Some people think an electric guitar is just that, an electric guitar, and that they are pretty much all one in the same. Actually, electric guitars are quite versatile, and can be used to play all types of music, although there are two main types of electric guitars, solid-bodied and semi-acoustic. Then, there are many sub-varieties within these two categories.
Today we are going to take a look at the most common guitars within these two categories, as well as some of the more specialized versions, which include archtop and electro-acoustic guitars (which some consider to not be a real electric guitar). Let’s get started.
Solid-Bodied Electric Guitars
First, we will take a look at solid-bodied electric guitars. Unlike the traditional acoustic guitar, which has a sound hole which projects the sound that comes from the vibrations of the strings, there is no sound hole or resonating chamber on a solid-bodied electric guitar (with the exception of a semi-acoustic guitar, which we will discuss later on in this article).
When it comes to electric guitars, the solid-bodied style is definitely the most common. This is the guitar most musicians turn to when they want something that is all-purpose and that can be used for many different styles of music.
One of the reasons why so many musicians choose solid-bodied electric guitars is because this type of guitar doesn’t tend to give off as much feedback as other styles of electric guitars. They are also much less fragile than other types of guitars. So, if you happen to bump into something with the guitar, it isn’t going to destroy it. In fact, the worst it will likely do is give it a little dent or chip in the paint, which will ultimately be a part of that guitar’s story.
Where does the Sound Come From?
There are several factors that come into play when it comes to where the sound comes from with solid-bodied electric guitars. First of all, there is the type of wood used to build the guitar. Then, you need to consider the pickups, including the type and the quality, along with the other hardware. The scale length also plays a role (this is the length of the vibrating area of the strings). The body shape can affect the sound, as well as the neck.
Most Popular Solid-Bodied Electric Guitars
While there are many different types of solid-bodied electric guitars from a variety of well-known and not so well-known brands, there are some guitars that just seem to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s take a look at two of the most popular solid-bodied electric guitars, the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.
For many musicians, the Fender Stratocaster is the holy grail of electric guitars. Commonly referred to as the “Strat”, this is one of the most famous types of electric guitars in the world. It has features that are automatically recognizable, including the cutaways at the top of the body. These cutaways allow the musician to be able to play on the higher frets, giving them a better range of notes to play around with. The back of the Strat body is contoured, making it quite comfortable to play.
One of the great things about the Stratocaster is the fact that it can be found in a wide range of levels, at least when it comes to quality. Fender creates several different Strats, and they can range in price from less than $300 to more than $5,000.
The most popular, and most expensive Stratocasters are those that are made in the US. These are built with only the best hardware, and the woods used are of the finest quality. There are also Strats made in Mexico and China, which are also high quality, but not nearly as sought-after as their American-made counterparts. These are great guitars for beginners, as well as for those who really want a Strat but don’t have it in their budgets to get an American-made Strat.
Gibson Les Paul
If you are looking for a heavier guitar, look no further than the Gibson Les Paul, which has its own very particular feel. This guitar was introduced to the world in the 1950’s, and the original models had two P-90 single-coil pickups as well as the very distinctive shape we have come to know and love. Within a few years of its introduction, the company began making this guitar with the double humbucker configuration that is still used in Les Paul guitars today.
This is a guitar that is very popular with blues rock musicians, because it has a thick sound with a very high level of sustain. The Gibson Les Paul is quite expensive, more expensive in fact than the Fender Stratocaster. While it is a guitar that many musicians aspire to owning, it is not usually the choice for beginners due to the high cost.
But, there is a version that is great for beginners, and it won’t break the bank. The Gibson Epiphone line of guitars are great entry-level guitars, and have that same look and feel as the original Gibson Les Paul. One such popular model is the Gibson ES-335.
Semi-Acoustic Electric Guitars
Now we are going to take a look at semi-acoustic electric guitars. These instruments have hollow bodies, which lets you get a resonated sound that is warmer and more responsive to that of a solid-bodied electric guitar.
You still need an amplifier to play a semi-acoustic guitar, because they are unable to produce a lot of sound without one. Still, this type of guitar tends to have a more acoustic sound than other electric guitars, which is one of the reasons why they are preferred by many jazz and blues musicians.
One of the biggest problems with the semi-acoustic guitar is the fact that it can give off a lot of feedback. This is why it is not popular among hard rock and heavy metal guitar players, since they use a distorted sound that can give off a lot of feedback in the first place. Using a semi-acoustic guitar is challenging in this case, although there are many models that have solid blocks inside the bodies to help eliminate some of the feedback.
Archtop Electric Guitars
The archtop is a type of semi-acoustic electric guitar that is closer to the size of a traditional acoustic guitar. The top and back of this instrument are arched, much like a violin, and tend to be made from one piece of wood. These guitars tend to be the most expensive of all of the electric guitars available, but there are cheaper models that are made using laminates, which are heat-pressed.
For the most part, archtop electric guitars are hollow-bodied. They also are very well-known for feedback. Early models were played without amplification, and today, they are designed to be used with an amplifier, hence the name semi-acoustic.
These guitars have a sound that is very thick, and you won’t get the level of sustain you can get from solid-bodied guitars. This thick sound is one of the reasons why this type of guitar is so popular with jazz musicians. In fact, they are often called “jazz boxes”.
One of the most popular semi-acoustic guitars used for jazz music is the Gibson ES-175. This is a hollow-bodied archtop guitar that has two humbucking pickups. It also has a deep body that gives you a nice, thick tone that is ideal for jazz music. Because the bridge pickup is used for creating a less jazzy sound, this guitar is also popular with blues and rock musicians.
This may be an expensive guitar, but it is worth it, and it will hold its value throughout the years. Less expensive alternatives from other brands are also popular, including models from Ibanez. By the way, ES stands for “electric Spanish” (just an interesting little tidbit for you).
Finally, we come to the electro-acoustic type of guitar. These are basically traditional acoustic guitars that are fitted with pickups. They can be used with or without an amplifier, and are often used with amps that are designed specifically for this type of guitar.
Obviously, these guitars are going to feel much different than traditional electric guitars, because they are basically acoustic guitars with pickups. Unless you happen to get a model that has a cutaway, it is going to be difficult to reach the notes on the higher frets. The strings are heavier-gauge, just like those of a traditional acoustic guitar. The action is higher than that of an electric guitar.
The biggest problem with this type of guitar is that it is very prone to feedback, but this can be avoided with the right amplifier settings, in most cases. This type of guitar is quite popular with folk and fingerstyle artists. It is also often used by rock musicians when they need an acoustic sound.
If you are new to the world of guitars and don’t really know where to start, we recommend a Strat, or a Strat-styled guitar. This will allow you to play most if not all styles of music, from jazz to heavy metal and everything in between. Start out with a budget-friendly Squier model (or a Strat-style guitar from another brand), and you can work your way up to the more expensive guitars later on.