Guitar/Different Types of Guitars
Playing different guitars in a music shop is a great way of familiarising yourself with each model's unique qualities but don't forget to take off any objects that could scratch the guitar. A music salesman will let you try as many guitars as you like but may not be too happy about the little scratch your coat button left. Your choice of guitar will usually be based on the type of music you wish to play and the aesthetic appeal of the colour and design.
Acoustic guitars 
There are two kinds of acoustic guitar: steel-string and classical. Classical guitars have a wider neck and use nylon strings. Steel-strings have a metallic sound that is a distinctive component of a wide range of popular music styles. Both types of guitar can be played using a plectrum (pick) or finger-style. The steel-string acoustic is sometimes referred to as a flat top. The word top refers to the face or front of the guitar which is called the table.
The body of any acoustic is large and hollow; acting as a resonating chamber which amplifies the strings. A simple demonstration of this can be shown by striking an open string; as the note is sounding lightly place a finger on the table. You should feel the wood gently vibrating to the struck note. Acoustic guitars with a big body have a deep tone while guitars with a smaller body tend to sound brighter. Acoustic guitars sometimes have cutaways which allow easier access to the higher frets. They have less sustain than electric guitars which makes them ideal for chordal rhythmic strumming. There are many entry-level acoustic guitar models that are manufactured to a high standard that are entirely suitable as a first guitar for beginners. If you wish to buy something more expensive then it is important that the table should be made from a single piece of wood (not ply) and closely grained.
The timbre (pronounced tam - bre) of the acoustic guitar lends itself to a variety of tasks and roles. It's a songwriter's tool because of its portability and ease of use. Its gentle harp-like arpeggios and rhythmic chordal strumming has always found favour in an ensemble setting. The acoustic guitar has a personal and intimate quality that is suited to small concert halls, churches and private spaces without any additional amplification. For stadium concerts or large venues some form of amplification is required. An acoustic guitar can be amplified by placing a microphone several inches from the sound hole or by installing a pickup designed for acoustic guitars.
Electric guitars 
The electric guitar is the workhorse of rock, blues, jazz and pop music. Electric guitars need to be plugged into an amplifier to be heard adequately. They are usually solid-body guitars but archtop electric guitars with hollow bodies are available which gives them some acoustic resonance. The electric guitar when amplified has a sound that is metallic with a lengthy decay (sustain).
The design of the electric guitar is not determined by the need for a deep resonating body (acoustic chamber) and this had led to the development of contoured and thin bodied electric guitars. The two most popular designs are the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.
The strings of an electric guitar are thinner than acoustic strings and closer to the neck; therefore less force is needed to press them down. The ease with which you can bend strings, clear access to the twelfth fret and above, the use of a whammy bar and manipulation of pots and switches whilst playing has led to the development of a lead guitar style that is difficult to recreate on acoustics. Fret-tapping is a guitar technique for creating chords and melody lines that would not be possible using the standard technique of left-hand fretting and right-hand strumming. The electric guitar's sustain, sensitive pick-ups, low action and thin strings make it an ideal instrument for fret-tapping.
The choice of which amplifier to buy is usually one of personal preference. Marshall amps and cabs are renowned for their "over-driven" valve distortion while Fender valve amps are known for their "clarity" and "warmth". The Marshall rig is synonymous with rock music while Fender amps are popular with blues and country guitarists. There are many other manufacturers besides Marshall and Fender and the buyer is advised to read about the equipment of his favourite guitarists and to test different amps and cabs before purchasing. See the Buying an Amplifier section for details.
Electro-acoustic guitars 
Electro-acoustic guitars have pickups specifically designed to reproduce the subtle nuances of the acoustic guitar timbre. This allows electro-acoustics to be plugged into an amp or house PA. The Ovation range of electro-acoustics use under-the-saddle piezo pickups and a synthetic bowl-back. Ovation's synthetic bowl-back ensures a tough construction that stands up to the rigours of the road and offers less feedback at high volumes. Ovation were the first company to provide on-board equalization and this is now a standard feature on most electro-acoustics. Electro-acoustic pickups are designed to sound neutral with little alteration to the organic acoustic timbre. Another electro-acoustic brand is the Taylor guitar range. Taylor uses the traditional all-wood construction and the necks of these guitars have a reputation for superb action and playability. Yamaha, Maton and many other companies make electro-acoustics and the buyer is advised to test as many models and makes as they can; taking note of the unplugged and amplified sound.
Twelve-string guitars 
The twelve-string guitar is a simple variation of the normal six string design. Twelve-string guitars have the regular six strings and a second set of thinner strings. Each string of the second set corresponds to the note of its regular string counterpart. The strings form pairs; so you still play the guitar in the same manner as a standard six-string.
