Electric Guitar Buying Guide

The electric guitar is one of the most ubiquitous instruments in music. From rock, to pop, to R&B, to country, to metal, to soul, to jazz and beyond, you are likely to hear the sound of an electric guitar somewhere in the mix.

If you’ve played an electric guitar before and know how to tune it, you can move on to the next section. But for now, let’s talk about what an electric guitar is at its core. If you look at 98% of all electric guitars, you’ll notice that they all have some fixed components.

From the body to the neck to the tuners, pickups, and strings, everything contributes to your sound. But don’t worry, because aside from the body and neck, every other part of the guitar can be customized to some degree after you buy it.

This means that you can always tune it to your sound. Of all the guitar types, electric guitars are by far the most common in modern music. Electric guitars produce a weak sound on their own, but when connected to an amplifier, they open up a world of possibilities for a variety of sounds. These guitars are mainly used in rock, metal, pop, blues, jazz, country and R&B.

Choose Body Type

Solid Body

It is a guitar with a “solid” body (without resonance), easy to handle and easy to amplify due to its width, which tends to avoid unwanted effects like Larsen. It can be equipped with all types of pickups and tuning keys.

It is versatile and can be used for almost any genre (pop, rock, blues, funk, hard, metal). Some solid-body guitars are “chambered.” Invisible to the naked eye, this cavity in the body makes the guitar lighter and improves the sound!

Semi Hollow Body

These guitars (e.g. Gibson ES-335, Fender Telecaster Thinline) are hybrid guitars, the body is partially hollow (an internal rod goes from the neck to the nut and connects top and back), the guitar sounds pseudo-acoustic.

The basses are lighter than a solid body guitar and often have f-holes (like violins). This type of instrument is quite versatile, but is preferred by blues-rock guitarists for its warm and deep sound. Metal players usually dislike the soft bass sound.

Hollow Body

A Hollow Body guitar is an empty-body guitar (Gibson ES-175, Godin 5th Avenue or archtop guitars) like an acoustic guitar, even if they come from different concepts. Available with or without pickups, it is the instrument of choice of many jazz guitarists thanks to its richness, colorful sound and subtleties. This type of guitar is not suitable for amplification because of its sensitivity to Larsen effects.

Construction of Guitar

Guitars can be divided into three categories of neck construction: bolt-on necks, bridge necks, and push-through necks. Bolt-on necks are attached to the guitar body with metal bolts, and many inexpensive models are made this way. The advantage is that the neck is easily replaceable, but the disadvantage is a reduction in the resonance and tone of the instrument. In a guitar with a glued-in neck, the neck is glued to the body, resulting in a more stable connection. As you can probably guess, this contributes to sustain and resonance.

However, a major drawback is that this construction method is much more difficult to repair. The last category is guitars with a continuous neck. They have an extra long neck that extends into the guitar body, where it expands into wings that are glued to the insides. This construction makes for an even better sound, but is more difficult to repair than a glued-in neck. The advantage is that the neck is so much stronger that repairs are much less likely to be needed in the first place.

Scale Length

The scale length is the length of vibration of the strings between the nut and the bridge; it affects the sound and the playing comfort (the difference between the frets is calculated according to a variable ratio depending on the scale length).

With the same string gauge and similar tuning, playing seems softer when the scale length is short. The two most commonly mentioned scale lengths are the Gibson 24.75″ and the Fender 25.50″. The former gives the Les Paul its round attack and powerful bass, while the latter provides the light and biting side of the Stratocaster or Telecaster.

Frets

Most electric guitars are equipped with 21, 22 or 24 frets (two octaves). Apart from the fact that the larger the number of frets, the wider the range, it’s worth noting that this also affects the position of the neck microphone: the latter will be slightly lower on a neck with 21 frets than on a comparable guitar with 22 frets when pressed towards the head.

The size of the frets is important for playing comfort. Sensations are different with small or jumbo frets; the first have the advantage of optimizing the tone (justice). The second make it easier to bend; this is probably why manufacturers equip their guitars with medium frets, an ideal middle ground.

