitars, despite their lack of any sound chamber, produce different and distinctive sounds. For example, the Fender Telecaster (or ‘Tele’) is known for producing a more ‘trebly’ sound than a Fender Stratocaster (‘Strat’). Gibsons traditionally produce a warmer, thicker sound than Fenders (mainly due to their usually being fitted with ‘Humbucker’ pickups.) The design of a guitar also affects the sound that it produces because it affects the way the guitar is played. For example Jazz guitar necks are often very thin, to facilitate extremely fast chord changes and soloing (often aided by having flatwound strings). This engenders ‘jazzy’ style playing. A guitar designed for heavy-rock musicians, such as the Ibanez JEM series, would have a very low action (the distance between the strings and the neck), allowing for very fast playing.
Other types of guitar
Electro-acoustic guitars are acoustic guitars fitted with a pickup device that can feed the sound to an amplifier.
A large acoustic guitar with a deep body, originally designed by Martin guitars. They are generally very loud, with a powerful bass response.
A guitar that has metal resonator cones in its body to produce a load and distinctive sound. Mostly associated with blues music. The most famous makers of resonator guitars were Dobro, a brand now owned by Gibson.
Semi-acoustic guitars are electric guitars that have a hollow body and pickups. Examples include the Gibson ES-175.
Developed from lap-steel guitars, these instruments are played horizontally on a stand. Notes are stopped with a metal bar rather than against the fret wire, and a number of pedals can change the pitch of the strings. Playing can be of a virtuoso level, and the sound is instantly identifiable as a main constituent of American country music.
A small, four-stringed instrument with origins in Hawaii (ukulele is roughly ‘jumping flea’ in Hawaiian). Currently enjoying a huge boom across the world due to its handy size and accessibility. Whether this is a cult phenomenon or not remains to be seen.