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Types of Electric Guitar & Pickups Explained – The Ultimate Guide

Throughout the history of the electric guitar, there have been countless types of electric guitars. Each one is a diversion or progression from the last. From Fender Telecaster to the Gibson Les Paul, from archtop guitars to hollow-body guitars. There are tonnes of types of electric guitars to choose from.

This article is the ultimate guide to electric guitar types. 

We explain some of the histories of each electric guitar style and explore its defining features and famous players. We also have a look at pickup types, how they differ, and which ones suit different styles of music

Check out our other post on the best electric guitars of this year to find a new instrument!

Or have a look at our Schecter Hellraiser Review, a strong guitar for heavy players.

Keep reading for our full breakdown of the most common types of electric guitars!

Table of Contents

8 Types of electric guitars (Solid Body guitars & Hollow Body Guitars)

Below are 8 types of electric guitar. This includes a range of solid-body electric guitars, such as the fender Stratocaster. We’ve also included some explanation on hollow guitar body styles, which are a style of electro-acoustic guitars, sometimes known as semi-acoustic guitar. 

1. Telecaster 

Telecaster

History: 

The Telecaster was historically the first mass-produced electric guitar.

Released in 1950 by the Fender Guitar Company, the Telecaster is one of the most successful electric guitar models ever made. 

The Telecaster was originally set to be called the “Broadcaster”, but after trademark battles with Gretsch (and their “Broadkaster” guitar model), Fender was forced to change the name. 

In 1951, Fender settled on “Telecaster” in part thanks to the rise of television.

Features:

Like many Fender guitars, the Telecaster is an incredibly versatile instrument. They have been used in pretty much every style of music.

They have an instantly recognizable design, a single-cutaway solid body, paired with a thin maple neck and small headstock. Typically the body is made from ash or alder.

The fretboards usually contain at least 21 frets, and the neck is mounted to the body using the bolt-on technique. (Find out more about neck types here)

Telecasters use a 25.5” scale length for their guitar necks.

Traditionally Telecaster guitars use two single-coil pickups, often in the signature “lipstick” style. 

Typically the tone circuit includes a 3-way selector switch, a volume knob, and a tone knob.

Telecasters largely use a fixed bridge system, with 3 dual-string saddles that allow for intonation and action adjustments.

Their sound is generally bright, cutting, and twangy. They are usually brighter than Stratocasters and use slightly thinner guitar strings. They also don’t usually come with a whammy bar.

Although, thanks to their versatility these guitars are ideal for both lead and rhythm positions. This vintage guitar design has lasted long into the modern era, outliving the man who created it.

Key Players: Kieth Richards (The Rolling Stones), Jeff Buckley, Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), Jim Root (Slipknot), Graham Coxon (Blur)

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2. Stratocaster

Stratocaster

History: 

AKA the Strat, this iconic guitar type was designed from 1952-54 by Leo Fender. The Fender guitar company still manufactures Fender Stratocaster guitar models to this day, over 60 years later. These have been some of the most popular solid body electric guitars for a long time.

Whilst this style seems to represent the archetypal electric guitar, this was a revolutionary instrument for its day and age. Most guitars of the era did not use a cutaway and instead were closer to the full, hollow-body designs that Gibson Guitars produced.

The strat was also the first Fender instrument to use three pickups, and the spring-tensioned vibrato system.  There have been some subtle, nuanced changes to the design of the instrument over time, but the central characteristics of the instrument’s design remain the same.

Features: 

A unique body shape using a double cutaway with an elongated top “Horn” to increase the balance of the instrument. The lower cutaway also opens up access to all of the highest frets, allowing for more complex, high-pitched soloing. 

The edge of the guitar’s body is also contoured or beveled, creating a smooth feeling, rather than the harsher corners of Telecasters and other predecessors. They also often include a tremolo arm system, which allows players to pitch-bend the strings in unison.

Generally, Fender Stratocasters use alder or ash for the body wood, with a maple, bolt-on neck. The fretboard uses at least 21 frets, but often more. Commonly, strats use a 25.5” scale length.

