The electric guitar is a symbol just as much as it is an instrument. Slicker than a sports car, of more historic value than crown jewels, more capable of changing your life than a degree, the guitar still means everything to a lot of people. But, what’s the best electric guitar for beginners?
And, where to start? When it comes to buying their first electric guitar a lot of prospective ax-wielding virtuosos get stomped.
What with so many options who wouldn’t? There are so many questions to answer. What brand to choose? How much to play? Will this guitar help me sound like Slash?
In this article, we will look at the best electric guitar for beginners. There’s no time for pussyfooting around. Here’s your brief on purchasing your first loaded six-string.
Identifying your goals as a beginner guitarist
The electric guitar is one of the greatest tools for building a happy life. That, besides sounding beautiful and looking great. But, it is a tool. And, a tool is as good as the mission it is given. Your first mission as a guitarist and one of the most important overall is to determine what you wish to accomplish. It could be as simple as learning the intro to Stairway to heaven. It could involve one-day playing stadium gigs. Neither will happen unless you define your goals clearly.
Make it easier for yourself to learn by being clear about your goals. It is important to write them down. Next, consider the knowledge and skills you will need to achieve your goals. Finally, make sure that you set a clear date. You want to decide how it will take you to get from Point A to Point B.
What happens if you fail to do that? Most likely you meander aimlessly. There is so much knowledge to be attained in any creative field. But, a good student must know what is useful to them, and what will simply clutter their mind.
Consider choosing a guitar teacher. It could be someone that will teach you in person, or over Skype. It can also be someone that you follow on the internet. A good teacher can make a huge difference in your learning experience. Good teachers are able to understand the different paths that can lead you to your ultimate goal. A common mistake involves teachers preparing their students with what they know, instead of what the student needs. Perhaps you won’t ever play Joe Satriani songs live. Mastering his technique will be less important to you if that is the case.
Giving yourself time to grow as a musician
You will fail if you don’t allow yourself enough time to reach your goal. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Eddie van Halen’s career, regardless of how inspired his playing was. All of your favorite guitarists developed their style over time. Make sure that you cut yourself some slack. Learn the basics first, and also things that will keep you interested in the instrument. If your path is clear, there is no reason why you won’t get the more complicated elements over a longer stretch of time.
To reach your goal, you must decide what practice material to use. This will help you make the right decisions to reach your objective. You can set short-term goals for your guitar playing that are more specific and easily measurable. An easy way to do that is to try and learn certain songs. These should fit your current level of playing. Once you’ve managed to play the 90% accurately you will have confirmation that you are on the right path.
The bottom line is this: have fun, but be organized as well. As long as you enjoy playing the guitar, you will get better. But, as long as you know what you want to use your guitar playing for, you will become a great musician.
Choosing the ideal beginner guitar that suits your needs
There is a seemingly unending amount of online information about guitars. This can be helpful. But, it can also be confusing, especially for novice musicians. When choosing your beginner electric guitar it is good to stick to the basics. Remember the goals that we mentioned earlier. Once you have figured those out it will be easier to also decide what instrument will help you reach them.
Choosing to learn guitar while using an electric model, already carves your evolution as a musician. Acoustic guitars are a great way of learning the basics of guitar playing. However, choosing an electric model already leads you towards styles such as rock, or metal, that predominantly use the electric guitar.
While it’s a great idea to learn as much about music as possible, it is important to understand what you wish to accomplish. Writing songs, playing along to your favorite songs, learning to improvise lead guitar lines etc. are different roads from the one involving the accumulation of as much guitar information as possible.
Guitar playing is a rewarding hobby. It can also become a tremendous career. It’s easy to pick the right instrument and learn quickly provided you make the right choices. You should choose an electric guitar that best suits your musical tastes and features the best tools to make that sound.
First, you should note that the ideal instrument does not exist. Different instruments can do different things in different hands. If you narrow down the features that you want, you can find the best guitars for you.
Consider a few defining elements. The craftsmanship involved in creating the instrument is important. Next, take into account the tone that the guitar provides when played cleanly. It is also important to think about how comfortable the guitar feels in your hands.
Learn from your favorite guitarists
Various manufacturers are known to provide these qualities with consistency. Lastly, you should think of whether the instrument is available for purchase, and whether it is an affordable choice for you. All of these elements can add or subtract from the price of the instrument. Put together, naturally, these elements will define what your guitar laying will be.
