11 Types Of Electric Guitars & What Makes Them Special

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  • Learn about the electric classics like Les paul, Stratocaster, and Telecaster
  • Learn what drives the different tones of each type 
  • There are many different types and styles; which is best for you? 
  • Also, check out our post on the 10 types of bass guitars!

The electric guitar is arguably one of the most influential instruments in history.

They were first developed in the 1930s; however, they grew in popularity in the 1940 and 50s from the Chicago urban Jazz scene.

The electric guitar exploded in popularity with the rise of rock and roll music in the later 50s, and its demand continued to grow throughout the rest of the 20th century. 

Over the years, the different types of electric guitars have grown with the popularity of music.

From the famous Les Paul to the iconic Stratocaster, this article lays out the different types of guitars, the difference in tone, build, and more.

What Makes Electric Guitars Sound Different? 

It’s essential to understand what characteristics change the tone a guitar makes: 

Body Type

This is the main characteristic that changes the overall sound of the guitar. There are three main body types for electric guitars:

  • Solid-body
  • Semi-hollow body
  • Electro-acoustic

A solid-body guitar is exactly what it sounds like; it’s made with solid pieces of wood, affecting the guitar’s overall weight and feel.

The semi-hollow body guitar has cutaways on the face of the guitar. Like a hollow body, this generally generates a full vintage sound.

Finally, an electro-acoustic is an acoustic guitar but with the benefit of being able to use an amplifier and pedals to increase the volume and change the tone. 

Tonewood 

Tonewoods are the materials used to build a guitar’s body, neck, and head. The material itself doesn’t necessarily change the tone; however, as different woods are denser, this is what changes the overall tone.

Some of the tonewoods used are mahogany, maple, and walnut, to name a few. 

Pickups 

Guitar pickups transform the strings’ vibrations into electrical energy using magnetic coils. The electric power is then transferred back into mechanical energy via your amplifier and is turned into sound waves.

Single coil, humbucker, and active pickups are the main types of pickups.

Types Of Electric Guitars

While dozens of micro variations in guitar types exist, there are a total of 10 main types and designs of electric guitars that you will commonly encounter:

  1. Semi-Hollow Body 
  2. Teles (Telecaster)
  3. Strats (Stratocaster, Superstrat)
  4. Offset Guitars (Jaguar, Mustang, Jazzmaster)
  5. SG
  6. Flying V
  7. Explorer
  8. Electro-Acoustic
  9. Les Paul
  10. 7 and 8-String Guitars
  11. Headless Guitars

If we’ve missed one that deserves to be on this list, let us know in the comments!

1. Semi-Hollow Body 

The semi-hollow body guitar was initially used in jazz and blues music and is now commonly used in today’s rock music. The semi-hollow body guitar is one of the staple styles of guitar. 

The semi-hollow body electric is a very diverse instrument. They generate a smooth, bright tone and have a powerful midrange.

However, semi-hollow bodies can also produce a lot of feedback when run through too much gain.

This can be a deterrent for some players; however, if you can find that sweet spot, these guitars are a joy to play and produce a unique tone. 

Most semi-hollow guitars use humbucker pickups, which lean toward generating the clean, thick sound intended for the instrument.

More often than not, this type of guitar can also be found with a Bigsby vibrato arm. 

This type of guitar was prevalent in the blues and jazz era in the 1950s.

One artist who made this type of guitar very popular is B.B King, who was often found performing using a Gibson semi-hollow body ES-355.

Another artist commonly seen playing this same guitar is Dave Grohl. Clearly, this guitar has been a staple in the music industry for years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

2. Teles (Telecaster)

One of the guitar’s most influential and popular styles is the Telecaster.

Thousands of manufacturing companies have emulated the iconic single cut-away and two single coil pickups since their release in 1951. 

This solid body guitar generally uses either alder or ash tonewood for the body and uses maple or rosewood for the neck.

Unlike most other guitars, the Tele uses two single coil pickups, one embedded within a metal bridge plate, which help generate a punchy tone.

The Tele also only has two knobs, one of which controls the volume and one for the tone.

With all of these components, the Telecaster produces the very classic guitar tone we’ve all come to know and love from rock music. 

The Telecaster has been a popular choice for bands since its release and continues to be beloved by musicians today.

Players such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Kieth Richards, and George Harrison often used Telecasters and drove rock music to new heights during the 60s and 70s.

Furthermore, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is often seen using a Tele and has pushed the instrument to new heights with the band’s style and versatility.

3. Strats (Stratocaster, SuperStrat)

Following the release of the Telecaster, the Stratocaster was released in 1954.

Fender took the success of the Telecaster and added a few more bells and whistles and a new slick double-cut away design to make this guitar sought after by a wide range of lead guitarists.

It is arguably one of the most recognizable guitar shapes to date. 