What to look for in an Electric Guitar

Now that we’ve talked about the different types of bodies and pickups, you may have a rough idea of what type of guitar you want to buy. However, there are other details and variations that you need to consider first.

The following should give you an idea of what to look for in the various parts of the guitar, from the headstock to the body and everything in between. With this information, you’ll be able to make a much better decision about what you like best.

Tuner

Let’s start with the headstock of the guitar. The tuning key, also known as the action or tuner, winds the strings and creates tension to give them their pitch and keep them in tune. There are mainly two types of tuners – open and closed. For electric guitars, closed tuners are usually the best choice because they are reliable and require no maintenance.

Some tuners are made of metal, while others are made of jade-like plastic, which gives the guitar an old-school and vintage look. Also, different types of tuning keys, such as locking tuners, require a different technique when winding the strings. If you don’t like your tuning keys, you can change them. This is usually not difficult to do.

Nut

Let’s start with the headstock of the guitar. The tuning key, also called the action or tuner, winds the strings and creates tension to give them their pitch and keep them in tune. There are mainly two types of tuners – open and closed. For electric guitars, closed tuners are usually the best choice because they are reliable and require no maintenance.

Some tuners are made of metal, while others are made of jade-like plastic, which gives the guitar a vintage look. Also, different types of tuning keys, such as locking tuners, require a different technique when winding the strings. If you don’t like your tuning keys, you can change them. This is usually not difficult.

Neck

A good guitar neck is of crucial importance, because intonation and ease of playing the instrument depend on it. The neck also affects the sound of the instrument, since the string vibrates on it and its acoustic properties also affect the string resonance.

A neck with a shape that best fits your hand will help you play more comfortably. For these reasons, the wood from which the neck is made and the neck profile are important when choosing a guitar.

Neck Construction and Neck Shapes

There are three general types of neck construction. Bolt-on necks, as the name implies, are bolted to the body of the guitar. This allows for easier repair or replacement, but offers less overall sustain and resonance.

Glued-in necks are glued into the body, resulting in a stronger neck joint and giving the guitar more sustain and resonance. The neck of a “neck-through” guitar extends the entire length of the body, which is even more stable and provides even more sustain and resonance.

Neck shapes or “profiles” don’t have a big impact on the sound of the guitar, but they do have a big impact on the overall feel of the guitar. C-shaped, U-shaped and V-shaped necks are the three most popular neck profiles. The letters refer to the basic shape of the back of the guitar neck. C-shaped necks are the most common and offer a comfortable oval profile that works well for most players.

V-shaped necks have a sharper profile that is preferred by players who prefer to let their thumb hang over the fretboard. U-shaped necks, or “baseball bat” necks, are chunky and rounded, making them more comfortable for players with large hands or those who prefer to play with their thumb on the back or side of the neck.

Tonewoods

As a beginner, when you think of the most important things that make up the sound of an electric guitar, you probably don’t immediately think of the wood it’s made of, which is crucial to the overall sound. While it’s pretty clear why the tonewood is crucial in an acoustic guitar, it’s easy to think that the wood doesn’t project the sound and therefore isn’t important. However, that is far from the truth.

Tonewoods are essential for electric guitars. They all have their own characteristics, and there are certain types of wood that are used over and over again in the manufacture of electric guitars. These woods also play a big role in the pricing of the guitar. If you’ve ever bought the sturdiest piece of furniture possible, you can imagine how prices can vary depending on the type of wood.

Some woods are easy to source and grow, while others are harder to come by. A body made from one of the more robust and rare wood species will inevitably result in a more expensive guitar. However, many of the less expensive woods have good characteristics for electric guitars. This list should help you understand which woods might be suitable and affordable for your purchase.

Mahogany

This wood is strong and resistant to breakage, which is why it is relatively popular for making guitar bodies. Although strong, it is not the hardest wood, and this can produce a nice mellow sound with a resonance that one might associate with semi-hollow guitars. Mahogany is not usually used for the neck or fingerboard, as harder wood is needed for this.