One of the easiest ways to narrow down your choices is to consider the guitars played by your favorite musicians. Do they consistently play the same models? What sound do they produce? Are you looking to create something similar?
You should think about opting for a similar guitar. You don’t even need to purchase the exact same model. The classic Gibson Les Paul may be outside of your budget. This should not dissuade you! In this day and age, many companies are able to produce similar models for a fraction of the price. This is a great age for purchasing beginner guitars while avoiding some of the hassles that would have naturally appeared in the past.
Guitar body shape
Yes, unlike acoustic guitars, there are other factors besides the physical shape of the instrument that affect its sound more. However, the electric guitar body shape needed for your road from beginner to expert is a problem worth considering.
Why consider the body shape of the guitar? Because it has an impact on how the guitar sounds and feels. Of course, there’s also the matter of its appearance. The guitar’s body shape affects its resonance, ease of use, and fret accessibility. How easy it is for you to play a guitar’s neck shape will affect how often you will play it. This, in turn, will affect your progress.
The guitar will sound louder if the guitar’s resonance box is larger. Obviously, this is particularly true of acoustic instruments but affects electric models as well. A thicker or deeper guitar tone will sound more authoritative than one that is thinner. A louder sound is also caused by the width of the guitar’s body.
The tone is also affected by the guitar’s weight. A heavier guitar will have more sustain and resonance than a lighter one. This can be explained by the type of wood and the size of the guitar. The tone of a thicker guitar body will be richer, warmer, and louder.
The most obvious electric guitar model where the shape is a vital factor is the hollow body guitar. Used in styles such as jazz or rockabilly, the hollowbody takes its design inspiration from the classic Spanish acoustic guitar. The tone, helped also by its pickups, is a warm, rich one. These are widely used guitars, albeit more rarely so by beginners. These models’ tendency to feedback is also an impediment for many novice musicians. Semi-hollow body guitars are also very popular.
Classic body shape of famous guitars
On the other side of the spectrum, rock and pop guitarists most often will use solid-body instruments. Models like the Telecaster, the SG, the Les Paul, or the Stratocaster are iconic. These are designed by famous companies such as Fender or Gibson. The popularity of the models has spawned, however, plenty of imitators. Many of these produce worthy replicas.
All of these instruments are meant to appeal to musicians playing loud, often with a distorted tone. The body shape of the guitars contributes to the sound, and to the playability. Naturally, though, the look of the guitar, and their association with certain styles, are also of great importance.
However, all of these elements work in conjunction with the electronics used, the pickups, the amp, and the fingers of those playing the instrument. Take the guitar shape as a useful tool, not the gospel. Overall, what you are looking for is a tone that speaks to you, and ease of playing.
Wood type for the guitar
The wood (known also as tonewood) is an important factor when choosing an instrument. Yes, it is true that this is not the first thing that springs to mind when purchasing an electric guitar. The type of wood used is much more important when speaking of acoustic guitars. Still, the wood type is not a factor that ought to be ignored. After all, generally, the body, the neck, and the fretboard are all made out of wood.
To achieve specific tonal sounds, luthiers may use different woods to construct the instrument’s neck and body. Because of their different weights and densities, woods can sound very different. However, mahogany, alder, and maple are all great woods for electric guitars.
The acoustic guitar is often associated with wooden parts. However, the electric guitar is also mostly made of wood. Yes, all the electric components are important. But, because the wood has a direct influence on the instrument’s tone, it is important.
Tone directly is affected by density. Density means that there is less space between grains, which makes it harder for sound to travel through dense wood. The guitar is clear and has lots of attack.
Types of wood used for most guitars
Maple is the traditional Fender neckwood. It is dense, hard, and strong and offers great stability and sustain. Bright tone. This is the most popular neck wood for electric guitars. Maple is a solid hardwood with a consistent grain. It reacts less to environmental changes than other hardwoods and has fewer reactions. Its tone is reflective and concentrates more energy onto the wood body. Bolt-on maple necks have a lower impact on the guitar’s tonal quality.
The alder body is a popular choice since Fender started using it in their electric guitars in the 1950s. It’s versatile and can be used to make a wide range of guitar types. This wood is great for guitars with solid bodies, even though it’s relatively inexpensive.
