The Different Types of Electric Guitars Explained

Electric Guitars

The electric guitar is unique in that you could make the case that it’s a collection of instruments, rather than a unique type. No other instrument (with the exception of the electric bass guitar) has enjoyed the prevalence the electric guitar has, and the different types of guitars cover a huge range of different genres and styles.

Though because of this flexibility, it can be hard to figure which of the many types of electric guitar is going to be a good fit for your needs. Thankfully, if you’ve arrived at this article you’re going to get all of the information that you need to make an informed decision on which body styles are going to be worth considering for your genre of choice.

With that in mind, we would like to preface this article with the statement that a certain body style doesn’t necessarily mean that the guitar will be a good fit for the genre it’s associated with. However, we have also included some info on pickups. With knowledge on how the combination of pickups and a guitar’s body style impacts your end tone you should be ready to start shopping!

Contents

Guitar Body Styles

There are three electric guitar body styles: solid, semi-hollow, and hollow. Solid guitars are made from a solid piece of wood, semi-hollow guitars are only partially hollow (they generally have a block of wood running down the middle, dividing the inner body into two sections, and hollow.

Solidbody Instruments

As stated above, solidbody instruments are guitars made from a solid piece(s) of wood. A classic example of this body style would be the Fender Stratocaster. As a general rule, solidbody instruments generally have more sustain and are more resistant to feedback than either semi-hollow or fully-hollow guitars.

The increase in sustain and resistance to feedback that comes with the solidbody style makes instruments which utilize it a good fit for genres with more distortion (rock and metal).

Because there’s such a variety of solidbody guitars, we’re going to break the instruments down into subsections (which will not be done for the body styles that follow).

Stratocaster

Launched in 1954 by Fender, the Fender Stratocaster is the most enduring and widely recognized model of electric guitar available. The Stratocaster (often known simply as a “strat” is a diverse guitar, and has been used to great effect in a huge variety of genres (country, rock, pop, folk, soul, blues, and R&B).

This type of guitar also generally has a tremolo. A tremolo is a device that allows you to change the pitch of a guitar by moving the arm up (raising pitch) or down (lowering pitch). However, this type of tremolo tends to knock the guitar out of tune when it’s used.

Because the guitar has been used in so many genres, it’s hard to associate to really describe a definitive Stratocaster tone. However, the guitar is generally considered to have a mid-range “quack”. The video below, courtesy of Tim Pierce, shows off 5 strat tones which are representative of what you’re going to encounter with this body style.

Notable Players

Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and David Gilmour.

Best Genre Fit

The Stratocaster, though used in a variety of genres, is best suited to playing the blues. The guitar sounds great clean and under low levels of gain, and its classic mid-range honk gives it a lyrical and cutting voice incredibly well suited to playing the blues.

Super Strat

The Super Strat, though modeled after the Stratocaster, is a very different guitar. Basically, the only similarity this guitar really has to its namesake is the body style. The pickups generally used in Super Strats are of a higher output (we’ll get into this in more depth, but for now just remember higher-output=more distortion), which makes them more suited for metal and hard rock. Super Strats also commonly have Floyd Rose tremolos, which allow for a great range of movement than a typical Fender Stratocaster Tremolo while still having a greater tuning integrity (you can use it more without the guitar going out of tune).

They also don’t really have the same mid-range honk as a genuine strat, due to the fact that the generally utilize at least one humbucking pickup (more on this later). The video below shows the type of tone you can expect with a Super Strat, as well as some of the history behind them.

Notable Players

Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Dave Murray.

Best Genre Fit

Because this body style commonly comes packed with high-output pickups, the Super Strat is best suited to rock and heavy metal.

Telecaster

The Fender Telecaster, the successor to the first electric guitar that was mass produced, defines the sound of country music. If you’re looking to get an idea of the stereotypical Telecaster tone, definitely check out pre-1980s country.

Though, while the guitar is generally associated with country, the Telecaster is actually a pretty versatile instrument. For example, both Kurt Cobain and Jack White (two musicians as far removed from Outlaw-era country as you can get) used Telecasters in the studio (though Kurt Cobain did not do so extensively).

When EQ’d properly, which admittedly can be a challenge with many Telecasters, this type of guitar has a strident mid-range and a glassy (though prominent) high-end response. This high-end response has actually led musicians outside of country to adopt the Telecaster (Jimmy Page actually used one on the final solo to Stairway to Heaven!).

