The guitar – known the world over, recognized by all, tinkled on by many but mastered by few.
There are many different types of guitar, which can be very confusing for those beginning to learn about the instrument. We’re going to look at the guitar in the context of musical instruments in general, but really we want to concentrate on the modern types of guitars as they’re best known today.
Firstly, what is a true guitar? How has it evolved into so many different types? The starting point in answering these questions is to briefly consider what types of musical instruments there are in general. Very broadly, the primary types of musical instruments can be divided into the different methods by which they emit sound. All instruments make sound by creating vibrations in the air, which are perceived as sound signals by the human hearing system.
Some instruments make sound by having air blown through a hollow tube, which makes the air around them vibrate. Common modern examples include the flute, saxophone, trumpet, and bassoon. Other instruments are percussive, meaning they produce sound by being struck – typically all types of drums, including the modern drum kit which has a combination of “skin” drums – a membrane stretched over a resounding vessel, and cymbals – metal discs designed to create loud crashing sound when struck. Bells, gongs, and xylophones are also examples of percussive instruments, each being struck in some manner to emit sound. The human voice is also a musical instrument in itself when trained to produce musical sounds. More recently synthesizers have enabled sounds to be created electronically and need some form of amplification and speaker system to be heard.
The guitar is part of the other primary type of instruments in the family of string instruments. These produce sound by having a length of string stretched under tension, connected to a resounding body which, when the strings are plucked or otherwise caused to vibrate, amplifies the movement of air to create a volume of sound which is easily detectable by human hearing. And…here’s where the guitar fits in!
String instruments have been in existence for several thousand years in many forms, but here we will leap straight in at the different types of guitars as we know them today, and examine the main types of guitar that you will see being played, and maybe even if you want to play the guitar, which type of guitar is best for you.
A good introduction to early types of the guitar can be found here:
As you can see, many different types of guitars have been designed and played for many hundreds of years, in forms that resemble the modern types of guitar we know today. We’ll look at the main types of acoustic guitars and electric guitars in terms of the different methods of construction, the way they are played, the styles of music they are used for, and some of the well-known players and music associated with them.
Flat top acoustic guitar
As the term suggests, “flat top” refers to the large panel of wood or material that you see when you look directly at a guitar – the front part of the body of the guitar. On flat top guitars, the strings are attached directly to the top at the bridge – usually a contrasting wooden block glued near the centre of the top. When the strings are struck the energy is transferred directly through this bridge into the top causing this to vibrate creating resonances within the body cavity.
The sound that emerges is then affected by a combination of factors, notably the size, depth, and shape of the body, the woods used in the various parts of the guitar, and the method of construction used by the luthier. Additionally, vibrations are transferred into the body through the neck and the headstock creating additional resonances that are amplified by the body. As you can see, a lot is going on in the humble flat-top guitar.
For the most part, flat top guitars fall into two groups, those strung with nylon strings and those designed for steel strings. , not the thinner neck and the highest part, the head. These are all hollowbody guitars, meaning the volume of air inside them is maximised to their overall size.
Nylon-string flat-top acoustic guitars
Before 1902, almost all flat top guitars used gut strings that were the only option widely available. With the development of nylon, most major string manufacturers quickly adopted this material as the material of choice.
Typically nylon string guitars are more lightly built than their steel string counterparts. This means that the strings that are at a lower tension can more easily transfer vibrations into the top. The wooden braces glued underneath the top to give it strength are delicate and are often tuned to maximize transferring vibrations across the whole top to maximize the efficiency of the strings that would otherwise be very quiet.
These guitars often have a longer scale length (the distance between the bridge and the nut) than other guitars to increase string tension further. Many lower-priced nylon string guitars will lack body and projection as a result of relatively heavy braces and less time spent tuning these.
You are likely to encounter three main types of nylon-string guitar in a well-stocked music store:
Sometimes described as Spanish guitars, these instruments have been optimized for playing the classical repertoire. A fine classical guitar will have a rich tone with clear lows and well-balanced highs and will be loud enough to clearly project in a small space. Traditionally they will have a wide neck and flat fingerboard and the strings will be set up quite high. This helps to minimize buzzes and rattles and facilitates precise and accurate fingering of complex passages.
