How to Choose an Electric Guitar

Choosing an electric guitar might seem simple. Just grab the one that you think looks good because, on the surface, an electric guitar might seem like nothing more than a simple board with some strings attached to it. In reality, it represents a complex mingle of harmonics, and after considering just a small portion of everything there is to learn about guitars, there is a good chance you’ll feel overwhelmed.

How to choose an electric guitar

However, with the right advice, you can bypass the headache and buy the perfect electric guitar for your needs. When shopping for an electric guitar, there are countless options for almost every component. If you are buying a guitar for a child there are 3/4 size models available that mind fit in smaller hands a little better.

You also want to make sure that it produces quality sound and looks good. To get the best electric guitar, you need to have a basic understanding of the different components.

Understanding Tonewoods

Since the beginning of music, instruments have always had a strong relationship with wood. An electric guitar is no different. The different types of woods that are used to make electric guitars are called tonewoods. The reason why specific types of tonewoods are used is because they’re known to produce a desirable tone.

When used for different components, the same type of wood can assume different characteristics. There are a few common tonewoods that are used for guitars because of the desirable sounds they can produce, and you can check them out below.

  • Basswood
  • Alder
  • Ash
  • Maple
  • Korina
  • Mahogany
  • Poplar

All of these different tonewoods produce different tones. For example, alder is known for producing a lightweight, balanced tone. Ash is an open grain and delivers a balanced tone.

Basswood creates a warm sound and stronger mid tones. Korina is a heavier wood and produces less high and warmer sounds. Poplar is also a top choice and delivers bright, crisp sound. To choose the right tonewood, you need to know what type of sound you prefer.

Fretboard and Neck Woods

The fretboard and neck are two of the major components that an electric guitar is comprised of. Mahogany and maple are two popular tonewoods used for these components. When used as a neck component, mahogany produces a fat, warm sound, and maple delivers a strong, dense and bright sound, and it has great sustain.

Some of the top fretboard woods are ebony, rosewood, maple and pau Ferro. All of these different types of woods produce different tones, so you’ll need to do some research and decide what tone you like best.

Important Considerations

If you’re looking for a great beginner electric guitar, there are some things that it must have. If you can find a guitar that has everything included in this section, then it should be an excellent choice. First, it should have a body made of solid wood.

To get high-quality sound, there is no way around the fact that you need a solid wood body. Some great choices are poplar, alder, mahogany and swamp ash. Each of these woods produces unique sound. If the quality of the tone is important to you, then you must choose a solid wood body. The best beginner electric guitar should also have quality pickups.

You want to make sure that you’re able to send quality sound to your amplifier. The good news is that pickups can be replaced easily, so even if you get a guitar with low-quality pickups, it’s easy to swap them out for something better. Les Paul and Rockfield are known for producing some of the best pickups on the market.

Another important feature is the neck. A high-quality electric guitar should have a strong, stable neck, which can prevent a variety of problems and help you avoid costly repairs. You’ll also want to make sure that the guitar has frets that have been dressed properly.

The guitar’s frets should be even and have no sharp ends. Uneven frets produce an undesirable buzzing sound. For the best results, choose a guitar that has been built with proper frets and finishing. If you skip this consideration, you could end up with an undesirable buzzing sound and cut fingers.

What to Look For

When you’re shopping for an electric guitar, the body style is very important. In fact, many experienced guitar players would argue that it’s the feature that matters most. There are three basic body styles that you have to choose from. Most shops sell hollow body, semi hollow and solid body styles.

The solid body is the best choice for players who need loud amplification and great sustain. They’re some of the best body styles for players who need access to many different effects. The semi-hollow bodies are great for acoustic sound and work really well with loud amplification.

If you’re looking for a jazz guitar, a hollow body can give you the acoustic sound that you desire. However, the hollow body is also subject to feedback when played with high levels of amplification.

The Wood

If you want a high-quality electric guitar, you need to consider the wood type of wood that is used to make it. The wood that you choose directly affects the weight and tone of the guitar. It’s useful to know that a particular type of wood doesn’t automatically sound better because it costs more money.

Each type of wood produces a unique tone, and to find the best guitar, you need to decide if you like the specific tone produced by the wood. This is the only important rule for choosing the wood.

Bolt-on or Set Neck

A lot of guitar players believe it’s better to get a set neck, which means the neck has been glued in. They’ll tell you that the set neck offers better sustain than a bolt-on neck.

The reality is that all manufacturers create their products different, so some guitars come with a set neck while others have a bolt-on neck.

Many new players have a difficult time understanding the difference between a set and bolt-on neck, and the good news is that your choice is based on preference and doesn’t have a major effect on the guitar’s sound.

The Bridge

When shopping for an electric guitar, consider the bridge. It’s a very important component, and you’ll have two main bridge styles to choose from.

The stoptail and tremolo bridge are the most common. With a tremolo bridge, you have the option of bending all of the guitar strings at the same time, which is great for metal styles.

However, the tremolo bridge can cause your strings to get out of tone. In terms of stability and easier tuning, the stoptail bridge is the better option because it’s attached to the guitar body in a fixed position.

The Pickups

If you want to get an electric guitar that can be enjoyed for many years, it’s important to get the right pickups. Almost all modern guitars have two pickups.

The pickup located near the neck delivers a thicker sound, and the pickup near the bridge delivers a twangy sound. With a three-position switch, you can choose between different pickups or blend them together. There are even some switches that offer five different positions, which are capable of blending pickups together.

By blending different pickups together, the five-position switch is able to produce a glassy tone. Some guitars have a total of three pickups, so they’re able to deliver even more options for sound blending.

So there we have it

The process of choosing an electric guitar might seem daunting, but once you understand the basics, the decision is much easier to make. The next decision is how many guitars do you need?

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Jason Barnham

Hi. I’m Jay, founder, author, and chief editor at The Vintage Guitarist. I've been playing guitar for nearly 40 years and I absolutely love owning and trying different guitars and related gear.