Electric Guitar FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Electric Guitar’ series FAQ section.  Please do email us if you have questions or suggestions, and remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday

Electric Guitar FAQ's

Choosing An Instrument

Should I learn guitar on electric or acoustic?

The only difference between an electric and an acoustic guitar is that the former explicitly requires an amplifier. Otherwise, it works just like an acoustic guitar. In fact, even acoustic guitars can be electric (known as electroacoustic guitars). It doesn’t matter which guitar you learn to play on. Both work splendidly for beginners, though a novice will likely want an electric guitar because the strings require less hand strength to press. Acoustic guitars tend to feature harder, tougher strings, which can be troublesome for a newcomer. But if you want to really master guitar, we advise that you start on an acoustic first to develop your hand strength and dexterity. 

Do I need other equipment to get started on an electric guitar?

Yes. An electric guitar won’t produce enough sound without an amplifier. Sure, you can still hear the strings if you listen closely enough, but the sound is too soft. Be sure to find a good amplifier so you can have a variety of tones at the start (i.e. clean or distorted) without needing pedals. 

You will also need a guitar pick and a strap. A pick would be preferable instead of merely using your fingers to strum or pluck the strings, as it will widely help your overall tone. As for the strap, you will need it since electric guitar is mainly played standing up. 

What should I look for in a beginner electric guitar?

There’s not a lot of things you should look for in terms of hardware. As long as the guitar is easy to play and stays in tune, it would do fine for a beginner. 

As a novice, you’ll likely have your own guitar hero. Look at the guitars they use, and you’ll have a good idea where to start. For instance, if you love Slash of Guns N’ Roses, maybe you could go for a Les Paul style guitar. Or if you’re a fan of Eric Clapton, you can opt for a Fender Stratocaster style or something similar. But at the end of the day, consider paying more for a good guitar outright, as you would do well with something that will last for a while. 

Is it a good idea to buy a used guitar?

Yes, if you know how to discern a good used guitar from a bad one. For most people, the biggest determining factor for buying a used electric guitar is price. There are a lot of guitars out there which would be higher-tier and otherwise out of your budget if you bought it new. So when you’re out shopping for a new guitar, make sure to do your research so you get a good price-to-performance ratio.

Maintenance

How do I tune my guitar?

The standard tuning for a guitar, electric or acoustic, is this: E, A, D, G, B, E, in descending order on the strings. You can achieve these notes by turning the tuning pegs on the end of the guitar and matching pitch with a pitch pipe. Or you can use an electronic clip-on tuner that you attach to the headstock, which is where the tuning pegs are. You can remember the notes by using this simple mnemonic: Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie. Adjust accordingly on your tuner if a string’s sound falls flat (low) or sharp (high). 

Why would my guitar need new strings?

Electric guitars have pretty durable strings, but they’re still prone to breakage. This is especially true if you’re buying a used guitar off the market. If you see that the strings aren’t looking clean (sometimes even rusty), then you should replace the strings with new ones. You can also hear if the strings are going bad if they don’t sound right (often muffled) when you play a chord or a note. Fortunately, guitar strings aren’t that expensive and are readily available. 

Why doesn’t my guitar stay in tune?

There are a lot of factors that can cause your guitar to go out of tune. Maybe you bumped the tuning pegs on something and got them twisted out of order (which is quite common if you’re playing and the music is making you move a little too excitedly). Or perhaps the pegs are starting to go bad and aren’t strong enough to keep the tension of the strings constant. It’s also likely the fault of the strings going bad and losing a lot of their durability. Either way, a guitar that constantly goes out of tune is due for a checkup and repair if necessary. 

Why do I need to change my strings?

Guitar strings are durable, but still prone to damage. For instance, standard strings made of wound metal are prone to rusting and damage from oils on your fingers, as well as damage from the ambient surroundings. Within 3 to 6 months of use (or 30-50 hours of playing), the strings will show signs of wear and tear. That’s when you know you’ll need to have them changed. If you don’t, they’re likely to snap on you in the middle of a performance, and everybody knows that’s not fun. 

