As a child, I always had an affinity for organized music. Music has been an integral part of my life since childhood, whether it was my family singing at holidays gatherings or my friends writing favorite band names on Trapper Keepers.
Music is so ubiquitous in our daily lives. Music is everywhere, on the radio, commercials, TV, movies, TV and YouTube. The electric guitar was the ultimate symbol of cool, and musicians became more visible through these media outlets.
That was the moment that truly defined me… my first electric guitar!
Perhaps you are just starting to own an electric guitar. Perhaps you are an intermediate player who is looking for more information about electric guitars before adding them to your acoustic collection.
You can rest assured that you will have a solid understanding of all electric guitar types by the end of this article and be able narrow down which one you would like to use as your first electric.
Let’s look at the major brands and types of electrics that have shaped modern music.
Solid Body Electric Guitars
Gibson and Fender are synonymous with this type instrument. They were the first to introduce the electric guitar to the masses. The guitar body designs and styles they designed are still used today by both budding and professional musicians.
Others have created variants of Gibson’s or Fender’s original designs. However, they can still be identified by the names given to them.
FENDER SOLID BODY ELECTRIC GUITARS
Let’s take a look at the most popular designs, before we move on to the models of their competitors.
When Leo Fender introduced the Strat in 1954, it was immediately a hit with professional musicians. Although there were other solid-body electrics that had been introduced, most people argue that the Stratocaster is the best.
Leo Fender and his trusted team realized that they had created a unique, world-changing design by simply trying to outdo Gibson. This led to the creation of a unique image and unique features that resulted in a sound that was unattainable with a Gibson. 1954 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster
Gibson used to offer a single cutaway on the guitar body in order to allow players access to higher frets. Fender has a double-cutaway design that allows the thumb of the player to access the higher end of the neck.
Gibson used the “3 On A Side” tuners. Fender provided “6 Inline” tuning pins. These choices were a major part of the Strat’s visual appeal. Buddy Holly, early adopter of the Stratocaster
Leo said, “If Gibson offers 2 pickups, why not have 3?” This simple statement was a revolutionary change in the sound of electric guitars. He offered 3 single coil pickups as an alternative to the 2 humbucking pickups Gibson provided.
These pickups had a lower output but a richer sound. The Stratocaster’s middle pickup allowed players to have clear rhythm tones and trebly leads. Players also had the option to use the “spongy quack”, which is distinctive to the Stratocasters “in between” positions.
Fender’s Tremolo bridge was another innovation. It used springs to allow players to alter the pitch of single chords and notes. Fender’s Tremolo bridge was popular for its vibrato-style shakes and the ability to dip a chord below the pitch of the chord. It is now a standard on all top electric guitars. Whammy Bar AKA Tremolo Arm
The endless possibilities of spring-loaded bridges became more apparent as time passed. We are all familiar with the “whammy bar”, and probably have had a taste of it through Guitar Hero.
Jeff Beck is a great example of a player that has perfected control over the whammy bar. He has, in recent years, become the king among the subtleties of the Fender tremolo-bridge technique. https://www.youtube.com/embed/dCH2NghYDas?feature=oembed
Jeff Beck, melting faces with the whammy bars, will blow your mind. Next, you can…
The Telecaster was introduced in the same year as the Stratocaster and became well-known for its Rock ‘n roll appeal. It was first known as the Broadcaster, before Fender was sued for copyright infringement.
The Telecaster’s single cutaway makes it easy for rock ‘n roll fans to distinguish it from other Telecasters. Other distinctive features make the Telecaster unique and have made it popular among Country guitarists. Butterscotch Fender Telecaster
Telecasters have what we call an “ashtray bridge” instead of a Tremolo. The original metal covering that was on the bridge, which players removed and used as an ashtray, gave rise to this name.
The magic was under that cover. The original ashtray bridges were made with three saddles instead of six. This, along with a single coil pickup and a larger metal surface created a unique sound that is perfect for country chicken pickers.
Because of its simplicity, the Tele is often called a “workingman’s instrument”. The Tele also offers tons of tone options, much like the Strat. You can change the tone knob to make the neck pickup look “lipstick”, or go from perfect blues to jazz by simply turning it back.
Danny Gatton was well-known for taking full advantage of all the sounds that the Tele could produce in one song by rolling the tone knob to create the “wahwah” effect that many players achieve using a foot pedal. https://www.youtube.com/embed/KRnDMPbtUSM?feature=oembed
In this lesson, Danny Gatton demonstrates the versatility of the Butterscotch Tel in this short video.
“THE SUPER STRAT!”
The modular design of the Telecaster and Stratocaster meant that any damaged part could be easily replaced. These modular parts allow modern players to customize their instruments to suit any music style, including blazing Metal to Smooth Jazz.
