We’re now going to talk about the other types of acoustic guitars. And yes, there are plenty of them.
Note: you can choose the format for this lesson: video or text.
1. Let’s start with…
This beautiful Gibson L5:
This is an acoustic electric guitar. You can see here four knobs. 2 for the volume and 2 for the tone for both pickups. The L5 is the first archtop with F holes. This one is not the first series of L5, it’s just a re-edition.
The first series was by the way only acoustic and appeared in 1922. Amplified archtop guitars come way after, in 1936 with the ES-150:
It was notably played by the first electric guitar virtuoso, Charlie Christian.
So basically, what’s an archtop guitar? It’s a steel-string guitar with an arched top, and an arched back. Pretty straight forward. Most of the time, archtop guitars rhyme with F-Holes. I say most of the time because the first archtops for example, like the ones designed by Orville Gibson, its creator, didn’t have any.
As you can see on the ES-150, there’s a trapeze tailpiece at the guitar rear. Sometimes it’s also replaced by a Bigsby vibrato. On acoustic archtop guitars, you won’t find any stoptail bridge like the one made for Les Paul electric guitars. Simply because it would break the instrument, as it’s more fragile than an archtop electric guitar. That’s why trapeze tailpieces or Bigsby vibrato are favored.
The bridge can be moved to and fro. Really useful in case you need to readjust an always out of tune guitar or if you have to change the gauge.
The body is starting at the 14th fret and there’s no cutaway on this one. You can find cutaway or non cutaway versions for a lot of models.
As for the sound, if you’re a jazz player, this is a really good guitar for you. You can also play country or early rock ‘n roll from the 50s or 60s like Chet Atkins or Eddie Cochran. It’s not a good guitar for heavy stuff such as metal or hard-rock. But if you play rock like U2 for example, it can be worth the try.
2. Now let’s move on to resonator guitars…
They have been created at a time when guitars needed to sound louder, to be heard ahead of the band, in the 1920s. The electric pickup had not been invented, at this time. John Dopyera and George Beauchamp came up with that idea, and indeed, that idea was a great idea. It sounded louder.
Today, you can choose between two types of resonator guitars: the round-neck, and the square-neck. The latter is usually played on your laps, like a lap-steel guitar. On the other hand, the round neck is played like a normal guitar.
The guitar above is a Dobro-style made by Regal.
A Dobro style is a guitar body with a single cone resonator. In fact, the Dobro name comes from the contraction of Dopyera Brothers, the inventors.
But let’s switch to a better picture to really see what’s going on here. This is the standard Dobro guitar body:
So, you can see a big metal cover plate, replacing the usual sound hole on an acoustic guitar. What you cannot see, is what is below the cover. Let’s take a look:
Alright. We have removed the cover plate. What we can see now is a single-cone spider resonator. This one has been made by Hohner. And it’s inverted, compared to the other resonator guitars. As a result, the sound is kinda nasal, and it’s particularly loved by bluegrass players.
The sound of a dobro-style guitar is perfect for bluegrass or country. It can also be great for blues but, an entire metal body is often preferred for that genre.
Talking about metal bodies, take a look at this resonator guitar:
If we zoom in, we can actually see why it’s called a tricone. Beneath the cover plate, which by the way kinda looks like a decepticon, you’ll notice the three metallic cones placed side by side. Okay, maybe it’s hard to see, so we’ll remove the cover plate.
There you go. This is another guitar, but it’s what we could see inside. The thing you see in the middle is actually a bridge. You will also notice 6 notches, that’s where the strings will go.
Let’s get back to the previous picture. A lot of metal guitars are made of steel. But it’s probably German silver here, as it was very popular back then. Today it’s very rare and pretty costly. However, you can come across a variety of National-style guitars, either made of brass, steel with nickel coating or German silver like the first resonator guitar ever made.
Do you love playing blues with a bottleneck? Then this guitar’s made for you. Beware though, having three cones doesn’t mean it will sound louder than a Dobro or biscuit-style guitar. Actually, it won’t. But a lot of guitarists prefer the tone of their tricone-style. However, they’re often more expensive than the other resonator guitars.
Now, let’s take a look at this biscuit-style made by Continental:
Very similar to a tricone, but this time, only one cone inside.
As I said before, it’s less expensive than a tricone but also louder, and more aggressive. Again, if you’re a blues player, you will love it.
3. Now, let’s move on to lap-steel acoustic guitars…
If you’ve followed what I’ve said a bit earlier, square neck resonator guitars can be played on your laps. Does that mean it’s a lap-steel? Yes it is.
In general, electric lap-steel guitars are more common than their acoustic brothers. And they were in fact more popular than normal guitars back in the 1920s due to Hawaiian music bursting out everywhere.
But still, there are several types of acoustic lap-steel like the square-neck resonator guitars. Or this one:
Quite small instrument, but still bigger than a ukulele. 18 frets on this one, usually made of Koa. It’s most of the time played like many lap-steel acoustic guitars, with a bottleneck, a thumb and some finger picks. The sound is quite nasal, but can also feel ethereal when playing high notes. Great for bluegrass, country, and one-man bands.
Okay, we’re almost through. Check out this acoustic guitar:
Can you tell the difference between what you’ve seen before? Yup. 12 strings. In fact the only difference between a traditional steel-string guitar is that we’ve doubled the strings for every 6 strings. The lower three or four strings are in general tuned one octave higher. The two or three others are tuned in unison.
This is what will give you this beautiful sparkle sound specific to 12-string acoustic guitars, and this is why people love them.
Okay that’s all for this unit and for the lesson. I hope it has been useful to you and that you can see more clearly among the different acoustic guitars available on the market.
If you want more, don’t hesitate to contact me and request a lesson.
Also know, there are the following articles on this website to deepen your knowledge:
See you later, guitar player.