Electric Guitar Buying Guide

(Electric_Guitars | Posted 2008-12-01)

Electric Guitar Buying Guide

As with any musical instrument purchase, buying an electric guitar can be a challenge with so many different types of guitars, different skill levels of the guitarist, different price points, and different genres of music out there. The key to shopping for guitars is to know who will play it, know your budget, and know what's out there.

Know The Guitarist

Are you shopping for a new electric guitar for yourself, for a child, for a friend? How long has this person been playing? What types of music do you think they will want to play the most? Do they have any preferences already? These are some of the questions you will want to ask yourself before heading out to check out what's available in the musical instrument marketplace.

Know Your Budget

Probably the best way to find a good deal is to know exactly what you can spend before you start looking. Set a budget. It's a lot easier to compare prices and features when you know where the line is drawn in the checkbook. Electric guitars can be found for as little as $100, or as much as $20,000 - or more - so obviously price is a very important factor. There are also certain brands that are focused on different pricing segments. For instance, the Squier brand from Fender is designed to be a lower cost, entry-level electric guitar brand. Many models can be found for right around $200, which is a great place to start if you're shopping for someone who is just starting out. If it's a more accomplished player you're shopping for, you should start looking in the $500 to $1000 range. Fender (who makes Squier), also has guitars in higher price ranges, but there are many other competitors in this pricing segment as well such as Epiphone, Jackson, ESP's LTD line, Yamaha, Schecter and others. Obviously, if you have the money to spend, and the person you are shopping for is quite accomplished, or is a collector, you will want to look in some of the higher priced ranges that are over the $1000 price point. Some brands in this range are Gibson, Paul Reed Smith, Zemaitis, and others.

Some Tips on Buying an Electric Guitar From Our Readers

Get what you really want even if it's a little more expensive. Sure, you're going to have a budget, but how many times have you gone and purchased something only to regret later not spending a few more dollars for something nicer. Don't make that mistake the first time. Get what you want. It's a lot easier to pay something off that you really like, than something you're not totally thrilled with. - Dave L., St. Louis, MO, USA

Do some research on the guitarists from the bands that play the music you really like. Chances are, you'll be able to find a wealth of information on what they play on the web. This can help you identify a few guitars you may not have originally thought of. Also, how cool would it be to play the exact guitar that a famous guitarist used on hit recording? - Nelson P., Birmingham, England, UK

Don't just consider solid bodies. There are also hollow-bodies and semi-hollow-body electric guitars out there. While a hollow body is basically an acoustic with pickups perhaps thinner, a semi-hollow body is thinner yet, has better sustain and can be played at higher volume levels without creating feedback. - Frank M., Portland, OR, USA

Just as in other types of guitars (acoustic,classical), the wood used in construction can make a huge difference in the sound of your electric guitar. Maple, Alder and Poplar are two very popular woods used in the construction of electric guitars. - Jeff C., Erie, PA USA

Pickups are the mechanisms by which the string vibrations are "picked up" and transmitted through the electric guitar cable to the amplifier. As you might imagine, they have a significant impact on the sound. If you are looking for a guitar that can play a nice clean tone, you will want to consider single coil pickups. This might be handy for someone that will be picking a lot of chord progressions, or playing music such as jazz, pop, or country. If you are looking for a guitar that can generate some screaming guitar solos and punchy power chords, such as those found in some hard rock and heavy metal music, you're going to want to look for an electric guitar that includes paired single coil pick-ups or humbuckers as part of the onboard electronics. Humbuckers were originally developed to eliminate the noise that can sometimes be evident with single coil pickups, as the two opposing single coils will cancel out feedback between them, or buck them hum. In the best case scenario, the electric guitar you choose may have both single coils and humbuckers and allow you to switch between or mix the responses from them into the final tone. - Matt S., Charleston, WV, USA

