Different Types of Guitar

Understanding Guitar Types, Sizes and Names

The body of an acoustic guitar is large and hollow and acts as a resonating chamber which amplifies the strings. Larger bodied guitars with bigger curves tend to have a deeper or heavier tone, while guitars with a smaller body tend to sound brighter. It is important for sound that the body front – table – top – face should be made from a single piece of wood (not ply) and closely grained. In a personal setting or amphitheatre, an acoustic guitar can be easily heard with no additional amplification because the resonating chamber of the guitar itself creates acoustic amplification.

Types of Acoustic Guitars

Classical Guitars

A classical guitar is a nylon string acoustic guitar with a wider neck. Classical guitars make it easier to play complicated arrangements with finger picking and barres and to play swift changing rich toned guitar music such as classical, Spanish, flamenco and Latin arrangements.

Folk or Classic Guitar

Guitars called Folk or Classic are available in a variety of sizes and may be steel stringed or nylon, acoustic or electric acoustic. Folk guitars produce tones across the spectrum with good volume and sustain. Some classic guitars have a cut-away version and may have built-in electronics for amplifying sound. This is the hardest group to narrow down and define as the term was used to describe guitars used by folk artists of the 60s such as Goya Guitars rather than any specific size or type of (generally) acoustic guitar.

Steel stringed acoustic guitars are harder on the fingers at first but your fingertips soon toughen up. The sound of steel strings is sharper, often louder especially if played with a pick, and the distance between strings is less due to a narrower neck than a nylon stringed guitar.The steel string acoustic is sometimes referred to as a flat top guitar.

Taylor Guitars make a guitar called the T5 that features a five-way switch to produce sounds from fully acoustic to fully electric.

Most acoustic guitars are also available in a cutaway version. The removal of a corner of the body allows better access to the higher frets. This cutaway may slightly affect the tone and volume, but eases playing access for guitar soloists using the higher frets.

Guitar Sizes

Martin Guitars set the standard for identifying guitar sizes by number which are sometimes used by others. Martin Guitar Sizes begin at 5 (the smallest) and go up to 0000 for a Grand Auditorium (nearly as large as a Dreadnought). A 0 size guitar is smaller than a 000 which is smaller than a 0000.  The number system does not include Dreadnought or Jumbo models.

00, Concert Guitars or Grand Concert –  Some of these guitars have 12-frets above the body instead of 14 found on larger instruments. This size is more compact than the Dreadnought or Jumbo and provides great tonal response across the bass, mid, and treble ranges with reasonable sustain.

Orchestra Model aka “OM” – Originally developed by Martin by shortening the body of their 000 model. The Martin OM was one of the first mass produced guitars with 14 frets above the body. Originally designed for classical players, country and bluegrass performers have also shown a preference for it.

000, Auditorium or Grand Auditorium – nearly as large as a Dreadnought. Has a slimmer waist than a Dreadnought and a slightly smaller body which some find easier to handle, with a tonal response that emphasizes the mid and treble ranges.

Large Body Guitars

Dreadnought and Jumbo
The Dreadnought Guitar is the most popular guitar body sold especially for country and western performers. It is a large body guitar which has booming lower and mid-range tones, as well as great sustain and volume. The Jumbo Guitar is an even larger bodied guitar, producing great power in the lower ranges, as well as great sustain and volume. These large body guitars may not be a good choice or the right guitar for a beginner, or small framed player.

Small Body Guitars

Parlour, Compact, Baby, Backpacker or Travel Guitars
These are small body guitars for smaller players or for packing and taking on the road.

Childrens Guitars
Most guitars labelled “child’s guitar” are toys and such labelling including guitars advertised as 30″ or 36″ can be a clue for cheapo guitars so check the brand name. Retailers also list guitars as ¼, ½, ¾ and full sized. As you see above guitars come in a variety of standard named body sizes. If I was looking for a guitar for a child seriously learning to play guitar, I’d buy a small bodied adult one.

The most helpful article I’ve read on choosing a guitar for a child is this from Suzukidad.com

Short Scale Guitars
Scale refers to the vibrating length of the string from the nut to the bridge.

A shorter scale guitar will have less distance between the frets which can make it easier to play for small hands. The scale length determines a guitarist’s left hand and arm position. The wrong scale length will cause awkward and sometimes painful bending at the wrist. A standard classical guitar has a 650 mm scale length or 25.6 inches. Often short scale guitars also have smaller bodies.

Steel (Slide) Guitars &
Resonator or Dobro Guitars

The steel guitar is played horizontally, either across the players knees or on its own stand. The lap steel guitar, which typically has six strings, is played using the metal slide, or ‘steel’  which is is held in the left hand, when used by a right-handed player.

Often heard in country music, the pedal steel guitar which can have two or even three separate sets of strings each tuned differently has a distinctive voice. Pedals and knee-levers are used to alter the tuning on particular strings whilst playing  with the sliding action of the steel.

