How To Choose An Electric Guitar

It's an exciting time when you choose an electric guitar, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed with the endless choices!

Upgrading to a better guitar or amp is exciting too, and a wise choice feels satisfying for years to come.

Choosing which guitar to buy, is one of the most important choices that you make as a beginner! Read on to discover the different types of electric guitars, and the quality differences between good and bad electric guitars.

If you haven't read the section "How to Buy a Beginner Guitar", and you have little experience with guitars read it first!

You can find decent electric guitars at reasonable prices.

The manufacturing processes that are used today are more advanced than in the past and reduce the guitar manufacturers costs.

You can choose an electric guitar at better prices than ever before, however, the real cheap ones are ... well... uh ... cheaply made, and won't last long at all.

Choose an electric guitar first, then use the same guitar and guitar patch cord to try different amps.

When you try different electric guitars, make sure to use the same amplifier and guitar cable for each guitar. Don't switch amps when you try different guitars because cables and amplifiers make a huge difference in the sound ... conversely ... don't switch guitars when you try amps or patch cords .

Try the guitar with the amp set to clean, (no effects turned on at all), so you can judge the merits of the guitar.

Playing with different effects is really cool, but it can easily hide the faults of a particular guitar.

"A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link".
With an electric guitar and amplifier, the weakest link is usually the guitar's patch cord!

A top quality patch cord, (also called an instrument cable), improves the sound of a guitar and amp big time, without costing much more than a cheap cable! If you're upgrading to get a better sound, buy a top quality guitar cable first, try it out on your equipment, then decide on an amp or guitar upgrade. Your new cable will make any guitar or amp sound much better, so you won't be wasting your money on an upgrade you may not need.

I recommend this Monster Instrument Cable. Make sure to get one that's not much longer than you need, they cost more and the shorter the cable the better the sound.

When you choose an electric guitar, make sure that you get a satisfaction guarantee; optimally, you could trade up to a better guitar or get your money refunded. Make sure the guitar also comes with a manufacturer warranty. Some pricier electric guitars have lifetime warranties!

Types of Electric Guitars

The three basic types of electric guitars are;

  • Solid body
  • Hollow body
  • Semi-hollow body.

Solid Body Guitars:

have solid bodies made from a variety of woods and materials.The cheapest ones have bodies made of sawdust and glue.

The best electric guitars have bodies made of solid hardwoods such as ash, maple or mahogany.

Medium quality electric guitars' bodies use plywood or solid softwoods like pine or poplar.

Hollow Body Electric Guitars;

include arched top acoustic guitars, (they kind of look like violins or cellos), with pickups, but, they do come in other shapes. These guitars have completely hollow bodies, gives these guitars an acoustic like, mellower tone than a solid body.

They can also be played unplugged, (without an amplifier).

Hollow body guitars are preferred by most jazz players.

Once again, as with other guitars, the less expensive ones have bodies of plywood, and, the best have bodies built with solid wood.

The prices range from not cheap to "holy cow!"

Semi Hollow Body Electric Guitars:

have a tone somewhere between the two other electric guitar types.

The outer sections, (wings) of the body are hollow, with a solid block of wood inside, down the center.

This reduces the feedback common with hollow body guitars. 

These types of guitars are popular with blues musicians who enjoy the warm tone.

Three Different Guitar Neck Joints

Electric guitars also have three types of neck joints, which effect sound and price:

    Bolt on necks
    Jointed necks
    Neck through body

Bolt on necks;

are removable because they are bolted to the guitar. They were designed to make building a guitar faster and at lower cost.

Bolt on necks may have a bit less "sustain",  but, bolt on necks make the guitar less expensive, and, easier to adjust and repair.

Many great guitars have bolt on necks that fit and function well, such as Fender Stratocaster TM, and Fender Telecaster TM.

When you check out an electric guitar with a bolt on neck, inspect the neck joint closely. It should have a snug fit, without any spaces where the neck meets the face of the guitar.

Jointed Necks

are also called "set necks". They are glued and fitted into the guitar body usually with a dove tail joint, (similar to acoustic guitars).

The sustain is better than a bolt on neck's, but, they are more difficult to repair if the neck needs to be removed.

Jointed neck guitars have a "heel", which may make it slightly more difficult to play the higher notes.

Neck Through Body Guitars

 have the neck built right into the body, and the neck cannot be removed. The main advantages of a neck through body guitar are more sustain and tonal richness, and the higher notes are easier to play, because, the guitar can be carved out at the joint area without loosing structural integrity.

Which Pickups are Right for You?

Of course, electric guitars wouldn't be electric guitars if they didn't have pickups! All electric guitars have one or more pickups. There are several different types and qualities of pickups, which affect the sound and the price of a guitar, and having the right pickups is important when you choose an electric guitar.

Choose an Electric Guitar: Pickups and Hardware

One of the most important decisions when you choose an electric guitar is the pickups. Guitars produce sound from the vibration of the strings. The string doesn't produce much volume so the vibrations need to be amplified.

An acoustic guitar uses the hollow body of the guitar as a sound chamber, which increases the volume of the vibrating string, however, every acoustic guitar has volume limits.During the big band era, there were problems with acoustic guitars not being heard, because the other instruments overpowered them. To solve this problem the electric guitar pickup was born. It was attached to acoustic guitars and did increase their volume, but, there were problems with feedback due to the vibrating hollow bodies of the guitars. To fix this problem the semi-hollow body and then the solid body electric guitars were invented.

Pickups vary with quality and price, so, they affect the price of the guitar.

Single coil pickups were the first pickups. They work by sensing the steel strings vibration as it passes through magnetic fields created by the pickups. Single coil pickups have a crisp clear tone. However, they are prone to humming caused by florescent lights and other sources of magnetic interference. Some manufacturers now make "noiseless" single coil pickups.

Dual coil or "Humbucker" pickups came next. They consist of two single coil pickups, side by side, and wired opposite to each other, (out of phase), to cancel out the hum associated with single coil pickups. Humbuckers generally have a warmer, more mellow tone.

Which pickups are the best sounding?

I don't know, what sounds best to you? Do you like crisp, screaming, high notes? Or would you prefer mellow, full lows with warm bass? If you want both, you may be happier with a combination of both types of pickups, (single coil and humbuckers on the same guitar). You can access more technical information here if you wish.

To help you choose electric guitar pickups, find out what types of pickups your favorite guitar players are using, to get an idea of which sound you like best. There are also many variations within each pickup type that "color" the tone. A person could spend hours debating which pickups have the best tone (and lots of guitarists do), but really, what do YOU like? Listen with your ears, and remember to use the same amp when comparing guitars.

Pickup Selector Switches

The function of the selector switch is to choose which pickup to use. They can be toggle switches or sliders, and can have from two to five positions. Some switches only select neck, center or bridge positions, while others let you combine the pickups for more tonal variations.

Whammy Bars

These are also called tremolo bars. They can be used to temporarily lower the pitch of the guitar by pushing toward the guitar, and some, (not all), of them can also be used to tighten the strings, (pull) and raise the pitch. I wouldn't recommend them on a cheaper beginner guitar because they can detune cheap guitars real quick. If you choose electric guitar with a whammy bar, try it out a lot to make sure it doesn't detune the guitar.

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