The electric guitar, with its versatility and ability to produce distinctive sounds, has been the bedrock of countless music genres for decades. From the raw energy of rock to the sultry melodies of blues, the electric guitar holds a special place in the hearts of music enthusiasts worldwide.
We’ll delve deep into the diverse world of electric guitars, exploring the key features, history, and unique appeal of each type of guitar.
1. Solid Body Electric
As the name suggests, the solid-body guitar comprises a solid piece of wood, distinguishing itself from other types of guitars that might have hollow sections. This design offers a sustain-rich sound and is less prone to feedback, making it a favorite among rock and metal musicians.
The inception of the solid body electric guitar is closely associated with Leo Fender and Les Paul in the early 1950s, though there were several prototypes developed in the 1930s and 1940s. Les Paul’s design, in collaboration with Gibson, led to the creation of the renowned Gibson Les Paul, while Fender’s innovations birthed the Telecaster and later the Stratocaster.
Guitar Shape and Design
With no need for resonance chambers like acoustic guitars, solid-body guitars offer a broad canvas for design innovations. This type often boasts a sleek, contoured shape, allowing for comfortable playability. The body is usually carved from woods like ash, mahogany, or alder. Most solid-body guitars come equipped with multiple pickups, typically a mix of single coil pickups or humbuckers, allowing for varied tonal options.
The Superstrat, a derivative of the iconic Fender Stratocaster, has become synonymous with shredding and technical play, favored by virtuosos in genres like metal and hard rock. It is characterized by its sharp contours, extended cutaways, and advanced electronics, making it optimal for rapid playing techniques.
Emerging in the mid to late 1970s, the Superstrat was a response to the growing demand for more advanced guitars among heavy metal musicians. These guitars were essentially modified Stratocasters, equipped with features like humbucking pickups and Floyd Rose tremolo systems to suit the aggressive playing styles of the era.
Guitar Shape and Design
The Superstrat retains the double-cutaway design of the original Stratocaster but introduces sharper edges and deeper cutaways to facilitate upper fret access. The inclusion of a locking tremolo system provides advanced pitch-modulation capabilities without going out of tune. To complement the high-gain settings of metal music, Superstrats often feature humbucking pickups, though combinations with single coil pickups remain popular.
The Telecaster, often affectionately called the “Tele,” is one of the first successfully mass-produced solid-body electric guitars. Known for its bright and twangy sound, it has graced countless records across genres, from country to punk.
Developed by Leo Fender in the early 1950s, the Telecaster was initially named the “Broadcaster.” Due to trademark disputes, it was later renamed. Its simple design, easy manufacturing process, and distinctive tone made it an instant hit among musicians of the era.
Guitar Shape and Design
The Telecaster boasts a single-cutaway design, lending it a minimalist yet timeless appearance. Its body, often made of ash or alder, pairs with a bolt-on neck, typically constructed from maple. The Tele is renowned for its two single coil pickups, with the bridge pickup imparting the signature Tele twang, while the neck pickup offers warmer, more rounded tones.
4. Les Paul
The Les Paul stands as one of the most iconic and recognizable types of electric guitars in the music world. Known for its thick, creamy tones and substantial weight, this solid-body electric guitar has become synonymous with rock music, though its versatile sounds have made their mark in jazz, blues, and other genres as well.
Developed in the early 1950s, the Les Paul guitar came to life through a collaboration between the legendary guitarist Les Paul and the Gibson guitar company. Aimed at offering a richer tone and sustain compared to other electric guitars of the era, it quickly gained traction among many influential guitarists.
Guitar Shape and Design
Les Paul guitars showcase a single-cutaway design with a carved-top body, often crafted from mahogany with a maple top. The set neck, typically made of mahogany, melds seamlessly into the body. A distinct feature of the Les Paul is its humbucking pickups, which contribute to its warm, noise-resistant sound. The guitar’s weight, combined with its design, ensures robust sustain, making it a favorite for lead guitarists.
The SG, short for “Solid Guitar,” is another iconic offering from Gibson. With its devilish double cutaways and lightweight design, the SG offers easy access to the higher frets and has found favor among rock and metal guitarists.
Originally intended as a redesign of the Les Paul in the early 1960s, the SG quickly established its own identity. The aim was to offer a more modern, lighter alternative to the Les Paul. Despite initial resistance from Les Paul himself, leading to a brief name change, the SG secured its spot as a mainstay in Gibson’s lineup.
