Buying your first guitar is a big step, and there are a lot of things to consider. Electric, rather than acoustic guitars are the most frequent choice for budding guitarists, as they are generally easier to play and, for many beginners, more fun as well. Knowing which equipment is a necessity and which is overkill, comparing prices and brand names, and sorting through a mountain of technical jargon and specifications can all make the process intimidating. This is particularly true for budding musicians or people trying to find that perfect gift for the musician in their lives.
But buying a guitar doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, many professional musicians look back on buying and learning to play their first guitar as one of the most fun times in their lives. This article will sort out of a few of the most confusing aspects of guitars and accessories, and at the same time make the process of buying your first guitar as personal, easy and fun as possible. After all, you’re not really interested in buying a guitar, you’re interested in playing it!
By using the menu below, navigate through the rest of this article, including what you’ll need to get started, as well as how to select the right guitar and amplifier.
There are a few absolutely essential pieces of equipment that are needed to play the electric guitar. The bare minimum set of equipment includes:
- A Guitar
This one should be obvious, but read the section on choosing the right guitar for more information about which features to look for when buying your first guitar.
- An Amplifier (Amp)
Some guitar amplifiers come with built in speakers and some don’t. Many have particular features which put them ahead of others in their class. Read the section on choosing the right amplifier for more information.
- An Instrument Cable
At least 6 ft. long, to connect the guitar and amp.
- A Set of Guitar Strings
- A Guitar Pick
The contents of this list may seem obvious to some, but overlooking any one of these items will require an inconvenient trip to the music store or your favorite music supply website before you can start playing. In addition, there are several other items that are not strictly essential, but many musicians would say they cannot live without:
- Distortion and Effects
A key element of a guitar’s sound is the effects that are used to modify it. The most common, essential effect for rock music, jazz, blues, and most other forms of modern guitar is distortion. Some amplifiers come with built in distortion, some don’t. Read the section on amplifiers for more information.
- Guitar Carrying Case
It’s pretty hard to move your guitar around without damaging or detuning it, so a hard guitar case or soft “gig-bag” are an important piece of equipment.
- Instruction Book
If you’re just starting out playing guitar, having an instruction book to guide you will definitely help. It’s no substitute for taking professional lessons, but it’s a start.
Since there are many pieces of equipment needed to play electric guitar, one attractive option is to purchase a single “kit” containing all the necessary items and accessories. An example of a good quality, affordable guitar kit is the Vintager Guitar Pack [http://www.beatstaff.com/174970/6604609.html].
Now that you know which equipment you’ll need to start playing, read the sections below for more information about selecting the right equipment to meet your needs.
Choosing the Right Guitar
The most important and possibly most intimidating part of putting together your first electric guitar “kit” is selecting the guitar itself. Music stores have walls full of guitars with a wide range of quality, features and price tags. So how can a beginner sort through the ocean of terminology, brand names, and jargon without getting lost? The choice really comes down to three essential elements: body construction, electronics, and budget.
Although electric guitars derive a lot of their sound quality from their electronics, the construction of the guitar’s body is even more important. The way sound resonates through the body of the guitar will determine whether it produces a warm, solid tone or a hollow one. As common sense might dictate, a solid-body electric guitar will produce a stronger more solid tone than a hollow-body guitar. Although some people do like the thinner sound that comes from a hollow body guitar, a solid body will be the most versatile, and most appropriate for beginners and veteran guitarists alike. In addition, a well constructed guitar should have the entire body, neck and fretboard made of wood, not of laminate or plastic materials.
A second consideration is the guitar’s size. A “standard” electric guitar has 22 frets, meaning each string is capable of producing 22 different notes. However, many electric guitars, particularly those marketed to beginners are smaller in size. Except for small children who lack the wingspan to reach a full sized guitar, this is undesirable, as it limits the range of notes the guitar is capable of producing. Therefore, teenagers and adults looking to purchase their first guitar (and 10th guitar, for that matter) should look for full-sized, 22 fret guitars.
Finally, the last important feature of an electric guitar’s construction is the bridge. The bridge is the part of the guitar where the strings attach to the guitar body. There are two types of bridges: fixed bridge and floating (vibrato) bridge. For most aspiring guitarists, the vibrato bridge will be the best choice. This allows the guitarist to “bend” notes as they are being played using the included “wammy-bar”. This is a common technique in rock, blues and jazz music. Although the bridge won’t have a large effect on other aspects of the guitar’s sound like those listed above, a floating or vibrato bridge really makes guitar playing more fun and expressive.
