Electric Guitar Buying Guide

Choosing An Electric Guitar

What do Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Slash, Van Halen, and countless others all have in common? An incredible instrument in their hands. While the playing part is up to you, we want to offer you the best guide on which Electric Guitar you should choose! This Boothe Music Buying Guide will include information that can help you choose an Electric Guitar that is perfect for you. There is a lot of information to consider here, so if you have any questions don't hesitate to call us at 844-798-0529. 

Contents:

The Structure of an Electric Guitar

How Tonewoods Affect Your Sound

Electric Guitar Body Types

How Pickups Create Your Sound

Electric Guitar Necks

What You Should Look For In An Electric Guitar

The Structure of an Electric Guitar

If this is your first time seeing all the parts of an Electric Guitar, don't get overwhelmed! We will go through each labeled part below so that by the end of this article, you will feel confident identifying and understanding each part of this incredible instrument.

Headstock

The headstock of an Electric Guitar holds the strings, tuning machines, and truss rod access cover. Each company has their own, custom-shaped headstock so that you always know who made what guitar just by looking at it. The picture above features a Paul Reed Smith Silver Sky Electric Guitar with a PRS Headstock.

  • Tuning Machines
    • Tuning Machines are the combination of Machine Heads and Tuning Keys. The Machine Head holds the String in place, and the Tuning Key turns the Machine Head to get your Electric Guitar back in tune.
  • Truss Rod Access Cover
    • While manufacturers try their hardest to keep a Guitar Neck straight, it will inevitably need some help. The Truss Rod Access Cover is exactly that - a cover for the truss rod, a thin metal or carbon fiber rod that can be turned tighter or looser to bend the neck one way or the other.

 

Neck

We'll get more into necks in a later section, but let's quickly go over the important parts of a Guitar Neck.

  • Fretboard
    • The fretboard sits on top of the neck and is often made of a different wood than the neck itself. Maple and Rosewood are common fretboard materials.
  • Frets
    • The frets of a guitar sit on top of the fretboard and provide something for the strings to sit on when your fingers press down on the fretboard, creating the sound we all love!
  • Position Inlay
    • PRS is unique in that they use fancy bird-shaped inlays on their fretboards, but more commonly you'll see just circle inlays to mark the positions at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 12th, 15th, 17th, and 19th fret.

 

Guitar Body

Ignoring the spinning and switching controls for now, let's talk about the body of the Electric Guitar next. That includes the Body itself, the Pickguard, Button, Bridge, Saddle, and Jack.

  • Body
    • We will talk more about Guitar bodies in the next section, but for now the body is what holds all the parts of the guitar we haven't talked about yet.
  • Pickguard
    • The pickguard protects the Electric Guitar from pick strokes as you play.
  • Strap Buttons
    • The strap buttons, most commonly located on the bottom and closest-to-the-player side of the guitar are small metal screws that allow you to connect a strap to play without holding the guitar up with your hands.
  • Bridge
    • The bridge is a device that supports the strings and allows the strings to vibrate and produce a sound (or frequency, as in the case of Electric Guitars).
  • Saddle
    • The saddle holds the strings on the other end from the Tuning Machines, it plays a significant role in intonation, action, and tone of your Electric Guitar. Because of this, the Saddle is commonly connected to intonation screws and springs that help you craft the sound you want.
  • Jack
    • The Output Jack and Jack Plate is what holds your quarter-inch cable that goes into your pedalboard or amp, letting you hear the beautiful sound of your Electric Guitar.

Electric Guitar Controls

The knobs and switches of an Electric Guitar can be incredibly confusing and somewhat complicated. They will vary based on your guitar's make and model, but here is a brief overview of the important pieces you'll find on almost all Electric Guitars.

  • Control Knob
    • The Control Knob will control your volume level and pickup tone and intensity.
  • Selector Switch
    • On Electric Guitars with more than one pickup, the selector switch allows you to select which pickup(s) you want to use, as each will have different sounds.

How Tonewoods Affect Your Sound

Tonewoods are the specific type of wood your Guitar is made out of. They are called 'tone' woods because of the contribution different woods have on the sound, or 'tone', of your guitar. People have various opinions on how much tonewoods lend their sound to Electric Guitars in particular, but there is a consensus that they definitely have at least a little bit of an effect.

The influence of tonewoods in Electric Guitars is less than in Acoustic Guitars and is therefore less critical of a consideration when you choose an Electric Guitar, but they still affect resonance, weight, durability, and the aesthetics of your instrument. So while the sound is primarily driven by the pickups, amp, and pedals you are using, your tonewood is still important.

There are dozens and dozens of woods that a Guitar can be made from, but here are 5 common tonewoods you can expect to see during your search.

