Choosing Your First Electric Guitar

A shot of an electric guitar with hard focus on the pick ups

I think at some point in our lives, we’ve all had the same thought. I’m going to learn to play the guitar! Sounds great in practice but the reality of it always coming crashing down eventually. As easy as we may think it’ll be, it never is. Not only this, but there’s a whole host of other things to think about when buying audio equipment. What is my first electric guitar going to be? Do I need to buy other stuff as well? Today, I’d like to try and address some information that’ll help beginners as well as the more experienced alike when it comes to picking up your very first electric guitar.

Don’t Be a Cheapskate

This is probably one of the most valuable pieces of information to take away today, hence why I have started with it. Cheaping out and trying to save a few bucks is most likely to lead to one of two scenarios.

A pile of coins falling out of a jar

One, it sounds awful and handles worse and so puts you off the whole concept of playing guitar forever. A bad experience when you’re first starting off with something new is not what you want. In my time as a teacher, I’ve seen many people put off of new things because they think they are no good at them. However, the reality is that the equipment they’ve got sucks and as such isn’t giving them the sound that they expected. Bad gear leads to bad tone and bad recordings.

Two, it very quickly starts to fall apart. No brand, clones of popular guitar types are always the most susceptible to this. You get a little way down the line with your first electric guitar and all of a sudden, the knobs fall off and your pickups stop working. Cheap components and poor craftsmanship make for a bad guitar. As a general rule, if you can’t easily research a guitar, it probably isn’t worth buying.

Don’t Waste Your Money

Just as being cheap is a terrible idea, so is being too lavish with your purchases. Now, if you’re on a well-paid job with thousands to spare, feel free to skip this section as I’m not talking to you. However, if you’re one of the many people under the thumb of global capitalism, you’re unlikely to be able to justify spending $4000.00 on your first electric guitar. This is a good thing! When you first learned to drive, you didn’t go out and buy a Ferrari, did you?

An expensive guitar in the hands of the talentless makes for nothing more than an ego boost. Anyone who tells you that buying an obscenely expensive first guitar will make you sound great straight off the bat is trying to make a sale. Put the time and money into lessons and practice first. Even the very best guitarists are more than happy with instruments that retail far under the $1000 mark. Sticking to the $200-400 mark should see you fit quite nicely into a sensible first electric guitar.

Never Be Too Proud to Ask for Help

So, now we’ve established price point, we need to delve into some more detail. Walking into a music store for the first time is a pretty daunting experience. There’s so much choice to make in terms of shape, size, and characteristic. My second super tip for this article is: don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’ve got a friend who plays, even if for only a short time, take them with you. Their knowledge and personal experiences can help to identify what you need a lot quicker than you could alone. Equally, ask for the help of store members. Just be wary of people trying to make sales!

A lot of electric guitars hanging on a wall

Being able to narrow in on some of the finer details is going to save time as well as money. The last thing you want to be doing is having to return your guitar because the length isn’t right for you or the pickups don’t offer the tone you want. It’s great to make mistakes and learn from them, but if you don’t have to then isn’t that even better?

Choose the Right Pickups for What You Want to Play

Now for some of the more technical stuff. Personally, I believe that things like shape, size, and feel are all totally down to personal preference. As such, there isn’t much use in me telling you that you must buy a very specific type of guitar. However, one thing that is worth making a decision on early on is pickups.

For those not in the know, the job of the pickup is to capture the vibrations in the strings and convert them to an electrical signal which is sent to an amplifier. The two most common options you’re going to have are single coils or humbuckers. Without going into the science of it, the main distinction between the two is as such.

Single Coils tend to be noisier but provide a much brighter and clearer tone.
Humbuckers don’t have these noise issues (as the name would suggest, they ‘buck’ the hum) and are typically associated with a thicker and warmer tone.

Applying this knowledge to the type of music you’re interested in is going to play a large part in choosing your first electric guitar. If you’re interested in playing blues or country music, you will probably want to lean towards a single coil design. If you’re more interested in rock and metal, you’ll likely enjoy the sound of a humbucker. It all comes down to the sound you want to make!

Extras and Package Deals

Now as I’ve already mentioned in this article, don’t let yourself fall victim to greedy sales teams. However, picking up equipment as part of package deals can sometimes be the best way to start off. I often encourage people who are looking to get into music production from scratch to keep their eye out for a package deal with an interface, monitors or studio headphones, and a DAW all in one. This often saves some serious money and provides you with all the tools you’ll need to get started.

As such, keeping an eye out for deals with things like practice amps, pedals, picks, spare strings, tuners, and music theory books can often save you some serious dollar. These deals tend to pop up when shops are looking to get rid of the last little bits of stock from a certain line and they often amount of you essentially getting a load of freebies when buying a retail price guitar. If you’re serious about learning to play, you’re going to need these things eventually anyway. Why not grab them early on when the price is right.

A Few Standout Choices for Your First Electric Guitar

So, as I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for, here are my suggestions for a few stand out models to grab as your very first electric guitar.

Yamaha Pacifica 012 – Around $220 New

The choice of guitar for most education centers, the Pacifica 012 offers an H-S-S (Humbucker-Single-Single) pickup setup and quite a lot of tone for its price tag. It’s versatile, easy to modify and upgrade and a really great example of an electric guitar.

Fender Squire Telecaster – Around $200-250 Secondhand or New

The Squire is a rather iconic guitar and these can run you into the $500+ mark quite easily. However, there are opportunities when it comes to these. New, the basic models retail around the $250 mark. These are great and will certainly work well as a first guitar. However, if you’ve got the patience, the better models regularly pop up second hand as low as $200. Due to their popularity, many new players grab them as their first electric guitar. However, a lot of them eventually give up and sell them on. With such a flooded market, they tend to go quite cheap. Why not grab yourself a bargain?

Vintage V120 – $300-$350 New

The Vintage V120 Electric Guitar

This wonderful gem, built in the style of the Les Paul junior, is such a good guitar that it’s made its way into my home even though I rarely get to use it. It’s incredibly well built, offers fantastic tone form it’s single P90 style pickup and is just a delight to play. Its simplistic design might be lost on some but I really do love mine. The V120 tends to retail a little higher than the other options I have suggested but these can be picked up quite cheap on the secondhand market. Either keep an eye out on eBay or grab one brand new, you won’t be disappointed!

TL;DR

Picking up your first electric guitar shouldn’t be difficult or terrifying. Whilst the market is vast, there are only really a few small decisions to make when you’re just starting out. As I always say, set yourself a budget and stick to it. Don’t cheap out but don’t drop thousands on your first guitar. Ask for help from anyone you know who plays guitars and be aware of salespeople trying to make commissions. Think about what it is you want to play before you choose what to play it on and make sure you’ve got the right kind of pickups for that genre. Always keep an eye out for package deals or secondhand steals and don’t forget the most important piece of advice of all. PRACTISE!

 

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