For some musicians, guitars are like potato chips: it can be hard to stop at just one. But do you really need more than one? Well, that depends on certain factors (which we’ll cover later), but if you’re looking to build your collection, here are the types of guitars every guitarist should consider buying.
The 3 Guitars Every Guitarist Should Own
1. A “Primary” Guitar
The first guitar every guitarist should purchase is a quality workhorse guitar that will serve as your main instrument. This is the guitar you’ll play the majority of the time, so it needs to be versatile and able to handle whatever types of music you like playing.
How do you choose a main guitar? It will primarily depend on what type of music you want to play. If you’re after the iconic, powerful soloing of Jimi Hendrix or the bluesy rock of Jeff Beck, maybe a single-coil pickup option like a Fender Stratocaster (with a Floyd Rose bridge if you like adding tremolo) has your name on it.
If your favorite music has a little more punch and you love heavy distortion, perhaps a guitar with double-coil pickups like Gibson’s Les Paul range, or even active pickups like many of Schecter’s metal-focused instruments will serve you better.
Regardless, I’d opt for a good quality solid body guitar: more robust, more versatile, less fussy, and usually cheaper than similar hollow or semi-hollow designs (which we’ll address later).
Of course, there’s lots of crossover here, and with the right amp almost any guitar can be used for a wide variety of music genres. But these factors are still important.
If you want to forego the electronics and prefer to play acoustic songs, then a dreadnought acoustic guitar (the most common size) is probably your best bet.
But what if you’re a beginner shopping for your first guitar and don’t understand anything I’ve been talking about so far? No worries, all you need to do is look at what your favorite guitarists play. If you want to sound like your guitar heroes, it doesn’t hurt to use the same gear they do.
And sure, they may all use top of the line instruments, but budget-friendly options exist for almost every model out there.
This is how I got started: I looked at what my rock idols (Angus Young of AC/DC, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, and Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria, to name a few) had slung around their necks, and based my decision off that. More than a decade later, the Gibson SG is still my all-time favorite guitar model.
When choosing a main guitar, it’s just as important to pick one that feels comfortable while playing standing and sitting. For instance, a “Flying V” design looks pretty epic, but if you mostly play sitting down, you may find it awkward getting it in a comfortable position. This is personal to each musician, so try out a bunch of different guitars before settling on one.
And if you’ve narrowed it down to a few options, there’s nothing wrong with picking the one you think looks the coolest!
If you’re a beginner or on a budget, you can stop right here. But if you’re looking for the next guitar to add to your stand, let’s forge ahead.
2. A “Secondary” Guitar
If you’re a casual player, you probably don’t need more than one guitar, but if you play often and play live (or want to start), having a secondary guitar isn’t a bad idea.
There are several good reasons to have a secondary guitar in your inventory: it can be specced with a different style or combination of pickups to achieve a different tone; it can have heavier gauge strings to suit your down-tuning needs; or it can be alternately tuned to play certain songs.
It’s much easier (and quicker) to swap to your secondary guitar in between songs rather than go through the process of adjusting your primary guitar…nothing like having your performance grind to a halt in front of a live audience because you need to retune or change strings!
Speaking of that, having a secondary guitar can really come in handy if something unfortunate happens to your main guitar. Issues pop up when you least expect it, and having another guitar on deck can keep the show going and the audience rocking.
How do you choose a secondary guitar? The same way you choose your primary: determine what style of music you’ll need to coax from it, and base your decision off that.
It’s not uncommon for guitarists to have two of their favorite guitar models outfitted with different pickups or strings. Since all guitar models are designed and built differently, this helps ensure a consistent feel while playing different songs.
But if you want to add a little variety to your collection, nothing says you can’t choose a completely different style you like just for fun.
3. A Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar
Even the hardest rockers play an acoustic song once in a while…or a whole acoustic set if they’re feeling chill.
No matter what kind of music you like to play, adding an acoustic guitar to your collection is a no brainer. Learning to play a non-amplified guitar and the techniques that go along with it can be a lot of fun, but will also provide some carryover once you plug back in.
A dreadnought is the most common acoustic guitar size (yep, there are lots of different sizes, all with different purposes and tones), so if you’re only going to get one acoustic guitar, choose this one.
And if you’ve already chosen a dreadnought as your primary guitar, feel free to experiment with a different acoustic size or style here, or even go acoustic-electric for a little more versatility.