Classical guitars usually have tops made of spruce or cedar, back and sides made of rosewood or cocobolo with a cedar neck and ebony or rosewood fingerboard. However, it is also the case that many luthiers have adopted more radical materials in the quest for greater volume and improved tone and there are examples of composite and high-tech laminate designs.
Some of the most famous classical guitarists include Andres Segovia, John Williams, Julian Bream, Kazuhito Yamashita, and Sharon Isbin.
Traditional high-end classical makers include Ramirez, and Conde Hermandos cater primarily to the professional market with larger manufacturers such as Yamaha and Cordoba providing a wide range of quality instruments at all price points. There are also a large number of independent luthiers who produce one-off instruments.
How is the classical guitar played?
The classical guitar is usually played with the right-hand fingers and thumb (please reverse hand orientation to take into account left-handed players) plucking the strings. The fingers and thumb oppose each other in that the fingers (usually index, middle, and ring but not the smallest finger) pull the strings slightly upwards before releasing them, whereas the thumb pushes the strings downwards before the plucking action is delivered.
What does the classical guitar sound like?
Different tone qualities are achieved in various ways, including harder or softer strokes giving louder or quieter volume, and the plucking hand can be placed closer to the bridge for a brighter sound, or closer to the fretboard for a mellower tone. Different parts of the right hand fingers also give a range of tone colours, particularly the fingernails.
A classical guitar player typically allows these fingernails to grow to a specific length where they can be used to pluck the strings, giving a brighter attack to the note. Nylon strings are naturally rather soft sounding and use of the fingernail can give a more projecting sound. If a soft tone is desired, the player can opt to use the flesh of the fingertip without the nail forming part of the plucking action.
As opposed to classical guitars flamenco guitars are designed for the speed, passion, and expression typical in the flamenco style. Generally, they have a lower action (string height) and the angle of the neck is less so the strings are closer to the top facilitating the high-speed passages and percussive taps (golpe) against the body so important in this music.
Flamenco guitars tend to be brighter sounding and often the strings will rattle slightly against the frets when played all contributing to a very expressive instrument. All of this is not to say that classical and flamenco guitars cannot be interchanged to some extent but if you plan to play in both styles you may find one or the other is a compromise sonically. Also bear in mind that a flamenco guitar will have special protection against all that tapping on the body in the form of a golpeador (tapping plate) whereas you will certainly scratch the finish of a classical guitar used for flamenco and may eventually even wear a hole in the top!!!
Flamenco guitars are very traditional and historically made from spruce tops with cypress back and sides and cedar necks. It is only since the late 1960s that alternate woods have become more popular with high-profile players like Paco de Lucia commissioning instruments with rosewood backs and sides to optimize the instrument for ‘classical’ concert venues.
Manufacturers of these instruments include Ramirez, Conde Hermandez, Yamaha, and Cordoba as well as a great number of independent makers, especially in Spain. There will likely be less of a selection of flamenco guitars in most music stores outside of Spain given the relative specialism of these instruments.
Some of the most renowned flamenco guitar players include Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena, Sabicas, and Tomatito.
The growth in popularity of world and crossover music has fuelled the acceptance of a new type of nylon string guitar designed for players who do not necessarily come from a classical or flamenco background or who want an instrument that feels more familiar to a steel string or electric player. Also, classical and flamenco guitars are inherently relatively quiet instruments and are not really very useful in a band setting without some form of amplification. Even then are prone to feedback when the volume gets anything above fairly low levels. Some classical guitarists use a subtle level of amplification in a large auditorium, especially if they are performing a concerto and they need to be heard above a full orchestra.
There are a wide variety of crossover guitars and it is difficult to generalize on their features but trends include narrower necks that feel more like a typical steel string or solid-body guitar, alternate body shapes, particularly with cutaways to access higher frets, and different bracing patterns to make them sound closer to their steel string cousins. Often these instruments come with electronics as standard to allow the instrument to be amplified for stage use.
Most of the major acoustic guitar brands have crossover instruments in their range, even if they do not specialize in classical or flamenco instruments. All of the makers already mentioned have instruments in this class as do Martin, Taylor, and Lowden.