Guitar Shape and Design
The SG boasts sharp, beveled edges and a thin, flat body, usually crafted from mahogany. Its set neck, typically made from the same wood, extends deep into the body, ensuring increased sustain. The SG often comes equipped with two humbucking pickups, providing a range of tones, from warm rhythms to searing leads.
6. Hollow Body
The hollow-body electric guitar, sometimes referred to as a “jazz box,” merges the worlds of electric and acoustic guitars. With a fully hollow interior, these guitars produce warm, resonant tones, making them perfect for jazz, blues, and vintage rock ‘n’ roll.
Hollow body guitars were among the earliest electric guitars developed. Before the rise of solid body electric guitars in the 1950s, musicians sought ways to amplify their acoustic guitars, leading to the creation of the electric hollow body. Legendary brands like Gibson and Gretsch were at the forefront of this evolution.
Guitar Shape and Design
At a glance, hollow body guitars might resemble acoustic guitars, with their deep bodies and f-holes. However, they come equipped with electric pickups, usually either humbuckers or single coil pickups. The fully hollow interior results in a rich, warm tone but can be prone to feedback at high volumes. Their elegant design, combined with their unique sound, makes them a favorite for many professional musicians.
7. Semi-Hollow Body
Bridging the gap between the resonant warmth of a hollow body and the feedback-resistant characteristics of a solid body, semi hollow guitars provide a balanced sound, making it a favorite among blues, rock, and jazz musicians alike.
Semi-hollow body guitars emerged in the 1950s as an answer to the feedback issues prevalent with fully hollow guitars when played at high volumes or with high gain. By introducing a solid center block within the body, guitar manufacturers, most notably Gibson with their ES-335 model, managed to reduce feedback while retaining much of the warmth of a hollow guitar.
Guitar Shape + Design
Semi-hollow guitars typically feature the classic f-holes, akin to their hollow-bodied counterparts, but the distinguishing factor lies within: a solid block of wood running through the center. This design minimizes feedback and enhances sustain. The outer chambers ensure that the guitar still has a rich, resonant character. Most semi-hollows are equipped with humbucking pickups, although some variants feature single coil pickups for a brighter tone.
8. Offset Guitars
With their asymmetrical body shapes and unique tonal characteristics, offset guitars have become icons in their own right, particularly within the realms of indie rock, surf music, and alternative genres. These guitars are known for their unique aesthetics and comfortable playability.
Offset guitars were introduced primarily by Fender in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an attempt to cater to the comfort needs of guitarists. The Jazzmaster and the Jaguar are quintessential examples of offset guitars. Initially marketed towards jazz musicians, they quickly found favor among surf rock players and, later on, alternative and indie rock musicians.
Guitar Shape and Design
The term “offset” pertains to the guitar’s waist, which is asymmetrically contoured, leading to a body shape that seems “offset.” This design ensures that the guitar sits more comfortably against the player’s body, especially when seated. Additionally, offset guitars often come with a variety of switching options, offering a broad palette of tones. Depending on the model, they can feature either single coil pickups, humbuckers or sometimes a combination of both.
Other Iconic and Unusual Shaped Guitars
In the world of electric guitars, there’s no shortage of innovation and experimentation when it comes to design. Beyond the mainstream models, there is a fascinating gallery of guitars that have captivated audiences not just with their sound but with their unique and often unconventional aesthetics. Let’s dive deeper into some of these iconic and offbeat guitar shapes that have made waves in music history.
Upon its release, the Gibson Flying V appeared like a glimpse into the future. It still stands as one of the most instantly recognizable and audacious guitar designs. The Flying V, with its stark, angular lines and points, is a guitar that was forged for the limelight. It’s not just a showpiece; its design has functional implications, especially for hard rock and metal genres, offering unhindered access to the upper frets, which are pivotal for soloists.
History: Despite its iconic status now, the Flying V faced a rocky start after its 1958 debut. The guitar’s popularity began to take root in the 1960s and surged in the subsequent decade, becoming a defining symbol for hard rock and metal guitarists.
Design: The V-shaped body was not a mere aesthetic choice. The design is balanced for the standing player, with one leg of the “V” resting comfortably on the guitarist’s thigh, ensuring optimal playing posture.
Another Gibson classic, the Explorer, made its mark with a radical design that combined modernity with raw energy. Known predominantly among rock and metal enthusiasts, the Explorer has a substantial body which contributes to its powerful, resonant sound profile.
History: Mirroring the initial trajectory of the Flying V, the Explorer didn’t make significant commercial waves upon its 1958 launch. However, its adoption by numerous rock legends in the 70s and 80s cemented its place in guitar folklore.