Bonus: 3 More Guitars to Consider Adding Later
4. A Hollow or Semi-Hollow Body Guitar
A solid body electric guitar makes a great all purpose instrument, but if you’ve already got one (or two) of those, consider adding a hollow or semi-hollow body guitar to your collection.
Hollow body electric guitars are similar to acoustics in that, as the name implies, the body is completely hollow. This improves resonance, and when coupled with an amp, produces some great tones you just won’t get out of an acoustic or solid body electric.
Semi-hollow body guitars have characteristics somewhere in between solid and hollow body instruments and are slightly more versatile than hollow bodies.
Hollow and semi-hollow body guitars are great for playing jazz, blues or folk music and are often favored by these musicians, such as the legendary B.B. King. Though they can often be found over the shoulder of rock musicians as well: Foo FIghters frontman Dave Grohl records all his songs on his signature Gibson ES-335.
If you want something unique with a warmer, more resonant tone, consider one of these guitars.
5. A 7-String or 8-String Guitar
If six strings just isn’t enough for you, consider a 7-string or even an 8-string guitar.
These guitars have one or two additional low strings after the low-E string: a low-B string on 7-string guitars and a low-B and F# string on 8-string instruments. This allows for a wider range of low notes to be played…something that has historically been favored by hard rock and metal guitarists.
Aside from this increase in low notes, players also benefit from a longer scale length, which opens up even more possibilities.
There is one big downside to playing a 7 or 8-string guitar however. More strings require more room on the fretboard, so these guitars will have wider necks. Many players might find it awkward and challenging to reach the lowest strings, especially those with small to average sized hands.
Despite this, a 7 or 8-string guitar may be a good addition to your collection if you’re after something that can open a whole new world of dark, aggressive tones.
That’s so metal!
6. A Double-Neck Guitar
Let’s be honest: is there anything cooler than a double-neck guitar?
Though you don’t see them used very frequently, having access to a traditional 6-string and a 12-string at the same time can really add a unique flair to your playing.
A 12-string guitar features six pairs of strings. While the two highest string pairs (B and E) are tuned similarly, the four lower string pairs (E A D and G) are tuned to the same note but at different octaves.
The result is a guitar that provides a more rich, full tone and isn’t any more difficult to play than a traditional 6-string. Basically, you’re getting the sound of two guitars playing at the same time.
While they look pretty epic, double-neck guitars can be crazy expensive…many are close to (or above) the $10,000 range. So unless you have a lot of expendable income, this is probably going to put the double-neck out of reach for all but the most die-hard guitar collectors who already have everything else…
…or for those who want to play the most accurate rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, as Jimmy Page was one of the first guitarists to show the double-neck guitar could be more than just a novelty item.
How Many Guitars Does the Average Guitarist Have?
There are a lot more beginner and intermediate guitarists out there than professional shredders, and while professionals who own 10, 20, 30 or even more guitars may skew the data upward, it’s likely the average guitarist owns only one or two guitars.
Most people in this category probably either own an acoustic and an electric guitar, or two electric guitars of differing styles used for different purposes.
How Many Guitars Do You Really Need?
I’ll be the first to admit: sometimes it’s hard to resist shopping for another new guitar. It can be very easy to justify why it’s a necessity, or why it will make you a better player, but let’s face it…there’s a big difference between need and want.
The majority of us will be perfectly fine with just one guitar. If you’ve chosen your guitar wisely and picked one that’s good quality and versatile enough to play all the types of music you like, you’ve got everything you need in that one instrument.
If playing guitar earns you money (or you’re starting to move in that direction), you can probably justify buying a second: either an acoustic (or electric if the acoustic is your primary guitar already), a second electric for different tunings, or even an acoustic-electric if you primarily play acoustic but need a little more volume for larger venues.
What about three guitars? Well, this is harder to justify for anyone who isn’t at a pretty advanced level of ability. Don’t get me wrong: if you have the money to spend or just love collecting guitars, buy as many as you want. But do it because you just want another cool guitar, not because you “need it” and think it will make you a better player.
So many of the world’s greatest guitarists have taught themselves to play on cheap guitars. It’s not money you need to invest, but time. If you can do that, you can be great too! After all, it always feels better to earn that guitar you’ve been dreaming about when you become good enough to truly appreciate it.