Jackson, Charvel and Ibanez used the modifications made by Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen to their instruments to create the Superstrat! A Standard Ibanez RG Type
These acrobatic guitarists used both humbucking pickups as well as the Floyd Rose-style tremolo bridge to achieve the hard rock edge that was popular in late 70’s and early 80’s technical playing styles.
These instruments have a higher output and even active electronics pickups. The instruments also have recessed cavities that allow the tremolo-bridges to create the “dive bomb”, effects Van Halen was famous for in “Eruption.”
Another distinctive feature is the thinner necks and wider frets, with flatter fret boards. Technical players love these for their flashier techniques. https://www.youtube.com/embed/GakOgDSvcfo?feature=oembed
Above: Steve Vai plays the Attitude Song live with an orchestra and his Ibanez.
These versatile Super Strats can handle any type of music but are most well-known in the Metal and “Shredder” styles. They were created during the 80’s era technical performance. The Super Strat could be the perfect instrument for you if you’re interested in these types of music.
GIBSON SOLID BODY ELECTRIC GUITARS
We have previously discussed Gibson and Fender’s offerings. Now it is time to look closer at Gibson’s heavier guitars. Any electric solid-body guitar can be considered a variation of the original 50’s axes, regardless of brand or style.
GIBSON LES PAU
Yes, the Les Paul is the signature model of the late, great guitarist Les Paul. This is the only model that has had other notable players create signature versions of this signature instrument.
Because of its incredible versatility and high-quality craftsmanship, the Les Paul is one of the most well-known instruments on the planet.
Ted McCarty, the president of Gibson Guitar, asked Les Paul to assist in creating Gibson’s first mass-produced instrument. After a few prototypes, they settled on a design that would change the course of music history. The Gold Top Gibson Les Paul style
The original Les Paul had a solid mahogany frame topped with a maple top. This resulted in an instrument that could play many tonal variations and provided maximum sustain. The original Les Pauls had two P-90 pickups but are best known for their PAF humbucking pickups.
There are many variations, but the Les Paul’s double humbuckers stand out from the Telecaster and Stratocaster offerings by Fender.
It also has 3 on a Side Tuners on a Painted Headstock, bound neck and body with block or trapezoid inlays on rosewood and ebony and its Tune-O-Matic bridge and Stop Bar tailpiece.
Although some of these features may be cosmetic, components like the pickup selection and bridge setup gave the Les Paul that huge sound and sustain which is so characteristic of the guitar.
Gibson’s iconic axe was also given its visual appeal by the choice of finish. The high quality craftsmanship and the price tag were justified by this combination. There are many options, including Black Beauties, Gold Tops and the highly-coveted original Flame Maple Sunbursts. Billy Gibbons with his “Pearly Gates” Les Paul
This iconic axe has been chosen by many guitarists for its versatility and ability to sound great in all genres of music. However, the Les Paul is best known for its rock ‘n roll attitude.
Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin singer, is a great example. Page started using Les Pauls and never looked back. He helped establish the instrument’s place in music history. https://www.youtube.com/embed/kXNqJx9H75s?feature=oembed
You can see Jimmy Page perform the Heartbreaker solo on his Les Paul. Then we’ll discuss the SG…
The SG is an acronym for “Solid Guitar” and, like all Gibson’s products, it is solid and well-known around the globe. The SG is a fascinating addition to the Les Paul’s.
It was once considered a Les Paul at one time in its early years. These instruments are now referred to as Les Paul SG’s.
The two designs share many similarities, including the intricate detail of the visual appointments from their bound necks and headstocks to the trapezoid inlays and block inlays.
Both have separate volume and tone knobs that can be used with or without the 3-Way toggle switch. The differences are obvious once you have one. The Gibson SG Standard
The SG’s thinner, double-cutaway body made it easier for players to reach the higher frets. This model is significantly lighter than the Les Paul, and many players preferred it.
Tony Iommi is Black Sabbath’s guitarist, riff-master extraordinaire. He is a great example of a player who used the SG as a tool to define modern metal. Black Sabbath records are full of the heavy crunch of their SG.
The SG’s double-cutaway body and higher fret access made it the ideal axe for slide guitarists. Duane Allman, of Allman Brother’s Band, is one of the most revered slide guitarists ever. He chose the SG to be his weapon of choice.
Allman was known to be able to pass the fretboard completely and create notes in a high-range that could not have been achieved with standard slide technique. Derek Trucks continues the legacy of his idol and has taken Duane’s sound and technique to create one of the most soulful and unique slide sounds you will ever hear.
Butch Trucks was his uncle and Trucks started playing with the ABB at a young age. He then became a full-time member of the band and helped to keep Duane Allman’s legacy alive for a new generation.
Other well-known SG players include Pete Townsend from The Who, Angus Young from AC/DC, Frank Zappa and Eric Clapton. The Eric Clapton “The Fool” SG Replica
Clapton is well-known for his Fender Stratocasters but his SG, dubbed ” the Fool“, helped make the SG a staple.
