A Full Guide to Guitar Body Shapes

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

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With so many guitar body shapes available, choosing the right one can seem overwhelming for beginners and experienced players alike. The body style plays a crucial role in sound, feel, and your playing style.

This guide walks through the unique tonal qualities and playing dynamics inherent to major body configurations. Gain insight into leading brands and models to determine the ideal guitar silhouette compatible with your musical needs, technique, and budget. Let’s demystify guitar anatomy so your next instrument empowers you to reach new creative heights.

guitar body types

Table of Contents

Acoustic Guitar Body Types

Acoustic guitars come in various body shapes and sizes, each with distinctive tones, playing feel, and aesthetics. The three most common acoustic body types are dreadnought, parlor, and jumbo.

The Iconic Dreadnought

The dreadnought is the most popular and recognizable acoustic guitar body style. First introduced by C.F. Martin & Company in 1916, the dreadnought features a large, wide lower bout and shoulders, an oval soundhole, and a long scale length. This combination results in a bold, booming tone with crisp highs, pronounced midrange, and thick low end – ideal for aggressive strumming and flatpicking styles.

Dreadnoughts like the Martin D-28 and Taylor 314ce have become the quintessential acoustic guitar over the last century, employed by legends like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, and countless others. Their versatility, volume, and dynamic range allow them to cut through any musical ensemble with ease.

Despite their large size, dreadnoughts are comfortable to play while seated, especially with a supportive strap. Their wider lower about provides a stable platform for energetic rhythmic accompaniment. While some very large players may find the body size limiting, most guitarists feel right at home with a dreadnought.

Intimate Parlor Guitars

Before dreadnoughts dominated the acoustic guitar market, smaller-bodied parlor guitars were common in the late 19th and early 20th century. As the name suggests, they were well-suited for playing music in more intimate, quieter settings.

Modern acoustic parlor guitars have revived in recent years, offering a vintage vibe and mid-range focused tone. Their compact size makes them comfortable to play for long periods while seated, especially for smaller players.

While parlor guitars lack the booming bass and crisp treble of dreadnoughts, the narrowed waist body style produces a concentrated, articulate midrange perfect for fingerstyle playing. The warm, woody sound enhances vocals and complements other instruments nicely in a mix.

The short 23 to 24-inch scale length requires less tension on the strings, making parlor guitars effortless to play. The comfortable feel and vintage aesthetics make parlor guitars like the Martin 00-15M and Taylor 510e popular with players craving an old-school experience.

Bold and Booming Jumbo Acoustics

For guitarists who find typical dreadnoughts lacking in volume and bass response, jumbo acoustic guitars take things to the extreme. Jumbos feature very deep bodies generating a loud, punchy voice that can shine through even dense musical arrangements.

The expanded lower bout provides the large hollow body chamber required for a prominent low-end, lending jumbo acoustics a piano-like richness. The dominant bass is well-balanced by crisp, articulate treble notes that cut through expertly.

While mahogany remains a common tonewood for jumbo guitar tops, many models opt for Sitka spruce which enhances the sparkling highs. This helps prevent the larger body from sounding too boomy or muddy. Gibson and Martin both produce highly-regarded jumbo models, including classics like the J-45 and J-200.

The major downside to jumbo acoustics is their hefty dimensions, which can limit comfortable playing postures. Their substantial weight makes it difficult to stand up without a supportive guitar strap. However, for guitarists seeking the ultimate in projection and tonal impact from an acoustic, jumbo guitar delivers an unrivaled acoustic experience.

Electric Guitar Body Types

Electric guitars come in a variety of shapes and styles, each with their distinctive tones, playing feel, and aesthetic design. The three most iconic and influential electric guitar models are the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, and the Gibson Les Paul.

The Fender Stratocaster

When you imagine an electric guitar, chances are you picture the quintessential Stratocaster. Introduced by Fender in 1954, the Strat defined the look and sound that would shape rock and roll.  The contoured double cutaway alder body offers comfort and balance, while the bolt-on maple neck provides brightness and sustain.

Fender’s ingenious tremolo system allows guitarists to bend pitches for expressive effects. The classic SSS pickup configuration with a 5-way switch generates iconic bell-like tones – from glassy and sparkling to thick and growling. Legends like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Mayer made the Strat their axe of choice.

