Popular Electric Guitar Body Styles
THE BIBLE BEHIND ICONIC ELECTRIC GUITAR BODIES
People from all walks of life have their preferences when it comes to everything. Musical instruments are no exception.
Whether you are into grunge or British rock ‘n’roll, electric guitars bodies are meant to illustrate and fully integrate the music you play. Here, we will layout the essentials behind guitar body shapes & let you decide what’s best for you.
Why Are Electric Guitars Shaped the Way They Are?
When you think of music, the first image that will pop into many people’s heads is a guitar.
Unless you ask a drummer, there is undoubtedly a plethora of electric guitars to choose from that come with different tones as it, arguably, is the most popular instrument out there.
Although electric guitar bodies have come in many shapes and sizes, the majority of them mimic the acoustic guitars. There is no rhyme nor reason per see except for the fact that the acoustic form is known to be the most functional.
The most common acoustic body is the round shouldered archetype otherwise known as a dreadnought has a round-shouldered guitar body has stood the test of time for its simple carving & its effectiveness in allowing guitarists of all levels to pick up & play.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many electrics follow their acoustic counterparts as they too depend on cost & utilization.
However, one should note that shapes have been experimented with over the centuries. Some thrived such as the K Model designed by Steinberger while others failed.
Lastly, the solid-body style preserves the shape of the traditional guitars; in addition to its nostalgic design, it also provides a feel or comfort for the guitarist when playing while seated. Therefore, one could say that it has an ergonomic reason for its shape.
Does the Shape of An Electric Guitar Affect Sound?
Although electric guitar bodies have come in many shapes and sizes, the shape of an electric guitar DOES NOT really affect its sound. The variety of shapes is more of a cosmetic appeal than anything.
Intriguingly, the majority of body shapes mimic the acoustic guitars such as the filleted lower bout that happens to also appear in a Les Paul. There is no rhyme nor reason per se except for the fact that the acoustic form is known to be the most functional.
The most common acoustic body is the round-shouldered archetype otherwise known as a dreadnought has a round-shouldered guitar body has stood the test of time for its simple carving & its effectiveness in allowing guitarists of all levels to pick up & play.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many electrics follow their acoustic counterparts as they too depend on cost & utilization.
However, one should note that shapes have been experimented with over the centuries. Some thrived such as the SG designed by Gibson while others failed.
Let’s break down some of the iconic guitar bodies that contributed to the memorability of music, particularly rock. This way, you can be ready to shop and pick the instrument that best suites you. Keep in mind that each body style has transducers, known as pickups, that consist of coils (many times more than one as is the case in a humbucker pickup) that capture mechanical vibrations produced by electric guitars.
Some even have P-90s as is the case for Gibson Les Pauls. There will be many references about this transducer as it is a factor that varies for each guitar body style.
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Main Body Styles
Electric guitar bodies come in three main styles: solid, semi-hollow, & hollow. Since electric guitars tend to be made out of wood in many cases, it comes as no surprise that they are categorized by the density to which they fill their shape.
Solid Body Electric Guitars
The solid-body is the one that has been designed completely with solid wood. Solid body guitars are most famously associated under two brand names: Fenders & Gibsons. The former came up with the famously known Stratocaster & Telecaster. Equally successful, Gibson has made their fair share in solidbodies. Some of them include the household name of Les Paul.
Overall, solid-bodies allow guitarists to sustain notes at longer intervals. Therefore, guitar tones like vibratos tend to last long with this type of guitar because of its material makeup. Therefore, solid-bodies are played rock songs or heavy metal where there is a ton of distortion.
Meanwhile, their effectiveness in preventing a feedback from amplifying the notes you strum to uncomfortable sounds makes it the ideal candidate for beginners to pickup as their first guitar. Let’s not forget that its nifty look and iconic name attracts as many intermediate and pro guitarists as it does with novices. There is an abundance of solid-body guitars; moreover, they will be covered in subsections.
Fender Solid Bodies
Let’s start with the guitar shapes that are played in most genres of music. Coincidentally, these tend to be older. Fender guitars are considered to be pioneers in the electric guitar market. The founder, Leo Fender brought the electric guitar into mainstream with the aid of the solidbody guitar he manufactured in mass called the “Broadcaster.” The name was changed to the more recognizable “Telecaster.”
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As a successful brand early on, it is no wonder top-notch solidbody guitars like the Stratocaster, when introduced, were able to sell all over the world & are valued to this day. These solidbodies are known for paving the way for early success Rock.
Arguably, they are the reason why electric guitars rose to the mainstream & symbol that is most held dear in American culture. During the 1950s, a perfect stormed culminated where new tech like the television allowed successful artists like Buddy Holly entertained the public & introduce the Fender brand into many American households.
