Electric Guitars are the essential ingredient of Rock'n'Roll - and also used in many other musical styles. But with so many options, how to choose your first guitar?
We previously wrote about how to choose your first acoustic guitar. Now, it's time to have a look at electric guitars: What's the difference between a solid body and a semi-acoustic guitar? Are starter packs always the best option? Well, PMT is here to help you with these and many other issues!
On one of our recent videos, Dagan from PMT Newcastle talks you through some of the ins and outs of choosing a new electric guitar. Check it out, then carry on with our blog:
And remember: if after reading this blog you still have any questions at all, or is still not sure what instrument to choose, please visit a PMT Store nearby, where our guitar experts will be at hand to help you to choose the perfect guitar for you!
TOP 5 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING YOUR FIRST GUITAR:
1) Choose A Guitar Like Your Idol's
Everyone wants a guitar that makes them go "Wow!", and it changes from person to person, of course. Owning an instrument that looks like the one that your idol plays can make a difference. After all, most people decide to play a guitar because they've been inspired by a particular band or guitarist.
It's important that someone's first guitar should be an instrument that will inspire the player. And few things can inspire a person more than someone they admire!
A good starting point, then, would be to consider what instrument your favourite artist plays. Not just because it'd be great to play something that looks similar, but also for the sound - different guitars can sound wildly different, and if your favourite guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, for instance, you'd be happier choosing a different guitar than if your favourite guitarist was Jimmy Page. (For the record: Jimi Hendrix = Stratocaster, Jimmy Page = Les Paul).
But even on a superficial level, the look of the guitar is very important - If you're buying your son a guitar this Christmas, and his idol is Kurt Cobain, he'd be much more pleased to get a Jaguar guitar (similar to Cobain's) than a Telecaster (a guitar model not really associated with Kurt). Inversely, you can be sure a Keith Richards fan would prefer a Telecaster rather than a Jaguar, for the same reasons.
You can easily find which gear most famous guitarists have played by searching online, or even by consulting our guitar experts at one of our PMT stores or by phone. In fact, many brands recognize the appeal of popular artists and now the market has a wealth of different Signature Electric Guitars, custom made to appeal to fans of guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Marr, Joe Satriani and many others.
2) Pick A Guitar That Suits Your Musical Tastes
If you don't have a favourite guitar hero, then the next best thing is to consider what kind of music you (or the person you're buying a guitar for) like the most. Please note that this is just a very general rule of thumb, to help a beginner to choose a guitar.
Most experienced players will play whatever instrument they fancy anyway, as most guitars can sound fine in whatever musical style you choose to play. In fact, many guitarists often like collecting instruments and have a few different guitars so they can enjoy all the different tones and sounds they offer.
We won't go into technical details about the difference between those models because it's not that relevant for someone who's just starting out.
STRATOCASTER-style: Rock, Blues, Indie, Pop... anything!
The Stratocaster (or simply "Strat") is the most popular type of electric guitar,used in many different styles of music, from blues to pop, from indie to heavy metal! This is a versatile guitar that suits most styles. We recommend: the affordable Eastcoast guitars are good, as well as the Squier Strats.
The Squier Classic Vibe Stratocasters are the best value-for-money Strats right now, good for beginners but suitable even for experienced players. The Yamaha Pacifica 112V is another great value guitar, as good as anything twice its price.
But nothing beats an authentic Fender Standard Stratocaster which is still quite affordable, and definitely a keeper!
Guitar tip: if you're playing punk or heavy metal, choose a Stratocaster HSS guitar, which comes with a humbucker pickup in the bridge position, for added power.
TELECASTER-style: Rock, Blues, Indie, Punk
The Telecaster, or "Tele", is a very traditional guitar, and great for traditional blues and rock'n'roll - after all, it's one of the earliest guitar models ever manufactured, predating the Strat.
However, after the success of Franz Ferdinand a few years ago, this model started to get very popular with indie bands, and today it's one of the main choices for younger players - it's seemingly everywhere!
Once again, Eastcoast and Squier provide the best affordable models in that particular style, and are perfect for beginners, but something like the Squier Classic Vibe Thinline Telecaster is definitely good enough even for more experienced players.
If you can stretch your budget, an authentic Fender Telecaster is a better instrument, which'll last a lifetime - and some models are reasonably priced, such as the Fender Standard and Modern Player Telecaster models.
LES PAUL-style: Classic Rock, Blues, Heavy Rock, Punk
Great for blues, rock'n'roll, heavy rock. Think Led Zeppelin, Guns'N'Roses, Aerosmith. No other guitar model has as much "mojo". Epiphone makes the best affordable Les Paul guitars around, but nothing beats an authentic Gibson. They are usually expensive, but very desirable. The Gibson 2015 Les Paul models have built-in tuners and wider necks, which suit beginners and casual players, whereas the new Gibson 2016 Les Paul guitars follow more traditional specs, which should please the more experienced players. Either way, any Gibson Les Paul is an outstanding instrument, with the Gibson 2017 Models promising to be some of their best yet.