Its slick style, resonant voice, and electrifying vibe cemented the Strat’s status as the world’s most popular electric guitar.  Easy playability makes a Strat a great choice for beginners and its versatility suits advanced guitarists.

The Workhorse Fender Telecaster

Joining the Strat in Fender’s inaugural electric lineup, the Telecaster or “Tele” shares some similarities but delivers its distinct attitude. Sporting a solid ash or alder body with just a single cutaway, the Tele emphasizes a raw, unfiltered tone. The fixed bridge forces players to control the pitch through their fingertips alone.

With a pair of single coil pickups and a 3-way selector switch, Telecasters churn out the piercing twang and metallic bite heard on countless country, blues, and rock records.  Unapologetically crude in the best way possible, Tele’s forceful midrange cuts through any mix while clean tones shimmer and growl when pushed hard.

Icons like Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, and George Harrison relied on the gritty persuasion of their trusty Telecasters to compliment their fiery stage presence.  For guitarists who favor attitude and snarl over refinement, the Telecaster snarls and screams with the best of them.

The Melodic Gibson Les Paul

While Fender cornered the market on sleek, modern electric guitars, Gibson’s Les Paul offered a more traditional perspective. Introduced in 1952, Les Paul’s rich, sustained tones with singing highs and thunderous lows proved irresistible to jazz, blues, and rock players alike.

At the core of Les Paul’s fat, creamy tone is its mahogany body and arched maple cap construction. The combination enhances sustain and adds striking harmonics to the twin humbucking pickups.  Variations like the Custom, Standard, Studio, and Tribute allow players to dial in their perfect balance of warmth and clarity.

From Duane Allman’s blistering solos to Slash’s face-melting grooves, Les Paul’s thickness and singing sustain shine through.  Clean settings boast pianistic warmth while distortion cranks out a bellowing roar.

The Les Paul’s heft helps to tame overtones but demands stamina to wield on stage. For players craving mellifluous tones that stand out in the mix, Les Paul guitars deliver legendary sound in an iconic package.

Bass Guitar Body Types

When it comes to bass guitars, the instrument’s body design and shape dramatically impact tone, playing feel, and ergonomics. Over the decades, certain bass body configurations have proven exceptionally popular, spawning iconic instruments still coveted today. Let’s explore some of the most influential bass guitar forms and their unique characteristics.

The Fender Precision Bass

No discussion of influential bass guitar body types would be complete without the Fender Precision Bass. Introduced in 1951 as the first mass-produced electric bass, the Precision Bass established the standard bass design template followed by countless instruments.

Fender’s Precision Bass features a solid alder or ash body bolted to a thick maple neck. This large slab body focuses on the deep low end while the maple neck adds definition and tightness. The result is a punchy, percussive tone with piano-like richness ideal for locking in with a drummer.

The Precision earned its name from the precision fretted neck allowing bassists to play with guitar-like accuracy. The comfortable contours and offset waist rest nicely against the body. For over 70 years, the Fender Precision’s balance of playability and versatile sound has captivated generations of bassists.

The Jazz Bass

Joining the Precision Bass in 1960, the Fender Jazz Bass embodies the slippery smooth tones and effortless playing feel jazz musicians demand. The offset waist body feels slender and agile, encouraging flexible movement up and down the fretboard.

While the Jazz Bass retains the general Precision body style, several tweaks yield noticeable tonal changes. Its sleeker alder body produces a brighter tone with extra bite courtesy of the paired single coil pickups. The narrower neck also facilitates fleet-fingered funk and fusion lines.

From Jaco Pastorius to Flea, the Jazz Bass defined the sounds of 70s and 80s rock. The versatile voice sounds fantastic and clean but screams with overdrive, distortion, and chorus effects. Its vibrant personality shines as a lead instrument or locked into the pocket holding down the groove.

Explorer Basses

Straying from Fender’s form, many companies have experimented with more radical bass guitar body shapes. Explorer basses offered by Dean, Jackson, and ESP exemplify an aggressive angular look popularized in metal and hard rock.

The Explorer’s pointed edges and sharpened cutaways create an eye-catching instrument. But this futuristic shape also impacts tone and playability. The elongated horns shift the balance toward the bass and treble strings, facilitating advanced two-hand tapping techniques.