Unlike the Telecaster, the Strat has three separate single coil pickups. The benefit of having three pickups is the versatility of the sound.

Having a pickup below the bridge, middle, and neck allows you to select between 5 different pickup configurations with the switch.

The Strat comes with the whammy bar as stock, making this guitar a dream machine for a lead guitarist. 

Some famous artists who used this instrument include David Gilmour and Stevie Ray Vaughn. However, most notably has to be Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix pushed this instrument to the limits, used the whammy, and utilized both cutaways in his performance.

Hendrix was also known for trashing his instruments on stage which wasn’t an issue for Stratocasters.

They are lightweight, and each piece can be unbolted, allowing you to repair these guitars easily. Look no further if you’re looking for a guitar to throw around on stage! 

Superstrat 

A variation of this guitar that has become popular is the Superstart.

Compared to the three single coil pickups on the Stratocaster, this guitar has humbucker pickups at the neck and bridge and a single coil pickup in the middle of the strings.

This allows the Superstrat to produce a more aggressive and sustained tone, making it the ideal instrument for metal and heavy rock performers.

The Superstrat often has a longer neck, offering more range for lead guitarists. 

 

4. Offset Guitars 

These sets of guitars have one thing in common, which is their offset body shape.

This particular body shape was first introduced by Fender in the mid-late 50s as the Duo-Sonic but has since become popular by the Mustang, Jazzmaster, and Jaguar.

Their distinct shape and tone have made this form of guitar popular in the indie-rock genre. 

These types of electric guitars, however, all have their individual characteristics and style. The Jazzmaster has a longer neck than the other 2, making it heavier in design.

Regarding pickup configuration, the Jazzmaster comes with single coil “Soap-box” style pickups, the Mustang has two angled single coil picks, and the Jaguar comes with a combination of both humbucker and a single coil.

However, the Jazzmaster is the only one with a 3-way pickup system, whereas the Mustang and Jaguar have 2-way on-off switches.

As you might expect, the Jazzmaster is more versatile with a warmer tone and can perform better under high gain.

In comparison, the Jaguar and Mustang provide a brighter, thinner tone. 

Comparing scale length and frets of Mustang vs Jazzmaster vs Jaguar:

  • The Mustang features a 22-fret, 24-inch scale length
  • The Jaguar features a 22 fret, 24-inch scale length
  • The Jazzmaster features 21 medium-jumbo frets, and a 25.5-inch scale length

5. SG 

Gibson invented the SG shape in 1961, which has since been replicated by companies such as Epiphone.

The sharp cut-away body design paired with Gibson’s classic headstock made this a very polarising guitar design for the time. 

Current Gibson SG models use unbalanced Burstbucker pickups, allowing the guitar to produce a punchy and gritty tone. The body and neck of the guitar are made of mahogany tonewood.

Also, having a slim neck makes this a very light and easy guitar to play, being able to move around the fretboard with ease.

Gibson also boasts about their Tune-O-Matic bridge and Grove tuners, which helps maintain your tuning even when playing aggressively and bending the strings.

Paired with the lightweight frame, makes the instrument an excellent choice for live performance. 

One artist who put this guitar on center stage and fully used its capability is Angus Young of ACDC.

The guitar’s design and the devil-horned aesthetic of the band made this guitar a quintessential part of their look.

Furthermore, the heavily distorted tone produced by the guitar made this the stapling instrument in ACDC’s sound.

6. Flying V

Released in 1958, the flying V became popular during the rise of metal music. Both the Gibson Flying V and Explorer are very similar in terms of their setup to an SG; however, they used balanced humbuckers, which produce a similar sound and a warm, less aggressive tone.

The primary difference is the body shape, characterized by the distinct V-like shape and the offset star-like shape of the Explorer (next on our list).

Metalica’s James Hetfield was often seen, and sometimes still is, with a flying V guitar. Their iconic shape has a place in guitaring history; however, compared to something like an SG that is far more comfortable to play, it’s hard to recommend a guitar like this in today’s era.

There’s something about the long hair and flying V that did go hand in hand. However, I think some things are better off left in the 80s (feel free to disagree with me in the comments).

7. Explorer

The Explorer is another iconic guitar type invented the same year as the Flying V. Gibson was on a roll with these “statement” guitars, but sales suggest that the Flying V was the more popular of the two.

Gibson Explorers sport a prominent ‘tail-fin’ design. Interestingly, the designer, Ted McCarty, was heavily inspired by 1950s automobiles like Cadillacs and Chryslers, which explains the design style.

Construction-wise the originals are made of Korina, a type of tonewood; however, later reissues began mainly using mahogany.

Notably, only 22 were shipped back in 1958, and 3 in 1959. The extremely limited runs of the Explorer and Flying Vs helped catalyze their legendary status.

Expect any originals found on second-hand marketplaces to fetch ridiculously high prices.

