While certain types of guitars are standard in modern culture, the instrument has a wide variety of expressions that is nearly impossible to tame. From the ancient Greek kithara to the guitar-like lute from pre-modern Spain, the many different types of guitars vary just as much as the people who play them.
Some types of acoustic and electric guitars are more common than others. Steel string dreadnought acoustics and Stratocaster-style electrics are likely to be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the guitar. But some guitarists find they can’t do what they want with just 6 strings.
In this article, we’ll start with the most common types of guitars, and then move toward the most exotic. We’ll also share the moments that made these guitars legendary.
*Click the “Play” button next to each guitar to hear the legend who played it!*
20 Different Types of Guitars – Acoustic & Electric
#1 Fender Stratocaster
- Guitar Type: Solid-Body Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Eric Clapton
It’s hard to overstate the influence of the Stratocaster. A tremendous pedigree of electric guitarists have made history on this type of guitar. It’s been reissued in hundreds of different designs and is by far one of the most popular types of electric guitars. The slanted, double-cutout body and three-pickup control setup give the Stratocaster both a visual signature and sonic versatility.
This guitar probably had its first major introduction to the public from Buddy Holly, but Clapton was one of its most influential proponents. Check out this clip from the song “The Weight” where Clapton pulls the soulful voice of this guitar into its full bloom.
#2 Martin D-45
- Guitar Type: Steel String Dreadnought Acoustic
- Legend Who Played It: Neil Young
For most guitar enthusiasts today, this is what “playing the guitar” means: the snap and brightness of a 6-string steel, which has strong projection and durability. Many guitarists favor the versatility and clarity of dreadnoughts, but especially singer-songwriters.
The Martin D-45 is one of the most common types of acoustic guitars. Check out Neil Young playing a well-loved song that he added to the Rock n’ Roll tradition, below.
#3 Fender Telecaster
- Guitar Type: Solid-Body Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Buck Owens
The foundational favorite of country and rock guitarists, this model is known for its single cutaway body, 2 single-coil pickup system, and characteristic “twang.” Modern country greats like Brad Paisley have predecessors like Buck Owen to thank for popularizing this guitar. Check out Buck and his band playing “Act Naturally.”
#4 1969 José Ramírez 1a “AM”
- Guitar Type: Classical Nylon Acoustic Dreadnought
- Legend Who Played It: Andres Segovia
Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and fingerstyle genius Earl Klugh favor classical guitars for their round, sweet tone and stability when playing complex lines. These tend to have higher actions (the distance between the strings and fingerboard) and wider necks than many other acoustics.
When played with the correct nail technique, they create an unmistakable tone that has been enjoyed by European audiences since the 1600s. For a taste of the secret sauce, listen to the grandfather of modern classical guitar playing the legendary tremolo piece, “Leyenda.”
#5 Gibson ES-175
- Guitar Type: Hollow-Body Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Wes Montgomery
The Gibson ES-175 has become the iconic example that represents an entire class of guitars: hollow-body electrics. The rich, mid-range tone of these guitars was made legendary in jazz by players such as Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. (Although the guitar has subsequently found its way into a myriad of other popular styles). Check out the haunting ballad “Round Midnight” below.
#6 The National Style O
- Guitar Type: Resonator Acoustic
- Legend Who Played It: Son House
Resophonic guitars, made mostly by European companies, were favorites of the 20th century Bluesmen. Every legendary country, blues, and rock musician drew inspiration from players of this style.
Son House was one of many legendary examples of Bluesmen who used open-tuned, resonator guitars. With their raw feeling and creative exploration with bottleneck slides, these players set the precedent for the coming generations of popular musicians. Keep in touch with the roots and watch Son House play “Death Letter Blues.”
# 7 Fender Precision Bass
- Guitar Type: 4 String Electric Bass
- Legend Who Played It: James Jamerson
Some discover the bass as a first instrument, and others as a crossover from the guitar. Jamerson actually started on the upright bass as a classical player on his path to becoming the legendary bassist that drove dozens of Motown hits.
His unmistakable warm, round tone was a combination of the bass’s design and special modifications like flatwound strings and foam mutes. The hearts of many were won by his melodic bass style and thumpy drive as a rhythm player. Numerous legends even as great as Victor Wooten trace their devotion to bass to Jamerson’s influence.
#8 The Höfner Bass
- Guitar Type: 4 String Electric Bass
- Legend Who Played It: Paul McCartney
The tone of this bass is instantly recognizable to any Beatles fan. The emphasis in the mid range and the plunky attack gave a unique flavor to dozens of Beatles songs, such as “When I’m 64.”
Paul also liked the balance it created on stage, given the fact that he played left handed and the bass was a symmetrical body design. See this late performance of “Don’t Let Me Down” to feel the magic for yourself.
#9 Maton EM-TE
- Guitar Type: Electric-Acoustic Dreadnought
- Legend Who Played It: Tommy Emmanuel
Maton guitars are typically outfitted with an internal microphone as well as a piezo saddle pickup. This allows for tremendous variety and clarity in the percussive tones Tommy Emmanuel gets out of his guitar, while leaving his fingerstyle tone beautifully intact.
Be prepared to be blown away by his performance of “Mombasa,” and let your imagination stretch what you thought was possible with an acoustic guitar.
# 10 The 12 String Guitar
- Guitar Type: Steel String Dreadnought Acoustic
- Legend Who Played It: John Denver
Known for his melodies and lyrics, John Denver arranged his songs with an extremely wide instrumental palette. At heart, he was just a guy with a guitar singing to people, but the use of a 12 string brought a twist of flavor to his repertoire. Check out the orchestral version of “Annie’s Song” and be inspired.
