Could you imagine modern music without the guitar? Probably not!

It’s certainly one of the most popular musical instruments played around the world today. Its popularity stems in part from the fact that the same instrument can be used to create many different types of music, from rock to country to classical to jazz to flamenco!

You’ve probably noticed that there are all sorts of different guitars. Although they can vary in size, shape and color, guitars can be widely classified into two basic types: acoustic and electric.

Although there are major differences between acoustic and electric guitars, they also have several things in common. Both have six strings strung along a long neck that’s divided into sections by pieces of metal called “frets.” Acoustic and electric guitars are also both tuned using tuning pegs.

It’s down low in the area known as the body where you see the big differences between acoustic and electric guitars. The first guitars ever made — sometime in the 1500s — were acoustic guitars.

Acoustic guitars have large hollow bodies with a sound hole just below the strings. The wooden front of the guitar — called the “soundboard” — is made of thin wood, often spruce or red cedar, which is chosen for its sound quality.

When the strings of an acoustic guitar are strummed, their vibrations transmit through pieces of wood, called the “bridge” and “saddle,” to the soundboard. The soundboard transfers the energy of the vibrating strings to the air within the guitar body, which then amplifies the sound and makes it loud enough to hear. The sound hole helps to project the amplified sound from within the hollow body.

Beginning in the 1920s, electric guitars were developed. Electric guitars have had a huge impact on the worldwide popularity of the guitar.

As you’ve probably noticed, electric guitars have thinner, solid bodies without sound holes. As a result, the body of an electric guitar does not transmit and amplify the sound of its strings when they are strummed. If you strum the strings of an electric guitar that isn’t plugged in, you’ll barely be able to hear any sound.

Instead of a hollow air cavity, electric guitars use transducers — called “pickups” — to convert string vibrations to an electric signal, which is then sent to speakers that amplify the signals and turn them into the sounds we hear.

The pickups on an electric guitar consist of bar magnets that are wrapped with more than 7,000 turns of fine wire. Vibrating strings cause vibrations in the magnets’ magnetic fields. The coils of wire then turn these vibrating currents into an electric signal that can be sent to an amplifier to produce sound via a speaker.

Of course, just when you think you understand the difference between acoustic and electric guitars, we should mention that there are also guitars known as acoustic-electric guitars! These guitars look like regular acoustic guitars, but they also have electronic components that can transfer sound to an external amplifier.

These guitars are popular in settings where an acoustic sound is preferred but most of the other accompanying instruments are amplified.

 

24 Join the Discussion

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  1. I love both kinds of guitars! I record myself in a recording studio singing and playing the guitar. I love this article on guitars! Thanks for all the awesome articles Wonderopolis!!

    • Thank YOU for commenting today, Catherine! It’s great when we get to find out things our Wonder Friends like to do! We think it’s super cool that you have recorded in a REAL studio! :-)

    • We’re sorry your guitar is broken, Sydney, but we’re glad to have you as a Wonder Friend! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Thanks for your comment, hayley! Do you like acoustic or electric guitars the best? We think they are each great in their own way! :-)

    • This is an AWESOME link to share, Duane! We could surely “strum” up a lot of fun with that Google Doodle here in Wonderopolis..we LOVE the way you can record and play back your creations! :-)

    • Hello, Madison! We know Wonder Friends who will tell you that it’s easier to learn to play the acoustic guitar, but just as many will probably say it’s easier to learn to play the electric guitar! We think it’s all a personal preference! :-)

    • Thanks, Fontaneros! We’re glad you enjoyed this Wonder of the Day® and learned some new things about guitars! :-)

  2. Thank you for this very informative post. I really love this musical instrument. I guess I like acoustic guitar better than an electric type. I just love the soothing sound it produces that makes the ambience very calm. Anyway, thank you again for this post.

    • Hey there, Guitar Picks, thanks for commenting on our guitar Wonder! It’s very cool to play a musical instrument and determine the types of sounds that are calming, soothing and literally ‘music to your ears.’ We are so happy to hear about your passion for the acoustic guitar– keep up the great work, Wonder Friend! :)

  3. G’day, with my guitar, I’m taking lessons at school on acoustic and I have an electric guitar at home, whilst playing my song on electric it sounds a lot weird, is there anyway possible that i could make my electric guitar sound like a acoustic guitar by tuning it a lot different to make my song sound good? Please help me !!!!!!!!!!!

    • Great job using your musical talents, Ryan!! We bet you have a great deal of practicing to do in order to play the guitar like a pro! We Wonder if you can do some more research on your own about the differences between acoustic and electric guitars. The sounds are different for a variety of reasons, and we bet you can find out why! Keep up the great WONDERing, Ryan! :)

    • We’re glad you enjoyed our musical Wonder today, Connor! Thanks for sharing your comment about electric guitars. We Wonder… do you play the guitar, or another musical instrument? :)

    • Hey there, RazorKittyClaws! We bet your music makes your entire family smile! How neat that you and your dad can play together- what an awesome connection to our Wonder! Thank you for sharing! Keep on playing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How are acoustic guitars different from electric guitars?
  • Why do acoustic guitars have holes in them?
  • What are pickups?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to rock out? If you don’t already have your own electric or acoustic guitar, don’t fret!

Check out this fun homemade guitar craft that’ll show you how to make your own guitar out of a shoebox, rubber bands and a few easy-to-find supplies. Don’t forget to decorate your guitar and put on some “rock star” clothes before you entertain an audience of adoring fans!

If you want to learn to play the guitar, you’ll probably start out playing classics like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Three Blind Mice.” Soon enough, though, you’ll likely set your sights on songs that you might hear on the radio.

If you set your mind to it, we’re sure you can do it. To help provide a little inspiration, check out these legendary guitarists working their magic on the guitar:

 

Still Wondering

The electric guitar may be the most important and popular instrument of the last half-century in American music. Learn more about The Invention of the Electric Guitar when you visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History!

 

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