The standard electronic design of a Stratocaster uses 3 single-coil pickups, with a 5-way selector switch. They usually use 1 volume knob and 2 tone knobs. Overall the electronics of the strat provide more tone versatility than Telecasters. This solid body guitar also usually comes with a whammy bar.

Stratocasters have an incredibly versatile sound. Thanks to their flexible pickup configuration, guitarists can sculpt the output tone of the Stratocaster in great detail. 

The versatility of the strat makes it suitable for most genres of music. Strats have been used throughout all styles of music for many years now, with no signs of disappearing!

Key Players: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Eric Clapton, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), George Harrison (The Beatles), Buddy Holly, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

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3. Super Stratocaster

History:

As heavy metal became more popular in the ’80s, players started looking for a new style of electric guitar that could meet the aggressive needs of the genre. Guitars needed to have more playability, be able to handle more gain and have a slicker, more pointy look. Ritchie Blackmore was the first guitarist to create a guitar with characteristics similar to what would become the Super Strat. He was first seen playing this in 1975. Another pioneer of the super strat was Eddie Van Halen, who began using a customized super strat in 1978.

Both Fender and Gibson would later go on to start producing their own Super Strat models. 

Features: 

The Super Stratocaster has many features that are different from the classical Stratocaster, but it is still an electric guitar with 6 strings.

Similar in design to Stratocasters, but with more exaggerated, enhanced features.

They often include a wider, longer neck, to allow for different playing techniques. 

The Super Strat features all-new pickups, improved electronics, increased resonance, and a slimmer neck with a vintage-style heel to increase playing comfort and reduce hand fatigue.

These guitars usually pack louder pickups than standard strat models, usually favoring humbuckers over single coils to provide extra weight, punch, and warmth. 

Key Players: Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Ritchie Blackmore, 

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4. Offsets (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang)

History:

One of my personal favorites, Offset guitars are slick-looking instruments with a slanted design. 

The first offset guitar was designed by Leo Fender in 1956. He created the MusicMaster guitar because he wanted to have a guitar with a slimmer body that would be easier for the average player to carry around. This type of guitar is also called a solid body guitar because it is made of one solid piece of wood that has not been hollowed out.

Offset guitars became more popular after rock bands started using them to play their music.

The offset guitar is an electric guitar that has a body shape similar to a Fender Jaguar, but with the upper horn of the body much more extended than the lower. The music master was another popular offset guitar manufactured by Fender. It was introduced in 1964 as an affordable student model to replace the old Musicmaster, which also had offset body design.

  • Mustang – 1964
  • Jaguar – 1962
  • Jazzmaster – 1958
  • MusicMaster – 1956

Features:

These guitars are a little more unusual than your normal Stratocasters and Telecasters.

The design of their bodies is offset, giving the guitars a “wonky” visual aesthetic. The top cutaway horn extends further than the bottom, giving the guitar more “movement” in its appearance. 

There are many different offset guitar models. Fender makes some popular ones, but other guitar manufacturers also produce some models. The Fender Jaguar is a particular favorite of mine. They are one of the best solid-bodied guitars around, particularly for indie rock.

The sound of these guitars varies from model to model, but they tend to have a slightly honkier, nasal tone than other styles, although not explicitly.

Originally popular in blues, country, and surf rock, these guitars have since been re-associated with more punk, alternative, and experimental movements, thanks to their unique look and sound.


Key Players: Kurt Cobain (Mustang), Sonic Youth (Jazzmasters), The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Who.

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5. Les Paul

History:

The Les Paul guitar was designed by the Gibson Guitar Company, and sold since 1952.

The company worked closely with famous guitarist Les Paul, who also endorsed and used the model. 

These guitars were originally sold with a striking gold finish, fitted with two P-90 Soapbar pickups. This classic version was known as a Goldtop, but to this date, there are many unique variations of the foundational Les Paul archetype.

Despite their rocky start, the sunburst variation is another popular model. Although these were not originally well received by the guitar community in the ‘60s!