There are also several solid-body guitars using nylon strings and electronics to allow for even louder use on stage whilst still sounding like a nylon string guitar. Solidbody guitar design is covered below but manufacturers worth mentioning here for their nylon-string models include Gibson (the out-of-production Chet Atkins SST model) and Godin.
Well-known guitarists who commonly champion these various guitars include Chet Atkins, Willy Nelson, Al de Meola, Gabriella & Rodrigez, Strunz & Farah, and Badi Assad.
Double neck guitar
A curious but very useful invention, double neck guitars were made popular in the late 1950s especially by Gibson. As the name suggests, these “conjoined twins” of the guitar world generally come in two forms: combining six string electric guitars with either twelve string guitars or bass guitar. This allows the player to switch effortlessly one from to the other without switching instrument. Jimmy Page was a keen player of double neck guitars, particularly in live performances.
Another of the more specialised types of guitar is the resonator guitar. This transmits sound to a resonating cone instead of the guitar body, giving greater amplification, and became popular in the 1920s for use in larger bands. Often constructed with metal bodies, these are a striking type of guitar and have been popularised by players such as Mark Knopfler. “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits is a fine example of the use of this type of guitar.
The steel-string flat-top guitar
Probably the most popular type of acoustic guitar available today is the steel-string acoustic guitar. After the development of mass-production techniques for manufacturing steel, this became a viable alternative to gut for guitar strings but it was not until the early 20th century that the use of steel strings became established. 1902 was an important year for steel string guitars with Martin guitars making a one-off steel string guitar and Gibson introducing its first archtop guitar.
Steel strings had a distinct advantage in that they allowed the guitar to be inherently louder and brighter – perfect for playing in the popular ensembles of the early 20th century with other instruments where a nylon string model would be almost inaudible. They also became popular with folk and blues musicians as they were relatively affordable, could easily be carried from town to town, and allowed the performer to be heard in a noisy bar or street corner. Buskers and street entertainers often choose steel-string acoustic guitars for their decent volume in an outdoor environment, without the need for electric amplification (though some do use a portable amplifier for even greater reach.)
The steel-string flat-top guitar differs from its nylon-string cousin in several ways. Firstly, the top has a far more robust construction to withstand the much greater tension from the steel strings, particularly employing much heavier bracing. The strings are usually fixed to the bridge using ‘pins’ and not tied or looped as on nylon string guitars and steel or brass tuners are used at the headstock end. There is also a greater variety of woods and body shapes available. Tops are commonly made from spruce, cedar, or mahogany, necks from mahogany or cedar, and back and sides from just about any hardwood you can name although rosewood, mahogany, cocobolo, and maple remain traditional choices.
The tone of different types of steel-string guitars can vary quite a bit depending on how it is constructed. The larger body dreadnaught models have a huge bass range and sweet top end allowing for lots of acoustic projection when playing strummed chords but some fingerstyle players feel they lack delicacy and the large size can be uncomfortable for smaller players. The popular O and OM style instruments are well balanced tonally and the size is comfortable for most players. Some smaller models are particularly suitable for solo fingerstyle playing or studio work where volume and projection are often secondary considerations.
The type of wood also has some impact on tone but this tends to be more subtle and very dependent on the quality of the wood and skill of the luthier – an all-mahogany OM model will (all other things being equal) sound more similar to a spruce and rosewood OM model than it will to an all-mahogany dreadnaught although both mahogany guitars might be expected to have a bit more mid-range emphasis than spruce-topped models.
How are steel-string acoustic guitars played?
There are several playing methods that the steel-string regular acoustic guitar can be played. The most common is with a flat pick, usually plastic, but other materials are used, in which case the player often strums chords using all or most of the guitar’s strings, or they may play single-note melodies. A pick allows for a strong attack to give notes a wide range from quiet to loud volumes.
Fingerstyle is another popular playing method, where fingers and thumb play one string each at a time. Chords can be played in creative ways and many rhythmic options are open to a good fingerstyle player. Another method is using a set of finger picks – these are placed on the fingers and thumb individually and some players find these more accurate and precise than the direct use of fingers.
