Guitars come in many sizes, shapes, and musical applications. Each of these different guitar
types has a history that attempts to address a particular playing style or genre of music. The two
largest guitar types, not surprisingly, are electric and acoustic guitars.
Electric guitars were initially developed to solve a very basic problem: how to make the
instrument louder. Simply amplifying the guitar with a microphone is useful in some situations, but
in the noisy environment of a stage filled with other instruments, this solution actually creates
more problems than it solves. Miking the guitar may inadvertently amplify the other already loud
instruments, and the persistent problem of feedback. In order to isolate the sound of the guitar
and reduce feedback problems, builders designed the modern magnetic pickup system.
Out of early pick-up designs came two famous electric guitar types: the Gibson Les Paul and the
Fender Stratocaster. These two instruments have come to epitomize the sound of rock music. Both
solid body electric guitars, it is their pickup design that creates their characteristic sound
qualities, not their external shape. The sound of early rock bands, as well as the sound of
specific players is owed much to their choice of one of these two guitar types. Jimi Hendrix played
a Strat, Jimmy Page a Les Paul.
Other common electric guitar types include the hollow-body construction favored by jazz players,
and the newer synth guitars that offer midi capabilities. There are also many hybrid guitars that
try to capture the sound and feel of an acoustic instrument through a sophisticated amplification
system comprised of on-board mics, pickups and active electronics.
Acoustic guitars themselves come in many varieties suited to different playing situations. In
very broad terms, these guitar types are either steel string guitars, or nylon string guitars.
In either case, the sound of an acoustic guitar is produced by its top which acts as an
amplifier. The different price points of an acoustic instrument are often determined by the top's
design and quality of wood. In brief, the player sets a string in motion, vibrating at a particular
frequency. The bridge of the guitar transfers this vibration to the top of the guitar which in turn
vibrates in sympathy.
Try this experiment with your guitar. Strum loudly across all six strings. While allowing the
strings to continue to vibrate, gently hug the top of the guitar with both arms. You will hear that
you are effectively muting the guitar by restricting the movement of the top.
The bridge plays a key part in the transfer of the string's pitch to the top, while the sound
quality of the guitar is primarily produce by the quality of the top, as well as its bracing system
directly underneath the top. Of course string types, the quality and grade of tone woods used for
the back and sides, and even the neck and fretboard can also affect the instrument's sound.
While it would seem that electric and acoustic guitars make up all of the guitar types, you may
come across guitars with seemingly unusual designs and very specific uses. Resonator guitars and
pedal steel guitars are two that come to mind. The most famous of the resonator guitars is the
Dobro a Gibson brand name.
Exploring different guitar types can be a fun way to expand your abilities and style of music.
You may even want to try different models of both electric and acoustic guitar types for the sheer
enjoyment of it.