Thursday, April 9, 2009

Buying a Guitar 102: Electrics

Alrighty, so as I mentioned in my previous post, I most often recommend electric guitars for beginners. And yes, I understand that most parents would prefer not to shell out the $200+ for an electric up front, especially if: a) they don't know if their kid will stick with it and b) if they already have a hand-me-down acoustic lying around the house.

I'd like to start by talking just a bit about the different body types of electric guitars, then give a few recommendations.

There are essentially three main body types: the Fender Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul, and the Fender Telecaster. Almost all electrics can be described in terms of one or another; or at the least, one can say a guitar is "Strat-like".

The original Stratocaster was popularized by groups like the Beach Boys, and use spread to musicians like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The basic strat features three, single-coil pickups, a five-point toggle switch, and a pair of tone knobs.

Strats are often used for rock and roll, blues, and country, although there are exceptions. The Stratocaster body type is *the* classic guitar shape - it's timeless. And better yet, Strat-copies ("knock-offs") come in all prices. And don't feel like you have to buy a Fender (unless you plan to shell out the bucks for an American-made instrument). Most "strats" under $300 are pretty much all going to play the same.

The Gibson Les Paul is these days most often associated with the guitarist Slash. He's pretty much the LP poster child. But other famous players include Jimmy Page and Randy Rhoads. The Les Paul features two, humbucker pickups, which, along with a heavier wood used for the body, gives the instrument a warmer, thicker sound, as compared to either the Strat or Tele.

The Les Paul is often used for hard rock and heavy metal, though, again, there are exceptions. The only rub with the Les Paul is it's price tag. You won't find a quality "copy", like with the strats. You're looking at $900, easy, to pick one of these up.

Finally, the Fender Telecaster has found similar uses to that of the Stratocaster, though the Tele is more closely associated with country and country rock. Again, a pretty versatile instrument. A couple famous players include Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen (though they play all kinds of guitars). Again, no knock-offs here. Only the true, blue original will get you the sound, and it will set you back $600 or more.

As you can imagine, I'm not going to recommend a $600 guitar for a beginner. But what may be a bit unexpected is my final word on purchasing that first electric guitar. Abide by this one, simple mantra and you'll be okay:

Generally speaking, the more you spend, the better the instrument you'll get. So spend as much as you feel comfortable spending, and feel good about it - whatever the body type. Many of the "low-end" guitars are pretty similar, and it might even come down to something as simple as "I like that color and shape". That's okay.

There are several "starter kits" that are out there for beginners, and I'd definitely recommend an all-inclusive kit. Here are just a couple you might want to look at:

Fender SE Special Strat Pack

Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Two more final words here:

1. No matter what, don't let your child *sell* his first guitar down the road - especially if it's an electric. There's serious sentimental value there that he won't understand until years later.

2. Never buy a guitar online. You want to make sure the instrument feels comfortable in your hands, and that it sounds good to your ears. Every single guitar is just a little bit different, and it's important to check it out first by playing it in the store. Even if you don't really know what you're playing, you can still tell if it sounds "right". Again here, let your ears tell you if the guitar or amp is a quality one.

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