The dense mahogany bodies yield thick, brooding tones focused on the midrange. When coupled with hot humbucking pickups, Explorer basses unleash thunderous distortion perfect for heavy music. The extreme styling matches the playing style.

Ergonomic Designs

While iconic bass guitars carry historical clout, many modern offerings prioritize comfort and ergonomics. Brands like Ibanez concentrate on smooth, contoured bodies that feel natural to play in seated or standing positions.

Rather than fashioning instruments after Fender’s original slab bodies, ergonomic basses utilize forearm and chest carves to facilitate movement. Sculpted cavities and sleek cutaways provide unfettered access to the highest frets. The designs encourage solid playing posture reducing fatigue – an essential consideration for professional bassists.

Impact on Sound and Playability

The design and materials of an acoustic or electric guitar body dramatically influence its tonal characteristics and playing comfort. While personal playing style and technique also affect the sound, the intrinsic properties derived from distinct body shapes and wood types leave an indelible imprint. Master luthiers leverage this knowledge to sculpt instruments with diverse voices to suit different musical genres.

Tonal Qualities

A guitar’s shape and density control resonance and sustain by determining the size of the interior chamber. Larger bodies with more area to vibrate amplify volume and enhance bass frequencies. The choice of tonewoods also colors the sound profile with spruce and cedar adding sparkling highs while mahogany boosts rich low-mid warmth.

Iconic models like the Gibson Les Paul use a mahogany/maple combination to achieve a well-balanced voice with singing highs, prominent mids, and thick low ends. Fender’s basswood Stratocasters deliver crisp, chimey treble with scooped mids and controlled lows. Rickenbacker’s dense semi-hollow bodies accentuate chime and distortion. Understanding these core sound properties helps match guitars to playing styles.

Playability and Ergonomics

The weight, balance, and contouring of guitar bodies significantly impact comfort, ergonomics, and playability:

  • Large wide-bodied guitars like the Gibson J-45 provide stability with their broad lower bout yet can prove tiresome for prolonged standing with their hefty mass. 
  • Smaller parlor guitars feel nimble but forfeit bass response.
  • Forearm and chest carves combined with contoured edges on guitars like the PRS Silver Sky increase mobility and ease strain. 
  • The double cutaway design grants access to the highest frets for demanding lead work. Neck width and thickness should match the fretting hand size as well. 

Custom and Experimental Body Types

Guitar makers continuously experiment with radical, futuristic guitar shapes that stray from traditional forms. Custom luthiers also craft wildly imaginative instruments tailored to individual players’ visions. These cutting-edge designs prioritize stand-out visuals, ergonomics, and unconventional tones.

Daring Shapes from Iconic Brands

Major manufacturers like Gibson and Rickenbacker have produced several notably eccentric guitars over the decades. Gibson’s Flying V and Explorer models feature angular, pointed edges that resemble spaceships.

Initially released in the late 1950s, these guitars were ahead of their time. Their sleek metallic look and aggressive stance matched emerging rebellious rock styles. The elongated shape also facilitated new techniques like two-handed tapping.

While their appearance remains polarizing, the dense mahogany bodies produce rich, focused midrange tones. When coupled with hot humbucking pickups, Flying V and Explorer guitars unleash thick distortion and sustain perfect for heavy metal.

Bespoke Instruments from Custom Shops

For guitarists craving a truly one-of-a-kind instrument, boutique custom shops stand ready to build fantasies into reality. Using hand-selected tonewoods and customized electronics, artisanal luthiers sculpt guitars catering specifically to each player’s playing style, ergonomic needs, and aesthetic tastes.

Custom options like exotic woods, personalized inlays, unique switching layouts, and premium hardware offer self-expression. Shops allow clients to select their preferred neck profile, scale length, and body carving for a customized fit and feel.

Choosing the Right Body Type

When selecting a guitar, the instrument’s body configuration dramatically impacts tone, playing feel, ergonomics, and personal aesthetic taste. While technical specs matter, finding a guitar shape that inspires you to pick it up and practice regularly trumps all other considerations. Let’s explore how to match guitar body types to your preferred genre and playing style.

