Updated: Jul 16
“...How to choose an electric guitar? Which brand? Color? Sound? What is the price range? Should I order from inside the EU or outside?...”
There are answers to all these questions, and most of them will surprise you in their simplicity:
How Does It Work?
So, the first thing we need to do is to get to know the instrument a little better:
Electric guitars are distinguished from other guitars by the way they are built and mainly by the way they produce sound.
The electric guitar is amplified by magnetic coils (called pickups) that interact with the metal strings of the guitar to produce electric impulses. Those electric impulses move through different circuits that control the amplitude and wavelength of the impulses.. The electricity travels onwards through an electric cable that connects the guitar to the amplifier. The amplifier’s “job” is to do just that, amplify the electrical signal. But, also, it converts the electric energy to acoustic energy using the membrane. The membrane pushes the air molecules back and forth and creates sound waves. Those sound waves reach your ears and are then translated by your brain as sound.
Now that we have some basic knowledge on the electric guitar, let’s learn some manufacturers’ names:
Gibson - Is an American company founded in 1902- one of the first ever to produce electric guitars back in 1936. The Gibson co. produces guitars in the US (Gibson USA) in Mexico and in the far east, the further you sway from the US the cheaper the instrument becomes (but sometimes less durable).
Popular models - Les Paul, SG, ES, Flying V - for your consideration notice that the Les Paul is a very heavy guitar (4-5 kg).
* Gibson also has a sister company (Epiphone) that produces legal imitations of the brand names, they are cheaper but not necessarily lesser in quality.
Fender - Is also an American company (founded in 1946) - The Fender Co. Also produces guitars in the US, in Mexico and in the far east.
Popular models - Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster - Fender guitar are slim and light and have been extremely popular for decades.
* Fender also has a sister company (Squire) that produces legal imitation of the brand names.
Ibanez - Is a Japanese company which makes extremely light and thin guitars, precision and quality are definitely their moto.
Popular models - RG
* Ibanez does not have an official sister company but there are a lot of Ibanez imitations in the market.
ESP - Also a Japanese company, ESP manufactures guitars which are a bit similar to the Gibson’s but with a totally different sound and feel.
The company’s guitars are great in quality and decent in prices.
Popular models - LTD
Jackson - An American company which was bought by Fender in the 90’s, the company produces low cost guitars.
There are of course many other companies that produce original and imitation guitars, but these are the big names that you need to know.
From early 2000's guitar chain stores have started manufacturing their own brand names for guitar and other musical equipment. Those are mostly considered beginner models but can definitely serve you, in many cases for many years of studying and playing.
An example of that will be Fazely from Bas-Shop (NL) and Harley Benton from Thomann (DE).
Before Choosing your electric guitar:
If you're new to guitar my recommendation is that you start with a classical guitar. But, if you're mind is set on buying an electric, I recommend to go for a cheap electric that will not burn a hole in your pocket until you've gathered some experience and an opinion about what you like and what feels comfortable to you.
Choosing A Guitar
So, now that we acquired some basic understanding on the instrument and we got familiarized with some of the brand names, let’s learn some tips about choosing your instrument.
Let’s divide the purchase process into three elements:
1) Price Range
Price range - Before you go on buying a guitar you should think about what you are actually willing to pay for a new guitar. Think of your needs. Are you a beginner, have you played guitars before, do you know what kind of guitar best suits you? These are questions that will guide you in deciding what is your price range.
Prices of guitars (+ all NEEDED accessories) start from around 100€ and up to thousands of Euros.
Before you leave for the store, I suggest that you go online and search which store has the biggest variety and the best price ranges. Make sure you decide on the price range before you go out to buy.
Feel - When you get to the store, try out different guitars from different models and companies (as many as you have patience for …). Sit with it and play exercises and songs that you knows well. It is important to feel comfortable with the guitar, to feel that the songs are easily played on the new instrument.
Moving from an acoustic or classical guitar to an electric might feel strange at first, but the playability of the instrument (the feel) should be good, you need to feel comfortable holding it and playing familiar tunes.
Sound - The next step after finding the most comfortable guitar is the test of sound. This simply means how much you like the sound of the guitar. You may think that you need to be an expert but in actuality, the untrained ear is as important as a "professional" one . If you and your child like the sound of the guitar, that’s enough, don’t let anyone else with a “trained” ear decide for you.
- Make a chart and rate the guitars by price & playability.
- Comfort! Is the most important thing about the new guitar.
- Sound is a matter of personal taste, don’t let anyone dictate what you like.
Other important things you may need to know:
Color - Meaningless - unless you have to have a glow in the dark guitar…
Inside the EU or outside - There is really no need to buy abroad. Unless someone is already flying to a place with cheaper guitars. If that is the case - go to a store, choose your guitar, write down its details and buy it where it’s cheaper.
Part 4 - Accessories
After you choose a guitar you need to purchase some necessities. Notice that their are Necessities and Luxuries:
Amplifier - A Necessity - Without an amplifier an electric guitar can barely be heard. For your first amp, there is no need to buy a very “loud” amplifier. A 40 watt amplifier is more than enough.
I would even go for amps around 15 watts -even portable amps which run on batteries are loud enough these days and are super portable.
- Take the guitar you have chosen, plug it in the amplifier and check that you like the sound of the amp.
- Some amplifiers have an headphones output that mutes the main speaker and lets you practice with the sound of the headphones alone.
Cable - A Necessity - There are many different cable manufacturers, buy something simple and cheap. It is true that a cable affect the sound but it is very unlikely that you will be able to hear the difference. It is also true that good cables last longer. But if you take care of your cable and roll it correctly a cheap cable may very well last as long as an expensive one.
Plectrums (Picks) - Necessity - A very important product. This little piece of plastic will get lost all over your house. It is unavoidable. I recommend you buy a box of 20-30 picks to keep in your house, pocket and wallet.
Effect Pedals - Luxury - At least for beginners. Contact me for more details about buying effect pedals.
My Personal rule of thumb is, it's always better to buy a multi-effect pedal if you have no prior experience with effect pedals.
Guitar Tuner - Luxury - Yes, it is imperative to have a tuned guitar. But, most of you have a smartphone or a tablet. If you do, download a FREE guitar tuner app, and you're all set.
If you don’t have a smartphone, buy a tuner or a tuning fork.
Metronome - Luxury - Same deal as the tuner, you can find a free app for a metronome on all platforms.
Even a simple Google search for "metronome" will land you on a built-in metronome on the search page.
Part 5 - The “Set Up”
Guitars, like cars, need a tune-up once in a while. A guitar setup-up should be done by a professional luthier or guitar engineer (NOT by a guitar teacher or store clerk). A setup should be done when the teacher points it out or after about a year of use.
- For more information about Guitar setups and Lutherie please contact me -
That’s it! you're ready to buy your first electric guitar! If you have any further questions about guitars, effects, or anything else don’t hesitate to contact me. I have been teaching guitar for 17 years, and have heard it all :)
Guitar Lessons @ The Pijp Amsterdam