The guitar is one of the most interesting and versatile instruments in the world. Walk into any music store, and you’ll notice several different types of guitars that you may not be familiar with already.
From acoustic to electric to acoustic electric and everything in between, we’ve profiled each type below, including information on who each guitar is best suited for.
The acoustic guitar is the oldest guitar type and still one of the most popular. Acoustic guitars are also the most diverse type, with tons of different variations on their styling and purpose.
Steel-string acoustics are the most popular style of acoustic today, and they’re characterized by their steel strings and flat tops. These guitars are well-suited to fingerstyle playing and strumming, and they’re the guitar of choice for singer-songwriters and folk musicians.
Steel-string guitars are great all-around instruments, and even guitarists who play electric guitars almost exclusively usually keep a steel-string acoustic to practice and jam on. But, these guitars require a bit more hand strength to play than other styles, so if you’re a beginner, there may be some guitars that are a better fit for you.
Steel-string acoustics come in a variety of sizes ranging from small parlor-size to jumbo. The smaller guitars are ideal for fingerstyle playing, while the larger bodies have a more bass-heavy sound perfect for strumming.
You’ll find steel-string guitars in a standard body style, as well as models with a cutaway. With most acoustics, the body and neck meet at the 15th fret, but navigating any notes above the 12th fret is a bit difficult. A cutaway provides a more sculpted neck joint, which allows you to reach higher notes on the guitar more comfortably.
Nylon string acoustics are the first type of acoustic guitar ever made, and variations of this instrument have been produced for centuries by cultures worldwide. Compared to steel-string acoustics, nylon-string acoustics feature a wider neck, and the treble strings are made from nylon instead of steel.
These guitars are relatively easy to play, which makes them an excellent choice for beginners. Guitarists who play classical or flamenco music gravitate towards nylon string guitars.
Before the invention of electric guitars, instrument builders sought to produce a louder guitar than a traditional acoustic to cut through the mix in a band setting. The resonator guitar was first invented in the early-1920s, and it provided the additional volume boosts guitarists needed.
Resonators are available with square necks, played on their back like a lap steel guitar, and with conventional guitar necks, which are played like any other acoustic guitar. In either style, the guitar can be made from wood or metal, and they usually feature large F-holes towards the top of the instrument.
While resonators aren’t a practical answer to most styles of music, their distinct sound is still revered today by country, bluegrass, and blues musicians.
During the early 20th century, the guitar had established its place as an instrument for classical, jazz, and popular music. While acoustic guitars worked well for solo or small ensemble performances, guitarists in larger bands were frustrated because their instruments couldn’t get loud enough to cut through the mix.
Soon after, electromagnetic pickups were invented, which work as a sort-of microphone to amplify the guitar’s sound. The first electric guitars were a common sight with jazz bands of the 30s and 40s, and by the 1950s, the electric guitar was helping to write the book on rock ‘n roll.
Solid-body electrics are the most popular electric guitar style, and they feature a solid guitar body typically between 1-3 inches thick. Solid-body electrics are ideal for pop, rock, blues, and metal. These guitars are the most resistant to feedback.
Semi-hollow guitars are beautifully styled, and the partially hollow body gives the guitar a unique sound well-suited to pop, rock, blues, and jazz fusion. These guitars have chambered bodies that are hollow inside. It’s common for a semi-hollow to have decorative F-holes, like a violin, which reveal the chamber inside.
Archtop guitars are fully hollow inside, like an acoustic guitar. But, they feature the same electronics as a solid body or semi-hollow guitar. Archtop guitars are ideal for jazz, and that’s the primary application for these instruments. You’ll also occasionally see blues or pop musicians playing Archtop electrics.
These guitars are significantly more resonant than solid or semi-hollow electric guitars, and you can play them electrified or acoustically without an amplifier. Archtops aren’t quite as resonant or lively as a regular acoustic. Archtops also don’t resist feedback as well as other electric guitars do.
Lap steel guitars are perhaps the most unique type of electric guitar, and they produce an unmistakable signature sound closely associated with country music.
Unlike other guitar styles, you play a lap steel guitar on its back instead of its side. Guitarists usually lay the guitar across their knees, which is how it gets its name. Instead of using your fingers to fret notes and chords, you use a slide to play lap steel. Slides are metal or glass rods that you slide across the strings to produce different notes.
Acoustic electrics offer the best of both worlds for acoustic guitar players. These guitars allow you to amplify your acoustic guitar so you can play it through an amplifier or PA system. Unlike electric guitars that use magnetic pickups, acoustic-electrics use piezo-electric pickups, which sit underneath the guitar’s bridge.
Most acoustic electrics have a preamp mounted inside the guitar with controls located on the upper bout. The parameters vary, but most offer controls for volume, bass, and treble. Acoustic electrics are available with steel or nylon strings to suit every guitarist’s musical style.
The guitar is one of the most unique instruments on earth. There’s a guitar for practically every type of music, from electrics to acoustics to lap steel guitars and everything in between.
Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of guitars, head to your local music shop and find the perfect guitar for you!