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Best Electric Guitars for Beginners

Best Electric Guitars for Beginners  ·  Source: Bonedo

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Thinking of buying an electric guitar for beginners, but don’t know which one to get? Don’t despair – our comprehensive buyer’s guide to electric guitars is here to help! Before you decide on a specific model of electric guitar, it helps to think about what exactly you want from your future instrument and how you’ll be using it.

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Electric guitars are available for all styles and in all price ranges

Many types of electric guitars are associated with certain musical genres based on their tonal characteristics. For beginners who are trying to find their way through the jungle, this is a great place to start. Needless to say, there are many guitarists who swim against the tide and use their guitars in ways not typically associated with them. However, if you’re just starting out and buying your first electric guitar, you’re well advised to focus on the tried-and-true models.

In this buyer’s guide to electric guitars for beginners, we take a closer look at the most common and most important electric guitar models and their individual strengths. We’ve focused on the instruments that have had the biggest impact on electric guitar development and have therefore served as templates for model variants by other manufacturers. These days, most brands offer instruments that are inexpensive while still offering decent quality that ensures that you’re off to a great start.

Gibson Les Paul: the traditional rock and blues guitar

Gibson Les Paul Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Traditional TS 2015 · Source: Bonedo

The Gibson Les Paul is the prototype of the so-called singlecut models and is considered a typical rock and blues instrument. A Les Paul and a Marshall stack (combination of amp head and cabinet), and all is right with the world! Thanks to the pickup placement in combination with the tonewoods used – usually the body is made of mahogany with a maple top – the Les Paul delivers fat, assertive sounds. Even though the Les Paul is often associated with distorted sounds, it also feels at home in other styles such as jazz or pop, especially in the neck pickup position, and can confidently be called an all-around guitar. Singlecut models usually have a comparatively short scale length (length of the freely vibrating string between nut and bridge) of 628 mm, which makes them easy to handle, especially for beginners.

The first Les Paul saw the light of day as early as 1952 (initially equipped with P-90 pickups, then from 1957 also with humbuckers). It was a huge success right from the start and shaped the sound and history of rock music like few other electric guitars.

Famous players of the Les Paul:

  • Slash
  • Gary Moore
  • Joe Bonamassa
  • Jared James Nichols

Fender Telecaster: Not just for country and blues

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar for Beginners

Fender AM Special Telecaster · Source: Bonedo

The Fender Telecaster is considered the world’s first mass-produced solid-body guitar and was introduced as early as 1948 (initially under the name “Esquire”, later “Broadcaster”). T models are known for their “twang” – a lyrical description of their wiry and piercing sound – and can cover a wide range of musical styles.

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A typical feature of the Telecaster is the combination of two single-coil pickups, a maple neck with a long scale length, and an ash body with string-through-body construction (strings are fed through the body from the back). Although the Telecaster was initially developed primarily for country and blues guitarists, T models enjoy great popularity in all types of pop and rock music due to their direct response and straightforward design.

Famous players of the Telecaster:

  • Keith Richards
  • Greg Cook
  • Andy Summers
  • John 5

Fender Stratocaster: the most popular and best-selling electric guitar

Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar for Beginners

Fender Stratocaster American Standard MN OW · Source: Bonedo

The Stratocaster was developed by Leo Fender in 1954 and, despite some initial difficulties, is today considered the best-selling and most frequently copied electric guitar design of all time. The Strat introduced the now ubiquitous double cutaway design with two body cutouts for maximum accessibility of the high frets. Their shimmering and treble-rich sound is still considered the benchmark for many styles of music.

Traditional ST models consist of an alder or ash body with a maple neck and feature three single-coil pickups that can be selected individually or in their intermediate positions. With five sound options to choose from and the then-revolutionary vibrato system, the Strat quickly gained a reputation as the most versatile electric guitar and was used by countless legendary pop, funk, blues, and (hard) rock bands. To meet the demands for more oomph, Fender and many other manufacturers of ST-style models now also offer instruments with powerful humbuckers in the bridge position (Fat Strat).

Famous players of the Stratocaster:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Jeff Beck
  • Ritchie Blackmore
  • Eric Clapton

Gibson SG: an icon of rock since 1961

Gibson SG Electric Guitar

Gibson SG Standard 2015 · Source: Bonedo

The SG design was originally developed by Gibson in 1961 as a successor to the Les Paul Standard. The most striking feature of the new guitar was a radically revised thin body made entirely of mahogany with two minimally offset, sharply cut cutaways (double cut). Even though the SG, like the Les Paul, has a short scale length and two humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions, it is considered a bit crisper and more dynamic than its big sister and is able to cover a wide range of styles. Beginners will like the fact that the SG tends to be relatively inexpensive compared to the Les Paul and is comfortable to play due to its slim design. Thanks to famous users like Angus Young or Tony Iommi and a steadily growing fan base, the “cool axe” continues to be one of the most recognizable symbols of rock music.

