STEEL STRUNG ACOUSTIC GUITAR
Possibly the most common regular 6-string guitar type when people think of the acoustic guitar. The “acoustic” part of the name comes from the fact that the guitar has a large “body”, usually with a hole in it on the front (the sound hole), and generates volume from the notes resonating inside the body.
They need no further amplification in order to be heard (although models can be had which can also be plugged in, but this is not necessary to learn on).
The “steel string” part refers to the strings themselves – they are made of metal “wire” in layman’s terms (although of course there is a bit more to string manufacture than that….).
So, what do you say when you go into a shop in order to not feel stupid? Just ask to look at some steel-strung acoustic guitars, and tell them whether you are a total beginner, and indicate your budget. All shops I would send you to will “pick up the baton” from here are advise accordingly.
NYLON STRUNG GUITAR
Usually (not always, but don’t worry at this stage) these are acoustic in nature as described above, requiring no further amplification to be heard. The main difference (there are others) is the material the strings are made from – they are based on Nylon. The higher pitched strings will look like almost clear “plastic”, and while the lower pitched strings will have metal “windings” on them, they are wound on a “nylon” core.
This guitar type is usually associated with Classical Guitar, but is also used in Flamenco music – there are slight differences here, but in this “beginner’s guide” we need not worry. Suffice to say that if you wish to learn Classical Guitar, you will be looking at “Nylon Strung / Classical Guitars”. Use these words in a shop and they will understand what you are looking for.
Larger and lower in pitch than regular guitars, it is more common to encounter electric bass guitars (although acoustic models are available). Bass guitars are normally steel strung, and most commonly have four strings, although five string, six (and beyond) are available.
Assuming we are looking at electric models. They will have pickups (commonly one or two) and controls just like electric guitars, and will need an amplifier to make them fully audible. As with their electric guitar brethren, bass guitar practice amplifiers are readily available.
Mostly strung with steel strings, the main difference with electric guitars is that to be heard properly they need to be connected to an amplifier. There are many different shapes and style of electric guitar (some are also known as semi-acoustic” models as they have small acoustic chambers in them), but the common factor is that they will all have “pickups” (mostly two or three) on the body under the strings. In very basic terms, the steel strings vibrate, which disturbs the magnetic field created by the pickup.
This energy is then translated into electrical signals that are made audible by the amplifier. However, you do not need to worry about how it works, just that there will also be some knobs to control the volume and tone, and sometimes a “tremolo” unit on the body of the guitar to alter the pitch (will look like a metal lever) – tremolo units are simply an option fitted to some guitars, and not essential by any means.
You will also need an amplifier, and a lead to connect the two. Amplifiers need not be large or loud – small “practice amplifiers” can be obtained. In a shop, simply ask for a practice amplifier for electric guitar, and a guitar lead.
Acoustic - Steel or Nylon Strung - Electric & Bass
This page is not intended as a fully exhaustive guide to all types and styles, but will give you a flavour of the main categories that you will encounter. Think of it as nothing more than a brief “beginner’s guide” to get you started.