How To Choose An Electric Guitar
Congratulations! You are about to buy your first Electric Guitar...
Choosing which Electric Guitar to purchase can be thrilling, if not just a little challenging. As part of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Electric Guitar’ series, this section will help you start your journey as you mean to go on.
How To Choose Your First Electric Guitar
One thing’s for sure; there is an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to entry-level electric guitars.
A good place to start is to look at the two largest brands – Gibson and Fender. Their ethos on instrument building couldn’t be more different, and their innovations influenced almost all who have followed. Here’s an outline of their differences and the effects they have on the sound.
Gibson style instruments have a glued in ‘set’ neck, which requires more work from the builders but gives the guitars more sustain and depth to the sound. The downside is that they’re more likely to break if knocked over!
Fender style instruments use a ‘bolt-on’ neck system offering more snap to the sound and a lot more strength and stability – particularly useful if you’re a clumsy person and liable to knock your guitar off its stand.
If you want to learn jazz guitar, buy a hollow-body guitar instead of a solid body. If you want to play jazz, but also want to rock out a bit, or play in an indie band? Buy a semi-hollow guitar. For any other style of music, you will more than likely need a solid bodied guitar.
Gibson and Gibson style solid-bodied guitars are made of heavier mahogany, or a mixture of mahogany and maple; offering a bigger, deeper sound.
Fender style instruments use Alder or Ashwood and are ergonomically contoured on the back, they tend to be light and offer a fast and snappy response.
Hollow Bodies tend to be made of thin strips of laminated maple and are the most fragile and temperamental of electric instruments.
As a rule of thumb, don’t buy anything spiky or odd-shaped for your first instrument. Become comfortable with a classic shape first, then branch out if you feel the need later.
The style of music you want to play takes on a lot more of a role when choosing your electric. If you’re a heavy rock or metal fan, you’ll want something with high output ‘Humbucking’ pickups (pickups which don’t pick up as much background electrical interference.) If you’re into classic rock, indie or jazz, low or medium output humbuckers work best.
Fender style guitars tend to favour ‘Single-Coil’ pickups over humbuckers. These can be identified by a single row of magnets. Their sound is thinner overall but it offers more versatility than a humbucking guitar. If you’re a fan of Hendrix, Gilmour, Knopfler, Nile Rodgers or even country music, you’re more than likely listening to a single-coil guitar.
Do you need more versatility? Look for something with a 5-way pickup selector for the widest array of sounds, do you just want to rock out? a 3-way will do. Do you play in a punk band and only play punk? Buy a guitar with one pickup and one volume control!
Do you have big hands, do you have small hands, do you wrap your thumb up over the top of the neck instinctively when you pick your guitar up? The neck shape is an important consideration, and you need to know what might be comfortable for you.
Most guitars have a ‘C’ or ‘D’ shaped neck profile and this works for most people, large or small-handed. If you have large hands, you might want to look for a guitar that specifies something like a ‘large C shape’ or even ‘U’ shaped neck.
If your thumb hangs over the top of the neck when you play and you like the feeling of the neck in the palm of your hand all the time, you could also consider a ‘V’ shaped neck profile.
Gibson style guitars mainly have fixed bridges (where the strings end and join the body).
Fender style guitars have ‘vibrato units’. Often mislabelled ‘tremolo’ systems, and more commonly known as ‘whammy bars’.
Watch any live video of Jimi Hendrix taking a solo and listen to the notes dive down to nothing or shake wildly as he grabs the metal arm sticking out of the guitar’s bridge, that’s what these things do. If you watch Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd taking a solo, chances are you’ll see him use the same arm for a more subtle and singing effect.
If it’s your first guitar then stay away from anything with a ‘locking tremolo’, as you’ll lose many hours to balancing it, and many more learning to restring it!
How To Choose An Electric Guitar - Summary
There are a lot of factors to consider in picking up an electric guitar that would be the best for you. Whether it be a Gibson or Fender, or some other brand, make sure you pick the one that would suit you best.
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