A Guide to Different Types of Acoustic, Electric, Bass & Small Guitars

Guitars come in all shapes and sizes, and they all have various tones, woods, looks, and strings. But, ultimately, they fall into a category somewhere.

So, if you want to know just a little more about the different types of guitars there are, we’ll give you a strum-down of them all!

If, by chance, you happen to have inherited a butt-load of money and you’re looking to buy guitars online, then we’ll help you get intimate with each guitar type before you decide. Or, you can go the easy route – buy them all!

Types of Acoustic Guitars

If you thought choosing an acoustic guitar was going to be a one-option kinda buying game, then you’re ripe for a kick in the arse! While steel string acoustic guitars are the most popular, time-honored, and memorable guitar instrument, there’s more options to be considered before you play the ignorant card!

Steel String Guitar

steel string guitar
Fender Steel String / Image Source: Amazon.com

The steel string acoustic guitar is a classic, not classical, but classic guitar of all time! It’s every song-writer’s go-to instrument, beginner guitar, and can even be the cherished prize of an entire collection. It’s versatile, rich in tone and resonance, and is a must have staple for every guitarist of any skill level.

The evidential steel strings are what lends the acoustic guitar its music genre versatility. You might have even heard of the acoustic steel string guitar being referred to as a flat top. This comes from the flat face or soundboard of the guitar called the table.

They’re more than suitable for playing in small venues, but for larger venue performances, pickups, built-in mics, and amplification is necessary.

Classical Guitar

classical guitar
Martin Möller / CC BY-SA 2.0 DE

The classical guitar is often referred to as a Spanish Guitar that takes its name from its origin. They’re considerably smaller than their steel string acoustic cousins that typically feature the large, dreadnought body. But, classical guitars have a slimmer waist that makes them much more comfortable to play while sitting.

The cutouts are important to note since playing this guitar while sitting is a grass-root position. Many solos and finger-picking styles is a repertoire of the classical git.

Another difference from its steel string cousin is the neck. It has a wider neck, and it lacks higher frets and dot inlays. Also, it’s strung with nylon strings instead of steel. The nylon strings produce thick, soft, and mellow tones. Only the treble strings are made with plain nylon while the bass strings typically have a nylon core wrapped in either steel or a nylon winding.


Image Source: Amazon.com

This is another nylon-stringed instrument that’s very similar to its classical guitar brother. But, unlike the versatility of a steel string, it’s made for a specific genre of music – flamenco!

A flamenco acoustic guitar needs to be built to withstand and resonate the sounds of tapping, multi-note playing, and fast runs up and down the neck. The strings are strung for low action for fast playing, and while string buzzing is usually an unwanted trait, it’s the norm on a flamenco guitar – you can get away with it.

The sounds are crisp, the trebles are bell-like and bright, and the basses are deep. The neck is also much thinner than a classical guitar, it’s lightweight, and it’s more open-sounding.

Steel Guitar

Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitars
Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitars / Image Source

Didn’t we already cover this? We’re not talking about steel string guitars, we’re talking about steel guitars originating in Hawaii! They’re not steel tops, resonators, or dobros, we’ll get to that later.

Steel guitars are mostly made for plucking while changing the pitch notes with a metal bar or slide. While you may be familiar with the technique, steel guitars are made to maximize the use of the sliding technique.

Like the classical, they’re played sitting down and in the lap. There’s two types of steel guitars, the lap guitar that we’ve been talking about and the pedal steel guitar. The pedal steel guitar is a breed of its own that’s more like a harp with extra necks and its own stand! Like we said, a breed of its own!

12 String Guitars

12 string guitar
12 String Guitar

Obviously, this guitar doesn’t have the standard six strings typical of a guitar, it has 12. The second set of strings are thinner than the standard strings but are placed right next to the corresponding standard string that produces the same note except it’s an octave higher.

12 string guitars are excellent for full-bodied and thick chord progressions that can often resonate in a way that seems like more than just one guitar is being played!

Resonator Guitars

A resonator might not look like a conventional acoustic at all because there’s no soundhole. Instead, a large, perforated disc is mounted onto the table of the guitar which houses a resonator cone. The cone is essentially a metal, un-powered amplifier or speaker made from spun aluminum.

But, how does it pick up sound? The bridge is mounted by a spider (an aluminum spring) somewhere on the disc, usually on the edge or the middle. The spider picks up the vibrations which are gauged through the cone for projected sound.

