The Complete Guide to Buying an Electric Guitar


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04-23-2005, 03:01 PM
I?ve looked everywhere in the columns etc. and can't find any articles on buying an electric guitar. There is one, which is rather brief IMO, so I thought I?d take the time to make one.


Buying an electric guitar can be a very daunting task for the new musician. There are hundreds of variations, each having their own good and bad points, so here I will try and help you to find a guitar right for you.

Parts of the guitar

First of all, here are some labelled pictures of two of the most popular designs of guitar out on the market today. These pictures will help you to understand some of the words and terms I will be using later, for those of you who don?t know already.


Les Paul

The pickups on the Stratocaster are called ?single coils?, and the ones on the les Paul are called ?Humbuckers?.

All pickups give different sounds, and it?s important to try and find the one that?s right for you.

Humbuckers are the most common choice of pickups for rock players today. They boast two coils, which act against each other to cancel hum, hence the name ?Humbucker?. Covered humbuckers such as Gibson?s PAF feature metal covers over the pickup which gives the pickup a more warm tone than an open humbucker.
ABOVE: Gibson?s PAF Humbucker is a very common choice for classic rock enthusiasts, and is standard on most Les Pauls and Les Paul style guitars.
ABOVE: Open Coil Humbucker

Single Coils:
The single coil is famous for its 60-cycle hum, and its trebly, bright tone. Used on Strats, it?s become a very popular choice among as whole range of different players, from all different styles. One of the most versatile pickups you can get.
Open Coil Single Coil. Found on Strats, and on Teles in the bridge position. The neck pickup on a Tele is covered with metal, in a similar fashion to the PAF.

A P-90 is a single coil pickup at heart, but with a bigger size, and a growl associated with the humbucker. It is smaller than a humbucker, but bigger than a single coil, and its extra windings give it a nice, warm punchy tone, which is again very versatile, and a very good blues pickup in the neck.

Single Coil-Sized Humbucker:
The single coil sized humbucker is preferred by many Strat players, who use the pickup as an alternative to their stock bridge pickup. It has two coils, like a humbucker, but it?s the size of a single coil. It has more growl, and a higher output than a normal single coil, but retains the single coil tone that its become so famous for.
Often, the traditional individual poles are replaced with blade style magnets, like above.

What type of music will I most likely be playing?

Any guitar can be used for any style, although some are more suited to certain styles and genres of music than others. Before you venture off to the nearest guitar store and quickly buy the first and cheapest guitar you can find, decide which type of music you are most likely to play. If you are likely to play a wide variety of different styles, you may want to opt for a guitar equipped with both humbucker(s) and single coil(s), and a tremolo bridge which will be more versatile.

Rock ? A guitar equipped with humbuckers would be more suited to most styles of rock, a Les Paul is a common choice, being good for both clean and distorted playing. A ?fat strat? is another choice for rock greats (Strat with a humbucker in the bridge position) as are the guitars under ?metal?.

Metal ? A humbucker equipped guitar is basically essential for metal playing, with packs of distortion on top. An Ibanez, ESP or Jackson would be a good choice.

Blues ? A Telecaster is a common choice for a blues player (i.e. Muddy Waters), as is any type of semi-hollow or hollow body electric, such as famous models like the Gibson ES-355 and the Epiphone Casino

Country ? A Telecaster is also a guitar of choice for country players such as Merle Haggard.

Those are the main categories of styles that a guitar can be suited to, but like I said, ANY GUITAR CAN BE USED FOR ANY STYLE, if you like the sound - buy it! It's not necessary to buy a guitar suited to a certain style, because any guitar can be used for anything.

How much money should I spend?

When buying your first guitar you should try and buy the best guitar you can afford. If you buy a cheap guitar, which aren?t normally the best playing guitars, you will find it hard to play which is a common incentive to give up playing the guitar. This is why I suggest buying second hand if money is short (a good second hand guitar will often be a lot better than a new guitar of the same price or more).

Buying second hand

There are some dangers when buying second hand guitars as with all second hand products, but in the long term, they can even be good investments. There are many aspects of a guitar you should check when considering a used instrument. Below are the main things you should look out for:

1) Check for fingerboard/neck warping
Check the condition of the fingerboard and neck by holding the guitar as if aiming a rifle. If the fingerboard seems twisted or warped DON?T BUY THE GUITAR. The fingerboard should be even all the way along, if not the intonation will be poor and the guitar will be hard to play.
If the neck appears to be bending in slightly towards the strings, don?t worry, as this can be easily fixed by a professional.