Nicknamed The Strat, it arguably the most recognizable & widely played/heard electric guitar ever even though it is not the oldest. With its iconic three single-coil pickups, iconic colors, high quality of craftsmanship, & soothing sounds (thanks in part to Jimi Hendrix’s enthusiasm for the instrument), one could say that it is the posterchild of electric guitars as many people outside of the world music would recognize its iconic guitar body.
Whether you are playing R&B, rock, jazz, country, pop, indie, and many others, there is no doubt that The Strat has been played in numerous songs in virtually every music genre.
Whether it was the tremolo bridge, the six inline tuning pegs, or the double cutaway design, these were the factors that made the guitar’s shape so one-of-a-kind instrument. Surprisingly, these were all driven by Fender to outdo its main competitor flagship electric guitar at that time: The Gibson Les Paul.
One thing that particularly many Stratocaster owners tend to notice about it is that is a simple design that is not heavy (around 7 lbs to be precise which is lighter than the average). Unlike its Gibson counterpart, it is much easier to repair as is the case for its maple capped with a rosewood fretboard.
The sound is also just as exciting to discuss as it provides a variety in that aspect. There is no unique sound per se as that is one of the reasons it is played in many music genres. One could go from having a clear to trebly tone in one riff. However, the Stratocaster has a mid-range “quack” thanks in part to its middle pickups.
Additionally, there are lower output pickups that create a thin sound with tonal variants. One notable example is the famous whammy bar that protrudes out of so many Strat bodies. The Strat also has a tremolo fluctuates the pitch it makes by moving its arm up or down.
Overall, The Strat is the most universally recognized electric guitar body out there. Famous musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, & Jimi Hendrix are just a few of the many artists who took this body to the next level of fame. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, you definitely would want to check it out.
With a single cutaway that has single-coil pickups and an ashtray bridge, the Telecaster or “Tele” is an older and simpler electric guitar than the Strat that creates a “twangy” sound. It should be mentioned that only the older Telecasters emit a “twangier” sound because of the brass saddles (these parts are located where the guitar’s strings sit, which is the front of the bridge) that are included in the older designs.
Meanwhile, the newer variation uses six steel saddles, emitting a better intonation or pitch accuracy. Nevertheless, it is capable of offering a variety of tones like the Strat. With a single dial of its tone knob, one can go from blues to jazz tones. Interestingly, it is easy to identify as it is one of the few that was made more popular in the country music scene, particularly before the 1980s, thanks to some features that make it one of a kind for a Fender.
However, thanks to its grating high-end response, some artists outside of that scene like Kurt Cobain & Jack White have used during recordings. Even though it was used mostly in that genre of music, it can be played well in any type of music as long as it does not have a ton of distortions.
Interestingly, it was called the “Broadcaster” when it was first released; however, due to copyright infringement with a drum kit band called “Broadkaster,” Fender had to change its name. To sum up, the Telecaster is an old icon that has kept its body style unique. Moreover, it is more strongly tied with the Fender brand than its popular rival: the Stratocaster.
Ibanez RG450DX RG (Super Strat)
Unlike the previous two, this is a group of modern electric guitars that weren’t exclusively being made by Fender as it was a style that many other companies like Ibanez & Yamaha also sold when they were first made in the 80s. It is listed under a Fender solid body style because virtually all Super Strats mimic a lot of the Stratocaster’s body style.
However, some crucial differences such as its sharper cutaways, humbucking pickups, & a Floyd Rose style tremolo bridge. The last feature is a heavy metal add-on that allows guitarists to lock the strings using a vibrato arm at the guitar’s nut & bridge.
Let's use the Ibanez RG450DX RG as our example, specifically the Starlight Blue.
This electric guitar shaped the 1980s with its hairbands and heavy-shredding. Steve Vai from the Whitesnakes is one guitarist that brought this body style to the mainstream. Additionally & more famously, Eddie Van Halen played the Super Strat for most of his advanced solos. Don’t forget that Van Halen songs were some of the most complex guitar solos ever written. Have you ever tried to play “Eruption?”
Offset Body Styles
Being made by Fender, the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, & Mustang are all considered offset guitar body styles because of their upper halves are “offset” from their bottom halves. Even though this guitar style was made by other guitar companies, Fenders are going to be the electrics that are going to be discussed as they were unique when it came to making the most famous offset styles.
Offsets tend to have bright & clear tones that carry a slightly noticeable low & mid-end response.
What is especially amazing about offset body styles is their affordability. Many of them are under $1000, which is already a win. Some come in under $400. In addition to their clear sound & low prices, many grunge bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, & Alice in Chains embraced these electric guitars throughout their fame. Offset body styles reflected the 90s as the Super Strat reflected the 80s. To this day, these guitars are played in alternative music for clarity in tone.