Now, this is where things can get a little tricky. Some resonator guitars are often referred to as steel guitars. Steel guitars from Hawaii are named thus for its use with a steel bar for sliding, or the glissando technique – just to sound fancy! But resonator steel top guitars refer to the steel construction of the guitar.

In body size, they’re large and closer to their steel string dreadnought cousins, but in sound, they’re actually closer kin to their classical brothers. The sounds are similar but warmer and exaggerated than the classicals because of the obvious, durable, and resilient steel top.

Types of Electric Guitars

To any beginner player, being able to strum any new electric guitar is going to be an exciting feat! As you start to add to your collection, you’ll pay more attention to body style, types of woods, the genre of music you play, and even what fashionistas have to say about it! Here’s each electric guitar type so that you can one day have them all!

Solid Body Guitars

les paul solid body electric guitar
Les Paul Solid Body Electric Guitar

This is by far the most common type of electric guitar sold and played because it’s the most versatile of them all. Depending on the skill level of the user and extra electric guitar accessories used, you can play anything from jazz, indie, blues to rock, country, and heavy metal!

As the name implies, the guitar itself is a solid piece of wood that lacks a soundhole which is a characteristic of its acoustic cousin. Because of this, it’s less prone to feedback than its semi-hollow electric brothers, which gives off an entirely different sound. Pickups and electric parts are mounted on the guitar versus inside.

The most renowned solid body guitars body shapes are the Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster, and the Gibson SG.

Semi-Acoustic Guitars

gibson es355 semi acoustic guitar
Gibson ES-335 Semi Acoustic Guitar

If you’re leaning towards a “semi”, then you probably have a thing for the sounds of blues and jazz. Semi-acoustic electric guitars look more like a traditional electric solid body guitar, but they’ll have varying shapes, sizes, body depths, and chamber cutaways.

The hollow or semi-hollow chambers provide an acoustic fullness and warm tone versus their electric solid body brothers but they’re more prone to unwanted feedback. Typically rock and heavy metal players won’t play a semi-acoustic electric guitar, but blues, indie, and jazz players will.

A semi-acoustic guitar still gets louder tone and volumes being played unplugged than a solid body electric guitar, but it must be plugged in and amplified to project the best sound.

Some semi-acoustic guitars will house hardware and pickups in the hole chambers.

B.B. King and Chuck Berry favored their semi-acoustic guitar, the Gibson ES-335 – a stunning, photogenic lush of a git!

Electric-Acoustic Guitars

electric-acoustic guitar
Electric-Acoustic Guitar / Image Source: Amazon.com

Electric-acoustic, acoustic-electric, same thing. Many people get confused between this type of electric guitar and a semi-acoustic electric guitar. While we’ve already delved into a semi-acoustic, the electric-acoustic guitar is somewhat different.

First of all, it’s basically an acoustic guitar and can sound just as magnificent when plugged in or when being played au natural. They can be constructed with pickups, built-in microphones, or even highly sensitive Piezo sensors to pick up vibrations to be amplified, sent to a mixer, or some other recording device.

As far as looks and body shape goes, it features the typical soundhole of an acoustic guitar since it really is an acoustic at heart, but it’s pimped out with electronics.

Archtop Guitars

gibson es-175 archtop guitar
Gibson ES-175 Archtop Guitar

Archtop guitars, whether acoustic or electric, look the same. To an untrained eye, some would say they look like huge violins! That’s thanks to the violin-style f-holes or wings outfitted on the soundboard of the guitar. Internal sound blocks have been built into hollow bodied guitars to provide a mellow, smooth, and warm tone that jazz players adore.

On an electric guitar, archtops feature pickups of some kind and pots. The full-bodied archtops provide the warmth and full-bodied tones of its acoustic archtop brother when unplugged, but its thinlined twin can minimize unwanted feedback better than the full-bodied when hooked up to an amp. The only downside to the electric thinline archtop is that it sacrifices resonance and acoustic tones as it delves into electric amplified depths.

One of the most notorious archtop electric guitars is the Gibson ES-175 that’s been toted on stage by Steve Howe, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Pass.

Types of Bass Guitars

While we do stand in awe at the big string bass that looks like a viola on steroids, we’re here to put the spot light on the bass guitar, the other type of bass. The kind of bass guitar that a hot guy straps up and turns the crowd on with those deep and low tones that make women crazy over Josh Turner’s voice!

