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There are so many different guitar types, it can be mind-boggling.
There are acoustic guitars on the one hand, and electrics on the other. And then where do you put the acoustic-electrics? And of course there are the guitars with odd numbers of strings, like the twelve-strings, and the seven-strings.
But it doesn’t even stop there. There are ten-string guitars, and sixteen-string guitars, and any number of other-string guitars. If you can think of it there’s probably one out there.
I can feel your pain, and I think I can help.
Instead of covering everything right here, just keep going and it will get clearer. This guide won’t cover every little thing, but if you want a quick, informative intro to the subject, I can’t think of a better place for you to start.
I’ll start with the acoustics and move on to the electrics, and then you will know.
Acoustic Guitar Types: “Regular” Acoustics
If you brag to a friend about the new acoustic guitar you bought, I’m willing to bet they’ll be thinking of this type. Commonly referred to as a “dreadnought” or, “I don’t know, like, an acoustic guitar, y’know? The regular kind?”, these workhorses are played in virtually every style of music, from blues to bluegrass to death metal.
These guitars are typically strung with six medium-to-heavy gauge metal strings, which means that, unless your name is Monte Montgomery you won’t usually be pulling off ridiculous shredfest solos; However, with enough finger strength you can expect to pull off some simpler solos along with your standard chords.
Best suited for: everything, but especially strumming and campfires. Every player needs one of these.
Acoustic Guitar Types: Twelve Strings
You won’t see these as much, but play one if you ever get the chance. They’re quite cool.
Now for a confession: if I’ve got a quality twelve-string in my hands, I can play the same chord for way too long. Like, you’d get really tired of hearing G major after about five minutes, wouldn’t you? Me too, usually, but something about the richness of a twelve-string’s sound makes me want to keep listening, and since changing chords requires a bit of brainpower, sometimes I’ll just sit there replaying the same chord so all of my being can revel in the beauty of the sound.
Like I said, if you ever get the chance to play one, grab it.
Anyway, as the name indicates, these guitars have twelve strings arranged in sets of two, with most sets tuned either in unison or an octave apart. This provides a full, rich sound for chord work and strumming.
Guitar solos, though? At best you’re making it more difficult than it needs to be.
Best suited for: Chord strumming, rhythm, folk, having lots of strings.
A better view of all twelve strings. Can you see why these make soloing tricky?
Acoustic Guitar Types: Classical Guitars
Contrary to popular belief, these instruments are not necessarily just for classical guitar, though the wider fretboard does help with the tricky chord changes and fingerpicking that usually accompany the genre.
Like most guitar types, they are usually in standard tuning, but the strings are nylon-based rather than metal, which exerts much less tension both on the guitar’s neck and on your hands.
Usually plucked with the finger[nails].
Best suited for: classical music, some jazz, people with long, shapely nails on their plucking hand.
Worst mistake to make with a classical guitar: stringing with regular acoustic strings. See, those steel strings put a lot more tension on a guitar than do the nylon ones (about 2X as much), so this technique is only good for making things snap, warp and bend. Incredibly not recommended.
Look at the whitish color on the higher strings. This is a dead giveaway that they’re nylon.
Electric Guitar Types: Bolt-On Necks
I have just one thing to say: Fender Stratocaster.
If you’ve ever played one you have played the bolt-on-neck guitar to end them all.
Next time you play one just flip it over and look at the silver plate at the place where the neck and body join. That’s the “bolt” section. That’s what keeps the neck stuck to the body of the guitar. Good thing they’re big bolts, right?
Well, sort of.
See, those big honkin’ bolts are great for keeping your guitar held together, but they’re also great for getting in the way right in the middle of an awesome solo; at least until you get a feel for the instrument.
That being said, who doesn’t love Strats and their cousin guitars? Yeah, I know some of you don’t, but can Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan be wrong? And, for that matter, Stratovarius?
Best suited for: people who love real guitars, blues and more, people who want to buy their first electric (think the Squier Strat).
The back of a Stratocaster. Notice the bolts that hold it together.
Electric Guitar Types: Set-Neck
So what is a set-neck guitar? Good question.
It’s much like a bolt-on guitar, except it is typically held together with glue rather than bolts. The problem with the heel and access to higher frets can still apply here, though it varies from guitar to guitar.
And if you’re racking your brain wondering if you’ve ever seen a set-neck, let me assure you that you have: the Gibson Les Paul. If you’ve played one you’ve played the set neck to end them all. There are plenty of wonderful set-neck guitars (PRS makes some great ones), but the Les Paul is one of the most recognizable.
Best suited for: Gibson fans, people who just want to play a guitar.
Electric Guitar Types: Neck-Through
Ah, one of my favorite types of guitar…
A neck-through design has the neck going all the way through the body of the guitar.
That may not make much sense at first, so look at this picture and I think you’ll get the idea.
Notice the lighter-colored wood in the middle of the body? That’s the neck! It is one solid piece, running all the way from the body on the left to the headstock and tuning pegs at the far right.
Notice a few things about this style of guitar:
- 1) The neck widens quite a bit when it reaches the body. This enables the manufacturer to mount the pickups, bridge, etc. right on that particular piece of wood.
- 2) The wood to both sides of the neck (the “wings”)is darker in color. This is because it is a different species of wood. This mixture of woods is very common in guitar construction and allows the builder to pull out the strengths of certain woods. Whereas the neck may be made of maple, which gives a crisp, bright sound, the wings may be made of mahogany which tends toward a warmer sound.
- *Note: this “different woods” construction technique is not exclusive to neck-through designs. You will see similar features in Strats and Les Pauls, for instance, the difference being the sharper division between neck and body rather than the continuous style of a neck-through
- 3) There is really not a heel to speak of. This is my favorite feature. No more ramming your hand into a big block of steel and bolts during a solo. The continuous design enables a shapelier neck which flows smoothly from low frets to high. A wonderful design!
Best suited for: Anyone who wants a really cool-looking guitar that is very customizable, people who are tired of heels, shredders.
Electric Guitar Types: Seven String
The seventh string (the low B) gets tacked on at the low end of the spectrum, so we’re treading into low-pitch land here. The main reason for this is to provide the player with greater range and more options. This string is used frequently in heavy metal, where its low pitch lends itself to crazy-low riffing without a lot of pesky detuning.
You should know that the low B isn’t just used to pummel your eardrums. It also opens up the sonic spectrum for creative players who appreciate more freedom. Because of this it is also well-suited for Jazz and Classical guitar.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about neck-through this or bolt-on that. That’s simply because a seven-string can be built either way. Since the design only widens the neck by a small amount, it is adaptable to any common construction method.
Best suited for: metalheads, jazz and classical players, people whose lucky number is 7, people who own all the other guitar types.
That’s 7 strings. Count ‘em. Notice the wider fretboard as well. good for big hands.
For additional examples of different guitar types, I suggest checking out Zzounds. Play as many of these as you can and you will gain a much greater understanding of the different types of instruments that are classified as “guitars”.