Arguably one of the weirdest offset body styles created, the Jag was a guitar that appeared in certain rock sub genres. It succeeded in the surf rock scene. Therefore, top guitarists in bands such as The Beach Boys were the only ones to play them. However, it was brought back to fame briefly in part because of John Frusciante of the Chili Peppers.
With an asymmetric body shape, the Jaguar comes with a crisper sound than it’s offset counterpart, the Jazzmaster. Also, Fender designed this guitar with a shorter than average scale length of 24 inches that had 22 frets on its neck.
The Jaguar doesn’t seize to shine when looking at its hardware. Its body style includes humbuckers and single coil pickups with a dual circuit setup that separates the main circuit from a rhythm circuit. Personally, the one to pick is the ocean turquoise one as it comes with a Pau Ferro fingerboard.
Gibson Solid Bodies
Although Gibson was one-uped by Fender in many ways (e.g. the Stratocaster’s design), there is no doubt that this brand has the proof to back up its possible claim as the flagship brand of all electric guitars. Just look at virtually most body styles ever made from all guitar brands, they all vary, to a degree, from the original guitar shape that Gibson pioneered.
Whether it is the SG, the Les Paul, or Flying V, there is no doubt that Gibson never seizes to shine when it comes to large portfolio of stellar guitar shapes. Let’s take a look & analyze some of the solid bodies that the brand is known for.
The Les Paul
Gibson Les Paul needs no introduction besides it being one of the few guitar models to have signature versions uniquely made for all its famous players.
Known as “The Rock n’ Roll Machine,” it is no wonder that Les Paul has a legacy so large that rivals the Strat & Tele as all three debuted within the same decade. Its high-quality design & versatility have made it recognizable to many even outside of the world of music. It sounds clean & powerful when played in the right tone.
On the other hand, like its Fender counterparts, it too does not have a definitive tone that represents the instrument on a greater scale. However, it does have a massive sustain when one could attest to hearing in songs such as in Led Zeppelin.
Most experts would agree that it is best to not play it in country music because of its ease to be played with distortion. Overall, it is an excellent guitar to play a jazz lick.
Named by the jazz guitarist, Gibson wanted to create a more expensive instrument after releasing a few prototypes. At that time, Gibson’s president wished to leverage Les Paul’s stardom, as a way of promoting their guitars. Therefore, they allowed Les Paul to take the lead in a ton of body style design. That collaboration paid off.
Famous guitarists throughout the decades like Bob Marley, Jimmy Page in the 1970s & Slash in the 1980s. They & many others continued the legacy by playing it with finishes that range from Seafoam Green to Flame Maple Sunbursts in many of their most famous songs.
When discussing its shape, there were a few body styles that were crafted to fit with its customer’s aesthetic appeal: solid, solid arched, & solid chambered. Made completely out of wood, the solid Les Paul sometimes includes an arched top with a maple cap. The last body design is the solid chambered. On like the other two, the last design is the only one that creates a lighter tonal difference. This is because, as the name hints, there are chambers inside of the guitar body. Nevertheless, it is arched.
To complement its body style, there are other features that range from its scale length that is shy of 25 inches, its two P-90 picks (P-90s are a mid-toned & output pickup with six dots on its face that are located between the humbucking pickup & single coil of a guitar) that later converted to a double Gibson patent or PAF humbucking pickups located at the neck & bridge, its three-on-a-side tuners, & its mahogany neck.
These body features make it worth its high price. To go even further, Gibson prides itself on making its Les Paul headstocks painted with a bound rosewood neck & body that contains rectangular or trapezoidal inlays.
Even though half of the components discussed augment the instrument’s cosmetic appeal, some would argue that its sound appeal was equally or more influential to its high value. One feature responsible for that was its tune-o-matic style bridge that comes with a stop bar tailpiece. Basically, when assembled, guitar strings are placed through a metal bar that protrudes from the guitar body known as a stop bar. Then, they are straddled on to a fixed bridge piece known as a tune-o-matic for Les Pauls. Arguably, the "poster child" of Les Pauls is the Classic Plus displayed above.
Overall, the Les Paul is Gibson most recognized body style. Being carefully crafted from the finest wood, it is no wonder that it is a guitar shape that fits everyone’s budget. It is not a guitar that can be easily repaired as was the case for the Strat. However, a Les Paul can fit almost any style of music or riffs you are will to play.
Known as the Solid Guitar, Gibson didn’t stop with just a Les Paul. No, they wanted to go further in the 60s. Originally, it was labeled as a Les Paul; however, the name changed because Les Paul did not want to be associated with this guitar as he did not like its design. Regardless, Gibson SG’s exceeded in sales, making it the most sold guitar of all time.