Play Style and Body Shape

For rhythmic riffing or aggressive strumming, the wider lower bout of a dreadnought or jumbo acoustic gives you room to dig in without accidentally hitting the body. The large hollow body also pumps out booming projection to cut through loud band mixes. Lead players demand upper fret access, making double-cutaway electric guitars like the Stratocaster or Les Paul preferable.

The contoured edges and sleek lines of a Strat or Tele foster fluid movement across the fretboard ideal for bending strings. If you favor intricate fingerpicking, a compact parlor acoustic keeps everything within close reach without hindering mobility. Consider your dominant playing motions and postures to determine if a petite or plus-sized guitar better facilitates your technique.

Genre-Based Tonal Matching

The crystalline jangle of a Strat or Tele makes Fender models a natural choice for surf rock, country, funk, and other clean-toned genres. For the warm undercurrent and singing sustain of blues, jazz, and classic rock, Gibsons packed with humbuckers supply an iconic voice.

If you mainly utilize effects like distortion, delay, phasers, or chorus, a guitar with single coil pickups gives you more tonal variance to mold compared to noise-reducing humbuckers. The beefy midrange bark of an Explorer or Flying V tones seamlessly meld with heavy metal song structures. Though you can bend any guitar to your sonic will, identifying body types suited for your target tones makes dialing in your ideal sound easier.

Caring for Different Guitar Bodies

From the sleek curves of a Stratocaster to the sharp edges of an Explorer, guitar bodies sport diverse designs demanding customized maintenance. While all models require basic upkeep, certain structural and finish vulnerabilities benefit from special attention. Establishing smart storage, cleaning, and handling habits extends your instrument’s life.

Stratocaster and Telecaster Care

  • Use a microfiber cloth to polish gloss finishes after playing to prevent clouding and fine scratches
  • Wipe down maple necks thoroughly after sessions to deter dirt build-up in hard-to-reach contours
  • Inspect tremolo bridge components and saddles routinely for rust and clean with a Teflon-safe lubricant
  • Shield electronics cavity from moisture ingress which can corrode wiring

Les Paul Care

  • Clean gloss finished tops gently in the direction of the gorgeous figuring using minimal moisture and pressure
  • Condition rosewood and ebony fretboard regularly with lemon/mineral oil to prevent drying and cracking
  • Examine thick maple tops yearly for “checkerboard” fractures along the seam and glue joints
  • Watch for cracks or warping along neck/body transition which exposes the extended tenon joint

Acoustic Guitar Care

  • Use luthier polish sparingly on thinner nitrocellulose finished to avoid over-dissolving underlying layers
  • Inspect bridge plate and braces through soundhole for signs of ungluing from seasonal humidity shifts
  • Wash grimy fingerboard buildup off maple necks to prevent dirt from migrating under the fretwire edges
  • Evaluate bridge pins, saddle, and nut slots routinely for burring from string friction requiring fill and redressing

Protect beloved guitars from damage, premature wear, and costly repairs through attentive care and maintenance during ownership. As issues arise, quickly consult technicians to arrest developing problems. Enjoy your instruments even longer by pampering both body and soul with conscientious upkeep.

Wrap UP

The shape and build of a guitar change its tone and feel. Bigger bodies like the Martin Dreadnought boom, small parlor guitars sound focused, and pointy guitars like the Explorer tap well. Match your guitar’s look and sound to your music taste and playing style. An axe you love makes you play more. Shop patiently, and care for her always. Your guitar is your musical soulmate.

Guitar Body Shapes: FAQs

What are the different body types of guitars?

The most common guitar body types are dreadnought, parlor, jumbo, auditorium, classical, and electric solid bodies. Key differences between them relate to size, build, tonewoods used, and sound projection intended for each style.

How many guitar bodies are there?

While there are countless variations, the main guitar body shapes number around six. The most prevalent forms are dreadnought, parlor, jumbo, auditorium, classical, and electric solid-body guitars. Many others derive from these essential frameworks.

What is the most liked guitar shape?

The dreadnought acoustic guitar body reigns as the most popular shape. Its wide lower bout and curved sides project sound powerfully. This makes it a go-to choice for live performances and an icon of the acoustic guitar world.

Does guitar body shape affect the sound?

Yes, guitar body shapes significantly impact sound projection and tone—larger bodies with more resonating interior space boost volume and bass notes. Smaller bodies offer more balanced sound across registers. The shape also affects playability and stage presence.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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