Famous players of the SG:

  • Angus Young
  • Tony Iommi
  • Pete Townshend
  • Derek Trucks

Hollowbody or semi-acoustic guitars: from B. B. King to Dave Grohl

Hollowbody

Gibson Midtown Custom EB · Source: Bonedo

Semi-acoustic guitars are electric guitars with a partially or completely hollow body and are therefore often referred to as hollowbody guitars. With their warm and full clean and crunch sounds, they are especially popular with jazz and blues guitarists. However, musicians such as Dave Grohl, Alvin Lee, Ted Nugent, and Steve Howe have proven for decades that semi-acoustics can also rock.

Since guitars with a hollow body are prone to feedback (especially at high volumes and distortion levels), the industry has taken various measures over the decades to counteract this. In addition to making the body smaller (Thinline design), this led to the development of the partially solid design (popularized by the Gibson ES-335) with a solid wood insert between the neck and the end of the body (sustain block). This “compromise” makes it possible to enjoy the open, transparent sound of a semi-acoustic with the advantages of a solidbody guitar and is still considered a typical feature of the popular F-Hole guitars (in reference to the F-holes in the body to the left and right of the bridge). But beware: There are of course also semi-acoustic guitars without a sustain block (ES-355, Epiphone Casino, etc.).

Famous players of semi-acoustic electric guitars:

  • John Lennon
  • Dave Grohl
  • B.B. King
  • Noel Gallagher

Heavy metal guitars

Heavy Metal

Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX · Source: Bonedo

The terms “heavy guitar” or “metal guitar” stand for electric guitars that deviate from the traditional shapes in terms of design and features and are specifically designed for hard rock and metal. From a purely visual point of view, these guitars have their roots in Gibson’s Explorer and Flying-V models launched in 1958. Manufacturers such as Charvel/Jackson, Dean, ESP, B.C. Rich or Ibanez brought some very distinctive instruments to the market in this genre.

In addition to the extravagant body shapes, the pickups also play a very important role for a characteristic heavy sound. Heavy guitars almost exclusively use humbuckers with the highest possible output power, which drive the amp with a powerful signal, causing it to produce a heavily distorted sound. Often, active pickups are used, which produce a high output level and are less susceptible to noise. The necks of most heavy guitars are built quite slim, which is beneficial when it comes to playing fast riffs and leads. With these instruments, you also have to decide between a tremolo bridge and a fixed bridge.

Famous players of metal guitars:

  • Dimebag Darrell (Pantera)
  • Jeff Hanemmann (Slayer)
  • Herman Li (DragonForce)
  • Nita Strauss (Alice Cooper)
  • Kirk Hammett (Metallica)

When 6 strings aren’t enough: 7-string and 8-string guitars for the metal low end

7-string

PRS SE Custom 24 7-String Sapphire · Source: Bonedo

7-string and 8-string guitars are equipped with an additional low B string or B and F# strings, respectively, and are mainly used in modern metal genres with heavily distorted guitar sounds. These “extended range guitars” have a very wide but thin neck and usually a scale length of over 648 mm. Since 7- and 8-string guitars aren’t fundamentally tuned lower (like the baritone guitar), but are merely “extended” by lower strings, they can usually be used and played without much adjustment. An 8-string guitar can cover the entire range of a 4-string electric bass in so-called drop-E tuning (E-B-E-A-D-G-B-E).

Guitar icons who play 7 or more strings:

  • John Petrucci (Dream Theater)
  • Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders)
  • Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy)
  • Stephen Carpenter (Deftones)

Baritone guitars: the dark force in rock and metal

Baritone Guitar

Danelectro Wild Thing Baritone · Source: Bonedo

Baritone guitars are specially designed for lower tunings and are tuned a fourth (B-E-A-D-F#-B) or even a fifth (A-D-G-C-E-A) lower than a standard guitar. Unlike 7- or 8-string guitars, baritone guitars thus do not have an extended range, but sound lower overall. They’re also strung with thicker strings than standard electric guitars due to the longer scale length (around 700 mm).

The baritone guitar has seen a rise in popularity in recent years and is the first choice when a massive low end is required, for example in metal and its many varieties. If you’re eyeing a baritone guitar, be sure to familiarize yourself with the different ergonomics: these instruments are not only a good deal longer, but also quite a bit bulkier and heavier than a standard guitar. In terms of the shape, there’s hardly a design that isn’t available as a baritone model. Even the good old Telecaster is one of them.