Another essential element of a guitar’s sound is the system of electronics it contains. The most important element of an electric guitar’s electronics is its pickup (or pickups). Pickups are like small microphones that sit just beneath the strings. The position and quality of the pickup(s) in the guitar will have a large impact on the guitar’s sound. Pickups placed near the bridge produce a sharp “twangy” tone, while those placed near the fretboard produce a deeper more melodic tone.
The best option for a beginner (and many more advanced guitarists) is a guitar with multiple pickups. This allows the guitarist to choose the appropriate sound for the type of song being played, and greatly increases the guitar’s versatility. A common setup is a guitar with three pickups and a switch that allows the guitarist to select which pickup(s) are being used. In this case, a 5-way switch allows for any pickup to be used, as well as combining multiple pickups to produce a unique sound.
Just as with any product, budget is an important factor to consider when buying an electric guitar. Guitars can range in price from about forty dollars to several thousand. And just like with most products, the top of the price range spectrum is occupied by “designer” guitars with celebrity endorsements that don’t offer much more in the way of quality than those in the middle of the price range. In short, they are the equivalent of a designer handbag: inflated price without much real functional benefit.
The truth is that most of the name brand guitar manufacturers (Fender, Ibanez, Behringer, Jackson) produce an affordable beginner model, and most of these models are of perfectly good quality for a new musician, and will last for years. As long as you stick to the guidelines in this article for body design, electronics, amplifier design, etc., you can’t go too wrong.
The next important task is selecting the right amplifier to go with your new guitar!
Choosing the Right Amplifier
Most people (but perhaps not all people) realize that the electric guitar does not produce any sound by itself (except an almost inaudible twang). The sound you here from an electric guitar actually comes from the amplifier, which is connected to the guitar by an instrument cable. Therefore, the quality of the amplifier is as important as the quality of the guitar itself in determining how the guitar will ultimately sound. Much like selecting the guitar itself, the process of selecting an amplifier can be intimidating, but can be boiled down to a few essential features.
When reading about a guitar amplifier, the first thing that is always listed is the power rating. The power of a guitar amplifier is measured in watts (abbreviated W). The higher the wattage, the louder the sound it can produce. However, although this feature of an amplifier is important for stage performers, it is not the most important thing to a beginner guitarist.
Practice amps are available with as little as 5 watts of power, while amplifiers with hundreds or thousands of watts of power are typically used for stage performance. Realistically, a power rating of 10-15 watts is more than enough to wake the neighbors, and you’ll rarely if ever max out the power of your practice amp. The more important aspects of an amplifier are its features and effects, as these will affect the sound quality.
One important feature of an amplifier is the type of electronics it employs. There are basically two types of amplifiers: solid state and vacuum tube. While almost all modern electronics, including guitar amplifiers to some extent, have phased out vacuum tubes and replaced them with transistors, it is still widely accepted that vacuum tube amplifiers produce better tone, better distortion, and better all around sound quality. In fact, many if not most professional rock, blues and jazz musicians use vacuum tube amplifiers because of their superior sound quality. Most practice amps in the price range affordable by beginner guitarists do not include vacuum tubes, but there are a few companies that have made this option available. The Behringer AC108, included in the Vintager Guitar Pack [http://www.beatstaff.com/174970/6604609.html], has a vacuum tube that can be turned on or off, allowing for increased versatility and sound quality, while still maintaining an affordable price.
Another desirable feature of guitar amplifiers, particularly for beginners, is a CD input. This allows the guitarist to plug a CD player, cassette or iPod into the back of the amplifier, and play along with his / her favorite tracks. If you’ve ever tried to learn to play guitar, you probably realize that this is something beginner guitarists do all the time during the learning process, and the convenience of a CD input makes this process much easier.
The last major element to consider when buying a guitar amplifier is the built in effects it includes. Effects such as distortion, reverb, and equalization (EQ) allow the sound produced by the amplifier to be customized, thereby increasing its versatility. The more effects that are built into the amplifier, the fewer effects you’ll need to go out and buy separately to produce that perfect sound you’re looking for.
The process of buying an electric guitar can be confusing, but it should be fun, too. Music isn’t meant to be about instruction manuals and long spec sheets – it’s about fun and inspiration. Hopefully, by providing some basic guidance on what you’ll need to start your guitar career, this article will make that process easier and more fun.