5 Tips for Buying Your First Electric Guitar
Picking out an electric guitar can be overwhelming, especially for the beginner. All the sizes, styles, and shapes available... it's a lot to sort through. Here are some tips for finding the best electric guitar for your personal musical aspirations.
First off, if you’re a beginner and under the impression you need to learn how to play on an acoustic guitar and then “graduate” to an electric, as many of my new students say, you are completely wrong! Electric guitars are the ideal guitars for beginners! In fact, all of the young girls and women I’ve worked with at the Girls Rock Camp Alliance through the years have learned predominantly on electrics. There are several important reasons for this:
The strings are thinner on electric guitars.
This is an advantage to the newer guitarist because they don’t have to struggle as hard with buzzing strings, callused fingers, and overly tired hands. Learning an instrument in the beginning stages is challenging enough. You’ve showed up to the plate, might as well treat yourself to thin strings that are very easy to hold down. Plus the necks on electrics are usually thinner, making it a much easier guitar to play.
The sound goes through an amp.
The electronic pickups on an electric guitar (think of them as very sensitive little microphones) send the sound of the plucked or strummed strings out to be amplified. This means you don’t need to hold the strings nearly as hard as you would on an acoustic because the pickups do half of the work for you. Another advantage to going through an amp is being able to hear yourself clearly. This aids in the learning process.
Let's face it, electrics are just plain fun.
You can adjust the volume to be loud or soft. You can attach effects pedals like tuners, loops, delays, or distortion and sound like almost any band you want. You can plug directly into a interface and record music immediately. You can wear headphones, and nobody will hear you. And, unlike acoustics, they come in a diverse variety of colors and shapes.
So, which electric guitar is the right one for you? There are several factors you should keep in mind while shopping:
1. What are your goals?
Is it to write with a band, play open mics, learn songs for personal enjoyment, or something else? If your goal is to play loud in a club or venue setting, you may want to look at solid-body electric guitars. This type of guitar is a solid hunk of wood with a small space carved out for the electronics. These were created several decades ago to aid the live guitarist who needs to avoid feedback. The solid-body guitar remains the most popular option, whether you’re playing at home or on stage.
The second type of electric is the semi-hollow-body guitar. These guitars often have F-holes on their bodies that allow space for sound to resonate, creating a rich warm tone. These occasionally may cause feedback, so if you are an extremely loud guitarist, you’d be a better off with a solid-body. A hollow-body electric guitar is the closest thing to an acoustic. Unlike the semi-hollow, which has a thin slab of wood down the center, the hollow body acts as a large resonator for a rich and almost acoustic tone. If your heart is set on an acoustic in the end, perhaps you could look at hollow body electrics as well as electric-acoustic guitars. An electric-acoustic is an acoustic with a very small output designed to send a signal to an amplifier, giving the player the choice of plugging in or not.
2. Consider the weight and size of the guitar.
As a smaller woman, having a lighter and more compact electric guitar makes sense for me. There’s no need to lug all those extra pounds around when traveling, whether touring, or just coming and going from lessons. You want a guitar that feels good to you, something you’re excited to throw on and play standing as well as sitting. Fender, Gibson, Danelectro, and Gretsch have several popular solid-body lightweight options. There are even 3/4 sized electric guitars for kids. The large variety of shapes electric guitars come in -- from angular to classic -- is another advantage over the acoustics, which run generally in two to three standard large body forms.
How much do you want to spend? Electric guitars, like cars or clothes, can range from extremely affordable to investment property. If you are a beginner, you do not need to spend more much than $100 - $200 on an electric guitar, especially used, if it's the right weight, size, and style for you. Many beginner and intermediate guitarists aim towards the $500 range, often for the multi-pickups, advanced effects options, and ornate good looks. Many brands have a subsidiary series that is more affordable. Often these sound just as great as the originals.
4. Along with your electric guitar, you will need an instrument cable and an amp.
The amp can be as small as a lunchbox or as big as a refrigerator, that is up to you. But electrics must have an amplifier for the sound to come out of, otherwise it will be too quiet to hear comfortably. Amps also range in price, but, for the beginning player, I highly recommend spending as little as possible. Small amps can create really big sounds these days, and you can always upgrade to a larger amp in the future. Many newer model amps have headphone attachments for apartment playing.
5. You may want a few extra accessories.
This can include a nice adjustable guitar strap which ranges in price from a few bucks to $60 for custom-made, a guitar case (soft or hard), and a stand. Click here for accessories recommended by teacher Rod Ferreira.
If you’re still not sure which electric is right for the sound you want, look up the guitarists or bands that inspire you and research what guitars they use. Electrics are more affordable than ever, available new and used, and can be bought online or ordered from a local guitar shop. Whether you want bright colors, glittered, abstract-shaped, classic sun-burst, or custom-made, there is the right guitar out there for you.
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