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.
There are two types 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 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 an acoustic is a hollow resonating chamber. Acoustic guitars with a big body have a deep tone while guitars with a small body sound brighter. Acoustic guitars sometimes have cutaways, where the neck joins the body, allowing easier access to the higher frets. 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 acoustic guitar lends itself to a variety of tasks and roles. Its portability and ease of use make it the ideal songwriter's tool. Its gentle harp-like arpeggios and rhythmic chordal strumming has always found favor in an ensemble. 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.
The electric guitar is the workhorse of rock, blues, jazz and pop music. They are solid-bodied guitars that need to be plugged into an amplifier to be heard adequately. 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 Gibson Les Paul.
The strings of an electric guitar are thinner than acoustic strings and closer to the neck and therefore less force is needed to press them down. The ease with which you can bend strings, clear access to the twelfth fret, the use of a whammy bar and the manipulation of pots and switches whilst playing has led to the development of a lead guitar style that is unique to the instrument. 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 sustain, sensitive pick-ups, low action and thin strings of the electric guitar make it an ideal instrument for fret-tapping.
Electro-acoustic guitars have pickups specifically designed to reproduce the subtle nuances of the acoustic guitar timbre (pronounced tam - bre) when plugged into an amplifier or house PA. The Ovation range of electro-acoustics use under-the-saddle piezo pickups and a synthetic bowl-back design. 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. Ovations are instantly recognizable with their synthetic bowl backs though the majority of manufacturers adhere to the traditional all-wood body. The Taylor electro-acoustic range 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 while taking note of the unplugged and amplified sound.
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 and therefore 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. The twelve-string is mainly used as a rhythm instrument due to the extra effort involved in playing lead guitar. 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.
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. Archtops can either be 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 feedback 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. These factors ensure its continuing popularity with guitarists of all genres.
The steel guitar is unusual in that it is played horizontally across the player's lap. 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 lap they could better control the slide. In response to this new playing style some Hawaiian Steel Guitars were constructed with a smaller rectangular body which made them more suitable for laying across the lap. 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 instruments 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 acoustic resonator guitar is distinctive in not having a regular sound hole. Resonator guitars have a large 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 vibrations of the strings are projected outwards through the perforated plate on the guitar's top. The most common resonator guitars have a single cone although the original model, developed in the US by John Dopyera in 1927, had 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 conventionally 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.
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. 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 which extends the range of the instrument and allows for the formation of fuller chords. 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.
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 guitar is frequently used in live situations when a guitarist needs a twelve-string for the rhythm part and a six-string for the solo break.