Another method of playing the acoustic guitar is with a slide. This is a small tube made usually of steel or glass which is placed over a finger on the left hand, allowing the player to touch any of the six strings lightly, not pressing onto the frets, and achieving smooth gliding between pitches, which frets do not allow so easily. Slide guitar is not restricted to the steel string guitar, as it is often used on the pedal steel guitar, the lap steel guitar and the Hawaiian steel guitar. It can often be heard in country-influenced music.
The steel string acoustic guitar has developed its own unique repertoire as well as being integral to blues, country, and folk styles. At home, supporting singer-songwriters, rock, and pop artists and as a solo instrument and even in jazz the steel-string acoustic has become one of the most familiar instruments in modern music.
A list of famous and influential acoustic guitar players could go on forever, but a few names to listen out for could be: Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Michael Hedges, Nick Drake, and John McLaughlin.
The major manufacturers of steel string flat top acoustic guitars are Martin, Gibson, and Taylor although in recent years most of the large brands including Yamaha, Ibanez, and even Fender have increasingly focused on their acoustic guitar lines. There has also been a renaissance in smaller boutique products with companies like Collings and Santa Cruz making some of the finest steel-string acoustics ever produced.
The archtop guitar
In development from the early 20th century introduced by Gibson in 1902, archtop guitars allowed guitarists in larger bands to play with greater volume and thus be heard amongst loud instruments such as trumpets and drums. The archtop guitar, also with a hollow body, is constructed using stronger inner bracing, normally in a simple X or Parallel configuration, and, and most importantly, the top, and usually the back, are shaped into an arch rather than a flat panel. They rise from the edges to the middle. This means the strings are not directly connected to the body of the guitar bridge, as they are on a flat top; rather, they are held on the bridge which is raised above the body by a tailpiece attached to the end of the guitar and press down on an adjustable, movable bridge.
These different transmissions of sound from strings to the body allow more pronounced volume in the mid-frequency range, which is where guitar chords are sounded, and so this new design became practical in the early jazz bands and was widely adopted before guitar amplification became commonplace had been invented.
Archtop guitars share many characteristics with violin instruments, traditionally constructed with spruce tops and maple necks, backs, and sides. Traditional archtops include violin-style f-holes although other shapes are becoming more common as a result of the influence of Jimmy D’Aqisto in particular. Originally the tops and backs were carved out of two matched pieces of wood much as a violin although gradually laminate construction was introduced for all but the most exclusive instruments. This was not simply a cost-saving measure – many archtops had pickups fitted either at the factory or by their owners, to allow them to be further amplified and this laminate construction helped to reduce feedback somewhat. The ultimate conclusion of this came in 1958 with the introduction of the hollow body electric ES-335 model by Gibson which included a laminate arched top braced with a solid center block of maple – effectively fusing the archtop and solidbody guitars.
Archtop guitars today are seen as somewhat niche and mainly played by jazz guitarists and collectors although some blues and rockabilly artists also use electric models. Carved examples by top luthiers like John Monteleone or Jimmy D’Aquisto can fetch tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and even laminate body instruments tend to be more expensive than other similar guitars as a result of the more complex construction. For many though they remain the ultimate expression of luthiery as an art form.
Some current makers include Benedetto, Monteleone, Gibson, Ibanez, De’angelico, and Eastman, while famous arch-top players include Freddie Green, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, BB King, and Brian Setzer.
The solid-body electric guitar
In 1950 Fender launched their Broadcaster model that later became known as the Telecaster. Whilst the concept of a solid-body guitar was not entirely new at that time – Rickenbacker and other makers had produced solid-body steel guitars, in particular, the lap steel guitar since the 1930s, the success of this new model and the development arms race that followed with other manufacturers seeking to join this rapidly emerging new market led to the rapid acceptance of this new instrument. By the end of the 1950s the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, Explorer, and Flying V, and well as oddities like the Gretsch White Penguin were all battling for the dollars of the affluent post-war teen market seeking to emulate their rock and roll heroes.
Unlike the flat and archtop guitars that had dominated to that point, the solid-body guitar has no resonating body chamber. Instead, it relies upon pickups and an electronic amplifier to be heard. That is not to say that it doesn’t have an acoustic sound nor that this does not profoundly affect the ultimate tonal characterisation of the instrument, but this sound is generally very low and relies on electronics to raise it to a useable level. A popular compromise is the semi acoustic guitar, which has electric pickups but enough of a hollow body to be audibly played unamplified, but only at a low volume.
