All Things Guitar

1. Why is a 6-string called a Spanish guitar? 

In America, in the 1840s, there was a very popular piece called “Spanish Fandango.” It seems everyone wanted to play “Spanish Fandango” on the guitar at a time when pulp paper came out. “Spanish Fandango” was printed in the widely distributed magazines and cheap guitars were readily available. The story goes that if you wanted play “Spanish Fandango” you needed a six-string guitar to do it, so the six-string guitar became known as the Spanish guitar. The thing is “Spanish Fandango” was written in Youngstown, Ohio and had nothing to do with Spanish music.

2. What’s the best guitar for me? 

It depends on who you are. If you like classical or flamenco or bossa novas, you should get a nylon string guitar. If you like folk or country picking, you should get a steel string. If you like jazz, you should get a hollow body electric. If you like rock and roll or blues, you should get a solid body electric. Probably the best guitar to start with is a nylon string because it’s better to learn on than the others. The wider fingerboard has more room to work with and you can learn string control a lot better on the soft strings.

3. What’s a tenor guitar? 

Tenor guitars used to be quite popular, but now they’re rare. A tenor guitar is a four string instrument tuned like a viola, that is A, D, G, C. Although it’s smaller than a regular guitar, it has a fairly wide range because it’s tuned in fifths. A standard guitar is tuned in fourths; a tenor has an extra note on each string, which means it’s the equivalent of having five strings instead of four.

4. What’s the best size for me? 

If you are a child, you should get a smaller guitar that fits you, like a half size or a three-quarter size. One would hope that your local music store would have someone who could properly size the guitar for you. If you’re an adult, the size of the guitar might depend more on the sound that you want than your body size. If you’re small, you probably want a shorter scale length. You can get a shorter scale length on a big guitar. Bigger guitars tend to have a bigger sound, more bass. Smaller guitars tend to have a more immediate sound. Some very large guitar players like to play small guitars for the tone. It’s true that small body guitars are convenient for small people, but if you hold the guitar properly, small people can play big guitars just fine. My advice would be to visit guitar shops and try different sizes and shapes of guitars to find out what you like. 

5. Why would I want to have more than one guitar? 

There are different types of guitars that serve different purposes. You may want to have an acoustic guitar that doesn’t require electricity and sounds very good alone in a room. You may want to have an electric guitar so you can be loud and play rock-n-roll. You might want to have a classical guitar, so classical music sounds better. But if you have a classical, you may also want a steel string for when you play folk. There are many different kinds of guitars. And even within in same type of guitar, there are a lot of variations. You may have one guitar, say an acoustic guitar that you like to play around home when you’re not amplified, and an acoustic electric that you can plug directly into a sound system for when you perform live. I have a rather large collection of guitars because I want to express different kinds of music, and I need different instruments for different types of music.

6. Are there guitars that play in higher or lower keys? 

Yes. There are many different sizes and registers for guitar. Requinto, or alto guitar, plays a third higher than the standard guitar. That is rather than having a high E string, you have a high G string. Baritone guitars have been popular in recent years. They play a fourth lower than the ordinary guitar. So the first string, rather than being an E string is a B string. Some people also prefer to tune their guitar a whole step or a half step lower than standard tuning. This works well on larger guitars with heavier gauge strings. There are also Brazilian instruments that are shaped like a guitar, but have only four strings and play up in mandolin range. So there are many kinds of guitars that play in other registers other than standard.

7. Are there guitars that have different number of strings besides 6 and 12? 

Yes there are. There are four-string guitars, five-string, ten-string, seven-string, eight-string, eighteen-string guitar. There are nine-string guitars. There’s even a two-string guitar called a punk rod.

8. What’s an acoustic electric guitar? 

An acoustic electric guitar is an acoustic guitar with a pickup in it. The difference between an acoustic electric and an electric guitar is that the acoustic electric is supposed to sound like an acoustic only louder.

9. What is a resonator guitar? 

Resonator guitars were invented in the 1920s. They were invented to be louder for recording. This is before electronic recording, so that the instrument had to be much louder because they didn’t have amplification. A resonator guitar is simply a guitar with a speaker like cone in the center. A Dobro is a resonator guitar. The bodies of National Steel guitars are made of metal.

10. What’s a lap steel guitar? 

A lap steel guitar is a guitar you lay flat in your lap and play using a metal bar to slide up and down the strings with your left hand. They’re popular in country music. There’s also a tradition of sacred steel in various southern churches.

11. What’s a dobro? 

Dobro was a guitar company in the 30s, but these days people generally think of it as an acoustic lap steel guitar that is laid flat in the lap and played with a metal bar. It’s also a resonator guitar.

12. What’s an arch top? 

An arch top guitar is a guitar with a curved top and a curved back like a cello. This transfers the vibration to sound in a different way from a flat top. They have a different tone, maybe a little more like a mandolin.

13. What’s a solid body electric guitar? 

A solid body electric guitar is a guitar whose body is made from a solid plank of wood. Not having a resonating chamber gives it a particular sound and prevents feedback problems. Statocasters and Les Pauls are examples of solid body electrics.

14. What’s a hollow body electric? 

A hollow body electric is an electric guitar with a hollow body to provide a resonating chamber. They have a different tone from the solid body design and they’re often favored by jazz musicians.

15. How many types of guitar are there? 

There are three main types of guitars: classical guitars with nylon strings, acoustic guitars with steel strings, and electric guitars with magnetic pickups. There are almost infinite variations among these three types. There are also bass guitars, alto guitars, resonator guitars, 12-string, 10-string, 8-string and 7-string guitars.

16. What’s the best guitar for a child? 

A small, half-size or three-quarter size, nylon string guitar is best for a child. When you’re in the shop check how the guitar fits the length of the child’s arms. You want the angle of the left elbow to hover around 45 degrees when the child holds it. Have a teacher assist you.

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