Features: 

Les Paul guitars use a solid body design with a single-cutaway. Often made from mahogany, the body has a distinctive round shape, with a slight curvature to the top face. In contrast to Fender models, the Gibson Les Paul uses a set-in neck.

Usually featuring humbucking pickups, the tone of a Les Paul is somewhat thicker and heavier than single-coil counterparts like strats and teles. The humbucker pickups allow guitarists to use more gain and distortion thanks to their low-noise, high-output signal. For this reason, they were often preferred by rockers on the heavier end of the spectrum. 

The electronic circuit of the Les Paul uses a separate volume and tone knob for each pickup, which provides some different tone options to the Fender systems. Depending on the number of pickups included, a Les Paul will have a 3-way selector switch – although some models (like the black beauty) use more than 2 pickups, and their electronics are wired differently. 

These guitars are so iconic that they’ve been used across a large variety of musical styles, from pop, country, and soul, to heavy metal and punk.


Key Players: Les Paul himself, Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Jimmy Page (Led Zepplin), Pete Townshend (The Who), Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols), Zakk Wylde (Black Sabbath), Bob Marley, and Bucket Head.

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6. SG

History:

Released in 1961, the SG is Gibson’s best-selling guitar. The SG (meaning “Solid Guitar”) was originally intended as an upgrade to the Les Paul, featuring a more streamlined body and double cutaway. 

The issue was the whole redesign and upgrade process had been carried out without Les Paul (the guitarist) knowing anything about it. He did not like this redesign and asked for his name to be removed from the model. This is why it was called the SG, but in some parallel universe, it might be called the Les Paul V2.

Features:

The Gibson SG has a unique symmetrical look, favoring a double-cutaway in its solid mahogany body.

Featuring a slightly shorter scale length, at 24.75”, the frets were slightly condensed, increasing the fret count, and making the fretboard faster. It was advertised as one of the fastest necks around and is still held in high praise for its speed by guitarists today. The neck joins the body at the 22nd fret, rather than the 16th which the LP used, this makes it much easier to reach the highest frets.

The set-neck uses a shallower joint than LP models, and the bridge is usually either a tune-o-Matic, wraparound or some kind of vibrato system.

Gibson SG guitars generally feature 2 humbucker pickups, although some models use 3. These are controlled with independent volume and tone knobs, and a 3-way selector switch. Some modern models include coil-tapping features, which lets guitarists essentially switch their humbuckers into a single-coil mode.

Overall these are very different from Les Paul models. They are thinner with more contouring, and usually much lighter, thus comfortable. The thinner, single-layer body construction means the SG is better for feedback-based techniques, as they are more resonant compared to the dense Les Paul. These guitars have an element of danger to them, which is why they are used in heavier styles of music, like death metal, heavy metal, hair metal, rock, punk rock, and hardcore music.

Key Players: Frank Zappa, Angus Young (ACDC), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), Eric Clapton (Cream).

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7. Flying V

History: 

The Gibson Flying V (also known as the “Flying Vee” or “Vee”) is a rock and blues-rock guitar model initially designed and released by Gibson in 1958. The Flying V was the first guitar to feature the then-uncommon double cutaway body style.

The Gibson Flying V was originally designed by Fred Gretsch in collaboration with Ted McCarty in 1957. It was one of the first guitars to have a contoured body, although its origins are unclear as some sources claim Gretsch’s brother had developed a similar model before. The first examples were sold under the “Broadway” brand name which was soon changed to “Flying V” due to trademark issues.

One of many legends associated with this iconic guitar is that it was designed by a native American carver in order to commemorate a Native American term for a thunderbird. However, it was actually created by Ted McCarty, president of Gibson from 1955 to 1966.

Features:

The Flying V guitar is an electric guitar with a body shape that is wide at the top, deep to waist level, and sharply cut off below the waist. Its unusual shape makes this instantly recognizable guitar a hit classic.

The main feature is the unusual body shape, which is completely unique. It’s symmetrical, but not always easy or comfortable to play.

