Want to become a real life guitar hero? Of course you do. Playing the guitar is probably one of the coolest things you can do (unless it’s an air guitar). Whether you want to shred like Eddie Van Halen, lick them blues like Eric Clapton or rock out like Jimi Hendrix, Pronto’s Electric Guitar Buying Guide will help you find the guitar that is just right for you.
Electric guitar necks come in a variety of sizes from the more oval “C” neck to a more pronounced “V” neck. The shape, quality of wood and style of attachment all affect a guitar’s sound. Bolt-on and set guitar necks offer less sustain but are easier to adjust and repair, while thru-body necks provide the best sustain.
Guitars commonly have 21, 22 or 24 frets. Look for additional frets if you want to play a lot of high notes. Beginners should avoid fretless guitars that slow the learning curve.
There are three types of guitar bodies: solid, hollow and acoustic-electric. Hollow-body guitars produce a more “twangy” sound, solid bodies have a dampened sound with the most sustain and acoustic-electric hollow bodies sound similar to a traditional acoustic guitar.
Tremolo guitars come with a whammy bar attached to the bridge which is used to alter the pitch by tightening or loosening the strings while playing, by either pulling up or pushing down on the bar.
Non-tremolo guitars have fixed bridges and hold tuning better but produce more reverb. Check your guitar for any rattling noises coming from the bridge, which can be a sign of poor construction or an improperly aligned bridge.
The distance of the strings from the fretboard. Guitars with lower action are easier to play, as less energy is needed to hold a string down.
A device that supports the strings on the body of an electric guitar. Some guitarists use a piece of metal, such as a screwdriver, placed behind the strings to create what is known as a third bridge.
A metal bar or inset that indicates chord locations on the neck of an electric guitar.
An electric guitar with no frets on its neck. Beginners should avoid fretless guitars, as it takes longer to learn chord and fingering positions.
The part of an electric guitar that extends outward from the body and holds the strings, tuning knobs and fretboard. Necks can be bolted on, set or thru-body, where the neck and body are made from a single piece of wood.
A guitar with a fixed bridge, often including attachments for the strings.
A guitar with a movable bridge that increases and reduces the tension on the strings to bend pitch.
A lever on the body of an electric guitar that lets you bend pitch by raising or lowering the tension at the guitar’s bridge. The whammy bar is sometimes referred to as a “tremolo bar.” However this is a common misnomer, since the whammy bar actually affects vibrato.
Playing a guitar for the first time is going to feel a little awkward. It takes time for your fingers to build up strength to form chords and move up and down the frets with ease. That’s why it’s important to find a guitar that fits comfortably in your hand.
Guitar necks come in all different shapes and sizes, varying from a curved “C” shape to a more pronounced “V”, and it’s up to you to decide what feels right. It can also depend on the type of music you like to play. Blues guitarists often use wider, more oval-shaped necks, whereas thinner necks are reserved more for guitarists who like to play faster music, such as heavy metal. It’s important to remember there is no right or wrong style; it’s just a matter of personal taste.
How the neck is attached to the body of the electric guitar is also important. There are three types of guitar necks: bolt-on, set and thru-body. Each of these types affects how long the strings vibrate, which is known as sustain.
Bolt-ons are the most common type of guitar neck. This offers the least sustain of the three types of guitar necks, but the advantage of a bolt-on neck is that it is detachable and can be altered if problems arise. A set guitar neck is similar to the bolt-on, only it is permanently attached, which allows for greater sustain. An electric guitar with a thru-body neck is made from one piece of wood, allowing for the greatest sustain.
The fretboard is the surface of the guitar neck, which is also known as the fingerboard. This is where you place your fingers to hold down the strings of the guitar. The metal rods that run down the board in increments are called frets, hence the name fretboard. Frets make finding the right finger placement for forming chords and playing scales easier. There are guitars that come without frets, but beginners should steer away from them.
The number of frets on an electric guitar varies. Most guitars have 21, 22 or 24 frets, but some can go higher. Guitars with more frets are generally geared more toward heavy metal players who need to hit really high notes. If this is the type of music you’re interested in playing, then a guitar with more frets is for you. If not, you probably want to go with a standard 21-, 22- or 24-fret guitar. The number of frets doesn’t limit the kind of music that can be played, but it can affect how easily you master the range of notes your guitar can produce.
Another thing to consider is a guitar’s action. Action refers to the distance of the strings from the fretboard. A high action means that the strings are quite a distance from the fretboard, while a low action means that they are closer. A high-action guitar can be tricky to play at first, which can make learning how to play challenging for beginners. Higher action reduces buzz, but it also requires more finger pressure to play, which could slow your fingers down on the guitar. You’ll need to experiment to find the action that suits you, and keep in mind that most guitars are sold with high action that you can easily adjust downward.
There are three types of electric guitar bodies: solid, hollow and acoustic-electric. A solid-body electric guitar does not have any holes in it to amplify string vibrations. Instead, string vibration are transferred into an electrical signal through pickups in the guitar and sent to an amplifier. A hollow-body electric guitar has, as the name implies, a hollow body that allows for string as well as body vibrations to be carried from the pickups to the amplifier. Acoustic-electric guitars look and play much like an acoustic guitar, with a hollow body and an internal microphone (rather than pickups) that sends the sound from the guitar’s body to the amplifier.
The type of wood the body is made from has a huge impact on the sound of a guitar. Different woods are known for better performance in high, low and midrange tones. In general, choose harder woods for more sustain and brighter high tones or guitars made from softer woods for better blending of notes. If you are looking for a more acoustic sound, go with an acoustic-electric guitar. If you want a jazz or rockabilly feel, then you should consider a hollow-body guitar. If rock ‘n’ roll is right up your alley, then you’ll want a solid body.
What’s fun about electric guitars is the different ways you can alter the pitch of notes. A lot of guitars come with a whammy bar, which is made of metal and attached to the bridge. The whammy bar loosens the strings when you push down on it, thereby dropping the pitch. Pulling up on a whammy bar tightens the guitar’s strings and raises the pitch. Whammy bars aren’t available on all guitars, but they make a nice addition and add greater versatility to the instrument.
The whammy bar affects the position of a guitar’s bridge, which holds the strings above the fretboard. Guitars with whammy bars are known as tremolo guitars, while guitars with fixed bridges are called non-tremolo guitars. A guitar with a fixed bridge will hold its tuning better than a guitar with a whammy bar, but fixed-bridge guitars have much higher reverberations, which can be a problem for those looking for a cleaner sound and strong separation between notes.
When you get your guitar, check to see if the strings rattle on the bridge. This can be a sign of a poorly made instrument or an improperly aligned bridge.