4 Lesser-Known Guitar Types and Variations
The guitar is one of the most common-place instruments in western music. Most people, even if they don’t play themselves, have a pretty good idea of what the instrument sounds and looks like. A vast majority of guitars lend themselves to this perception that most people have of them. But if you start to venture outside the realm of the standard 6-string acoustic or electric, you’ll realize there are some interesting variants out there. These deviations from the standard guitar configuration can have a different number of strings, different tuning, or be made using non-standard practices. With that said, here are a few of those lesser-known versions of the guitar.
True Temperament Guitars
This first guitar type is not really a different guitar variant, but rather a variation to a specific part of the instrument. In the case of true temperament, we are talking about the frets of the guitar. For those that don’t know, the frets are the little pieces of metal on the fingerboard that enable the player to “fret” specific notes.
Frets make it so much easier to play in tune on a guitar, at least when compared to something like a violin or cello that is. However, due the nature of the way pitch works, the standard method of using straight frets is technically flawed.
You can get really scientific and throw a lot of math around here, but the basic reason for this is that equal temperament (straight frets) is not perfectly designed. True temperament frets are trying to create the best-case scenario for getting all of the guitar neck in tune with itself.
If you ever see one of these guitars up close you will see just how weird the frets look. All of the squiggles you would be looking at are to adjust for problems with the straight design.
And you may wonder why everyone doesn’t switch to playing true temperament guitars if they are more accurate. Well, the truth is, most people really can’t hear the difference and for those that can they have grown accustomed to the way a traditional guitar sounds. However, thanks to brands like Strandberg, true temperament is becoming more popular as of late. So maybe one day we will see it as being much more commonplace than it is now.
Baritone guitars have a longer scale length than traditional guitars, along with typically having a larger body. These alterations help baritones to utilize thicker gauge strings for lower tunings. Most commonly, a baritone will be tuned to B-standard (B–E–A–D–F♯–B), which falls a perfect fourth below E standard.
The tuning of a baritone still intervals the same as a standard guitar, so players can fret the same chord shapes and scales without issue (they would just need to transpose to play in key). It is also common to down tune the low B to an A, which has the same effect as drop D tuning on an E standard guitar.
Sonically, a baritone guitar is right between a bass and a normal six-string. This can be really advantageous for bands or artists that utilize several guitarists, making things fit together better in a mix.
Baritone guitars are actually quite a bit more common than any of the other guitar variants on this list. In fact, they can be found in the hands of many funk and metal players, along with some people who find them quite useful for ambient tones.
If you understand baritone guitars, you might think that tenor guitars are pretty much the same thing just tuned higher. You would not be too far off with that logic; however, baritones are much more like a regular guitar than a tenor is. The most obvious difference being that there are only 4 strings on tenors.
These guitars were originally created by Gibson in the 1920s and marketed as being an option for tenor banjo players who were looking to play guitar. The identical tuning of C-G-D-A is what makes it a really easy instrument for tenor banjo players to pick up.
Also, the tuning separates it from a six-string guitar even more so because it is tuned in 5ths, not 4ths. Having 5ths means that tenor guitars are a lot more focused on open voicings than a traditional guitar in standard tuning.
You will not see nearly as many tenors as you will baritones out in the wild. It is not completely unheard of to see one in a jazz or country setting, but they still don’t pop up all that often. But, plenty of artists have played around with these guitars for the sake of experimentation.
A resonator guitar is something you may have seen before but didn’t know the name of it. Especially if you’re a fan of delta blues or bluegrass, you probably have come across one of these at some point. While they come in multiple different forms, the key giveaway for this kind of guitar is their partial or even full metal body construction.
Resonators make their sound via transferring the string vibrations to one or more metal cones in the body. The thinking behind this design was that it would make the guitar louder and more capable of playing with louder instruments. This design could be considered a successful one, because resonator guitars are louder than a traditional design. However, as any tone-minded individual will tell you, changing anything on a guitar has some effect on the sound.
The construction and workings of a resonator guitar give it a specific timbre that is very distinguishable from a regular all wooden acoustic. They are louder and sustain longer, but the real magic of these guitars comes from the tone that they produce.
Players of resonator guitars quite commonly use them with a slide and opt to utilize open tunings. However, the majority of resonators can be played just like a regular acoustic. This means the guitarist who is just after the tone can still use this guitar variant.