Another important feature to consider for the guitar you select is the neck. Just like every guitarist has different musical genres he or she likes, and different skill levels and abilities, everyone has different hands. Necks come in various shapes and sizes. Thin necks can be very fast and helpful for those who would like to play really fast, but thicker necks might be comfortable for playing chords over longer periods of time. It's important to know what is comfortable to you, or the person you are shopping for, so take some time to figure this out before making your final purchase. - Gary K., Cherry Hill, NJ, USA

While you can find decent electric guitars for just a few hundred dollars, you really get into a sweet spot when you're looking in the $1000 - $2000 range. Anything less than that is likely to be made from cheaper materials and, of course, cheaper labor (imported). Anything more than that is probably going to have some nicer features and trims, but probably won't sound a whole heck of a lot better. We recommend this price range to really get the best value for your money in a guitar. - Bryan A., Charlotte, NC, USA

If you have some tips for purchasing an electric guitar, please email them to us through the contacts page and we will review for posting here!

Here's some more tips recently posted on the Fender website, in an article entitled "Electric Guitar Buying Tips" in TechTalk column:

1. Get a grip. A guitar with well-adjusted action should be easy on your hands and fingers-you shouldn't have to have a vise-like grip just to comfortably hit a C chord. You shouldn't have to be Iron Man to play "Iron Man."

2. Sample and hold. Try out different guitars. Play them. Hold them. Play them standing up and sitting down. Stand in front of a mirror with them. Plug them in and turn them up. Hold it up high like George Harrison. Hold it way down low like Slash. It's different horses for different courses—there are no hard and fast rules, but your hands, eyes and ears will tell you which one is the one.

3. Pack it. If you're a beginner, guitar packs are a cool and very affordable way to go-containing everything you need to start playing: the guitar, small amp, strap, gig bag, tuner, cord, strings, picks. Some have stands and instruction books/DVDs.

4. Get the setup. Guitars are made of wood, and wood changes with temperature and humidity. On the long road from manufacturer to dealer, it's natural for a guitar's original factory-spec setup to change, so don't worry if everything isn't tip-top right off the rack, spec-wise. Electric guitars are highly adjustable machines, and a setup can make an amazing difference.

5. Import-ant note. Most domestic guitar makers also offer models built outside the United States that deliver good quality for great prices. Imports built in Japan, Mexico, China, Korea and elsewhere have improved in recent years and often mean solid value, especially if you'd prefer to wait a little longer to buy a more expensive U.S.-made instrument.

6. The amp. The amp affects the sound too. If you're trying out several guitars in a store, try them out through the same amp. That amp, by the way, should be as close as possible to the one you have or the one you're going to get. Use your amp, if possible.

7. Guitar speak. If you're new to playing and you don't really speak guitar fluently just yet, bring somebody with you who does. If you don't know a truss rod from a humbucker and action from intonation, it certainly couldn't hurt.

8. Cross check pricing. New or used, it's fairly simple to hit websites like eBay and Craig's List to see what the instrument you're after is going for in various degrees of age and condition (while it's great to get a baseline for price, we recommend buying Fender guitars only from an authorized Fender dealer, which guarantees that you're buying a genuine Fender product covered by warranties).

9. Beware of too much advice. There is such a thing as too much advice. If ten different well-meaning confidants are trying to sway you in ten different directions about what to buy or where to buy it, remember that you're the one who'll be making the call, spending the money and playing the guitar. Get what you want. That's our advice.

10. Educate yourself. Related to No. 7 above. If you don't speak guitar yet, start learning. Ask questions of those who already know something, and there are all kinds of cool books and websites that are great educational resources.

Here's a link to the full article for reference: Electric Guitar Buying Tips

Electric Guitar Clinic Articles

Would you like Single Coils or Humbuckers with that?

If you've always wanted to know what the technical differences are between single coil and humbucker pickups, and a little history behind it, you've come to the right place. Matt takes us in-depth in this newest Electric Guitar Clinic article. Check out the article here: Single Coil Vs. Humbucker Pickups

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