Guitar ancestry can be traced back over 4000 years with Egyptian tombs showing stringed instruments with a long neck and large body. During many century’s of development, the guitar’s predecessors have had a number of different string configurations- from the lute having many strings, to the chitarra having only 4.
Whilst there are still variations, the guitar has settled with 6 strings, with the bass guitar having 4 strings.
The guitar has subsections too:- Acoustic (no electricity), sound projection is achieved by the guitar having an open body with a sound hole . The vibration of the strings causes the air movement around the body to produce the sound. Or Electric (needs electricity and an amp for best effects) Sound is a result of electrical pick ups picking up the string vibration, most electric guitars have a solid body.
Within those two subsections there are many variations!
The Nylon acoustic: – also known as classical or Spanish guitar. This guitar has 6 nylon strings (though the lowest 3 strings are a nylon core wrapped with metal). Tuned to EADGBE, the Spanish guitar has a warm, rich tone. It has the shortest neck length, from the head to where the neck meets the body being 12 frets; however it tends to have the widest neck of the guitar types. Nylon acoustic is best known for being played for classical guitar music- (however is great for chord playing too!) Often people prefer the wider, softer nylon strings on their fingers, when they begin to learn, even if they plan later to play on a metal string acoustic. People playing classical music will play with fingers only.
The Acoustic:- also known as metal string acoustic. Metal strings only became widely available in the 1900’s. Metal strings are strung at much higher tension than the nylon strings, meaning the Metal string acoustic guitar requires more bracing inside its body and neck to cope with the greater string tension. Tuned the same as the nylon acoustic with EADGBE the metal strings give the guitar a very bright sound and the sound became favourite to the popular styles developing from the 1900’s onwards. The neck length was extended to 14 frets between head and body. Body types and shapes vary more in the Metal string acoustic guitar. There are jumbos and dreadnoughts (large bodied guitars) to more Classical type styling. As plectrums (picks) are regularly used for strumming the strings, you will often see a plastic pick guard on the wood below the sound hole. These are used to protect the body of the guitar from plectrum scratches.
Cutaway bodies are becoming popular in both nylon and metal stringed acoustic guitars. Cutaways can allow easier access to the frets from where the neck travels across the body to the sound hole.
In today’s modern world- both Nylon and metal strung acoustic guitars can be amplified up, to allow the sound of choice, to be broadcast to a large audience. This modern technology often comes with a built in tuner, so ensure you check the guitars specifications if this is a selling point for you!
Acoustic bass guitars- Has 4 strings tuned to EADG. The bass guitar has largely replaced the slap bass/double bass of the early 1900’s and can be plucked, strummed and picked. Provides great bass line support for any band. The bass tends to be a harmony instrument; however there are some amazing bass line solos. Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain for example.
Bass guitars have a much longer neck than their 6 string relatives, and are metal strung. The acoustic bass can also have amplification.
Electric guitars have many variations of shape and style, and whilst the history of electric guitars is short, only a hundred years or so, there are many styles named after the designers who made them, Les Paul, Fender etc. Too many to name here. As are the variations, body styling, flying V shape, double necks and so on. If you can think it, someone can probably produce it. Ultimately an electric guitar, due to it’s solid body requires amplification to make a reasonable volume. Pick ups, their placement and the number of pickups are important to their sound. However an electric guitar also requires a good amp to make the most of it’s qualities. So when buying an electric guitar, remember to spend time looking for a good amp. Electric guitars have a huge range of string thicknesses to suit every type of playing, from skinny top strings and heavy bottom strings, to light strings for a lighter tone, to heavy strings often best for rock music. If you radically change your strings from one extreme to the other- the guitar set up (pick ups, neck truss rod etc) may need to be altered for the new strings to make the best sound on your guitar. Often this is why professional guitarists have more than one guitar- so they can have guitars that are set up for certain string balances. You will often see guitarists swap guitars frequently during a gig. ensuring they get the correct set up and sound for different styles of song!
Electric basses are very similar in story to the electric guitar. They have 4 strings exactly as the acoustic bass guitar, but like the electric guitar have many different shapes and string setups.
With electric guitars and basses, it is important to look at the pick ups, set up, electronics, string gauge and amplification , to ensure good tone from your choice of guitar.