Ash

It is often used in solid wood models. It is a relatively hard wood and has a lot of sustain. The mid and high tones are more prominent with a body made of ash. The wood looks quite grainy, but is usually finished so that the wood is not completely visible.

Alder

It is another type of wood that has quite similar properties to ash, although it is not quite as hard. It is often used to make electric guitars with solid bodies and is usually varnished in a single color so that you can’t see the wood itself.

Agathis

completes the three “A’s” in a row, and all three have some tonal similarities with a brighter sound and plenty of resonance. Agathis is an affordable wood, but it is well suited for making guitar bodies, so it is particularly common in the low-cost segment of the market. A large percentage of entry-level guitars under $200 have some type of Agathis component.

Maple

It is one of the few types of wood that are commonly used for various parts of the guitar. You can get maple fingerboards, necks and bodies. It has a fast “attack,” which means the tones are clean and the guitar responds quickly to your playing, which is ideal for funk or solos. Maple is used in a variety of guitars and is used by guitarists in the blues, rock, metal and country genres.

Rosewood

This is a very common option for the fingerboard of guitars. It is tonally pleasing and has a nice sound and resonance when used for the body of the guitar, but since it is a heavy wood, it is often avoided for bulky parts. Rosewood feels very comfortable when fretted, which is why it is used for the fingerboard of so many guitars.

Basswood

This is another wood that is relatively widespread due to its low price. The best way to describe linden is “versatile”. The wood doesn’t color the sound too much, leaving something of a blank canvas. It’s affordable for manufacturers and fairly sturdy, providing a good balance of all the things many people are looking for in an affordable entry-level electric guitar option.

Pickups and Configuration

Electric guitars require one or more pickups attached to the body to produce a sound that can be amplified by a guitar amplifier and speakers. The pickups work like a magnetic field, and the vibration created by striking or plucking the metal strings generates a current. This current is passed through the guitar’s preamplifier circuitry and produces an amplifiable signal when the guitar is connected to an amplifier via a guitar cable.

Most electric guitars have one pickup near the neck and one near the bridge. The neck pickup produces a thicker, rounder sound, while the bridge pickup has a clearer, more cutting sound. A three-way switch lets you choose between these pickups or mix them.

If a guitar has a third or middle pickup – which is usually mixed with the bridge or neck pickup – it probably has a five-way pickup selector switch that mixes the pickups and changes their phase relationship. The way you mix these pickups, the guitar’s tone control circuitry, the type of strings you use, and your playing techniques all affect the sound sent to the amplifier. Let’s take a look at the two most common types of pickups.

Single-Coil Pickups

Single-coil pickups consist of a magnet or magnets with a coil of fine wire wrapped around the pickup to create a magnetic field that picks up the vibrations of the strings and converts them into an electronic signal. Single-coil pickups usually have a crisp, cutting sound. This bright tone cuts well through dense tapes, but single-coils are also susceptible to hum interference emanating from fluorescent lights, computer monitors, and building wiring.

Humbuckers

Humbucking pickups consist of two out-of-phase coils connected in series, with the polarity of the magnets arranged in opposite directions, which cancels out the hum produced by single-coils. Humbuckers generally have a warmer, smoother tone than single-coil pickups and lend themselves to fatter rock sounds. Many guitars are equipped with both single-coils and humbuckers, and some guitars have a “coil tap” switch that turns off one of the coils in the humbucker to give the player a choice between single-coil and humbucker sound.

P90 Pickups

The P90 is another balanced pickup that lies somewhere between the single coil and the humbucker in terms of sound. They were first used in a 1952 Gibson Les Paul, which quickly became very popular. The coil in the mechanism is wider, resulting in more mid and low frequencies in the overall sound.

To get to the heart of the difference between the three common pickup types: The singlecoil has a high-pitched sound that works well for lead guitars and bright tones. The humbucker has bite and a low tone that works well for rock and metal, and the P90 is a very even and balanced tone.