Several factors determine the sound of a solid-body guitar. The most obvious is perhaps whether the neck is glued in, bolted on, or a single piece of wood running right through the guitar – fender guitars, typically have a bolt-on neck whereas Gibsons use various types of mortice and tenon joints. Through-neck guitars are less common but became popular in the 1980s when companies like Jackson began making these. Bolt-on neck guitars tend to have a snappier tone with good note articulation whereas many glued neck instruments are prized for their sustain.
The scale length is also a key element in electric guitar tone with small differences making a huge sonic difference – longer scales are generally more punchy and defined with shorter scale instruments having a sweeter tone. For many players, the ideal would be for the lower-pitched strings to have a longer scale length and the higher strings to have a shorter length. This led to the development of the fanned fret system by luthier Ralph Novax which has become an established trend in modern guitar design.
Body wood and construction also make a huge difference – because there is no sound chamber in a solidbody guitar, the tonal characteristics are a result of the energy from the strings causing the whole body to vibrate. Whilst this is very quiet it can have a more pronounced effect than on instruments with a sound chamber. Mahogany, maple, ash, alder, and basswood are traditional choices but there are many different choices and often these are combined (for example a Les Paul standard has a mahogany neck with a carved maple top) to fine-tune the look and sound of the instrument.
Necks are also made from several different kinds of wood with maple and mahogany being popular. Some electric guitars also have the feature of a single piece neck (usually maple) where there is no separate glued on the fingerboard. Electric guitar necks are often noticeably narrower than acoustic guitars and often have a more curved fingerboard. Many players find this arrangement easier to play, particularly higher up the neck.
Finally, the pickups are a key component in shaping the tone. Most pickups are either single-coil or humbucking. The basic difference being that single-coil pickups are usually brighter and susceptible to electrical interference whereas humbuckers are darker and as the name suggests resist hum from other electrical sources better. There are other systems available including optical and piezo crystal designs that have their own applications and uses, particularly for making solid-body guitars sound more like acoustic instruments. There is also an increasing range of processing that can shape the tone of a guitar electronically.
How are solid-body (electric) guitars played?
The solid-body guitar is played in a similar way to the steel-string acoustic guitar. All of the techniques mentioned already can be used on electric guitar, but using a pick (plectrum) is a particularly common method. Because the solid-body guitar is almost always amplified, the amplifier can be considered an extension of the guitar and just as much part of the instrument. Electronic effects give the electric guitar a vast range of tones, from “clean” to extremely distorted and many choices in between.
Amplification also brought along options to play in new and creative ways – even in the 1960s, players such as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa were finding plenty of ways to advance the electric guitar both stylistically and technically and their repertoire is certainly worth a good listen. One such technique is two-hand tapping, in which both hands are used to strike the strings onto the fretboard allowing very rapid phrasing to be produced, using musical intervals that would otherwise be awkward or impossible. Eddie Van Halen made this technique very popular in the late 1970s and 1980s, but many players had been experimenting with this method in previous years.
The earliest solid-body guitars were also designed in the early 20th century and relied on electric amplification to be heard – without this, they made very little sound, as there was no inner body of air to vibrate. Therefore the development of amplifying equipment is needed to keep up with the demand for electric guitars. In the 1930s advances were made, but it was in the 1950s that the modern amplifier was brought into mass existence and was designed to make music at volumes that could fill stadiums, not just concert halls.
Leading manufacturers of solid-body guitars include Fender, Gibson, Paul Reed Smith, Ibanez, Collings, Yamaha, and Schechter but the list is long and growing.
Seven string guitars
An attractive option for the guitarist who wants extended musical range, seven string guitars come in acoustic and electric varieties, and usually have an extra low-pitched string. In standard tuning this would be the B below the usual low E, but there are many possible tuning combinations.
Who are the most famous solid-body (electric) guitarists?
Some of the most influential electric guitarists have already been mentioned, but the vast popularity and diversity of this type of guitar make it very hard to even begin a list! So, the following link is an excellent starting point in reading about some of the greatest of them all:
How are bass guitars different from the “regular” guitar?