Some of the best current models include the stunning Gibson 2016 Les Paul Standard Traditional Heritage Cherry Sunburst, the even more luxurious Gibson 2016 Les Paul Premium Traditional Heritage Cherry Sunburst and the super-affordable and versatile Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded 2016 T Satin Ebony.
SG-style: Classic Rock, Blues, Heavy Rock, Punk
SG guitars are usually popular with heavy-rock players - they're light, slim and offer great access to the upper frets - which is ideal for soloing and shredding. Some acts who used one include Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Cream-era Clapton. The Epiphone SG models are quite affordable, and great guitars for the price. The Ibanez RG guitars and most PRS models are different than the SG but also popular with the fast & loud brigade. PRS makes some really expensive models, but the affordable PRS SE Standard 24 looks and sound totally awesome.
Another great option if you want to rock out, is the Gretsch G5655T-CB, which bears a shape familiar to those who like AC/DC and Malcolm Young, who played a similar-style Gretsch.
However, the best choice is of course to go for a proper Gibson SG, available in may different finishes and pickup configurations.
JAGUAR / JAZZMASTER -style: Alt-Rock, Indie, Surf Music
These models are popular with fans of more alternative music, like Nirvana, Radiohead or Sonic Youth. In the sixties they were commonly used by 'Surf Music' bands including the Beach Boys, and later adopted by punk and new wave acts such as Television and Elvis Costello, before finally becoming a classic (and almost exclusively) "Alt-Rock" instrument. The Squier J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster is by far one of the best and most popular models right now.
SEMI-ACOUSTIC-style: Blues, Jazz, Rock'n'Roll
These guitars are great for jazz and blues, but can be used for rock'n'roll too: from The Beatles to Oasis, Foo Fighters and Arctic Monkeys, many rock bands have used this type of guitar. Gretsch semi-acoustics are a popular choice for 50's-style rockabilly and rock'n'roll, whereas Ibanez models are considered some of the best for Jazz.
Talking about The Beatles... owning a Rickenbacker is a dream of most fans who also play guitar. These guitars are unlike any other, and they look and sound superb.
If in doubt, Epiphone semi-acoustics are always a great choice: with their affordable prices and good quality, they are equally suitable to pros and beginners alike.
In short: The most desirable semi-acoustics are perhaps the Rickenbackers (as used by The Beatles) and of course, any Gibson. The best buy right now is the Epiphone ES-335 Dot in cherry. Fans of Cream-era Eric Clapton, Noel Gallagher, and, well, Back To The Future's Marty McFly will love that classic look, for a very affordable price!
3) Semi-Acoustic vs. Solid Body Guitars: Which One to Choose?
Semi-Acoustic electric guitars are quite different than the other models mentioned (Strats, Teles, etc.) because they have bigger, hollow or semi-hollow bodies. This means they are lighter, and produce a richer, more "acoustic" tone than the other models mentioned above. On the other hand, it also means they are not usually suitable for heavy-metal, because they tend to feedback more when played at really loud volumes.
The other guitar we mentioned are all solid body guitars, which means their main body is a solid block of wood. Depending of the design style and quality of wood, they can be heavier or lighter. Les Paul guitars are known for being heavier than any other, though these days many are made with weight-relief designs.
4) Are You Buying The Guitar For A Child?
If you're buying the guitar for a small child (say, ten year-old or younger) you should buy a 3/4 sized electric guitar, which is more suitable for players with smaller hands. A child can play a full-size guitar, but not without some difficulty, so it's not really recommended, because it could put some kids off!
Be warned: if you're buying the guitar for a teen, though, don't even dream of buying a 3/4 guitar... your son/daughter might hate you for that - they want to rock out like grown ups!
5) Should You Buy A Starter Pack?
Electric Guitar Starter packs are very convenient, as they come with literally everything the future guitar hero will need to get started, which makes these packs the perfect choice if you're looking for a cheap, beginners electric guitar. These days you can find many packs that offer outstanding quality and value for money, and they also look great as a gift, be it at Christmas or for birthdays, because everything comes in a big, nice box! The Epiphone Slash AFD Guitar Packs are really great - and one of the best guitar packs available right now!