Twelve-string guitars produce a brighter more "jangly" tone than six-string guitars. They are used by guitarists for chord progressions that require "thickening". Having two strings per note makes bending notes more difficult. Though you can play lead guitar; the extra effort involved means that the twelve-string guitar is mainly used as a rhythm instrument.
Twelve-string guitars are slightly more expensive then their corresponding six-string version. Studio players and professionals will normally have a twelve-string guitar in their collection for their distinctive sound which is found on many famous recordings. The Beatles and The Byrds sometimes used Rickenbacker twelve-string electrics and Jimi Hendrix's performance of Hear My Train A Comin' on an acoustic twelve-string allows the student to hear the solo instrument.
Archtop guitars 
The archtop is a semi-hollow steel-string acoustic or electric guitar. The arched table combined with violin-style f-holes and (internal) sound-block creates a timbre that is "acoustic" and "mellow". These two factors have made archtops a firm favourite with jazz guitarists.
Acoustic and electric archtops are identical in design with the only difference being the addition of electro-magnetic pickups and pots. The archtop comes in two sizes; full-bodied or thinline. The full-bodied archtop retains good volume and "acoustic" resonance when played unplugged though feedback may be an issue when amplified. The thinline body minimizes the feedback issue by sacrificing "acoustic" volume and resonance.
The archtop is one of the most aesthetically pleasing guitar designs and makers usually adhere to very high standards of construction and playability. This ensures its continuing popularity with guitarists of all genres.
Steel guitars 
The steel guitar is unusual in that it is played horizontally across the players knees. The steel guitar originates from Hawaii where local musicians newly introduced to the European guitar developed a style of playing involving alternative tunings and the use of a slide. The Hawaiian guitarists found that by laying the guitar flat across the knees they could better control the slide. In response to this new playing style the large bouts common to all acoustics were discarded for a smaller rectangular body. The steel guitar with its open strings tuned to a chord meant that players were limited to a few keys and this led to the development of intruments with more than one neck.
There are two types of steel guitar played with a steel (solid metal bar) from which the guitar takes its name; the lap steel guitar and the pedal steel guitar with its extra necks. The pedal steel comes on its own stand with a mechanical approach similar to the harp. Pedals and knee-levers are used to alter the pitch of individual strings whilst playing therefore making available to the player the complete chromatic scale.
The sliding action of the steel gives the steel guitar its distinctive tone. In America the instrument and its glissandi technique have been adopted by blues and country guitarists. It must be noted that blues slide guitar usually refers to a standard guitar played with a hollow glass or metal tube whereas the lap or pedal steel is played with a solid bar of steel and the necks are laid out horizontally.
Resonator guitars 
The acoustic resonator guitar is distinctive in not having a regular sound hole. Resonator guitars have a large, usually circular-plate which conceals the resonator cone. The cone closely resembles an audio loudspeaker and is made from spun aluminium. The bridge of the guitar is connected either to the centre of the cone or to the edge by an aluminium 'spider' and the strings' vibrations are thus amplified and projected outwards through the perforated plate on the guitar's top. The most common resonator guitars have a single cone, although the original model has three. Resonators possess a loud, bright voice, making them easily heard in a large room or open air performance. They are popular with blues musicians and country players and can be played in the conventional style or with a metal or glass slide.
Some resonator guitars possess metal bodies and these are called steel guitars. This can lead to some confusion with the Hawaiian guitar of the same name. They are two distinct instruments; the Hawaiian steel guitar takes its name from the steel bar used to create the glissandi and the Resonator steel guitar refers to the material used in the construction of the body.
Bass guitars 
The bass guitar has a long scale-length (neck) and thick strings. These factors create a range of notes that corresponds to the lowest four strings of the guitar though pitched an octave lower. The bass is part of the rhythm section and rarely takes a front role. Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke are two bassists renowned for their virtuoso bass playing. Acoustic bass guitars are available though the electric bass is more common. The standard bass has four strings though five and six string basses are available; extending the range of the instrument and allowing a wider harmonic and melodic technique. Though the bass guitar is the bass instrument of the guitar family and the double-bass (upright) is the bass instrument of the orchestral string family; their similar roles has drawn bass players to both instruments. Two influential upright bass players are Willie Dixon and Ray Brown.
Double-neck guitars 
The double-neck guitar is two different kinds of guitar sharing one body. This design allows the guitarist to switch between either neck with ease. The double-neck guitar will normally have a standard six-string neck and a twelve-string neck though other combinations exist; such as the six-string and bass or the six-string and fretless neck. The double-neck electric guitar was available in the 1950s and 1960s with models like the Gretsch 6025 Bikini twin-neck of 1961 though it wasn't until the 1970s that its popularity and visibility increased with its use by rock guitarists such as Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. The double-neck guitar is ideal for live concerts where the guitarist has to recreate a multi-tracked guitar recording.