The flying v guitar has a mahogany body and a maple top, set neck with 22-fret ebony fingerboard, 2 covered humbucking pick-ups for a classic sound, and a tune-o-Matic bridge with stop bar tailpiece.


Key Players: Lenny Kravitz, K.K. Downing (Judas Priest), Albert King, Michael Schenker (UFO), Jimi Hendrix.

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8. Semi-Hollow Electric Guitars (Epiphone Dot…

Semi-Hollow Electric Guitars

History:

Semi and hollow body guitar designs have been around for centuries. This style of the hollow-bodied instrument was the basis for the acoustic guitar.

This is what most guitars would have looked like before the 1940s. This style was very common, and these semi-acoustic guitars had a unique body style and tone which defined much of the music of the era. The earliest electric guitars were essentially modded versions of semi-hollow guitars. They were fitted with pickups to enable electronic amplification.

Features:

Using a hollow body, these guitars are usually incredibly light bodies. A hollow-body guitar is a type of electric or acoustic guitar that intentionally includes spaces in the body for the amplification of the sound. These are also sometimes called “big jazz guitars”, and have a more acoustic sound. Semi-hollow guitar models are also popular with country music players.

The design is intended to increase the volume of the instrument, and reduce feedback during amplification when compared to a solid body.

The main reason for hollowing out an acoustic guitar’s body is to lower its feedback potential once amplified. This makes it possible for jazz musicians, who need to amplify their instruments in small venues, to have an instrument that can satisfy these requirements without breaking down in volume.

A hollow-body guitar is a guitar with a thin layer of wood on the front and back. This type of guitar does not have as much resonance as an acoustic solid-body as there is space at the center to allow sound waves to reverberate.

Solid-body guitars are the opposite of their hollow counterparts. They have a thick, heavy slab of wood at the front and back that provides more resonance for the vibrations in the strings. Solid bodies also tend to be heavier than their hollow counterparts and can be cheaper and easier to produce (due to less complex shapes).


Key Players: BB King, John Lennon, Johnny Marr (The Smiths), George Harrison, Chet Atkins, Wes Montgomery, Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Jack White (The White Stripes).

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Types of Electric Guitar Pickups

Now you know some different types of electric guitars, let’s have a look at the different types of pickup you can find.

1. Single Coil

Single Coil

History:

In the early twentieth century, single coils began to be used on mandolins and banjos, before they became popular in electric guitars in the 1950s and 1960s. They were used on most Fender guitars from 1952-1963 and many Gibson models from 1952-1968.

Features:

Single coil pickups are a type of guitar pickup. These pickups create a thin, bright sound when compared to a humbucker. The single-coil sound is generally less complex than the sound of a humbucker. Single coils, however, still offer much in the way of variety when it comes to tone. The pickup’s construction and size greatly affect its sound.

The single-coil pickup has a narrower range of frequencies than humbuckers, which means it will sound thin and weak on its own compared to a humbucker. However, single-coils are much more sensitive to subtleties in their surrounding electromagnetic field than humbuckers, so they can be placed closer to other instruments without losing their unique sound quality.

The key to using single coils well is placing them in positions that don’t have any other close-by instruments or amplifiers that would create too much interference with the sound waves.

They are known for their use in Jazz guitars and Telecasters.

The most notable use is on the Stratocaster guitar with three single-coil pickups that were created by Leo Fender. This instrument has been used by many notable artists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards, and Jimmy Page

Used In: Stratocasters, Telecasters, Jaguars, Mustangs.

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2. Humbucker

Humbucker

History: 

The Gibson Les Paul was the first electric guitar to be fitted with a humbucker pickup, in 1952. The inventor of the humbucker pickup is unknown, but most people agree that it was invented in the late 1940s.

Frederick J. Plechner, an American electrical engineer and inventor (1911-2002), also created the first humbucking pickups for Gibson’s arch-top guitars under contract to one of his former professors at Cornell University, Dr. Seth Lover (a pioneer in electronics technology, particularly with magnetic devices).

