As a budding guitarist, it’s important to know all the different types of guitars. Since its introduction to the world around 3100 BCE, the instrument has gone through several iterations, and you will encounter several of them on your musical journey. This guide will cover the five most popular types of guitars and briefly touch upon their history.
Here are the Different Types of Guitar:
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The classical guitar is believed to be the grandchild of the vihuela and gittern. These were types of stringed Spanish musical instruments. The vihuela, in particular, was popular around Europe during the 15th century. At the time, it only had four double strings. It grew more popular at the beginning of the 16 century when the fifth double-string was added.
During the mid-16th century in Spain, the vihuela and the Renaissance guitar were combined. This union led to the birth of the baroque, which quickly became more popular than the vihuela. It wasn’t until the 18th century when the six-string guitars were introduced, rendering five-string guitars obsolete.
Around the 19th century, the six-string guitar would evolve into the modern guitar, also known as the Spanish guitar, at the hands of Antonio de Torres. He was a Spanish guitarist and luthier (someone who builds and repairs stringed musical instruments). He gave the classical guitar its modern shape and form by increasing the length and width of the guitar.
The most defining characteristic of the classical guitar is the nylon strings instead of steel strings. This allows the guitar to produce a soft, pleasant sound. This sound is more suitable for classical, folk, and flamenco music. It also has a rosette, which is a beautiful pattern, around its soundhole. The fretboard of the classical guitar is a little wider than other guitars, which is an advantage for people who want to master complicated finger techniques.
Classical guitars come in several different sizes, including smaller ones. This makes them ideal for children, who usually can’t handle bigger or heavier guitars. Children can easily start learning on a small classical guitar, then move on to bigger ones later. Classical guitars are typically cheaper than other guitars and produce a great sound, making them an excellent choice for beginners dipping their toes in the guitar world.
[Read: How to Tune A Guitar]
The classical guitar technically belongs to the acoustic guitar category. However, the modern acoustic guitar gets its own mention because it has steel strings instead of nylon. The man believed to be responsible for creating the acoustic guitar is the German-born luthier Christian Frederick Martin. He was born in 1796 and immigrated to the United States in 1833.
At the time, Martin noticed that banjo players were using catgut strings to play their country music. A catgut string is made from the intestines of animals, including goats, sheep, cows, horses, and donkeys. These strings are easily breakable since they tend to become dry and brittle over time, weakening their structural integrity. They also left a faint but noticeable smell on the guitarist’s fingers when played for a long period.
To overcome the problems inherent in these guitar strings, Martin made a guitar made from nylon strings for the banjo players. He reinforced the internal structure of the guitar so that it wouldn’t break from the steel strings’ tension. And thus, the acoustic guitar we know today was born.
A key characteristic of the acoustic guitar is the steel strings. These strings are not only stronger than nylon strings, but they also produce a much louder yet mellow sound. An acoustic guitar is well-suited for music genres, ranging from country to rock to jazz to R’n’B.
The steel-string acoustic guitar is featured as the prominent instrument for melodies in a lot of classic songs, including:
- “Yesterday” – The Beatles
- “Redemption Song” – Bob Marley
- “Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd
- “Nothing Else Matters” – Metallica
- “Angie” – The Rolling Stones
- “Landslide” – Fleetwood Mac
- “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman
- “Hurt” – Johnny Cash
- “The Needle and the Damage Done” – Neil Young
- “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Bob Dylan
- “Closer to the Heart” – Rush
- “Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton
- “Jolene” – Dolly Parton
An American swing and jazz musician named Charlie Henry Christian (born in 1916) is believed to be the electric guitar’s inventor in 1936. He had started using an acoustic guitar in his performances and needed to amplify its sound during solo performances. So Charlie attached a pickup to his acoustic guitar’s body, and just like that, it became an electric guitar.
A pickup is a type of microphone device that captures the vibrations of a musical instrument and converts them into electric energy. The device then sends that energy to an amp, amplifying the instrument’s sound through a loudspeaker.
There was a demand for greater amplification from guitarists in large orchestras during the Big Band era (in the 1930s and 1940s). They didn’t want the sound of their instruments drowned out by others in the band, like the horn and drums.
The first types of guitar to be electrified worked well, but they had a huge flaw. The amplifiers produced feedback, which resonated through the guitar and out through the soundbox. This resonance caused the electro-acoustic guitar to make an inharmonious mixture of sounds.
Eventually, the soundbox was removed from the acoustic design during the 1940s to solve the feedback issue. That way, these types of guitars would only rely on pickups and amps to produce sound. That is how the solid-body guitar came to be because there was no need for the soundhole. This guitar went through a couple more evolutions through the years. Many believe that the design of the modern electric guitar emerged in 1960.
Since then, the world has seen mind-blowing live guitar solos courtesy of the electric guitar. The most notable ones are:
- “All Along the Watchtower” — Jimi Hendrix, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
- “Eruption” — Eddie Van Halen, Van Halen (1978)
- “Stairway to Heaven” — Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin (1971)
- “November Rain” — Slash, Guns N’ Roses (1991)
- “Purple Rain” — Prince, Prince and the Revolution (1984)
Since electric types of the guitar have no soundbox, you can’t just pick one up and play — it won’t produce a sound. You need to attach it to an amplifier first.
An electro-acoustic guitar looks like your ordinary steel-string guitar. The most significant difference is that it’s fitted with a pickup and preamplifier. The preamplifier captures the electrical energy first before sending it to the amp. The purpose of the preamplifier was to boost low-level signals, making them line-level signals. Amps only boost line-level signals.
Electro-acoustic guitars are used in settings where there’s a need for a louder acoustic guitar. They’re primarily used in concerts but can also be played without an amp since they aren’t fully electric.
The pickup for the electro-acoustic types of guitar was invented by American musician and instrument designer Lloyd Loar (born 1886). Lloyd created the device in 1924. In 1936, Gibson, a guitar and other musical instruments manufacturer, released a guitar with a built-in pickup. This guitar was the ES-150, which stood for Electro Spanish 150. It was a huge commercial success — a first for electro-acoustic guitars.
The bass guitar has a lower pitch than an acoustic and electric guitar. This is because the bass guitar is set an octave lower than regular six-string guitars. They’re usually part of the rhythm section, providing the underlying rhythm to a melody, which is why bands, especially rock and reggae bands, have a bass player.
Your typical bass guitar has four strings, which are E, A, D, and G. On an acoustic or electric guitar, these are the strings 3, 4, 5, and 6. However, some bass guitars can go up to six strings. The neck and scale length of a bass guitar is also longer when compared to standard guitars.
The story of the modern bass guitar starts with the guitarron in the 1600s. This was essentially the Spanish version of a big bass guitar. Mariachi bands primarily used the guitarron (they even use it today). The guitarron evolved into the double bass, which is used for orchestral music.
Fast forward to the 1920s, and the bulkiness of the double bass proved to be an inconvenience for jazz players. In 1924, after inventing the electric pickup, Lloyd Loar designed an electric guitar for Gibson. However, it was a failure since it didn’t resonate with the company or its customers. The modern version of the bass guitar was created by Paul Tutmarc, a musician and inventor of musical instruments in the 1930’s. This version of the bass guitar has replaced the double bass in the orchestras of today.
BYJU’S Music Curriculum
Want your child to learn music through research and a performance-based curriculum? Do you want them to discover the beautiful world of music in an imaginative and nurturing space? Through BYJU’S FutureSchool, we teach your kid how to unlock their technical and creative potential through guitar and piano lessons. We also encourage them to grow in confidence through the one-to-one sessions and musical performances, enabling them to share their talent with the world.