2) Check the Frets
Play every note on the neck and listen for any buzz from the fretwire. If there is any, it may be a costly repair having the fret(s) replaced.

3) Check the machine heads
Turn the machine heads back and forth, if they turn too easily, the strings will continue to slip and tuning will become unstable. A new set of tuners might set you back quite a bit. This isn?t as important with guitars equipped with a locking tremolo system.

4) Check sustain
Check the sustain (the length of time the note rings out for) on all the notes on the fingerboard. They should all sustain for a near equal amount of time.

5) Check the pickups and control knobs/switches
Plug the guitar into an amplifier and listen to every pickup for any output variations between the strings. If the poles of the pickups can be individually adjusted, this isn?t a problem, but if they can?t, the pickups will need replacing. Turn every knob and flick every switch to ensure they all work properly, and listen for any excess crackling and or buzz. If there are any unusual noises, the electronics need attention.

6) Check for any signs of repair
Check the guitar for any signs of excess wear, and spots where restoration/repair seems to have taken place. The guitar may have had a rough life and may be just about clapped out.

7) Get the guitar set up
Get a professional (or do it yourself if you know how) to give the guitar a complete set up so it is in top condition. The guitar will play a lot better even just after a set up (Intonation set, Action set, truss rod adjusted, pickup height set, fingerboard cleaned/oiled, new strings, tuned etc.).

Buying new

If you choose to buy your gear new from a shop there are hardly any precautions you should take, although, choosing quality is a hard prospect. The price tag on an instrument is often misleading, as some companies will charge more for a guitar with poor workmanship than a better quality one (usually due to design copyrights etc.). Try not to let salespeople choose them for you, for example, don?t just go in and tell them what kind of music you like. They will inevitably end up giving you a guitar THEY want you to buy and not one that you think you like the feel and sound of. Even if the guitar is a very good beginner?s instrument, you may not like the feel of it. If it is your first electric guitar, choosing the quality of an instrument is difficult, but if you like the sound, feel and look of it, by all means go for it.


i think thats it. if theres anything you think ive missed, dont hesitate to mention it and ill add it.


04-23-2005, 03:10 PM
I disagree with spending all your money on a top-notch guitar when you're first starting out. If you end up not liking it, or not playing it, then that's quite a large chunk of change down the drain! On the other hand, a $30 acoustic that goes out of tune every 13 minutes is not a good investment? it's important to find a good balance.

Well written, although I'm not sure if you're allowed to include pictures in your columns. Perhaps you should contact Dyuha about that.

-SD :dance:

04-23-2005, 03:16 PM
You can just have links to the pictures and people will just click on them if they don't know what the pickups looks like.

04-23-2005, 04:05 PM
^ i might do that.

SD - i know, but if they buy a cheap guitar thats hard to play, this can put them off playing. plus, more expensive guitars will go for more when sold, as there arent as many being sold as cheap guitars, so buyers are willing to pay more. also, cheaper gutiars will lose more percentage of their value than an expenisve one.

04-23-2005, 04:38 PM
i'm sure theres been an article on buying a guitar before but maybe it got delted.

i think its great you spent the time writing an article as extensive as this and theres not much i can critise.

i think you should make the point that even though the guitars you pointed out are good for thoose styles,they arent essential and for someone buying a first guitar it is more important buying a quality one than a one designed for their music style.

great article though.

04-23-2005, 04:49 PM
^ ahh ok, ill edit it an incorporate some of that. thanks.

05-05-2005, 03:52 AM
Yeah if you incorporate some of those points, even just a paragraph or two then it'll be great.


05-08-2005, 12:00 AM
I liked this article a lot, you obviously know your ****. I like the part about choosing a guitar for your type of music, I know people who go out to get the coolest looking guitar, like a BC Rich or something, when they don't play a hard rock style. Overall, it's pretty good. Again, nice job.

05-08-2005, 06:14 AM
thanks everyone. i edited it to add those points ans stressed the bit about any guitar being used for any style. i think thats everything in there now.

Jerry Monkey
05-12-2005, 05:42 AM
i liked the part about the pickups. I always wanted to know what the single coil sized humbuckers r called and what sound they give u... gd gd

05-19-2005, 10:24 PM
:cheers: Good article.. very informative. :)

05-26-2005, 05:14 PM