8. Electro-Acoustic

An electro-acoustic is precisely as it sounds, and it is an acoustic guitar with the option of outputting to an amplifier.

An electro-acoustic uses piezoelectric pickups within the guitar’s body to amplify the sound. If you are unfamiliar with these guitars, they use thicker gauge strings than standard electric.

Where a standard electric guitar comes with nine-gauge strings, an electro-acoustic comes with a 12-gauge set. 

This is the best way to go for acoustic players who want to maintain the same tone as your acoustic guitar but with the added volume of electric.

Not that we have a fender-heavy bias on our list, but the Fender FA-235E is a great option for an electro-acoustic, offering an excellent sound without breaking the bank.

However, remember that these guitars do not perform well with heavy gain. So if you’re looking to achieve a louder, punchier sound with pedals and amplifiers, one of the other guitars on our list would be best for you. 

9. Les Paul

An old but gold is the Gibson Les Paul. Formally introduced to the world in 1952, the Les Paul became an instant classic among musicians and fans.

It is one of few guitars that nonmusicians recognize, most likely due to the unique acoustic-like body shape, the classic Gibson inlays, and the rich history it has with famous musicians both past and present. 

The Les Paul body and neck are made from mahogany tonewood with a maple wood top, making this guitar not only stunning but also a joy to play.

Like the SG, the Les Paul also opts for two humbucker pickups; however, these guitars are far larger and denser than their SG counterparts.

This helps to provide the beefed-up, full tone we’ve all come to know and love from the Les Paul. These guitars also have set necks, meaning they’re more like a whole piece rather than parts glued together.

This allows the Les Paul to achieve longer sustains than some of the other electric guitar types on our list. 

The Les Paul has been utilized by several different musicians, spanning a wide variety of genres. Most notably, however, is Slash.

It is hard to picture the guitarist without having this signature guitar around his neck. Arguably, Les Paul is one of the reasons that led Guns and Roses’ to such success.

The gritty and powerful tone of the Les Paul was able to cut through all performances and was always the critical component of their music.

If you can afford the hefty price tag that comes with the Les Paul, it will quite easily find a place in all forms of music production. 

10. 7 and 8-String Guitars

The electric 7-string hit the scene in 1983 and was first popularised by guitarist Lenny Breau who utilized the guitar with some of the biggest names in jazz.

However, this guitar style exploded in popularity through the ’90s and ’00s metal scenes. With bands wanting to achieve heavier and lower tones, the seven-string was an obvious move for metal bands as it included a lower B above the E.

This allowed bands to have much heavier power chords and progressions. As metalheads pined for heavier and lower music, the 8-string guitar came to fruition, adding F# above the B string.

The first mass-produced 8-string was the Ibanez RG2228, invented in 1994. 

Seven and 8-string guitars have a wide variety of body shapes. However, most of them have two cutaways like the Stratocaster but tend to have a flat, sharp headstock.

The vast majority of current metal guitars use EMG active pickups, and they provide higher output and gain than other pickups and offer higher clarity and weight with high gain.

This is essential in creating an audible but heavy tone. 

Bands such as Slipknot and Korn are often seen using 7-string guitars, which is glaring when you listen to any of their music.

Slipknots Mick Thomas opts to use Ibanez MTM guitars, whereas Korns Brian Welch is often found playing the ESP SH-7 Evertune.

11. Headless Guitars

One of the more unconventional types on our list was invented in 1979 by Steinburg, and a number of guitar companies have since adopted the design.

With the removal of the tuning nuts, headless guitars provide a far more accurate and stable tuning system. This also helps to eliminate fret buzz on open notes and across the whole fretboard.

This type of guitar has become extremely popular among metal players who want extreme accuracy when tuning.

The lack of wood from the headstock makes these forms of guitar light and very well-balanced, making these guitars very comfortable to play for long periods.

FAQs 

How Do I Know What Electric Guitar I Have?

If it’s not immediately apparent, the best way to find out what guitar you have is to figure out its body shape, headstock, and setup.

Once you know this, you can identify which category your guitar falls under.

Which Is The Best Electric Guitar For Beginners?

Unfortunately, there’s no proper answer to this question as it depends on the person. However, something like a Strat or Tele shape is very comfortable and will feel very intuitive.

The narrow neck of the guitar will also make it easier for you to form chord shapes.

On the other hand, you may find it more challenging to play riffs initially on a slimmer neck as the strings are closer together.

If given a chance, you should try and play on several types and see what feels most comfortable. 

What Type Of Amp Is For Electric Guitar?

The different types of guitar amplifiers are tube, solid state, modeling, and hybrid. It may not be common knowledge, but electric and bass guitars use separate amplifiers, so it is essential to know the difference.

While you’re here, check out our guide to solid state vs tube preamps and odd vs even distortion.

Guitar amps generally don’t output below 80Hz, so you shouldn’t run a bass through a guitar amplifier.