OTHER FAMOUS GIBSON SOLID BODY GUITARS
Gibson also released many other guitars that were well-known in the 50’s, with an eye towards the future. These guitars look just like they were made by a time traveler and have been copied after copy.
Below are the top-rated futuristic electric guitar body designs. These designs are truly amazing.
GIBSON FLYING V
The instrument was released for the first time in 1958. It was instantly loved by great blues players such as Lonnie Mack and Albert King. The Gibson Flying V Style
The Flying V electric guitar style has seen surges and lulls, but it has never been out of favor. This is due to the many great players who use it, including Jimi Hendrix and Kirk Hammett.
The Flying V had many of the same advantages as the SG, but a more unique body shape. It is now a common guitar for heavy metal and heavy rock guitarists, and it will continue to be a guitar of the future.
The Gibson Explorer, like its brother the Flying V, had a futuristic design that was introduced in 1958. This design is still appealing to many players today. The Gibson Explorer guitar shape
These models share a common feature: the ability to access the highest notes, as well as dual humbuckers or massive sustaining bodies. Like the V, the Explorer is a popular electric guitar shape, but it was also widely used in other styles.
This is evident in the example of Allen Collins, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most well-known Gibson Explorer player.
Gibson’s Firebird was another early offering of futuristic, “weird”, guitars. It featured the Explorer body design but with “softer” features. The Gibson Firebird solid Body
Other unique features of the Firebird included banjo-style tuners and mini-humbuckers, which produced a distinct sound from the full humbucker pickups Gibson usually offered.
The Firebird was favored by many notable musicians: Mick Taylor, Rolling Stones’ drummer, used it on Exile on Main St. Allen Collins also used this axe to accompany Skynyrd on stage.
Johnny Winter, a great Texan blues guitarist, was well-known for using his 1963 Firebird slide to great effect. Dave Grohl of Nirvana fame and Foo Fighters fame used his white Firebird for a rock sound.
The two most popular types of electric guitars are the hollow and solid body. Gibson’s ES series has been synonymous with the Semi-Hollow Body electric guitar since 1936.
Gibson has produced many variations of the Semi-Hollow guitar, as well copies made by other companies. However, all these versions are faithful to the original design. The Semi-Hollow guitar was first introduced by Rickenbacker, but the ES-335 remains the most popular guitar in the world. The Gibson ES-335 Memphis
Semi-hollow guitars have a “toneblock” running down the middle of the instrument’s body. This eliminates feedback and preserves the woody tone of true hollow-body instruments, which are often used in Jazz.
This enabled the pickups to mount to a solid block while the instrument’s outer parts are hollow. These are often decorated with “f-holes”, much like Violin instruments.
This build gives the instrument the same resonance and tone as fully hollow instruments. It also resists feedback, which allows amplifiers and guitars to be played at higher volumes.
These guitars are well-known for their warm, woody sound. However, they can be used in any genre that doesn’t require a lot of gain or feedback.
Dan Auerbach is the Black Keys’ guitarist. He is an example of a modern player who can drive the instrument to distortion but retain the jazzy blues quality that these instruments are famous for.
George Benson, John Lennon and the internationally renowned B.B. King would make the most of the instrument and produce a tone that was reminiscent of fully hollow guitars. He also used the instrument to the fullest extent to be able to play in larger venues without having to deal with the limitations inherent to fully hollow-body guitars.
Hollow Body (or Archtop) Guitars
A fully hollow-body electric guitar is almost always a work of fine art. These instruments are a throwback to hand-shaped acoustic guitars of yesteryear.
Hand-carved backs and archtops allow for pure acoustic detail such as tone and resonance. The electric aspect allows for the performer’s amplification.
Traditionalists could not ask for better tone, but must also deal with the other aspects of these highly resonant instruments. The Benedetto Bambino Hollow Body Archtop
Many players will instantly think of Charlie Christian, the Jazz guitarist who helped bring the Gibson ES-150 to the limelight with the Benny Goodman Quartet. The tone these instruments could produce was something that many top-notch players recognized.
They started to use them in their own distinguished careers, including George Benson, Pat Metheny, and many other masters who used these exquisitely crafted instruments.
Gibson and Gretsch are both well-known mass producers of these fine instruments. Custom makers like Benedetto and D’Angelico provide the handcrafted touch that is worth the price.
These are the types of electric guitars…
We’ve taken a look at all the electric guitars on the market today. You can also read about the types of acoustic instruments , and strings. There are so many choices, it is important to think about the style and tone that you want by looking at what your favorite artists have done with their music.
While your choice might be based on aesthetic appeal and cool factor you should also consider the ability to produce the music you love. There are many body types, but you should be able to recognize the different sounds available on electric guitars.