The Humbucker pickup was not invented by just one person. It is the culmination of work by many guitar players and technicians, each with their own take on what would be the best sound for a guitar.

There are two main types of pickups used in electric guitars: single coil and humbucker. The humbucker is a type of pickup that was invented to eliminate the 60-cycle hum that single coils create when they are wired in parallel with each other.

Features: 

Humbucker pickups are more powerful than single-coil pickups. They are used for heavy rock and metal music.

Humbucker pickups offer more power, clarity, and sustain than single-coil pickups. They are usually better for heavy rock and metal music, while single-coils sound better for the country, jazz, blues, classic rock, and other styles of music where the guitar is not driven hard.

The most common type of pickup in electric guitars is the single coil. Single coil pickups are generally brighter and louder, which is an advantage when playing with distortion, but many guitarists prefer the warmer tone of humbucker pickups for normal playing.

A humbucker pickup is a type of electric guitar pickup that uses two coils to “buck the hum” (cancel out noise) picked up by one coil in a single-coil pickup. Humbuckers are often louder than single-coil pickups because they have twice as many coils to pick up noise. This can be an advantage in some types of music, but it makes them less versatile than single-coils since they cannot be used in all situations.

Used In: Les Pauls, SGs, Flying Vs, Super Strats

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3. P90 / Soapbar

P90 / Soapbar

History: 

P90 pickups are the first single-coil pickups that were manufactured in large numbers. The first production of these soap bar pickups was by Gibson in the 1950s, though the original design came from an inventor who had created some prototypes at Gibson sometime before.

The Soapbar Pickups History: It was created as an alternative to the “dog ear” pickups that had been used on arch-top guitars, and it became popular with some jazz and blues guitarists because it could produce a more mellow tone than regular single-coil pickups.

Features: 

The P90 is a very versatile pickup type that does not inherently favor either clean or dirty tones. This makes it very popular for guitarists who play all different styles of music because they can achieve the desired sound from their amp settings rather than from the type of pickup they have installed on the guitar.

The first thing to know about Soapbar pickups is that they are magnetic. This means that they can pick up vibrations from the strings of the guitars without the need for physical contact.

The P90 soap bar pickup has two long magnets, one on either side of the coil, and is therefore considered to be a humbucking or double-coil pickup because it cancels out 60–70% of the background noise from its magnetic field. It can be made with a variety of coverings including plastic and metal, but most commonly with a waxed paper cover which gives it a distinctive appearance.

Used In: Jazzmasters, Mustangs, Les Paul, Custom Fenders

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4. Active Pickups /EMG

Active Pickups /EMG

History:

The active pickup was invented in 1976 by Rob Turner, who teamed up with EMG to create the first production model.

Features: 

Active pickups are a less commonly used type of guitar pickup, generally favored by metal guitarists. 

They work well with high gain guitar amplifiers and distortion thanks to their modern design. 

These use electric signals that are amplified by a magnetic field to produce sound.

Active pickups are pickups that are powered by an external power source to produce the electric signal, this is opposed to passive pickups which do not use a battery.

Active pickups amplify the string vibration and the signal is then outputted into an amplifier and speaker for amplification and playback through an instrument speaker (speaker cone). Active pickups were developed to replace passive pickups, which are widely used in most electric guitars.

Active pickups have a wider dynamic range and are more suitable for distortion. They respond better in high gain situations compared to passive pickups (single coil or humbucker). These are particularly popular when playing guitar for metal styles, and are favored by rock and metal players looking for the heaviest tones possible. These can be used in either the neck pickup or bridge pickup position.

Used In: LTD Guitars, Heavy Metal Guitars.

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Summary

You’ve reached the end of this guide on the different types of electric guitars available. Each one has a different sound. Solid guitars sound completely different from hollow-body instruments. 

There are also a lot of differences between the ranges of each guitar company. For example, the Fender Stratocaster and the Fender Telecaster look, feel, and sound completely different. 

After reading this article, the reader should know the most popular types of electric guitars. This is not an exhaustive list but it can give people a good starting point if they are interested in learning about different types of guitars.
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