The guitar is a beautiful instrument. Its aesthetically pleasing body shape and the melodic music it creates are two reasons any type of guitar can be both stunning to look at and a wonder to play or hear.
The three main classes of guitar have a few things in common: Each has six strings and is played by strumming or picking those strings. The three types all have their own style and create a distinct sound, though, so what are the differences between guitars? Beginners often arrive at that question when asking which type of guitar is the best fit for them.
This guide will describe acoustic, classical, and electric guitars and highlight the differences among them. It will also describe guitar string types, picks, and the type of music you can play with each.
Guitar Differences: The Basics
There are many differences between guitar types. Each has unique components and materials, is shaped and structured differently, and is typically intended to play different genres. Although you can interchange the type and play an acoustic song on an electric guitar or a classical song on an acoustic guitar, it’s important to consider the type of music you expect to play most often before investing in a great guitar. Here are the types to consider:
An acoustic guitar is generally used to play contemporary, blues, country, folk, and jazz. The bigger the body, the louder and stronger the music the instrument will produce.
A classical guitar is used for playing Latin-inspired or classical music. They are most often played by finger-picking techniques and have a softer sound.
An electric guitar is typically used to play jazz, blues, funk, metal, and rock. They often have a wide and flat body, but the shape is not an indication of the euphonic sound they create.
If you’re not sure which type suits your specific musical interests, you may want to get input from a professional. They will offer guidance based on your guitar-playing intentions and approach. The good news is that just learning to play music can bring you great benefit, regardless of the type you choose.
Deep Dive: The Three Types of Guitars
We can take it a little deeper now that we know the general differences between guitars. Here is a quick explanation of each, including the components and construction, how it creates sound, how to play it, and other important details specific to that guitar type.
Acoustic guitars are commonly made of wood or composite material with a hollow-body design. When the strings are strummed or picked, they vibrate and create resonation inside the hollow space to produce the guitar’s musical sound. Acoustic guitars have steel strings, which produce a tone that is bright and clear. They are typically played with the right hand, so a player strikes several strings up and down (or in a particular pattern) at one time to play a note or chord.
Classical guitars are usually associated with Latin, Spanish, or Flamenco music, which involves finger picking. They are hollow bodied and produce sound in a similar way to acoustic guitars. The main distinction between classical and acoustic or electric guitars is the strings: Classical guitars use nylon, which creates a musical tone that is soft in quality and more muted. The other two types most often use steel strings.
Electric guitars create sound through electronic mechanisms built into their bodies. When a player strums or plucks the strings, magnetic pickups situated underneath the string panel detect magnetic shifts that they turn into an electrical signal to create the musical sound. The most important thing to know about electrics is that they must be connected to an amplifier or speaker to hear them. Unlike acoustic and classical, electric guitars are often made of composite materials and do not have a hollow body. They are strummed or played with power chords.
If you have a wide range of musical styles you want to play, then don’t worry too much and overthink this decision. There is no harm done if a beginning guitarist plays whatever song he likes on whatever kind of guitar. Possibly of greater importance is to read up on which guitars to avoid as a beginner.
Type of Guitar Strings and How to Play Them
Another important choice for a beginning guitar player is strings. Each of the guitar types is typically made to be played with a certain type of string, but ultimately it comes down to the player’s preference. New musicians should experiment with different string types before deciding which suits them, plus consider music classes with a professional music school to perfect their technique and learn the basics.
Commonly used on classical guitars, nylon strings are a soft material and play most easily on the fingertips. Although the bottom three nylon strings on a right-handed guitar are coated in a steel resin, they are still considered nylon and are easier on the fingers. Many guitar players prefer nylon strings for their soft playing quality.
Steel strings are used on acoustic and electric guitars. On the hollow-bodied acoustic guitar, they serve to create a brighter and sharper tone than nylon. On the electric guitar, they create the magnetic shift to trigger an electrical signal to create sound. Steel strings are harshest on the fingertips, but playing becomes a wonderful experience as the fingers toughen with practice.
Guitar strings are also either strummed or picked with the fingers directly, or by using a pick. A guitar pick is a small plastic piece that plucks a string to create sound. Some guitar players like to use picks because they eliminate the dulling effect of fingers on the strings. It also allows players to be more precise in picking individual strings.
There is a lot to know about guitars and other instruments, and a few variables to consider before a beginning player buys one. The main takeaway is that your choice will be the first step in what could be a lifelong journey through the beauty of music. If the uncertainty about some element has you stalled, getting expert help is never a bad idea.
Let Music Experts Help You Pick the Perfect Guitar
Learning to play the guitar is exciting, but the process can also seem overwhelming. The experts at Sloan School of Music can accurately assess your interests and needs, then pair you with the perfect guitar for lifelong music success. If you have questions about which type of guitar to choose, or are interested in signing up for lessons with one of our guitar experts, contact Sloan School of Music today.