Famous players of the electric baritone guitar:

  • Duane Eddy
  • Buckethead
  • Brian ‘Head’ Welch (Korn)

Buy an Electric Guitar: Our Recommendations

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How to decide which electric guitar to buy

Before you buy an electric guitar, you should think carefully about what you actually want. In addition to the player’s preferences and level of experience, things like the woods used, the scale length, the strings, and the pickups should also be considered, as they all have a significant influence on the sound of an instrument. For example, if you like punchy rock riffs and creamy solo sounds, you should probably buy an electric guitar with a humbucker pickup in the bridge position.

And you can take this even further: Guitars with a second humbucker in the neck position also deliver warm lead sounds and very nice clean sounds that are able to cover most styles. If you need even more flexibility (e.g. for pop and funk styles), it’s best to buy an electric guitar with a humbucker at the bridge and single coils in the middle and neck positions. An H/S/H (humbucker/single coil/humbucker) configuration with a 5-way pickup selector switch is also worth considering. These guitars are among the most stylistically versatile instruments on the market.

Which scale length is best?

The sound and playability also depend on the distance between the bridge and nut, and thus the length of the vibrating strings (scale length): A long scale length (e.g. Stratocaster, 648 mm) provides additional brilliance and a transparent sound. Short scale lengths (e.g. Les Paul, 628 mm) emphasize the warm character of a sound.

Tip: To achieve the desired pitch, longer strings must have a higher tension than shorter ones. This difference in tension not only affects the vibration and the sound, but also influences the playability of the instrument. For example, a Les Paul with a 010-046 set will have a softer feel than a Stratocaster with the same set of strings.

Should you buy an electric guitar with a tremolo?

There were certainly times in the history of rock when a real metalhead would not have dared to leave the house without a tremolo system (movable bridge construction, also called vibrato). Today, things are a bit different. Since the popular technique of down-tuning the strings to create even nastier, more brutal sounds is much more easily achieved on a guitar with a fixed bridge, these instruments have become more popular in recent years. But that doesn’t mean anything. With a bit of know-how, you can of course also teach a tremolo-equipped guitar the low notes.

Generally speaking, a tremolo system isn’t absolutely essential, but can be a lot of fun. Before buying an electric guitar, be sure to do some soul-searching and consider whether you really need one.

Floyd Rose vs. Vintage Tremolo

There are two main types of tremolo systems: Floyd-Rose and vintage-style, both of which come in a wide variety of designs.

Electric Guitar Glossary

Bridge

Together with the nut, the bridge determines the length of the vibrating strings, i.e. the scale length. On many instruments, it also holds the ball ends of the strings in place. The bridge also serves to transmit the vibrations of the strings to the body in the best possible way.

The bridge of an electric guitar carries the strings on small contact surfaces, the so-called saddles. These are usually arranged individually or in pairs and are adjustable to adjust the intonation. By varying the height of the bridge, you also have the option to adjust the string action (distance between the fingerboard and the strings). Bridges that are firmly screwed to the body are also called fixed bridges or non-tremolo bridges.

In addition to bridges with integrated tailpieces, separate systems also exist. The best-known of these was first used on the Les Paul and consists of a so-called stop tailpiece and a Tune-O-Matic bridge.

Vibrato or tremolo systems

Besides fixed bridge designs, there are also movable bridges (tremolo or vibrato). The lower half consists of a metal block with six holes through which the strings are fed from the back of the body to the front, where they pass over six separately adjustable saddles toward the headstock. The string tension is counteracted by springs that return the metal block to its resting position after each use. By moving the tremolo arm, you can tilt the bridge to detune the strings and create a vibrato effect.

Humbucker pickup

A humbucker is a dual-coil pickup that usually delivers a higher output level than a single-coil pickup. The dual-coil design (hum-canceling coil) also helps to suppress hum and noise.

Single coil pickup

Single coils are pickups with a single-coil design. They generally generate less output power (and distortion) than their dual-coil relatives, but deliver a very open, transparent sound. Due to their design, single coils are more susceptible to external electromagnetic influences, which can cause humming noises.

More about Electric Guitars for Beginners

This article was originally published in German on bonedo.de.

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Best Electric Guitars for Beginners

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One response to “Best Electric Guitar for Beginners: Which one should you buy?”

    iixorb says:
    0

    Good thorough article! I know absolutely nothing about guitars (I’m purely a keyboard player) but my son plays and he’s noticed that some can pick up a lot more interference than others – we think – from his three monitors (screens). Actually his cheapest electric guitar (Fender Strat I think) is less prone to interference than his more expensive guitars. Probably worth a beginner seeing if they can ‘try it at home’ before they commit, especially if they are planning on using it in combination with a potentially interference-inducing DAW setup.

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