In my last post, the focus was on the purchase of a ‘first’ acoustic guitar. This week we look at your ‘first’ electric purchase. And let’s face it, electric guitars are very cool!
Things to think about before choosing an electric guitar:
- Playability – There is a trade off when moving to electric guitar, the strings are all metal (unlike a classical for example), so strings 1, 2 and 3 will be thinner – which might make smaller fingers sore when starting out. But the trade off is that the ‘action’ or gap between the strings and the fretboard is usually smaller, and the neck tends to be thinner. So I find it takes less effort to press the strings down and easier to play chords with the thinner neck. Electric tend to be heavier too.
- Suitability – Clearly electric guitars are suited to a different style of music to classical or acoustic, but they are versatile hence you can play chords ‘clean’ (without overdrive or fuzz!). So think about your favourite artists and the style of music you wish to play.
- Accessories (more toys!) You’ll need to get an amplifier and guitar lead. Generally electric guitars are ‘solid bodied’ and therefore do not have the hollow construction with sound hole like acoustics to project the sound. There are also ‘hollow bodied’ electrics available which will feature ‘f-holes’ on the body, these may sound a little louder, but ultimately you will want to get an amplifier for practice.
- Small practice amps can cost from £30 for small 3watt table top size (which are surprisingly loud given their small size), to larger 10-30watt practice combos (range from £100+) which will offer more functionality. I will delve in to the world of amps in a later post, but for moment -just make sure you have considered this in your budget.
Decisions, decisions… Budget aside, there are many styles, shapes and colours of electric guitar to choose from- this choice is almost entirely personal taste! You may be swayed to a particular guitar as it’s used by your favourite musician(s) or just see ‘the one’ when you walk in to your local music shop.
Either way, I strongly recommend going in person and trying out as many guitars you can, plug them in and see how they sound. If you’re not confident playing in a shop, ask the assistant for their advice and even see if they’ll plug in and play a few pieces on different guitars you’re choosing between for you. But make sure you pick up the guitar and at least feel what it’s like. This may sound strange but feel factor is important– and individual.
The most popular types of electric guitar:
- Les Paul or ‘LP’ style- played by guitar legends including Jimmy Page, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa… The LP is my personal favourite- pictured in the above photo adorning the walls of Guitar Village, Farnham, Surrey, UK (www.guitarvillage.co.uk). It is a solid lump with a reassuring weight, featuring two ‘humbucker’ pickups, 3-way selector switch and a dedicated volume and tone controls for each pickup. The LP can be finished with beautiful decorative wood tops. The sound is warm and exhibits excellent sustain. A range of prices from the good quality entry level Epiphone LP £200-£500, through to the premium US made Gibsons £500-£2000.
- Stratocaster or ‘Strat’- played by legends including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan…. Striking and instantly recognisable, with its double cut away, contoured (shaped) body for added playing comfort. The standard Strat features three ‘single coil’ pickups, 5-way selector switch and one volume, two tone controls mounted on white pick guard. The sound tends to be a thinner more chimey sounding compared to the LP- but it is a signature sought after sound. Good quality entry level Squier Strats are priced from £100-£300, Made in Mexico Fenders Strats around £400+, US made Strats priced from £700. The photo above, taken at Peach Guitars Felsted, Essex, is a selection of beautiful custom shop US Strats, at the upper end of the price spectrum!
- Telecaster or ‘Tele’ – this is another iconic design, launched prior to Strat in 1950s. Favoured by legends including Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen. Famous more for a classic ‘twang’ sound the Tele features a single cut away and two single coil pickups, three way selector switch and one volume and one tone control. They are priced similar to the Strats listed above. The photo above taken also at Peach Guitars, Felsted, Essex. (www.peachguitars.co.uk)
- Others – beyond these mainstream shapes and styles there are some wonderful ‘other’ options which might take your fancy! Flying V, SG, Expolorer, Firebird, Jaguar, Jazzmaster etc.. The photo above shows a gorgeous selection of hollow bodied electric guitars.
- One other option for a solid entry level guitar is the Yamaha Pacifica range- a variation on the Strat style these guitars offer a good compromise budget and quality. Prices start around £200.
- If your budget is limited there are other entry level options in the sub £100 range. Please see my last post for a selection of online stores you should check out. Alternatively, there is a lively second hand market for guitars online or in second hand shops- but please take care when buying used and use common sense.
This topic is quite evocative, and everyone will have their own view on which is the best sound and look. Take your time, shop around and enjoy the search, and find what is right for you.