How should I care for my guitar?

Never, ever leave your guitar somewhere extremely cold or hot. Also, wipe it down after playing with a clean cloth to remove the built-up oils and other damaging substances on it, especially on the strings. As for the finish on the body, you can protect that by wiping it down with a guitar polisher or specialised cleaner to keep it shiny. Lastly, avoid hitting anything that might cause damage to the body and other important mechanisms like the tuning pegs or the pickups. 

Technique

Am I too old to learn electric guitar?

Of course not! The guitar is such a widespread instrument that it’s impossible to not find anybody who plays it to some degree of proficiency, whether young or old. Age really doesn’t matter when learning electric guitar, because it’s a very accessible instrument. You can start as late as 50 years old and still gain the same skills that every good guitar player has, if you’re willing to work for it. Plus, the electric guitar itself is an easy instrument to learn to play even for complete beginners! As long as you can reach the frets and press on the strings, you can learn fingering techniques and play chords relatively early compared to other instruments. 

My fingers hurt. Is that supposed to happen?

Yes, but please don’t be discouraged! It’s a natural part of the learning process for the guitar, and every other stringed instrument for that matter. All you have to do is keep playing and over time, your fingers will develop calluses that will harden and keep your fingertips from hurting. Also, lowering the guitar’s action (the distance of the strings from the fretboard can help alleviate the pain because the strings will be easier to press. Don’t lower the action too much, however, as the strings will hit the guitar’s body while vibrating and produce a rattling sound. You want them to vibrate in the air without hitting anything. 

How do I get the most out of my practice time?

Much of learning and being good at guitar relies on muscle memory. When practising, you want your fingers to get used to a certain type of pattern, especially when playing chords or different notes. Also, the amount of practise is key when mastering guitar: do more work, and you’ll get more out of your sound and technique. Practise makes perfect, they say, and with the electric guitar, it will help you see great progress over time! 

What’s the most common issue guitar beginners face?

A lot of learners wrongfully assume that technique and mastery will develop overnight. That is never the case. Even the most gifted of guitar players know the value of practising everyday to reach a certain level of proficiency. Learning and mastering the electric guitar requires patience and complete comprehension of its concepts. Be willing to put in the time, and while mastery won’t come immediately, your playing will improve faster than most with enough practise. 

I want to become a great guitarist. How long will it take?

It will take you several years, give or take. There’s a world of difference between good and great guitar players. The good ones can play music. The great ones make music, aka improvise and create something new. But if you’re itching for a specific amount of time, here it is: you will need at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practise to achieve expertise. That’s about four hours everyday for seven years in order to achieve a virtuoso level of proficiency. 

What makes a good guitar instructor?

Guitar instructors are quite common because of how ubiquitous the instrument itself is. The key to finding a good teacher for you, however, relies on whether your personalities match. Guitar instructors will each have their own way of teaching the instrument, so make sure that their methods will help maximise your learning. Also, it’s far more important that they have excellent teaching skills, as these are way more important than actual guitar skills. Having an expert guitarist that can’t explain techniques simply is as bad as anything else. 

What’s the correct posture for learning guitar?

If you’re standing (a common way of playing electric guitar), stand with your chest out, stomach in, and head back. You’ll notice that this is a typical good standing posture which will help stabilise you when playing, since the guitar itself weighs a good amount while strapped to your shoulder. If you’re sitting, sit up straight like you would if you’re trying to keep straight posture. Point your feet outwards in 45-degree angles, and tilt the fretboard to the ceiling a little bit. As much as possible, avoid slouching, but you’ll have to accept the fact that looking at the fretboard sometimes is a necessary sacrifice. 

How do I motivate myself to practise?

This varies a lot. Just because something works out for another person, it doesn’t mean it will work on you. But your foremost goal should be simple: align your practise routine to your life so it’s easy and doesn’t seem like a chore. Do it at the same time everyday for a similar amount of time (say, 1 hour each day starting at lunch time). 

