Buy Electric Guitar
So you are ready to buy your first (or fifteenth) electric guitar! But how do you choose the right one? The golden rule when buying a guitar is - you get what you pay for. Start with a realistic budget (remember, you also need an amp), read the following information then make a trip to your local guitar store to get an idea about the price ranges. Click here if you want information on buying acoustic guitar instead of an electric guitar.
Buying an electric guitar is a little simpler than choosing an acoustic guitar. Electric guitars always have steel strings and generally have similar features. If you are looking for an electric guitar to learn on, the simple "training" models will probably be the easiest choice. You can click to read the next section on basic guitar lessons. However, if you have a larger budget or are looking for an additional electric guitar, the following information will help you in choosing one.
Always TRY out the guitar before buying it. Try as many guitars as you want to, even if they are outside your budget (so you get an idea of what to look for in your price range). Even if you can't play yet - just sit down and hold the guitar to see if it is comfortable. Electric guitars come in many shapes and sizes. The shape of an electric guitar is purely cosmetic, it does not affect the sound in any way. Choose a shape and size that you find both cool-looking and comfortable when you hold it. Most electric guitars are made of solid wood, with cavities cut out to hold the pickups and bridge. One unwritten (and untested) rule with electric guitars is: the heavier the electric guitar, the better it sounds.
Electric guitars can have one, two or three pickups. More pickups give a wider range of sounds, a selector switch allows you to choose one or blend many pickups to get that particular sound you are looking for. The pickup nearest to the neck will give the richest sound, and the pickup furthest from the neck will give the "fattest" sound (such as used in blues). There are two kinds of pickups available, single-coil and humbuckers. Single-coil pickups give a true sound but suffers from interference (hum), like vintage rock'n'roll music. Humbucker pickups are dual coil (wound in opposite directions) that eliminate the hum but also alter the sound a little. Electric guitars can have combinations of single-coil and humbuckers in different positions, you have to play it to hear how it sounds.
There are usually two types of bridges (where the strings are connected to the body of the guitar) on electric guitars. The fixed bridge is simple, it is fixed. The other kind of bridge is the floating bridge which is spring mounted. Often a "tremolo bar" or "whammy bar" dangles from the floating bridge, rapidly pushing this bar causes a change in the tone (tremolo). The floating bridge does have maintenance headaches since it has moving parts, it will have to be adjusted periodically (or have the springs replaced), and it may also require more frequent tuning of your guitar. However, many guitar players swear by the floating bridge and would never think of using a fixed bridge.
There are two main types of neck shapes, the V neck and the C neck. The V neck is, obviously, shaped like a V (or rather a sideways < ) and tends to make the neck feel thicker - if you have short fingers (as I do) then avoid the V necks. The C neck has more circular neck shaped like a C which allows smaller hands a more comfortable grip. Comfort is everything, if your hand is not comfortable, you're not going to be happy playing that guitar. Another factor to consider is the width of the fretboard, which affects the spacing between the six strings. Fretboards can vary from 1.3 inches to 2 inches. If you have fat fingers, you will want a wider fretboard, if you have small hands you may find a smaller fretboard more comfortable. Another factor to consider for your finger size is the number of frets on the guitar. Electric guitars have more frets than a normal acoustic guitar, usually 17, 21, or 24 frets. The higher frets are great if you want to play blues or metal, but there is a catch - in order to fit the extra frets, all the other frets along the neck are slightly closer to each other. If you have fat fingers you may want to avoid the 24 fret models, but again, you should try it on for size.
Sound, of course, is what it's all about. If you don't play yet, ask the salesperson to play the guitar for you so you can hear how it sounds. Another factor to apply the comfort factor is the "action" of the guitar. Note that guitars are usually shipped in a box and "set up" by the store. Mostly they do a good job - but sometimes they do screw up, and fortunately most electric guitars have an adjustable bridge and saddle. If the strings are too high (HIGH action), the guitar is difficult to play as one has to press down very hard. If the strings are too low (LOW action), the strings will rattle against the frets. When you press down on a string at a fret it should be comfortable; and picking all the strings (one at a time without pressing on a fret) should not make any rattling sounds. The electric guitar depends on its pickups for its sound. High end electric guitars will have good quality pickups, cheaper guitars may or may not. The sound of an electric guitar is what it is - so be sure to listen and choose one that sounds good to you.