# 11 Gibson Lucille
- Guitar Type: Semi-Hollow Body Electric
- Legend Who Played It: B.B. King
The Gibson Lucille possesses a slightly more moderate tone than the full hollow-body, while still blending acoustic sweetness and electric drive. This unique guitar has other special modifications too, like the elimination of the f-holes to reduce feedback. B.B. King, also known as the King of Blues, has a legendary affection for this and many of his other guitars.
# 12 Gibson EDS-1275
- Guitar Type: Double-Neck Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Jimmy Page
Though innovators like Michael Angelo Batio and Justin King have branched out into their own uses of double neck guitars, Jimmy Page’s live performances of “Stairway to Heaven” made the heroism of the double neck guitar a fundamental part of rock history. The legend is available for all to experience in the performance below.
# 13 The TRB JP2
- Guitar Type: 6 String Electric Bass
- Legend Who Played It: John Patitucci
For those who just can’t get enough notes, the 6 string bass is a platform of the imagination. Heavily used in both metal and jazz, one of the first recognized 6 string bass virtuosos was John Patitucci. Patitucci played for Chick Corea on many of his influential albums.
The additional scale length on the high C string gives melodies a quality that is hard to find on any other instrument, and the low B can…well, shake the floor. Experience Patitucci’s fusion style with his electric quartet playing “Ides of March.”
# 14 The Twang Machine
- Guitar Type: Cigarbox Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Bo Diddley
The Twang Machine is just one of the many examples of unconventional body types. Having both the look and sound of a tin can, this unique guitar was one of the many showman tactics that made Bo so popular. Check out this performance at the presidential inauguration concert of 1989, when he’s still in great form!
# 15 The Purple Rain Guitar
- Guitar Type: Special Body Electric, Telecaster Style
- Legend Who Played It: Prince
The late legend played a sizable collection of uniquely styled guitars. Taking the visual appeal of the guitar to another level, Prince had several special body designs made especially for him.
Having spent a lot of his career experimenting with symbols that expressed his values, Prince’s singular body designs pointed not only to his artistic flair but also to his personal beliefs. Watch him play his famous “Cloud” guitar in the video of “Purple Rain” below.
# 16 Martin LX1E
- Guitar Type: Miniature Acoustic
- Legend Who Played It: Ed Sheeran
In popular music, it’s the little things that count. Tons of artists are competing for the narrow band of sounds available in the pop genre, so finding a secret weapon that helps you stand out from the crowd can go a long way. Ed Sheeran has the gift of bringing a unique flavor to his radio work as well as his live shows.
His signature mini-Martin is a key tool, and it’s one of the more unique types of acoustic guitars. It draws audiences in with an effect that can only be described one way: if you want to be heard in a loud room, whisper. The piezo pickup is also great for looping percussion. Check out Ed’s live version of “Tenerife Sea” for a taste of how it all works.
# 17 The ESP MX220
- Guitar Type: Active Electric
- Legend Who Played It: James Hetfield
In an era where Metal was just beginning to distinguish itself from Hard Rock, Metallica guitarists were leaning toward using active pickups to define their sound. Active pickups have a brighter sound and compress the signal to give the tone more sustain.
This sound gave 80s thrash metal bands greater control of dynamics through effects processing, and greater ease with speed techniques like shred picking. The look of this guitar also became a signature for Hetfield, as you can see in this live rendition of “Enter Sandman.”
# 18 Epiphone Zenith
- Guitar Type: Tenor Guitar
- Legend Who Played It: Ani DiFranco
Even at her commercial peak with “Little Plastic Castle,” Ani DiFranco was never an A-List celebrity. Anyone seasoned in the culture of singer-songwriters would tell you that her individuality as an artist surpasses that of most folk legends in the 60s, and her guitar technique is a marvel of spontaneity.
She would also most certainly win the Guinness Record for most guitar switches per show, and her Epiphone Zenith would be one of the more interesting guitars in the line-up. Rather than trying describe it, watch DiFranco playing her fan favorite “Little Plastic Castle.”
#19 Ibanez TAM 100
- Guitar Type: Active 8 String Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Tosin Abasi
Certain players have been able to define the creative direction of a genre purely on the basis of their ability and artistic vision. Tosin Abasi is one such artist who brought the use of 7+ string guitars into greater favor among progressive metal players. For guitarists who just can’t get enough notes, this guitar itself can be the inspiration for the music.
#20 The Hamer 5-Neck
- Guitar Type: Multi-Neck Electric
- Legend Who Played It: Rick Nielsen
Cheap Trick’s lead guitarist developed a guitar with 5 necks modeled after different sounds he liked: a 12 string, a Les Paul Junior, a Fender Stratocaster, a whammy bar neck, and a fretless electric.
The Hamer 5-Neck is certainly one of the most outlandish types of electric guitars. Though admittedly unwieldy to play, many electric guitarists will identify with the hunger to have access to more sounds. Watch Ricky capture the vibe in this classic performance of “Surrender.”
Each of these guitars is famous because a great player created a moment with an audience that carried that memory with them long after. If you’re a guitarist, remember to take every opportunity to explore the different types of guitars on your journey.
Taking a look at the many types of acoustic and electric guitars out there will help you expand your creative horizons, find an instrument that captures your unique sound, and deepen your experience as a guitarist. Feeling inspired to take guitar lessons? Check out the guitar classes at TakeLessons Live for free today!