Another great choice are the Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Packs - one of the best value guitar packages, and available in four different colours. The Pacifica is an excellent Strat-style guitar and even more experienced players enjoy playing this model:
The only downside of guitar packs is that you'll be more limited in your choices. If you want something of better quality, or that suits you more, the best option is still to buy everything separately. You can choose a bigger or a smaller amp, coloured leads, etc. For a more customized and special starter package, you can contact us on 0151 448 2089 or try visiting one of our PMT Stores - our guitar experts will be able to sort you out!
And Remember: Practice is Important!
Of course, once you get a guitar it's important to practice regularly. But sometimes just playing on your own can be frustrating. That's why one of the most popular products we sell is the Digitech Trio Band Creator, a simple and fun pedal that perfectly simulates how it's like to rehearse with a band! You simply play a few chords, and the Digitech Trio creates a bass and drum backing track, on top of which you can play along. For the beginner, it's the best way to learn how it feels like jamming with a band!
Looks like magic... but it's the wonders of DigiTech technology:
What Other Guitar Accessories Do You Need To Buy?
As we mentioned on our Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide, those who choose to go for an acoustic guitar got it easy - the acoustic guitar is an instrument that can be played straight out of the box! Not so with the Electric Guitar. The sound it produces when unplugged is too quiet to be of any use - it's meant to be plugged into a guitar amplifier, to amplify the sound captured by its pickups. But that's not all, so here's a list of all essential accessories you need to own if you buy an electric guitar that doesn't come in a starter pack:
1) GUITAR AMP
Like guitars, every amp sounds different than the others, and often some models are more suitable for some styles than others. The most important thing to bear in mind is that when buying a beginners guitar amp, it doesn't need to be too loud, as it's unlikely a novice player will be playing gigs anytime soon. That's why most guitar starter packs only come with a small practice amp, usually no louder than 15-watts.
But in terms of value, nothing beats the tiny Orange Micro Crush! It has built-in overdrive and tuner, and sounds pretty good! Even more experienced guitarists can find uses for this amp - as a recording amp, to jam at home or simply pack in the luggage when going on holiday!
2) GUITAR FX PEDALS
Most modern guitarists use a combination of different FX Pedals. The most traditional effects are Fuzz and Wah-Wah, as pioneered by guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Prices vary greatly, and the pros usually opt for the more high-end brands, such as Strymon and Wampler.
For beginners or guitarists on a budget, one of the best options are the new Blaxx FX Pedals. They're small, very affordable and sound great! If you own a lot of FX pedals, having your own power supply, such as the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus is quite important - it may seem like a big investment at first, but can save you money on the long run, and prevent your pedals from running out of juice mid-performance!
3) GUITAR CABLE, PICKS, STRAP, STRINGS & TUNER
Those are the essential Guitar Accessories that usually come with any guitar pack, and the ones you too should buy:
- We recommend a 3m guitar lead, as a beginner won't be playing gigs so doesn't need anything longer than that. Just choose one to suit your budget, but usually you'll find quality cables for under £10.
- Most guitarists use a guitar pick (also called "plectrum") when playing guitar. They come in a wide range of sizes/thickness, but for a beginner any pack of medium picks will do nicely.
- Unless the player plans to sit down with his/her guitar all the time, we'd recommend a guitar strap as one of your essential accessories! They come in a variety of designs, simply pick one that suits your tastes and budget! The leather straps are much more expensive than the nylon ones, but usually look much better and can be great as part of a gift!
- Guitarists always need a couple of packs of spare strings, and perhaps a beginner needs them more than most, so getting some is very important! There is a great variety of choice, as usual, but for a beginner we'd recommend a light set of guitar strings, with gauges from 0.009 -0.042mm. Thicker strings can produce a more powerful sound with greater sustain, and many guitarists prefer then, but lighter strings will feel softer to play, and that's better for someone who's just starting out, as they won't hurt the fingers as much.
- A good guitar tuner is the one essential accessories no beginner can do without! If your guitar is not in tune, it'll be quite hard to learn how to play it, after all! There are many tuners to choose from, but for the beginner we'd recommend any Clip-On tuner, because they are cheap and can be also used for acoustic guitars.
If the electric guitar player already owns a few pedals, a good option is the Blaxx Tuner Pedal, which can just stay plugged in chain with other effects, on the floor, at all times. For live performers, a tuner pedal is also the best option.
The accessories we mentioned above are the essential ones, but if your budget can include more, we'd really recommend a Guitar Case or, at the very least, a Gig Bag (which always comes as part of any guitar starter pack!) A guitar stand or wall hanger would be helpful, too. Finally, have a look at our Guitar Care & Cleaning section. If your budget allows you to include any guitar care product, by all means, do it! After all - now that you went all this trouble to find your perfect guitar, it would be a shame not to make sure it always looks (and sounds!) its best! After all, a guitar is not just for Christmas... it can be a friend for life!