A glance at an electric bass guitar and a six-string electric guitar will reveal some obvious differences. Bass guitars only have four strings (as standard, but they can have more) and it’s considerably longer than the six-string. Its strings are much thicker and the hardware (bridge, tuning pegs, etc) are bigger and sturdier. But bass guitars have important functional differences in music – let’s take a look at the deep, dark world of bass, and the people in it.
The bass player in the typical rock band is sometimes portrayed as the lesser competent musician in the band. Let’s establish right away that this really isn’t fair! The bassist’s role in any band is crucial to the whole band’s musical output – but perhaps it is fair to say that this role is often less recognized than the lead guitarist – who frequently performs visually and musically flamboyant solos to impress the crowd. But it must be said: a bad bassist will ruin the band’s performance with poor timing and unmusical phrasing – but not everyone will know quite what’s wrong. A good bassist will keep the band in time, laying down a solid foundation, complementing and balancing the higher pitches, eg guitars, brass instruments, singers – but not everyone will know just why the band sounds so good!
Bass guitars should be regarded as an instrument in its own right, due to the differences in construction, also the significantly different musical function it serves. The bassline in a song or other type of musical piece underpins and supports the entire body of sound, and crafting effective basslines is a demanding art form. Most bassists at a professional level have spent years specializing in the techniques and repertoire of the bass. They may be good guitarists too, however, and 6-string guitarists may also be good bass players.
How are bass guitars played?
Bass guitars can be played in various ways. Most commonly the right hand (or left if the player is left-handed) fingers are used to pluck the strings. Usually, the index and middle fingers are deployed in alternation, but other combinations of fingers and thumb can be used. Some bass players use a pick, which was a common technique in the early days of bass guitars but is less seen currently, however it does have its adherents currently in certain types of rock and pop music.
Most typically, the bass guitar is played only one note at a time. Basslines in songs are usually rhythmic, repeated phrases that, in a partnership with the drums, set up the energy, drive, and feel of the song. However, more than one string can certainly be played at once, which enhances the bass guitar’s role as a provider of harmony and colour.
How does the bass guitar sound?
The bass guitar is the lowest-pitched of all guitars. It usually has four strings tuned an octave lower than the lowest four strings of the six-string guitar. However designers began to produce basses with extra strings from the 1960s; the most popular is the five-string bass which has an extra low B string, giving the player five added notes of the low pitch range.
The bass guitar is usually solid-body and therefore must be amplified, but hollowbody guitars are available. These are suitable for small venues and quieter groups if unamplified, but they are commonly made as electro-acoustic instruments, giving the convenient option to connect them to amplifiers.
The bass amplifying equipment, as with the electric guitar, is a crucial part of the player’s sound, equally important to the instrument itself, and both together can give the bass a range of tones from a mellow, rumbling, dull “thudding” quality through to a piercing, bright “clanging” sound, and countless other tonal options. The main ways in which bass tone is shaped include the tone and volume controls on the instrument, and the various dials on the amplifier including graphic equalizers, drive and gain controls, and the use of compression and other effects – the chorus is a popular choice for many bassists, creating a broader, more distinctive tone.
Different methods of playing the bass also allow many different tone qualities – in general fingerstyle gives a more mellow, rounded sound compared to using a pick which gives notes a thinner tone but which can cut through the whole soundscape well, due to the sharpness of the initial attack.
“Slap” bass guitars
A style of bass playing that became popular in the 1970s is “slap” bass. This technique involves the player “slapping” or striking the strings with the thumb, producing a sharp, metallic, percussive sound as the string is forced to collide with the frets. In addition to the “slap” stroke, the player also “pops” the strings with a finger on the right hand – this means placing the fingertip slightly underneath the string and pulling the string away from the fretboard, then releasing it so it strikes the frets beneath. This also creates a sharp, percussive sound. Most commonly, the lowest two strings (E and A) are slapped and the highest is popped (D and G) but any string can be played either way. The player can play notes in the low and high registers in quick succession by alternating slaps and pops. In slap bass, both hands are used to strike the strings – the left hand, as well as fingering fretted notes as normal, is used to mute the strings by lightly tapping them with the remaining fingers. Depending on how hard this is done, this can simply deaden (mute) the string to create a very short note or create a further percussive sound – usually of indeterminate pitch. By combining slaps, pops, and mutes, some impressive speed can be achieved. Slap bass is most often heard in styles such as funk or jazz fusion, but some more rock-oriented bassists also employ it – Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers is a prime example. Mark King from Level 42, Victor Wooten, and Marcus Miller are just a few of many excellent exponents of slap bass, while Larry Graham, in particular, pioneered slap playing late in the 1960s.