The video below shows off a musician who manages to pull out pretty great tones for a variety of genres using a Fender Baja Telecaster, though while this guitarist may get a useable metal tone out of his Telecaster many musicians may not be able to do so.

Notable Users

Keith Richards, Jack White, James Burton, Danny Gatton, Vince Gill, Jonny Greenwood, and Merle Haggard.

Best Genre Fit

The Telecaster is especially well-suited to country, but it’s actually a great fit for any genre with the exception of harder varieties of rock. It has a very clear, though sometimes nasal, voice. Though this bold and cutting voice does somewhat limit its usefulness as a rhythm instrument.

Offset (Jaguar, Mustang, Jazzmaster)

The offset body style includes three main instruments: the Jaguar, the Mustang, and the Jazzmaster. While there are definite differences between them, offset guitars all generally have a “jangly” sound. When we say jangly, we mean bright and clear with a subtle mid and low-end response. These guitars are also well suited to rhythm work depending on their tone knobs are adjusted.

The jangly tone produced by many offset guitars have made them the axe of choice for a huge variety of alternative musicians. Many of the grunge bands from the 1990s initially adopted Fender’s offset guitars because at the time they were incredibly affordable, but they stuck with them due to their clear tone.

The clarity you get with these three guitars makes them a good fit for genres that use a lot of effects (this is also true with the Telecaster). This is why offset guitars are so common in shoe-gaze and other alternative genres.

There has also been isolated incidents of musicians in different genres using an offset guitar. For example, Johnny Cash’s guitar player Luther Perkins used both a Jaguar and Jazzmaster on early Cash recordings.

Here’s a video from Rob Chapman’s YouTube channel where the guys at Andertons demo two Squier offset guitars (and a baritone).

Notable Users

Johnny Marr, Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Kevin Shields and Kurt Cobain.

Best Genre Fit

As stated above, offset guitars are very well suited to genres that require a lot of effects and/or fuzz. Good examples of this would be grunge, shoe-gaze, and alternative.

Les Paul

Most commonly associated with classic rock, the Les Paul lives up to its reputation as a rock ‘n’ roll machine. However, the guitar is actually capable of a lot more. Something many don’t recognize about the Les Paul is that in the right situations it actually has a gorgeous clean tone. Les Paul, the famed inventor and namesake of the Gibson Les Paul, used the Les Paul extensively in his career. The famed jazz guitarist did go on to use a highly modified version of the Gibson Les Paul, but he did use the original variant of the instrument when it was initially released. Bob Marley also used a Les Paul to great effect.

Like the Stratocaster, it’s hard to say that the Les Paul has a single tone which defines the instrument. However, it’s balanced response and clear (though sometimes a tad dark) high-end makes it a great fit for rock and some variants of jazz. It also has more sustain when compared to the guitars above.

The Les Paul can honestly cover just about every genre with the exception of country. The guitar has been used in jazz, metal, R&B, countless varieties of rock, and even punk. The guitar is a definite workhorse, and if you’re looking for a humbucker equipped guitar you definitely can’t go wrong with a Les Paul.

The Les Paul body style actually encompasses a few different designs: solid, solid-arched, and solid-chambered. Solid Les Pauls are made from a solid piece of wood, with some having a significantly arched top and a maple cap and some lacking a curved top and the maple cap. Chambered Les Pauls are arched, but the inside of the body is chambered, so there are a few cavities underneath the top.

The tonal differences between the three are minimal at best, though chambered Les Pauls are significantly lighter than solid Les Pauls (though they are also more expensive).

The video below highlights the difference between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul, going into depth on both guitars.

Notable Users

Jimmy Page, Les Paul, Buckethead, Eric Clapton, Ace Frehley, Bob Marley and Joe Walsh.

Best Genre Fit

The Les Paul is a great instrument for just about everything with distortion, and in the right hands can even be an excellent jazz guitar. With that being said, while it can cover a lot of ground be sure to read up on the difference between humbuckers and single coils at the end of the article before you make a final decision.

SG and Flying V

While the SG and Flying V are visually distinctive from one another, the guitars are both solidbody electric guitars traditionally equipped with two humbuckers. They also usually have a similar response and feel.

The main difference between the two is that many find the Flying V body style to be uncomfortable and awkward, though while that may be the case the Flying V does have significantly better upper neck access.