Electric Bass Guitar

electric bass guitar
Electric Bass Guitar / Image Source: Amazon.com

When most people opt for a bass guitar, it’s typically going to be an electric one. And, with electric guitars, it’s going to need amplification. For an electric bass guitar, you’re going to need a bass amp if you want any chance of being heard.

The electric bass guitar has a solid-body, all its hardware and pickups on the face, and can come with a fingerboard that’s fretted or fretless.

Acoustic Bass Guitar

4 string acoustic bass guitar
4 String Acoustic Bass Guitar / Image Source: Amazon.com

Less common than an electric bass guitar is the acoustic bass. Instead of using pickups for amplified sound and being a slave to electronics, the bass guitar depends solely on the soundhole to project sound. They typically require four steel strings, but you can find some with five or six strings for tone variation.

If you get an acoustic bass guitar that doesn’t necessarily have a conventional soundhole, it will feature f-holes instead. Although, these seem to be more common on a semi-acoustic bass guitar.

Semi-Acoustic Bass Guitar

semi acoustic bass guitar
Semi Acoustic Bass Guitar / Image Source: amazon.com

Semi-acoustic basses are just the bass versions of their semi-acoustic electric guitar cousins. They’re louder when played unplugged than the electric bass guitar but they do require a power source for the best sound.

The semi-acoustic bass guitar has a semi-hollow body where the pickups, sensors, and hardware are installed. Usually, it’s in the form of f-holes.

Acoustic-Electric Bass Guitar

electric acoustic bass guitar
Electric Acoustic Bass Guitar / Image Source: amazon.com

If you prefer the acoustic tones and richness of an acoustic bass but you also want the option to be heard when plugged in, then the acoustic-electric bass guitar is your hybrid must have.

It looks just like your acoustic bass guitar with four strings and a hollow body, but it sports the electrical combos you need for amplification!

Types of Small Guitars

Yes, they exist and yes, they’re very practical and essential to the guitar world! If you’re not familiar with small sized guitars or you’re snubbing your nose up at one, get off your high horse and be ready for a rude awakening!

Traveler Guitar

martin steel travel guitar
Martin Steel Travel Guitar / Image Source: amazon.com

The traveler can’t necessarily be described to a T since they’re often sought after for custom specifications that cater to the traveling guitarist’s needs.

Although the neck and fretboard will remain consistent with a typical acoustic guitar, it’s the body shape that varies.

They can have strange, a-typical, and silent body shapes since they’re made to be compact, lightweight, and extremely portable.

Mini Acoustic Guitar

mini acoustic guitar
1/2 Sized Classical Guitar / Image Source: amazon.com

If you’re traveling abroad and a traveler guitar is a little outlandish for you, you might want to consider a mini acoustic. All those who want to get their child a beginner guitar, the mini acoustic is an excellent gift!

They feature the same look and shape as a full-size dreadnought acoustic but they’re scaled down in size and frets.

Besides its convenient size for traveling, they’re also much easier to wield, reduces the learning barriers for beginner players, and the smaller fretboard is much more playable for smaller hands and fingers.

Parlor Guitar

fender parlor guitar
Fender Parlor Guitar / Image Source: amazon.com

Parlor model guitars were a thing in the 1800s, especially in Europe. Back then, they were outfitted with nylon strings.

In the early part of the 1900s, early blues musicians actually made their signature with a parlor sized guitar.

While they never really hit the United States in popularity like they did in Europe, brands like Martin and Taylor are encouraging a come-back for the parlor guitars. They’re also making them more durable and putting on steel strings!

Blasphemy you say? Welcome to the resurgence!

Tenor Guitar

tenor guitar
Tenor Guitar / Image Source: amazon.com

Ah, the tenor isn’t your ordinary six string guitar, it has four.

While it’s more akin to the ukulele and played for its bright and twangy tones in folk music, its body is shaped more like a concert or orchestra acoustic guitar.

A tenor may be acoustic and/or electric, solid-bodied or resonator.

Interest in the tenor has increased in recent years.

Don’t Judge a Guitar by its Cover

Or do! Seriously though, it’s more about what you’re looking for, the kind of music you play, and if you’re looking to be plugged in or play au natural.

Sometimes it’s not about what looks really rad or what’s in the fad. It might be more about what the guitar contributes to your personal signature of playing. So, what’s your type? Are you a shallow type or do you look for the deeper meaning?