Common Tonewoods

  1. Alder - Alder is a lightweight wood that gives a balanced tone across your lows, mids, and highs.
  2. Ash - Ash offers a bright and resonant tone. Swamp Ash is a type of Ash that is highly sought after for its grain pattern.
  3. Mahogany - A dense and very common wood that provides a warm, bassy tone with smooth sustain.
  4. Maple - Maple is typically used for necks and fretboards, and has a bright, airy tone.
  5. Rosewood - A very common fretboard material. It is a dense and hard wood that provides warm and complex overtones.

Not all tonewoods are created equal, and by equal, we mean cheaply. Your budget is a large consideration when selecting a good tonewood. Higher-end guitars often (but not always!) use solid wood all the way through the guitar, while more budget-friendly options can use laminated wood and less-expensive tonewoods like Spruce.But the most important consideration when it comes to tonewoods is your personal preference. Head down to your local music retailer and play a bunch of guitars, or give us a call at 844.798.0529 and we'll be happy to walk you through everything you want to know about tonewoods. As you choose, consider the feel of the guitar, not just the tone. Do you like the weight, the balance, etc? Make sure you pick one you love, because an Electric Guitar deserves to be played.

Electric Guitar Body Types

There are three types of Electric Guitar Bodies - Solidbody, Semihollow, and Hollowbody. 

Solidbody Electric Guitars are exactly that - solid all the way through, no holes for air or tone.

Hollowbody Electric Guitars are built similar to Acoustic Guitars, with an opening in between the top and back of the guitar and is completely hollow inside.

Semi-hollow Electric Guitars combine the two, there is a hollow middle of the guitar mixed with a solid block of wood in the center (called a "Centerblock") providing tone and structure.

How Pickups Create Your Sound

You've probably heard a lot about pickups in your search for an Electric Guitar, but what exactly are they? Basically, a pickup is a magnet core wrapped with hundreds and thousands of strands of thin copper wire. When an electric signal is applied to these coils, it creates a magnetic field. When the strings are strummed, it disrupts and disturbs the magnetic field, generating an electrical signal that is sent to the amplifier and outputs as sound. That might sound complicated and fancy, but basically pickups take the strumming of the strings to the amp, creating the sound we all know and love.

Types of Pickups

There are a variety of pickups that riff off each other and use different methods to achieve the desired sound, but there are really just three you need to know about to start off with.

  1. Single-coil Pickups - The first types of pickups ever made, Single-coil Pickups are made from one magnet wrapped in wire and are known for producing a bright, clear tone. They have a crisp, desirable sound, but can sometimes pick up background noise called a "hum."
  2. Humbucker Pickups - To counter the hum of Single-coil Pickups, Humbuckers use two Single-coil Pickups, coiled together, to "buck the hum", or cancel out the noise. They are known for having a thicker, warmer sound and have significantly less susceptibility to electrical interference like their Single-coil counterparts.
  3. P-90 Pickups - Somewhere in between Single-coil and Humbucker pickups are P-90s. They are brighter than Humbuckers, but have more body than Single-coils.

There are three standard locations where a pickup will be on an Electric Guitar. Nearest to the neck is the Neck Pickup, and closest to the butt of the guitar is the Bridge Pickup, and in between is the Middle Pickup. The placement of these pickups drastically affects the sound, as the strings vibrate differently depending on how close they are to the bridge.

  1. Neck Pickup - The Neck Pickup gives a warmer and mellower tone, blending the sounds and tone together.
  2. Middle Pickup - The Middle Pickup blends the Neck and Bridge sounds.
  3. Bridge Pickup - The Bridge Pickup offers a sharper, brighter sound than the other two, with a clear distinction between the notes.

Pickups can be changed and customized based on your preference, as well! Many people will buy a cheaper guitar and switch out the lower-cost pickups with their personal favorites for a sound that suites them better. If you're looking to experiment, definitely browse our selection of pickups!

So how do you choose the right pickups for you? Play some guitars! If you're just learning, though, decide on what kind of sound you are going for. If you are hoping for a traditional, bright rock sound, consider Single-coil! If you're looking for a thick, warm, customizable sound, go with Humbuckers. If you want both, many manufacturers offer 'HSS' guitars, designating what pickups the guitar has. In this case, "Humbucker, Single-coil, Single-coil."

Electric Guitar Necks

The last specific consideration you'll need to make is the Neck of the Electric Guitar. There are a few things to talk about when it comes to Necks.

Types of Neck Construction

There are three types of Neck Construction, and they all have implications for playability, tone, and the durability of the Instrument.

