Electric Guitar Buyers Guide
Electric guitars are so named because in order to hear the music they make you need to plug them into an amplifier, they do not need to be plugged into the mains themselves though! Unplugged, they still make a nice sound as the strings vibrate when plucked or strummed, but it is not very loud because there are no hollow or resonating structures to amplify the sound like an acoustic guitar. The small sound that the strings make is ‘picked up’ by the guitar’s magnetic coils (pickups) and then transmitted via wires through a cable to an amplifier which boosts the signal to drive a speaker, making the sound much louder, and electric sounding. Because the sound waves are being converted into electrical signals, you can make all kinds of interesting tones and noises by altering the electrical signal by using various effects pedals, tone and volume controls.
This ability to make such an amazing array of sounds out of one instrument is why the electric guitar has become the most popular instrument in modern music, and the reason why they are so much fun to play!
So its obvious why you want to get started on your way to becoming a rock star but a lot more difficult to work out where to start! The following descriptions of different styles of guitars should help you figure out what choices you have, and also what you can get for your money.
First of all think about what kind of music you would eventually like to play, and what style of guitars your favourite musicians use. There are many beginners guitar packages that are based on well known styles of guitars and these are a great way of getting started to play the music that you want.
OK, so you have an idea of what music you’d like to play? In any case you will need a guitar, a cable and an amplifier in order to make any noise at all! And there are other various bits and pieces that although are not essential to get started, will come in very handy – such as a guitar tuner, strap or a stand. Although there may seem to be an enormous array of different makes, models (and colours!) of guitars to choose from, after a while it becomes apparent that you can start to divide them up into a few general groups which will make it much easier to choose the one for you. The ‘Big 4’ styles, based on original designs from guitar makers Fender and Gibson, have been adapted and copied over the years but the basic shapes still remain as popular as ever:
Originally designed by Fender back in the early 50’s, these nice, light guitars make great beginners instruments. Stratocasters have a bright twangy sound with the ability to make cool noises by bending the wammy bar, played by a lot of bands from The Arctic Monkeys to Iron Maiden.
Typically these have a neck that is bolted to the body, double cutaway sides (the curved pointy horns either side of the neck at the top of the body), three single-coil pickups, 22 frets and a tremolo system (the wammy bar!), back in the day they were quick to produce and cheap to buy, this meant that Rock ‘n’ Roll was invented on the Strat!
If you’re after a quality stratocaster to start with or have a limited budget, Squier Guitars are the ones to look at. Squier is a brand owned by Fender so they are made to a high standard and have a broad range of finishes and specifications.
Check out the Standard Series, the excellent Classic Vibe Series, or the Vintage Modified Range. For a Fender version, we have the popular Mexican made versions. The Standard Series, or look at the Classic Series for a vintage look, feel and sound.
Also designed in the early 50’s by Fender, and of a similar construction to the Stratocaster, but with a single cutaway body, no tremolo unit and two different, single-coil pickups. Simple design makes them very easy to get to grips with and sounds are bright and twangy, played by modern bands like Bloc Party, Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand. Currently enjoying a resurgence on the Indie circuit, these guitars are increasingly sought after. Squier Guitars are a great place to look for your first Telecaster, look at the Standard Series, the Classic Vibe series for retro-ness, or the uber-cool Vintage Modified versions.
For a Fender version, the Standard Series, or why not go for the amazing ’72 Custom, as played by literally loads of modern alt rock and indie bands.
Designed by Gibson, Mr Les Paul of Gibson that is, again in the early 50’s. This time with a set neck construction (glued in joint, as opposed screwed together), a single cutaway and a larger rounded body making these quite bulky, heavy instruments, two humbucker pickups and a raised scratchplate.
Humbucker pickups are like having two single coil pickups from a strat and putting them together. So they give a more powerful signal to the amp, which gives them a bigger, louder, fatter sound.
A more expensive guitar to produce than Fenders, with better quality woods, components and construction methods, meant these guitar were initially more popular with well paid American Jazz musicians, but have long since been played in all sorts of popular music.
The set neck and solid body make for great sustain and full bodied tones. Humbuckers are powerful pickups and really great for playing with distortion as they make less hiss than Stratocasters. Probably the most popular guitars at the moment, favoured by rockers Slash, Kirk Hamnett and Zakk Wylde, Noel Gallagher and Eric Clapton.
For a first guitar, take a look at the extremely popular Vintage V100, Tokai ALS48 and PRS takes on this style.
Do not miss also the excellent new range from Tanglewood, the TSB58 Les Paul Standard copies. They play beautifully.
Designed by Gibson, in the early 60’s, it has a set neck construction like the Les Paul with distinctive double cutaway ‘horns’. Compared to the Les Paul these are lighter as they have slimmer bodies, although they have humbuckers and tone controls similar to the Les Paul.
SG’s have similar powerful tones as a Les Paul, but the lighter body makes them a bit easier to play. Famously played by Angus Young of AC/DC, Pete Townsend of The Who and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. For some good examples of these guitars, check out the Vintage VS6, or the top quality Tokai USG35
There are a myriad of guitars that come in-between each of these categories, such as ‘Super Strats’ with humbucker pickups, Les Pauls with single coils or bodies that have been pulled into strange shapes, but if you can choose which of these styles you prefer, then you are making good progress!
Guitar Packages Most electric guitar kits come with a guitar, amplifier, cable, plectrums, tuner and bag – everything you need to make a noise straight out of the packet! There are also many other accessories that you can (and probably will want to) buy to make your music making easier and more interesting.
Some of the starter guitar packages to look at will be:
Encore Blaster Packages, Featuring either a Strat style, Tele style, SG style or a Les Paul style guitar in a choice of colours are a great way to get into the electric guitar, these kits include everything you need to get playing quickly. A really good package from a brand that has been around for over 20 years and is very well known to guitarists in the UK.
Yamaha Pacifica Electric Guitar Package
, Yamaha have been making musical instruments for a very long time and the Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar is another household name when it comes to instruments for beginner guitarists. The Pacifica is a top quality Stratocaster style guitar designed with the beginner in mind, but the quality guitar would be fine for playing through more powerful equipment when you decide to upgrade in the future.