If you have a guitar hero, all the better. Look at how great they are, and realise that the only thing separating your skills from theirs is practice time. Or maybe you can try this: practise for 30 minutes a day for 30 days, until it becomes a habit. 

What makes a guitar sound good?

A lot of great guitarists and guitar teachers will always say that “tone is in the fingers.” Players can spend all of their money on the fanciest tech, but if their technique is lacking, they’re still likely to not sound good. 

Still, there’s some aspects of good sound in the equipment and the guitar itself. A good guitar will have equally good hardware such as pickups, strings, and tone knobs that will affect its overall sound. As for the external gear, great sound can come from mixing and matching effects and amps. At the end of the day, trusting your ear is a good choice. 

General Electric Guitar FAQs

What’s the difference between barre and open chords?

Barre chords require you to play with your index finger forming a “bar” that presses down on all strings at once, while your other fingers play the rest of the notes. Take the F chord for example. As for open chords, they don’t require that bar (i.e. the G or E chord). Barre chords can be played in any key, meaning you can go up and down the neck. Open chords can’t. 

Beginners can have a lot of trouble playing barre chords because they do require a lot of hand strength and endurance to make them sound proper. But as always, mastering barre chords comes with practice. 

I only want to play a certain type of genre (i.e. rock, jazz, or metal). Why do I have to learn to play pop songs and rhythm guitar?

When learning electric guitar, it really doesn’t matter what songs you’re learning to play. The most important thing these songs teach is a sense of rhythm and muscle memory. All songs on guitar use the same chords and notes, no matter how fast, and simple pop songs are a good way to teach you that. In other words, if you don’t want to master playing a simple four-chord progression, you definitely wouldn’t be good enough to advance to playing guitar solos and scales. It’s as simple as that. Be patient, my friend! You will get to where you want to be. 

Why don’t we learn much about rhythm in the early stages?

When learning rhythm guitar, you will have to learn how to move your strumming hand without stopping. This is critical if you want to keep your timing solid and on point. A lot of novices can have a problem with changing chords fast enough, which in turn will make their strumming hand stop. That eliminates all rhythm and is a bad thing to get used to. This is why changing chords and moving up and down the fretboard is among the first things you learn. Once you get the muscle memory down for that, then you will be skilled enough to develop a good rhythm. 

What is metronome?

Quite simply, a metronome is a device musicians use to keep time. You can select different BPM (beats per minute) configurations, and go from slow to fast. A metronome is critical for developing a guitar student’s rhythm (or any musician’s rhythm for that matter), which will eventually help them with their playing. It’s important to note that good rhythm tends to be a hard thing to learn for a beginner guitar student, which is where a metronome comes into play. 

How do I improve my rhythm?

Use a metronome! The more you use a metronome when playing and practising, the more it will be ingrained in your head. Practise with different BPM configurations for a certain amount of time (say, play along to 100 BPM for at least an hour everyday) until the chord and note progressions become easy for you. Once you achieve that, you can move on to a higher or lower BPM, depending on your choice. Here’s a good idea: play along to a song and try to keep up with its timing. Switch songs over time. That way, you can help develop your sense of rhythm. 

What is a whammy bar?

A whammy bar is a bar that you attach to the bridge (where the strings are attached) on the guitar’s main body, which lets you loosen or tighten the tension of the strings all at once without having to turn the tuning pegs. Great guitarists use the whammy bar for performing tricks such as dive bombs and motorcycle engine sounds, to name a few. Not every guitar has it, and they’re often on guitars such as the Fender Stratocaster or Ibanez guitars with specific bridges (i.e. Floyd Rose) that explicitly allow for whammy bar tricks. 

What is a capo?

A capo, also known as a “cheater bar” by some players, is a device you attach to the fretboard which will press on all strings at once to allow you to play a higher key. Think of it as a mechanical “replacement” to a barre chord, though you can’t really use it to escape barre chords because it’s hard to move a capo once it’s attached. You can use a capo to play open chords in a higher key, which is a lot easier to do and is something that even great guitarists use on a regular basis. 

Electric Guitar FAQ's
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