Tonally, these guitars are very similar. They both have that characteristic Gibson tone, which makes them a good fit for rock and metal. Depending on the pickups, they can cover just as much ground as the Les Paul (though they may not be quite as traditional as the Les Paul in some situations).

The video below showcases a Gibson SG and Gibson Flying V. There is a difference in tone between the two in the video, but this is due to the pickups used. And even with these two pickups, the difference between the two guitars isn’t extreme.

Notable Users

Tony Iommi (SG), Derek Trucks (SG), Angus Young (SG), Albert King (Flying V), and Lonnie Mack (Flying V).

Best Genre Fit

Like the Les Paul, both the Flying V and SG can produce great results in just about any genre with the exception of country. In all reality, when it comes to Gibson style guitars it’s more of a matter or personal preference than any real limitations with the instrument.

Semi-Hollow Instruments

Semi-hollow guitars are guitars which have an exposed opening, generally in the form of two f-holes on the top of the guitar’s body. The inner chamber of the guitar is then divided into two by a block of wood which runs through the body. A perfect representation of this type of guitar is the Gibson ES-335, which has been used at some point or another by musicians such as: Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Warren Haynes, Dave Grohl, and B.B. King.

Though commonly associated with blues and jazz, semi-hollow guitars can definitely be used in rock. However, because semi-hollow guitars aren’t a solid piece of wood they have a tendency to feedback when played at louder volumes or when used with high levels of distortion.

As far as tone is concerned, semi-hollow guitars are very similar to solidbody instruments. The guitars have a slight representation of an almost acoustic-like tone, though this is incredibly subtle. They also tend to have less sustain than solidbody guitars.

The videos below showcase some of the different tones that you can get with semi-hollow instruments. The third video in particular, which demos a Gretsch G5622T, is a great representation of the versatility this body style is capable of.

Hollow Body Instruments

While many people associate the term “hollow body” guitar with big jazz guitars, the real definition is that a hollow body guitar doesn’t have a wood block running down the middle. So there are hollow guitars with the same body style as semi-hollow guitars.

True hollow body guitars sound very similar to semi-hollow guitars, with the main difference being that there’s a higher presence of that acoustic-like tone that was mentioned earlier in the article. They also have a tendency to feedback more than semi-hollow instruments, which makes them a poor fit for genres that require high levels of gain.

Unlike semi-hollow guitars, hollow guitars encompass two main body styles: the ES-335 style we went into above and the jazz box style. A good example of the latter would be the Gibson ES-175, which is the axe of choice for tons of jazz musicians.

While hollow guitars are best suited to jazz, there have been a handful of cases where rock musicians have utilized fully hollow jazz box guitars in rock and roll. Chief among these would be Ted Nugent, who actually used the excess feedback produced by his Gibson Byrdland as a musical tool. Hollow ES-335 style guitars are used in blues and rock more frequently than the jazz box (the Beatles used the Epiphone Casino extensively), though because of the feedback they produce most musicians stick with semi-hollow instruments.

Below are some videos which showcase the different tones you can get with hollow body guitars.

A Primer on the Different Types of Guitar Pickups

Pickups are a huge topic, and to do it justice would really require a whole article. However, as mentioned above just because a guitar has a certain body style doesn’t mean that it’s going to have a particular tone.

A huge part of your tone is decided by the pickups you use. The three main types of pickups used on electric guitars are: single coil, humbucker, and P90.

Single Coil

Single coil pickups utilize a single magnet. They also typically have a lower output than humbucking pickups, which means they aren’t capable of producing as much distortion as a humbucker equipped guitar. However, because they’re not intended to be used with extreme levels of distortion they have a very rich and musical voice when played with lower amounts of gain.

You can identify single coil pickups because they’re long and thin, almost the same size as a tube of lipstick held horizontally.

Humbucking Pickups

Humbuckers use two magnets, one which works as a pickup and one which cancels out 60-cycle hum (hence the name humbucker). These pickups generally have a darker voice and a higher output, which allows them to perform better under high levels of distortion. These pickups also tend to sound better playing jazz, as the genre benefits from the darker voice these pickups provide.

P90 Pickups

P90 pickups are the middle ground between single coil and humbucking pickups. They have a higher output than single coil pickups, though not as high of an output as humbucking pickups. They also occupy a middle ground tonally, being brighter than humbuckers but more subdued than single coil pickups.

You can identify P90s because they’re larger than a tube of lipstick and have 6 metal dots on the front face of the pickup.

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