Active

Some of the guitars you see here have a 9V battery and are marked “active pickups”. This simply means that the pickups have extra power and a stronger sound – ideal for rock and metal.

Pickup Configurations

Most guitars have a neck pickup, a bridge pickup, and in some cases even a middle pickup. This allows you to switch between pickups for greater tonal variety. For example, some guitars have two humbuckers and a single coil in the middle (also known as HSH – humbucker, single coil, humbucker). Experiment with different configurations to find the best one for you.

If you’re just starting out or just looking for something versatile that will work for all genres of music, a combination of single coils and humbuckers would be a safe choice, for example HSS or HSH. If you want a very specific sound and don’t care about versatility, consider 3 singlecoils or 2 humbuckers.

Bridge

The bridge is the where the strings connect with the guitar. While the standard bridge is fixed with no movement, some guitars have a tremolo system which allows you to manipulate the pitch of the strings using the “whammy bar”. Different bridges and tremolo systems feature adjustment points for the action and intonation of the guitar.

Fixed bridge

No bridge movement. It generally has better sustain and tuning stability.

Vintage-style tremolo

A movable bridge with a “whammy” bar that allows you to adjust the pitch of all six strings simultaneously. These guitars need to be tuned more often, as the use of the tremolo affects the pitch of the guitar over time.

Double locking tremolo

The Double Locking Tremolo (like the Floyd Rose brand) has a movable tremolo as described above, but the strings are “locked” in two places on the guitar so they can’t slip when using the Whammy Bar.

Other Things to Consider when Buying Electric Guitars

22 vs 24 Frets

While there are exceptions, most guitars are equipped with either 22 or 24 frets. While this may not seem like a huge difference, it will definitely affect your playing style in the long run. With 24 frets, you’ll have two more semitones of expression than with a 22 fret guitar, and even more if you play the high E string on the 24th fret. For this reason, many lead guitarists prefer 24 fret guitars.

Rhythm guitarists, on the other hand – or soloists who don’t play that high on the fretboard – tend to stick with 22 frets. This is because the neck pickup is farther from the bridge on a 22 fret guitar due to the 2 fewer frets. This results in a warmer tone.

6 string vs 7 string vs 8 string guitars

Most guitars come with 6 strings, which is standard for an electric guitar. However, with the advent of heavier genres like progressive metal and djent, extended range guitars have become more popular in recent years. With 7- and 8-string guitars, you can play much lower notes than with a standard guitar. This extended range is very useful for breakdowns or heavier song sections. If you play these styles of music, you should get an extended range guitar. However, if you want to limit yourself to blues, jazz, pop, and rock, a 6-string guitar is more than adequate because it’s lighter and easier to play.

Locking vs Non-Locking Tuners

Some guitars are equipped with locking tuners that hold each string in place with a clamping mechanism. This allows for greater tuning stability, especially on guitars with floating bridges. It also allows you to restring the guitar faster, since you don’t need as many string wraps. Locking tuners are more expensive to manufacture and are therefore less common on entry-level guitars. But even if your guitar of choice doesn’t come with one, you can easily retrofit it later.

Now you have all the information you need to make a well-informed guitar purchase. Remember that technical data isn’t everything, and you should also try out a guitar in person before you order it. If, after all your research, you’ve decided on a guitar you like, you should try it out at a music store near you. Even if a guitar looks perfect on paper, you can’t judge until you hold it in your hands and play a song or two on it.

Conclusion

Choosing an electric guitar is a personal decision. So the most important thing is to test thoroughly and, if all else fails, trust your gut. We hope this Buying Guide can give you some useful information to make an informed Decision.

Amy Hinckley
Amy Hinckley
The Dell Inspiron 15 that her father purchased from QVC sparked the beginning of her interest in technology. At Bollyinside, Amy Hinckley is in charge of content editing and reviewing products. Amy's interests outside of working include going for bike rides, playing video games, and watching football when she's not at her laptop.

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