Design: With sharp angles and an unabashedly futuristic silhouette, the Explorer features an edgy, straight-cut design. Its distinct headstock further adds to its standout visual appeal.
Steinberger Headless Guitars
The 1980s witnessed a seismic shift in guitar design with Ned Steinberger’s headless marvels. Steinberger guitars, identified by their stripped-down aesthetics, were a departure from tradition, putting a premium on functionality and player ergonomics.
History: These headless wonders emerged as iconic instruments of the 80s, championed by forward-thinking musicians keen on embracing modernity.
Design: Eschewing the typical guitar body shape, Steinbergers often come in a rectangular or paddle-shaped body. The absence of a headstock, with tuning pegs relocated to the bridge, is both a design and functional marvel, ensuring a compact and efficient guitar.
BC Rich Warlock
The Warlock by BC Rich is an audacious expression of metal music’s aggressive spirit. The Warlock, with its ferocious aesthetics, isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a guitar designed to stand out, resonate deeply, and exude raw power.
History: Since its introduction in the 1970s, the Warlock became a beacon for those in the metal genre, delivering both an edgy sound and a look to match.
Design: The Warlock’s body is a symphony of sharp, asymmetric spikes. Its contours seem to mirror the intense, powerful riffs it’s meant to produce, making it a perfect fit for the genre it predominantly serves.
The Differences Between Acoustic and Electric Guitars
The key differences between acoustic and electric guitars span across construction, sound production, playability, and usage. Each type has its own distinctive features, advantages, and limitations.
Construction and Components
Body Type: Acoustic guitars typically have a hollow body that amplifies the sound of the strings acoustically. They rely on a soundboard and a resonant cavity to project the sound. In contrast, electric guitars have a solid or semi-hollow body that does not significantly amplify sound on its own. Instead, they rely on electronic amplification.
Sound Production: The sound of an acoustic guitar is produced through the vibration of the strings, which is then resonated in the guitar’s body. On the other hand, electric guitars have magnetic pickups that convert the vibration of the metal strings into electrical signals, which are then amplified and converted into sound by a speaker in the guitar amp.
Neck and Action: Acoustic guitars typically have a wider neck compared to electric guitars, which can make them slightly harder to play for beginners or players with smaller hands. The action, or the distance between the strings and the fretboard, is often higher on acoustic guitars to prevent buzzing and to allow the sound to resonate more. Electric guitars usually have lower action and thinner necks, which can facilitate faster playing and complex techniques like bending or tapping.
Strings: Acoustic guitars use steel or nylon strings. Steel-string acoustics are common in pop, rock, country, and blues, while nylon-string guitars, often referred to as classical guitars, are used primarily in classical and flamenco music. Electric guitars use steel strings that are generally lighter and easier on the fingers than acoustic steel strings.
Feel: The string tension on an acoustic guitar is generally higher due to the need to produce a louder sound acoustically. This can make them more challenging to play and require more hand strength. Electric guitars, with their lighter strings and lower action, are often considered easier to play, especially for extended solos or rapid fingerwork.
Techniques: Electric guitars lend themselves to a wide range of playing techniques, such as string bending, vibrato, and the use of a whammy bar for pitch modulation, which are not as commonly used on acoustic guitars. Conversely, acoustic guitars are often used for strumming, fingerstyle, and percussive techniques.
Usage and Versatility
Genres: Acoustic guitars are favored in genres like folk, singer-songwriter, country, classical, and flamenco. Electric guitars are prevalent in rock, metal, jazz, funk, and blues. This is not to say that these instruments are exclusive to these genres, but they are strong indicators of the type of music they play.
Amplification: Acoustic guitars can be played without any additional amplification, which is not the case with electric guitars. However, many acoustic guitars come with built-in pickups and preamps (making them “acoustic-electric” or “electro-acoustic” guitars) for situations where higher volumes are needed. If you want the best of both worlds, look for semi acoustic guitars. A semi acoustic guitar will give you that acoustic sound at a great volume.
Volume and Effects: Electric guitars can be played at much higher volumes and are often used with a variety of electronic effects like distortion, reverb, and delay. Acoustic guitars have a more limited range of sonic possibilities but are prized for their clear, natural sound.
Maintenance and Portability
Care: Both types of guitars require maintenance, like regular string changes and neck adjustments. However, the electronics in electric guitars might require additional attention, such as cleaning of potentiometers and maintenance of pickups.
Portability: Acoustic guitars are inherently more portable because they don’t require external amplification, making them a good choice for travel and casual playing situations like camping or beach trips.
