Music is a very individual expression, and for almost every musician and performer there is a style that is both defined by them, and created for them. A musician’s instrument is as much a part of that individual expression as the performer, and this is just as true, if not especially so, when it comes to the guitar. When you think of famous guitarists such as Jimmy Hendrix or Brian Welch, Eddie Van Halen, Fletcher Dragge, Angus Young or BB King, each of these is renowned for his own individual style and personal way of expressing himself through the music, but in addition to the fact that each of these performers has a very individual style which is all their own, each performer has used a style of guitar which is quite different from the others. For every one of these well known guitarists, there is a style of guitar which helps to complement the way they perform, and the style, tone and voice they need in order to help compliment their performance.
A guitar is capable of playing very soft, delicate tones, but also capable of screaming rock chords and thrashing bass notes. To take each of the guitarists above, Jimmy Hendrix is best known for his style made famous during the 1960s, and his guitar of choice was the classic electric guitar, the Fender Stratocaster. On the other hand, Eddie Van Halen is best known for a completely different sound, which is best described more of a tapping sound, particularly the intricate tapping solos. In order to achieve his sound, he uses a guitar which is actually custom made, but based on a Wolfgang, which is a peavey guitar.
Blues musicians, such as BB King have an entirely different sound altogether, and blues music is a style that is easily recognizable, and quite distinct from any other kind. In order to create the mellow tones of blues music, King uses a Gibson hollow body, the hollow chamber of the guitar creating a resonance that naturally amplifies, and softens the notes performed.
Whilst hollow body electric guitars use the natural amplification of the guitar body to soften the notes slightly, using a solid body creates not only sharper notes, but since the guitar relies entirely on external gadgets and electronics to amplify the notes, allows for a wide range of effects to be implemented. Angus Young is the lead guitarists for AC/DC and in contrast to BB King who uses a Gibson hollow body, Young uses a Gibson solid body – and if you listen to both performers you can tell immediately the difference in tone and voice. Ignoring style of performance and the actual genre, the sound or voice of the guitar is noticeably different, yet essentially the only real difference is whether the body of the guitar is solid or hollow.
If you are considering buying a guitar, or learning to play guitar, one of the things that may well have inspired you is the sound of a particular genre, or band, or performer. Whilst this inspiration is good, in some cases it can result in disappointment, as many of these performers have spent a lifetime perfecting their individual style, and working with a particular type of guitar. For example, as a beginner trying to learn to play a steel strung guitar is almost certainly going to result in so much pain and discomfort that giving up lessons will become much more appealing! Sticking to a standard six string nylon strung classic acoustic guitar is the best way to learn to play. After that, listening to different bands and performers is a good way of getting to know and recognise the wide range of sounds that guitars can produce.