 

  • Bolt-on Necks - In a bolt-on Neck Electric Guitar, the Neck is attached to the body with bolts or screws. These necks are the easiest to replace or repair and this design typically gives good sustain with a punchy tone.
  • Set Necks - Set Necks are glued into the body and are typically found on higher-end Guitars. They offer extremely good sustain and resonance compared to bolt-on Necks.
  • Neck-through Bodies - These Guitars are constructed from a single piece of wood that runs from the headstock to the bottom Strap Button. This design provides the best sustain and stability, but makes repairs difficult and replacement impossible.

Neck Woods

As we discussed above, tonewood is very important to picking your Electric Guitar. The Neck of your Guitar is also a tonewood, but less so than the body. Still, you want a hard, dry wood that is resistant to warping to avoid messy repairs in the future. Maple, Mahogany, and Rosewood are all very common materials for Necks.

Neck Shapes/Profiles

This is the shape or curve of the back of the neck, where the palm of your hand sits. Common profiles include "C", "U", "V", and "D", all in reference to how sharp or smooth the curve of the neck is. The Neck Profile will significantly affect the playability and comfort of the Instrument, so make sure you know what profile you like best before you buy.

Neck Radius

On the other side, the Neck Radius refers to the curve of the fretboard. A smaller radius means the fretboard is more curved, while a larger radius means the fretboard is flatter. A smaller radius is typically preferred for chord play, while a larger radius is preferred for soloing and string bending.

Scale Length

The scale length is the distance between the nut at the Headstock and the Bridge of the Electric Guitar. Longer scale lengths means more tension on the strings, providing a brighter tone and increased sustain, while shorter scales offer easier playability.

Frets

Frets have their own size as well. Larger frets (sometimes called "Jumbo") are typically easier for bending notes while smaller frets are often preferred for chord playing.

Truss Rod

The steel rod inside the neck is called the Truss Rod. It counteracts the tension of the strings as they try to pull the Neck forward by giving the it a solid support to bend it back and help keep the Neck straight. It can be adjusted using a hex tool to help set up the guitar's 'action', meaning how far off the fretboard the strings are, and ensure optimal playability.

When choosing a neck, material and hardware matters much less than your personal comfort and playability. The most critical factor is that you like the neck, whatever the profile or finish of it is.

What You Should Look For In An Electric Guitar

When it comes to picking an Electric Guitar, the most important thing is that you enjoy looking at and playing the Electric Guitar you buy. Above all else, make sure you love your Instrument. That being said, let's review a few key points from the article about what you should look for in an Electric guitar.

Know Your Needs and Preferences

Understanding how you will play and use your Instrument and what you like about certain components is the most important part of choosing an Electric Guitar. Depending on if you will use your guitar for live performance, recording, practice at home, or fun with friends will dramatically change what guitar you will prefer. Take some time, even if you can't play yet, to go to your local music retailer and hold some Electric Guitars to figure out your base preferences. If you can, play a little bit to get an idea of what sound you enjoy listening to and what fits your style. The better you understand your own needs and preferences, the easier it will be to find your perfect guitar.

Structure and Components

Once you know your preferences, you can start picking out things like your tonewood, pickup configuration, neck type and profile, and body type. Make sure to review this article as you look and don't be afraid to ask a musician or music store employee any questions! If you're unsure, you can always call us at 844.798.0529 and we will be thrilled to help out!

Price

Consideration of your budget is crucial to choosing the right Instrument. Gone are the days where you had to spend two paychecks worth of your money to get something playable, you can find amazing guitars at every single price point. Higher-priced guitars often come with higher-quality components and the confidence that an expert has reviewed your Instrument, but there are plenty of affordable options that offer excellent value.

Try Before You Buy

We can't stress enough that you want to hold the guitar you are looking at before you buy it, or at least something similar. Our worst fear is that you do all this research and purchase an Instrument from us only to discover the Neck Profile is uncomfortable or you don't like the sound of the pickups. If possible, always try before you buy. We are beating a dead horse at this point, but you can always give us a call or send us an email at info@boothemusic.com and we can send you a video playing the guitar you're looking at so you can get a sense of the sound and look!

Think About The Future

Finally, think about the future. If you're a beginner guitarist looking at their first Electric Guitar purchase, consider a guitar that will grow with you as your skills progress. That sometimes means spending a bit more up front, but saving money in the long run by not needing to upgrade once you outgrow a lower-cost Instrument. 

Above all else, the perfect guitar for you is the one you love and are excited to play. At the end of it, if the guitar inspires you to make music and create art, that's the perfect guitar for you. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to buying an Electric Guitar, but we hope this is a good introduction to what you should look for. 

By Boothe Music

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