The vintage Fender guitars from the 1950s that are made of ash. There are two types ash woods: Northerly ash and Southerly ash.
However, the most affordable material for electric guitars is basswood. This wood is most commonly found on midrange or budget guitars. This is, quite likely, the tonewood you will choose for your beginner electric guitar. Why? Because it is easy to cut and sand, it is very easy to use during manufacturing. Basswood is a softwood because of its tight grain structure.
What guitar pickups will you need?
Once we start speaking of guitar pickups, we are already aiming to shape our distinctive tone as a guitarist. Arguably, the pickups are the most important when it comes to determining an electric guitar’s sound.
There is no ideal option that suits a beginner guitarist. The choice refers more to preference rather than to ability. Having said that, certain pickups will provide a friendlier sound flavor and fewer challenges for the beginner musician.
Acoustic guitars rely on their natural resonance to create their sound. Electric guitars need help from the pickups. The pickups act as specialized microphones for the electric guitar. The pickup’s magnet helps convert the electrical signal. This is, then, amplified.
The pickup itself will vary based on a number of factors. The most common one is the material used in the magnet. Alnico and ferrite are the most common materials used in the core. These are wrapped with coils of copper wire. The number of cores used in the pickup, its construction, and other factors all affects the sound.
Two main types of pickups available: single coils or humbuckers
Single coils are the oldest types of pickup. They were used in Leo Fender’s original electric guitar designs. Single coils sound bright and are great for both clean and overdriven tones. Single coils are a common feature of Fender Stratocasters. These models can be heard in recordings by the likes of John Frusciante, John Mayer, and Jimi Hendrix.
Two pole pieces are used for each string on the Humbuckers. This helps to reduce hum and noise. It is used by many guitarists, including Slash and Jimmy Page. Modern humbucker pickups come with a coil tap that allows you temporarily to disconnect one set of the pole pieces. This allows you to have both a single-coil and a humbucker pickup all in one.
P90s are the middle-ground. They can be described as a type of single-coil pickup. They have one row of poles and a single coil. However, they are often mistaken for humbuckers because they are larger. P90s can be gritty and dirty and are often somewhere between single coils or humbuckers.
Scale length plays a big part in a guitar’s playability. The most important impact scale length makes is on the tension of the strings. The action of a guitar is the gap between the strings and the frets. A guitar with ‘high action’ has a wider gap than a guitar with ‘low action’. Also, as scale length increases, the distance between frets also increases.
A guitar’s scale length is the distance between the nut and the bridge. Different types of guitars use different scale lengths. The easiest way to determine the best guitar size is to match the guitar size to the player’s size. The other important factor is the style being approached.
The universe of acoustic guitars includes more options when it comes to the scale length of models. Still, there are options to consider with respect to electric models. Short-scale guitars can be a good option for beginners. However, popular beginner models, like the Epiphone or Fender Squier, should already be designed with the comfort of playing in mind.
The shape of a guitar neck is the length of the neck that runs from the headstock to the guitar’s body. The curve and depth of the neck determine the guitar neck shapes.
The shape of a guitar neck is usually described with letters. A guitar with a U-shaped neck will have a more smooth curve than a neck that is shaped like a V. In terms of playability and comfort, the “C” shape is often preferred by beginner guitarists.
Different guitars have different fretboard shapes. Although the shape differences aren’t as severe as those at the back of the guitar neck, you might still notice subtle changes when you play different models.
The fretboard radius has a direct impact on playability. However, it is subtler than other aspects like fretboard width and scale length. The fretboard radius affects how the fretboard feels when it plays chords and moves through the strings.
For soloing, flatter radius fingerboards tend to work better. For chord playing, rounder radius fingerboards work better. Flat fingerboards are more difficult to use for full-handed chords. If you are playing a full-handed bar chord, for instance, your neck can dig into your pinky region and cause hand strain. Full-handed chord play is easier on the hands if you have a rounder guitar like a Fender.
When it comes to the hardware used, the electric guitar instruments are pretty straightforward. Apart from the differences regarding pickups, most electric guitars will come with, vaguely, the same components.
These include the pickup selector, the output jack, the volume knob, the tone knob. Besides this, the guitar is composed of the headstock, tuning machine, fretboard etc. These are items that it has in common with the acoustic guitar model. We’ve spoken at length about those in our previous sections.
