The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is usually held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing selected strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may also be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.
The guitar is classified as a chordophone – meaning the sound is produced by a vibrating string stretched between two fixed points. Historically, a guitar was constructed from wood with its strings made of catgut. Steel guitar strings were introduced near the end of the nineteenth century in the United States; nylon strings came in the 1940s. The guitar's ancestors include the gittern, the vihuela, the four-course Renaissance guitar, and the five-course baroque guitar, all of which contributed to the development of the modern six-string instrument.
There are three main types of modern guitar: the classical guitar (Spanish guitar/nylon-string guitar); the steel-string acoustic guitar or electric guitar; and the Hawaiian guitar (played across the player's lap). Traditional acoustic guitars include the flat top guitar (typically with a large sound hole) or an archtop guitar, which is sometimes called a "jazz guitar". The tone of an acoustic guitar is produced by the strings' vibration, amplified by the hollow body of the guitar, which acts as a resonating chamber. The classical Spanish guitar is often played as a solo instrument using a comprehensive fingerstyle technique where each string is plucked individually by the player's fingers, as opposed to being strummed. The term "finger-picking" can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues, bluegrass, and country guitar playing in the United States.
Electric guitars, first patented in 1937, use a pickup and amplifier that made the instrument loud enough to be heard, but also enabled manufacturing guitars with a solid block of wood needing no resonant chamber. A wide array of electronic effects units became possible including reverb and distortion (or "overdrive"). Solid-body guitars began to dominate the guitar market during the 1960s and 1970s; they are less prone to unwanted acoustic feedback. As with acoustic guitars, there are a number of types of electric guitars, including hollowbody guitars, archtop guitars (used in jazz guitar, blues and rockabilly) and solid-body guitars, which are widely used in rock music.
The loud, amplified sound and sonic power of the electric guitar played through a guitar amp has played a key role in the development of blues and rock music, both as an accompaniment instrument (playing riffs and chords) and performing guitar solos, and in many rock subgenres, notably heavy metal music and punk rock. The electric guitar has had a major influence on popular culture. The guitar is used in a wide variety of musical genres worldwide. It is recognized as a primary instrument in genres such as blues, bluegrass, country, flamenco, folk, jazz, jota, mariachi, metal, punk, reggae, rock, soul, and pop.