With regard to its shape, it has two humbuckers at the neck & bridge. The SG has a double cutaway. It also has a tonal response that is unique to Gibsons. Lastly, the scale is 24.75 inches long & contains a 22 fret neck. It isn’t a heavy guitar body.
Therefore, famous guitarists like Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead & Angus Young from ACDC used it to perform more comfortably while performing acts such as a duckwalk in a schoolboy uniform. Having a very similar setup to the Les Paul discussed earlier, this allows it to perform classic & heavy rock with a clear tone.
Known for its iconic V shape, this futuristic electric guitar shape was particularly famous for being played by early rock & heavy metal guitarists like Dave Davies & Kirk Hammett. Some may say it is weird while others would say that it is the future. You decide.
Like the SG, it too had two humbuckers, a similar tone, & a matching feel. In contrast, the Flying V makes it easier for guitarists to play the upper neck with ease while being uncomfortable in the lower bout. Even though they are made because of their rise in demand, the original ones are next to impossible to find.
Like the Flying V, Gibson released one other futuristically designed guitar shape in 1958 that caters to the heavy metal scene. This is known as the Explorer. Therefore, it has two humbucking picks that make it a breeze for guitarists to reach the highest notes while strumming out a distorted tone. James Hatfield from Metallica and Allen Collins from Lynyrd Skynyrd are two of the many famous guitarists who played this body style throughout their careers.
Similar to the Explorer with its protruding body style design, it too was uniquely made by Gibson as a way of offering a softer touch of the Explorer without eliminating the benefits of it.
When it was released in 1963, the Firebird offered a few unique features that made it produce a one of a kind sound thanks in part to its mini-humbucker and its banjo style tuner. One to three humbucking pick ups were included in the guitar design. Rockstars such as Mick Taylor & Dave Grohl of the Rolling Stones & Foo Fighters, respectively, aided in promoting the body style to the classic & modern rock scene.
Semi Hollow Body Electric Guitars
SEMI HOLLOW VS HOLLOW SHAPES
Now that the main solid bodies are out of the way, let’s get to the semi-hollow bodies.
The semi-hollow guitar is described as having a two f-shaped cutouts on the top of its body. The most popular semi-hollow is the Gibson ES-335.
Inside the body, a wooden tone block inserted in the middle of the interior of the guitar is crafted as a means of minimizing the feedback issues that develop as a result of having large amounts of gain & exposed openings on the shape. Additionally, this keeps the authentic tone from losing its woody tone that is characteristic in numerous hollow-body guitars played in jazz.
On the top section of each body, semi-hollow guitars have exposed cavities that come in the shape of two f-holes. The guitar’s inner chamber is then divided in half by a block of wood that runs through the guitar body.
Moreover, the guitar can be played at higher volumes while emitting a resonant tone of a completely hollow instrument while keeping a lower sustain than a solid body.
As a perfect guitar for playing low levels of distortion, jazz is normally the genre for which semi-hollows are played. Jazz artists like the prominent BB King perfected the art of playing the entirety of ES-335 as if it were a fully-hollow guitar except that he amplified the instrument’s sound to the point where large concert halls could hear the guitar (which was not the case for hollows).
It was not exclusively for jazz artists in the previous century. One can find modern rock artists like Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys play this with some distortion with some blues riffs.
Hollow Body Electric Guitars
Last but not least are the hollow body style electrics or archtop. Unlike the semi-hollows, there is no wooden block in the middle of the guitar’s interior. They emit a more acoustic sounding tone.
Nevertheless, many hollows have the exact same body styles as many semi-hollows. To a greater extent than semi-hollow body styles, hollow styles tend to feedback a ton more when gain is produced a lot.
Besides the ES-335 body style highlighted earlier in semi-hollows, the jazz box style is unique to hollows. For example, the “axe of choice” (or guitar of choice to play) is the Gibson ES-175.
One can think that hollows are instruments that are exclusively played in jazz. One exception many may find interesting is Ted Nugent leveraged the excess feedback that his guitar produced. Although it an incredibly resonant body style, keep in mind that they are the most well-crafted & toned guitars around.
Overall, we delved into detail about each guitar body. Famous examples were presented for each type. Even though we listed a number of them, there are probably more out there. Keep in mind that body style isn’t the only factor when it comes to selecting the right guitar. It’s up to you.
Before buying a guitar, experiment and find out the styles that make you most comfortable. After all, a guitar is a significant investment. Therefore, make the most out of it by considering its shape as one of many factors to consider when browsing for one that best suites you.