Ultimately, the choice between an acoustic and electric guitar will depend on the style of music you want to play, your personal preferences in terms of playability and sound, and the contexts in which you expect to play. Many guitarists choose to own both types to enjoy the full spectrum of sound and expression each provides.
Brands and Body Types: Matching Prestige with Preference
When delving into the world of electric guitars, you might quickly realize that certain brands resonate with specific body types and designs. It’s this intrinsic link between brands and body types that has led to the creation of iconic guitars, shaping the sound and style of generations of music.
Let’s take a closer look at how leading brands have become synonymous with distinct guitar body types.
Stratocaster: With its contoured double-cutaway body, the Stratocaster, often simply called the “Strat,” is perhaps the most iconic solid-body electric guitar. Renowned for its versatility, it’s a favorite among blues, rock, and pop musicians.
Telecaster: The “Tele” sports a single-cutaway body shape. Known for its bright and twangy sound, it’s popular in country music but has also found its place in rock and jazz.
Les Paul: The Gibson Les Paul, with its single-cutaway and curved top design, is a staple in rock music. Its dense tonal quality makes it beloved by many legendary guitarists.
SG: Characterized by its double-cutaway and pointed horns, the Gibson SG is lighter than the Les Paul. It offers a distinct sound and has been a favorite of rock and metal artists.
RG Series: Ibanez is often associated with modern and sleek designs. The RG series, with its sharp contours and superstrat body type, is a favorite among shred and metal guitarists.
Hollow and Semi-Hollow Body Guitars: Gretsch is renowned for its hollow and semi-hollow body designs, exuding a vintage aesthetic. These guitars deliver a warm, resonant tone, making them favorites in jazz, blues, and rockabilly genres.
5. PRS (Paul Reed Smith)
Custom Series: PRS guitars, known for their meticulous craftsmanship, often blend features from classic designs. Their Custom series, for instance, incorporates elements of both the Stratocaster and Les Paul, resulting in a unique and versatile instrument.
330/360 Series: Rickenbacker guitars, with their distinctive shape and jangle sound, have been a mainstay in pop and rock music. The 330 and 360 models, with their semi-hollow bodies, have been particularly popular among artists seeking a unique tonal signature.
How to Choose the Right Electric Guitar Type for You
Embarking on the journey to find the perfect electric guitar can be both thrilling and daunting. With the multitude of options available, it’s essential to know which type of electric guitar will resonate most with your musical inclinations and aspirations.
Here’s a guide to help you navigate the world of electric guitars and find the right type for you.
1. Identify Your Musical Preferences
Rock and Metal: For those interested in heavier music genres, solid-body guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul or the Superstrat, are a fantastic choice. These provide the sustain and heft required for power chords and solos.
Blues and Jazz: Semi-hollow and hollow body guitars offer the warmth and resonance needed for jazz and blues. Consider guitars like the Gibson ES series.
Alternative and Indie: Offset guitars and Telecasters can be versatile choices, offering a unique blend of tones suitable for various styles.
2. Consider Playability
Neck Width and Shape: The neck’s shape can impact playability. For example, a “C” shaped neck might be more comfortable for players with smaller hands. Always try before you buy to find what’s most comfortable.
Scale Length: This refers to the distance between the bridge and the nut. Guitars with shorter scale lengths, like the Gibson Les Paul, tend to be easier to play due to closer fret spacing.
Weight: Remember, you might be holding this guitar for extended periods, especially during gigs. Some solid body guitars can be quite heavy, so choose one that feels comfortable.
3. Aesthetics Matter
While sound and playability are paramount, the guitar’s look is also crucial. It’s an extension of your personality on stage. Whether you prefer the classic look of a Les Paul, the futuristic feel of a Flying V, or the vintage vibes of a Telecaster, choose a design that resonates with your personal style.
4. Budget Wisely
Set a Clear Budget: Start by establishing a clear budget range. Factor in not just the cost of the guitar but also essential accessories such as amplifiers, cables, guitar straps, and any immediate upgrades you may be considering.
Understand the Price Range: Electric guitars can be found at various price points:
Entry-Level ($100 – $300): These are typically designed for beginners. While they might not have the superior craftsmanship of pricier models, many modern entry-level guitars are remarkably well-made. Brands like Squier and Epiphone offer great options in this range.
Mid-Range ($300 – $800): Guitars in this category often offer a sweet spot between quality and price. They might possess better hardware, superior tonewoods, and enhanced playability compared to entry-level models.
