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Q&A About Guitar

How many kinds of guitars are there?

You can start by thinking of guitars in two broad categories: there are guitars that need amplification, guitars that don't.

Within guitars that need amplification, you've got solid body guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul or the Fender Stratocaster, and you've got hollow body guitars, like the Gibson ES-series; within the hollow bodies, you've got deep guitars that can be played with or without amps, and 'thin' hollowbodies, that sound weak unless they're plugged in.

Within the guitars that don't need amps, there are nylon string guitars and steel string guitars. Don't put the wrong strings on - steel strings will destroy a guitar designed for nylon, and nylon strings won't give you much volume or tone on one designed for steel strings.

There are two main groups of nylon string guitars: classical and flamenco. The main difference between these two types is the wood that's used, and the fact that flamenco guitars often have one or two plates (usually plastic) on the top of the guitar - these are called golpeadores, or tap-plates; they're used to protect the guitar top when you're doing the percussion effects found in flamenco music.

Steel string guitars come in different sizes, and a lot of the names are confusing: parlor means the same as auditorium, for example. You've basically got big ones, medium size ones, and little ones - structurally they'll be the same.

One other division that you can use is flat top/arch top - the top of a flat-top guitar is flat, the top of an arch-top guitar is carved, like a violin, so it has a noticeable arch above the sides of the guitar.

There are also categories for the number of strings: a 12-string guitar is like a 6 string guitar, but the strings are doubled - you'll have two A strings, two G strings, two B strings, etc. These strings are played in pairs. A 7-string guitar has an 'extra' string, giving the guitar a greater range. Some manufacturers have played with other string arrangements, like 8 or 10 string guitars, but these aren't very common.

I want to teach myself, and I don't want to buy a book or DVD. How can I learn to play for free?

Your best bet would be to find people who play, and learn what you can from them. There are also a lot of internet lessons available.

They say you get what you pay for... that's not always true. There's actually some great free resources - but I can't recommend anything specific, because how good a particular lesson will be for you depends on what you already know, how well you follow the instructions, and whether or not you develop (or already have) any bad habits that will get in the way of your progress.

There's also a lot of garbage out there. At best, these will show you the right techniques, but give them incorrect names - at worst, they'll lead to physical injury.

One of the values you'd get from a teacher is preventing bad technique. Learning on your own, you won't know them as they take root, and they're very stubborn once they've become habit. You may think you're holding the guittar correctly, for instance, but the angle of the neck may be wrong - too high, too low, too far away from or close to your body, or tilted at an awkward angle. Duplicating what you see in a photograph or video will only give you one dimension of reference; a teacher can look at the three dimensional you, and catch things you won't.

I'm not saying that you can't become a good guitarist, in any style, without taking lessons (for one example, Andres Segovia was self taught; his methods, particularly for the right hand thumb, were entirely against tradition at the time - but most people follow his method now on classical guitar). I will say that the majority of good guitarists had teachers; the majority of guitarists who didn't have teachers aren't good.

What does A/F# mean?

Chords shown with a 'slash' in them mean you play the chord before the slash (the A major chord in your example), and you play the single note shown after the slash as the lowest note in the chord.

Sometimes the note after the slash will be part of the chord, sometimes it won't. An A major contains the notes A-C#-E, so if you saw A/E, that's called an 'inversion' or 'voicing' of an A chord.

If the note isn't in the chord spelling, it's being added. The chord A-C#-E-F# is an A sixth chord, so the writer could have written A6 instead... but the F# is being specified as a bass note. Have a question you'd like to see answered? Write to Tom!

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