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What Are All the Different Types of Guitars?

Look through your typical well-stocked music store, and it seems as though there are about as many different types of guitars as there are people who play them. Well, you're right! While certain types of guitars are unquestionably more popular than others, knowing about all the different types will help you choose the right guitar to fit your needs.

Acoustic: these guitars are hollow and made out of very thin wood. They don't need to be amplified to play and produce quite a bit of volume. Acoustic guitars are used in all types of music, although they make their voices known best in folk, country and so-called "acoustic" rock.

Acoustic-electric: this is a term used to describe acoustic guitars that have pickups installed in them so they can be plugged into amplifiers or PA systems. The majority of acoustic guitars you see on stage are acoustic-electrics. Structurally, they are identical to traditional acoustic guitars.

Electric: these types of guitars made out of a solid piece of wood and rely exclusively on their electronic pickup systems and amplifiers for their volume. Their unique sound lends itself best to rock and roll, but they have also substantially shaped the sound of country music in the last 50 years. (Think "twang")

Classical: also called "nylon-string", classical guitars are used almost exclusively in the classical and folk idioms, but can also be found on more popular recordings. Carlos Santana makes a lot of use of the classical guitar in his recordings. Slightly smaller than a traditional acoustic, they feature slightly wider necks and strings that are made of nylon rather than steel, to give them a very gentle, warm sound.

Hollow-body: These are simply traditional electric guitars that have chambers cut in the body to allow for more sonic resonance. They come in many different sizes and are favored primarily by players of blues and jazz music.

Steel: These are the farthest breed apart from traditional guitars so far. While any guitarist can pick up any guitar from the above list and play, a steel guitar requires special training to play. The guitar is played flat on its back, and the strings are elevated approximately half an inch above the fretboard. This allows the strings to be played using a "tone bar" that takes the place of the fingers on a fretboard and gives the steel guitar its classic "crying sound". This is the archetypal guitar sound of old-style country music.

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