High-End ($800 and above): These guitars often come from renowned brands, boasting meticulous craftsmanship, premium materials, and, sometimes, a storied history. Instruments like the American-made Fender Stratocasters or Gibson Les Pauls fall into this category.
Used vs. New: Consider buying a used guitar. A well-maintained, second-hand guitar can offer incredible value. It might allow you to get a mid-range or even a high-end guitar at a significantly reduced price. However, always ensure the instrument is in good condition, preferably by inspecting it in person or buying from a reputable source.
Factor in Resale Value: Some brands and models hold their value better than others. If you think you might want to trade up in the future, consider investing in a guitar with good resale potential. Well-known brands like Fender and Gibson typically have a robust resale market.
Avoid False Economies: While saving is essential, avoid compromising on fundamental aspects just to save a few bucks. For instance, if a guitar requires immediate repairs or upgrades, the cost savings from the initial purchase might be nullified.
Sales and Discounts: Stay on the lookout for sales, especially during holiday seasons or special occasions. Music stores often have year-end or mid-year sales, offering quality instruments at discounted prices.
5. Understand the Electronics
Different types of electric guitars come with various pickups and electronic configurations:
Single-Coil Pickups: Commonly found on Telecasters and Stratocasters, these offer a bright and clear sound but can be susceptible to interference.
Humbuckers: These are double coil pickups designed to reduce noise and interference. They produce a warmer, fuller sound commonly found on Gibson guitars.
Active vs. Passive Pickups: Active pickups use a battery-powered preamp for a boosted signal, which is ideal for metal players. Passive pickups, on the other hand, offer a more natural and dynamic sound.
6. Research and Reviews
Before finalizing your purchase, delve deep into online reviews, watch demo videos, and, if possible, play the guitar at a local store. Getting firsthand experience can provide invaluable insights into the instrument’s feel and sound.
7. Think About Future Modifications
Many players enjoy customizing their guitars over time. If you’re inclined towards modifications, consider guitars that are easy to upgrade, such as those with simple electronic configurations or bolt-on necks.
8. Seek Expert Advice
Navigating the vast landscape of electric guitars can be overwhelming, even for seasoned players. This is where tapping into the wisdom of experts becomes invaluable. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist looking for a change, seeking advice from those with more knowledge can help steer you toward the best choices for your needs and aspirations.
Visit Local Music Stores
Hands-On Guidance: Local music stores, especially those with a longstanding reputation, have staff who have seen and played a multitude of guitars. They can provide hands-on guidance, offering you the chance to feel and hear different guitars in person.
Personalized Recommendations: Store professionals can assess your playing style and preferences and suggest guitars that might be a perfect fit.
Engage with Guitar Instructors
Deep Insights: A guitar teacher has not only mastered the art of playing but also understands the intricacies of different guitars. They can provide insights into the playability and sound of various models based on their vast experience.
Feedback on Progression: For beginners, instructors can predict where your playing might progress and suggest guitars that will grow with you.
Join Guitar Forums and Online Communities
Diverse Opinions: Online platforms like forums and social media groups are treasure troves of information. Engaging with these communities can provide you with diverse opinions and firsthand experiences from guitarists worldwide.
Stay Updated: These platforms often discuss the latest models, technology, and trends. Being an active member can keep you informed about the ever-evolving world of electric guitars.
Attend Guitar Shows and Conventions
Experience a Spectrum: Guitar events showcase a spectrum of brands, models, and custom pieces. Interacting with exhibitors and other attendees can offer a wealth of knowledge.
Exclusive Workshops: Many conventions have workshops or sessions with renowned guitarists who share their experiences and preferences, offering a unique perspective on choosing the right guitar.
Get in Tune with Your Perfect Electric Guitar
Navigating the world of electric guitars is like embarking on a musical odyssey. From the iconic curves of a Stratocaster to the resonant tones of a hollow body, each guitar brings a legacy of music, innovation, and craftsmanship with it. Whether you’re swayed by the rich history of a Telecaster or the edgy aesthetics of Superstrats, the journey is as much about personal expression as it is about the instrument itself.
Understanding the nuances of different guitar types, from their history to their design, offers more than just technical knowledge—it provides a window into the soul of rock, blues, jazz, and countless other genres that have been shaped by these instruments. Couple this knowledge with insights from experts, awareness of brands, and a touch of personal introspection, and you’re well on your way to finding the perfect guitar that resonates with your musical heart.
As you strum those strings and create melodies, always remember that while the guitar is an instrument, it’s the guitarist who breathes life into it. So, whether you’re a beginner setting out on your first musical journey or a seasoned player looking for a new muse, let your passion guide you.