Our beloved instrument comes in many (or perhaps not that many) shapes and forms, and today is all about it.
Today I want to take you on a tour of how the different common guitar models (and body shapes) sound like, along with a bunch of fun facts about each one.
Why does it matter to know how each model sounds like?
- Personally, I find it very fun when I listen to music on Spotify and I can tell what type of guitar was used in a certain solo / lick that I liked.
- If you are producing music yourself (or want to get into it in the future) – it would allow you to easily choose the guitar type that would match “the sound that you’re hearing “in your mind”)
- It’s simply a very fun general knowledge to have as a guitar player!
Let’s jump into it with the first “subdivision” we can make regarding the 3 main body types, since pretty much all electric guitars fall into one of those 3 categories.
The 3 Electric Guitar Body Types (from most common to least common)
“Solid body” means that the guitar body does not have a hollow space (chamber) inside it. This category contains the Fender Telecaster, Stratocaster, and all of their many derivatives (and copycats…).
It is the most common, best-selling category that fits the biggest amount of genres (since the other two are usually, mostly used in styles such as blues & jazz).
The sound in general can be described as brighter and less “open”. Here’s one example:
The most common guitar in this category is the famous Gibson ES-335 which was born in 1958. These guitars have a hollow space (chamber) inside them, but it isn’t as “fat” as the hollow body guitars. (fat not just physically, but also “fat” in terms of sound)
The “fattest” type of guitars, that are used mostly in jazz music. They have a very warm, jazzy sound. (the video below gives a fantastic example) The Gibson ES-175 is perhaps the most well-known hollow body guitar.
The hollow body guitars were actually the first common electric guitars, but their biggest problem was that they are prone to a lot of feedback. (those strange noises coming out of the guitar, usually when your hands are not on the strings)
The feedback is produced from all of the air traveling in the large chamber of these instruments, and this problem was reduced and pretty much eliminated later with the invention of hollow-body and solid body guitars, and different ways of how the internal chamber was built.
Getting Deeper Into It – Common SOLID BODY Models
Fender Telecaster (often referred to as “T-model”)
Introduced in 1951, the Telecaster remains “the queen of twang” and country music until today, although you would see the Telecaster also in countless other genres, from reggae to rock to blues and on and on.
It’s less fancier than the Stratocaster in the way that it has only a bridge and a neck pickup (no middle pickup), and the sound also in a way sounds less “rich” and less bell-like. (which is indeed what you want in many situations)
The beauty lies in the simplicity.
Fender Stratocaster (often referred to as “S-model”)
Introduced in 1954 – the Stratocaster is the world’s #1 best selling electric guitar model. It’s extremely versatile and sounds great in so many styles, a lot of it is thanks to its 3 pickups and 6 pickup switch positions, which allow you to get so many sounds out of it.
It’s amazing to think how such a model from 70 years ago still rules the world today, and it goes to show that when a certain design is so good and fits so many styles, there’s not much that needs tweaking and changing.
Up until 1957, Fender still didn’t have a big “frontman” playing the Strat (guitar heroes from those days were often more attracted to Gibson, with Chuck Berry as one prominent example) – that changed when Buddy Holly became huge in 1957 and rocked the Stratocaster in front of the masses.
The Strat was also a groundbreaker when it came to the comfort of playing, as it had a more natural body shape that can fit the shape of our bodies better, especially when standing up.
Gibson Les Paul
Some fun facts:
- Introduced in 1952 – and initially, it was also nicknamed “The Goldtop since” until 1959 it was only produced in the gold color…
- The sound is a lot “thicker” and more “rock n’ roll” than the common Fender sound, which is why it’s more common to see in rock and hard-rock music.
- Les Paul was not only a revolutionary guitar maker, but also a superstar guitarist before that…
- The SG was introduced in 1961.
- Even more so than the Les Paul, the sound of the SG is heavy and rock n’ roll like.
- One of the biggest symbols of the SG is Angus Young, the frontman of Australian hard-rock band AC/DC, who sported an SG pretty much at all times.
- “SG” stands for “solid guitar”. (meaning “solid-body”)
“Superstrats” is the name for this famous type of guitars that you’d often see played by guitar virtuosos such as Steve Vai.
You can think of them as the “muscle cars” of the Fender-style guitars, as they often have also some special features besides just the fancy visuals.
Usually you would not see them played in many genres that are not a certain form of rock. (For example, you would likely never see a reggae band with one of these guitars on stage…)
Gibson Flying V
This radical & futuristic body shape was first introduced in 1958, and as you can expect, it is mostly used for different types of rock music.