Resonator guitars are also called ‘steel’ guitars due to their metal bodies or Dobro guitars for the well known brand. The acoustic resonator guitar is distinctive in not having a regular sound hole. Resonator guitars have a large, usually circular plate which conceals the cone. The most common resonator guitars have a single cone, although the original model has three.

The bridge of the guitar is connected either to the centre of the resonator cone or to the edge by an aluminium spider and the strings  vibrations are thus amplified out through the perforated plate. The resonator cone closely resembles an audio loudspeaker and is made from spun aluminium.

Resonators possess a loud, bright voice, making them easily heard in a large room or open air performance. They are popular with blues musicians and country players and can be played in the conventional style or with a metal or glass slide.

Electro Acoustic Guitars

Electric guitars with hollow bodies are available which also gives them some acoustic resonance. In general these are called electro acoustic guitars.

A specific type is  Archtop Guitars, a hollow or semi-hollow acoustic or electric guitar with steel strings. The arched top creates a unique timbre and the body of the archtop guitar, whether hollow or semi-hollow, has a sound block in the middle and violin f-holes cut into the table. The semi-hollow archtop was developed to reduce the feedback this type of guitar was prone to. Archtop Guitars have been particularly popular in jazz music.

Electro acoustic guitars are fitted with an electronic device that captures the vibration of the strings allowing the guitar’s sound to be amplified. This device is called a pickup and it makes it possible for a guitarist to move around a stage and not be tied to a mike.

If you plan to amplify your guitar or to play publicly, even if you don’t do so right now, then choose an electro acoustic guitar with the electronics built in. Electro acoustic guitars are usually more expensive than regular steel string guitars. You can at any time add a pickup – but will it install easily and sound good. Guitars with amplification built-in by the manufacturer have been calibrated for that specific guitar and you can listen before you buy.

Electric Guitars

Electric Guitars differ from acoustic guitars in that they are solid body guitars that must be amplified electronically to hear them and their timbre is very different to an acoustic. A guitar lead – a long wire with a jack plug on either end – connects the electric guitar to a guitar amplifier and thence to any other electric guitar gear that may be used, such as guitar pedals, mixers and speakers etc.

The pickup is vital to the sound of the guitar. The guitar amplifier used with a solid body electric guitar creates a sound that is metallic with a lengthy decay (sustain).

The design of the electric guitar can have any number of different shapes including very slim light electric guitars. The design variations allow electric guitars to produce a wide variety of tones. The two most popular basic shapes for the electric guitar are the Fender Stratocaster design and the Gibson Les Paul design.

The strings of an electric guitar are thinner than the strings of an acoustic guitar and they lie closer to the neck, needing less force to press them down. Bending strings, sometimes used in combination with a whammy bar, has created some awesome electric guitar solos. Fret-tapping is another electric guitar technique that enables chords and melody lines to be played differently to the standard techniques of strumming and fingerpicking.

Bass guitars

The electric bass guitarist is often considered just part of the rhythm section but some bass players have outstanding skills comparable to any other guitar soloist.

The bass guitar has a longer scale-length and thicker strings than a standard guitar. These factors create a range of notes that are pitched an octave lower than the guitar. Both acoustic bass and electric bass guitars are available, but the electric bass guitar is more common.

The standard bass is the four string bass but five and six string basses are also made. The four strings of the bass correspond to the lowest four strings of the guitar but an octave lower.

Heavy Metal 7 String Guitars
Popular with guitarists who play metal music, seven string electric guitars have a string above the low E string which is tuned to a B and lower in pitch than the low E.

Double Neck Guitars
The double neck guitar is basically two different types of guitar sharing one body. This design allows the guitarist to easily access and switch between either neck. Made famous by Jimmy Page, the double neck guitar typically will have a standard six-string neck and a twelve-string neck. Other combinations exist, such as a six-string and bass or a six-string with frets and its fretless version. Steve Vai has been known to play a triple-neck guitar.

12 String Guitars

The 12 string is usually an acoustic guitar although 12 string electric guitars are available. 12 string guitars are not the same as double-neck guitars.

Twelve string guitars have the regular six strings plus a second set of thinner strings adjacent. Each string of the second set corresponds to the note of its regular string counterpart but are tuned an octave higher. The strings form pairs and you  play the guitar the same as you would a standard six-string.

Twelve-string guitars produce a beautiful bell like echoing tone. They are harder to play than a standard six-string guitar and may require more maintenance.

Amplification

Electric guitars need to be plugged into an amplifier to be heard properly.

So to start with you’ll need a small practice amplifier that will allow you to play at a low volume.  You can use a practice amp with head phones but watch the volume and don’t take care of your hearing. Look for a practice amp which includes some inbuilt effects such as reverb (sounds like notes are reverberating around a large hall), distortion or overdrive (as used in heavy rock), delay (creates an echo) and chorus (sounds like there is more than one guitar playing).

Large stage amplifiers may be too loud even on the lowest volume settings, to practice playing at home. But the second guitar amplifier of course is a stage or performance amplifier . But that’s a topic for another page…