The guitar is a beautiful instrument and comes in a high gloss finish, the electric guitar is a lot less delicate than an acoustic guitar, but it still can be damaged. The neck of the guitar should be straight when you look along the strings, not bowed at all. Check the cosmetics and workmanship of the guitar, make sure there are no visible cracks in the body or scratches that may indicate it was dropped at the store by some half witted customer. You do NOT want to buy a damaged guitar. Check the finish on the guitar, high price electric guitars will obviously be flawless, but lower priced units may have ugly spots. The most important piece of workmanship to check is the frets. Run your finger down both sides of the neck, the frets are metal pieces that are glued into grooves along the neck, and their edges should be exactly flush with the edge of the neck - NOT sticking out or coming short. Granted, you get what you pay for, but badly installed frets are not good in any price range.
Sometimes finding cosmetic ugly spots, or minor scratches, can help you haggle a better price for the guitar. In a store, you NEVER pay the "LIST" price - always whine, if you have children wave their pictures at the salesperson while bemoaning the high cost of diapers. On high end electric guitars, you can expect a discount upto 30% off the list price (that is, for a $10,000 guitar you would pay $7,000). Lower priced electric guitars will give you less of a discount, but never pay full LIST price, nonetheless.
In addition to your new electric guitar, you will need an amplifier (amp). The main rating of an amp is the power (watts), for home use 20 or 40 watts should be plenty - and 100 watts will rouse your entire neighborhood. Other features (that add to the price) are distortion, reverb, and CD input - distortion is fun to play with (like Jimi Hendrix), reverb (reverberation) is a suble echo-like effect that is also nice, and CD input allows you to plug your CD player through the amp so you can play along with your music. You also need some accessories with your new guitar. A tuner is strongly recommended, you can't play well if your guitar is out of tune. A digital tuner with idiot-proof red/green lights is the best for quick and accurate tuning of your electric guitar. A metronome (timer that clicks) is very useful for learning to play the guitar. And you gotta have lots of picks. Picks come in different thicknesses, try out different picks such as 0.5mm, 0.7mm or 1.0mm thickness. Get several picks of each size, you always lose picks - and once you start playing, you will "burn them out" real fast (they get scratched and scraped down). If you want a strap, go ahead and get one. But one word of caution, straps just sit over a peg on the guitar and fall out VERY EASILY - resulting in a smashed guitar. Stores sell strap "locks" that clip the strap onto the peg, definitely get those. If you intend to travel with your electric guitar, you need to get a case. Soft cases are cheap but don't protect like a hard case, which as you guessed, is HARD. Electric guitars are heavier than acoustic guitars, and the added weight of a hard case may just be too much to handle - soft cases should do fine if you are careful. At some point will want effects pedals - there are several kinds of individual pedals, as well as multi-function pedals that can be programmed to do many things. One thing to watch in a pedal is the "shoe size", ensure the stomp area is comfortable for your foot (large enough) - cheaper pedals have miniscule pedals that even a munchkin would have trouble using. One important accessory you really must have, is a guitar stand. Your guitar can't be propped up against the wall (it will fall), nor can it be wedged into your closet. A guitar stand supports the neck and base to help prevent the wood from bowing, and it looks way cool as well - not to mention making it easier to have the guitar handy so you can practice at every opportunity you get. A Sheet Music Stand is a simple paper/book holder that can also make your life much easier - it holds your music sheets steady while you play.
Finally, when you buy your new electric guitar, have the store put new strings on it for you. You don't know how long that particular guitar has been on the shelf at the store, or how many other customers have abused the strings. Always insist on the best quality strings for that guitar, the price difference for strings is miniscule, the lightest grade is recommended for best comfort.
Now that you have your electric guitar, click for your Basic Guitar Lessons, or click here if you want information on comparing acoustic and electric guitars.
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