If you’ve ever played one, you must’ve noticed that these guitars are NOT meant to be played while sitting… They just aren’t very comfortable when playing like that. This type of “show” guitar is of course more meant to be played while standing up.
Jimi Hendrix, who’s most famous for playing Stratocasters, is also one of the more notable players of a flying V, which he used occasionally.
The lead guitarist of The Scorpions (Rudolph Schenker) owns no less than 60 flying V guitars…
PRS Guitars solid-bodies
Hailing from Maryland, Paul Reed Smith is one of the more notable guitar makers, and he’s responsible for the most recent popular body shape that you’ll find in today’s list. (he made his first commercial guitar in 1985)
Amongst the famous players of this modern body shape are players such as Carlos Santana, John Mayer, Robben Ford, Mark Lettieri, Mark Tremonti and many others.
The most famous PRS guitar of recent years is probably the PRS Silver Sky, which is essentially another Stratocaster “copycat”, and was made famous thanks to the fact that it’s a John Mayer signature model. It got a TON of attention when it was released in 2018.
The PRS guitars are very famous for having the fancy bird inlays…
The biggest monsters one can imagine. I would say that the most memorable appearances of such guitars were the ones on the Stairway to Heaven performances (Led Zeppelin) and also the one by their counterpart, much more Americana counterpart band… The Eagles, with the Hotel California solo.
These guitars are usually built in a way that the upper guitar is a 12 string guitar and the lower guitar is a 6 string. However, there are different alternate versions as you can imagine, for example an upper 6 string guitar and a lower bass guitar with 4 strings.
And yes, they are very heavy as you can imagine, and I’ve heard several guitarists say that there’s no way that you can regularly go through whole shows with such a monster on you. It’s a guitar you only bring out to a special song or two…
Common Semi-Hollow Models
The king of all the other semi-hollow models, the 335 is one of the most popular body shapes that you’ll see.
(Personally, I’m a huge fan of this style and find it the most comfortable guitar to play, and I’ve only ever had electric guitars in this style – that were not actually Gibson guitars)
The 335 is extremely versatile and you would see it in many genres. It can sound great both with a clean, fat and jazzy/bluesy tone, and also with some more distorted sound that can work great for rock and for heavier blues. It’s a workhorse.
Another American brand which was actually one of the top 2-3 brands back in the 50’s (along with Gibosn and Fender) is Gretsch, which has then fallen behind but are still highly recognisable.
They have several different semi-hollow body guitars, the most popular one of them is the Electromatic.
The Electromatic came out already… back in 1939! And is the oldest model / shape on this list.
Another signature trademark of the Gretsch models is the Bigsby handle which is used to add some manual tremolo effect to your sound.
Another notable mention in the semi-hollow category (I would say that it’s more of a crossover between a solid body and a semi-hollow body) is the Telecaster Thinline, which is essentially a Telecaster with a chamber.
The chamber gives this Telecaster a rounder, warmer sound, but it still keeps a lot of the signature twang of the Telecaster, which is why it’s also a pretty popular choice that I’m sure you’ve seen before.
Common Hollow-Body Models
The father of all hollow body models, the ES-175 is based on the Gibson L5, a very similar guitar that Gibson introduced in 1923. Then, the ES-175 was born as the electric version when bands started playing on stages and there was a need to create a louder instrument, that can be amplified.
As mentioned earlier, the ES-175 (and most hollow body guitars in general) shines in situations where a fat, warm, jazzy sound is needed. It does not sound as good when you need to do some “campfire strumming”, but instead it feels better more with jazzy chords picking or when you play single note lines / solos and melodies.
Gretsch White Falcon
For a long time I remember that this was the one guitar that fascinated me the most. It was introduced way back, in 1954, so it especially amazes me how that exact same design (and with only one color option) still remain so attractive even today.
The most famous public appearance of the White Falcon was in… Let’s see if it comes to you naturally…
… when it was played by John Frusciante, in the music video of Californication, the 1999 song of the year.
When it was originally introduced to the public in the 1954 NAMM show (yes, they had NAMM also back then…), it was designed as a showpiece that was not even supposed to go on mass manufacturing… Much like a “concept car” in the auto world.
This is it for today! I’d love to hear in a comment what is YOUR favorite electric guitar body type. Visually, and also in terms of sound. (for example, I really love how the Gibson SG looks like, but I never liked this heavier sound…)
Thanks for reading!