Learn from your favorite guitarists
However, since this is an electric instrument, it can be modified with various other items. One of them is the whammy bar or tremolo arm. It is an iconic component of various guitar models. It also produces an iconic sound. See Eddie Van Halen dive-bombs for reference. Not all electric guitars come equipped with a whammy bar. Not all whammy bar systems with which guitars are equipped are very good. And, not all guitar players feel the need to use one. See most Gibson Les Paul guitarists for reference. Various whammy bar systems (Floyd Rose, Bigsby, etc.) exist.
Guitarists in search of the mythical perfect tone will invest a lot of time and money in the guitar’s hardware. Tuning pegs worth thousands of dollars can be added. Exotic woods may be used in the guitar. Strongs, cables, and pickups may come into the equation.
Each of these can affect the sound of the guitar. None of them are vital, however. As a beginner guitarist, your focus should be on getting a quality instrument that feels and sounds the way you want it to. Naturally, as you progress, you will be able to further engineer your sound.
Craftmanship and good luthiers
A luthier, or professional craftsperson, is someone who repairs and builds stringed instruments. This includes electric guitars, violins as well all other stringed instruments.
The price of handmade guitars will reflect their true value in terms of both labor and overhead. Handmade guitars can take 120 to 150 hours of highly skilled labor. Factory guitars can be made in as little as 2-16 hours using repetitive, automated work.
A factory that is well managed will operate in a standardized, not personalized manner. It’s focused on standardization and automation. The hand maker is more flexible and efficient than a machine but can do custom work wherever it is needed.
These are all factors worth considering. However, truthfully, they interest a small minority of guitar players. This is not merely due to the cost constraint involved. Many of the big reputation guitar companies still produce very good models, albeit in a large amount. This is no different from famous car makers, computer companies, etc. Purchasing a good guitar, regardless of how well it was customized, can more than satisfy your needs as a beginner guitarist.
What to spend on a beginner electric guitar?
This is a question that any beginner can’t be stuck thinking of on an indefinite basis. Let’s make this simple. Spend no less than $200. Consider spending no more than $1000.
Better yet, try to spend some time, if possible with the guitar that you are looking to purchase. Any guitar will serve its needs for a beginner as long as it allows them to practice smoothly, and often.
Try, if possible, not to buy your beginner electric guitar for under $200. I know that this may not be easy for everyone. I had to start playing on very cheap models. It was all that I could afford at the time. However, these guitars often lack in terms of the quality of their build, and their versatility, and will often include bugs that aren’t visible in the initial moment that you test them.
If you have the budget try to resist purchasing a guitar more expensive than $1000. First of all, you may not yet have the ability to properly appreciate their quality. An average-priced guitar will do just fine. Furthermore, good guitars have resale value. Thirdly, you can easily make a mistake in purchasing the name of the brand, rather than the proven quality of the instrument.
Guitar accessories, pedals, amps
The electric guitar requires a few accessories. These should help you learn and develop your sound. However, don’t go overboard. There’s an infinity of pedals, amps, and other accessories that you can purchase. As a novice, you are likely to use them all.
Here are the absolute basic accessories that you’ll need as a beginner guitarist learning to play an electric model:
- Guitar amp – Initially, you can choose a small, medium-priced amp on which to practice on
- Guitar tuner – there are many cheap alternatives. Your phone app can also do the job
- Capo – Nothing fancy required here
- Guitar cable – Opt for a long, averaged pried cable so that you don’t need to replace it often
- The Guitar picks – Medium-thick picks will be needed for most styles you’ll want to learn
- Guitar strap – Many stylish, affordable options are out there
- Case/Gig Bag – Opt for a gig bag at first if trying to save on cash
- Extra pack of strings – You’ll be breaking some strings, and will need to replace them.
All other accessories can be useful and/or fun. They are, however, not essential to your journey as a beginner guitarist.
So, what electric guitar should you buy as a beginner?
Enjoy starting your journey as a guitar player. Whether you’re a beginner guitarist buying your first electric or acoustic model, or a veteran player, you should enjoy every moment of your development as a musician.
At the end of the day, art can be made in an infinite variety of ways. Creativity will be the factor that will impact your career the most.
Still, purchasing the right instrument is an important first step. Use our guide to make an informed choice. All the next steps are yours. Have fun creating your sound and style!