How much do bass guitars cost?
All types of guitar vary considerably in their quality, and also therefore in their price. Bass guitars can be bought new for as little as £100 (UK) and provided they are sold by a reputable dealer, they should be perfectly suitable for a beginner or student player. A more advanced or aspiring player looking to upgrade would have no trouble finding a superior instrument in the range of £200-£400. A semi-professional bassist, in a touring band, for example, would probably invest closer to the £500-£1000 figure, while the elite bassist for whom only the best will do, will budget several thousand pounds for their bass guitars and other gear.
Remember that you should buy an amplifier that roughly matches the quality of the bass guitar, and if you’re thinking of buying your first (or any) bass, going to a real music shop will give you the major advantage of trying many instruments and other pieces of equipment. You need to ensure you find the bass that you like the look, sound, and feel of the best – this is very personal, and ordering online doesn’t afford you this luxury. You can choose a combination that suits all your preferences and budget in a shop, and talking through your options with friendly, knowledgeable staff should make these choices a pleasure.
Who are some famous bass guitarists?
It’s very hard to pick the “best” bassists without causing outrage among many! So, we stress that this is purely an indicative selection of three specially influential bass guitarists:
Paul McCartney crafted elegant, melodic bass parts for The Beatles’ songs, but laid down the groove for the rock ‘n’ roll when it was needed. The bass was not an after-thought, rather it was woven into the fabric of the music. At first reluctant to take the role of bassist in the band, he made this role into a true craft. The vast legacy of The Beatles and Paul’s huge body of later work ensures he’s certain to remain one of the most influential bassists ever.
Jaco Pastorius changed the perception of the electric bass from the mid-1970s until his sad death in 1987, particularly in the field of jazz music fusion, but his influence is felt by bass players of every style and genre. He used it as a viable solo instrument, pioneered many new techniques, and stretched the musical limits of the bass guitar to become equal to any other instrument. He popularised the fretless bass, which takes a high degree of musical skill to master.
Carol Kaye began recording bass parts for many of the most famous musical artists in the world in the 1950s, continuing her prolific work for decades, and is thought to be the most recorded bass player in history, with around 10,000 recordings to her name. She has also written educational material on the art of bass playing, and her influence on the world of aspiring bassists is inestimable.
Further reading on influential bassists is recommended here:
How much do guitars cost?
All types of guitars vary substantially in quality, and this is reflected in the huge range of prices you can find. A rule of thumb is that the more experienced and serious the guitarist, the more it makes sense to pay for guitars and equipment. A top-flight professional guitarist, whichever type of guitars they specialize in, will most likely invest many thousands of pounds in guitars – plural because if you know anyone who’s even half a decent guitarist, you’ll have seen that they never stop at one! Some players have a rack or a wall full – and are sometimes a little sensitive about people getting too close up to them! (Always ask before you touch.)
The far more encouraging news is that there are some extremely affordable guitars, very easily available. An acoustic beginner guitar can be bought new for well under £100 (UK currency). Electric guitars are a little more outlay when the amplification equipment is factored in but they can be found at very attractive prices.
Always buy from reputable dealers if buying new (used guitars are of course an option to consider) and ideally, visit a specialized music shop, try out different guitars, ask as much advice as you need from the trained staff. Go in with a budget in mind but be flexible if you afford to – something just out of your price range might be an excellent value instrument and make it worth stretching that extra amount. Remember better instruments are nicer to play and listen to!
We hope this has been a helpful guide to the different types of guitars, whether you are thinking of taking up playing the guitar, or just love to listen to this wonderful and diverse instrument!