Electric Guitars

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Electric Guitars (Keys to Consider)

The most well known electric guitars are Fender and Gibson.  You will find these guitars in the expensive section of a guitar store. These brands do have sub-brands which are ideally priced for beginner guitarists.  Fender offers the Squier brand and Gibson offers the Epiphone models.  There are other companies such as ESP, Ibanez and Jackson who also sell cheaper electric guitars.

The inexpensive versions of Fender Stratocasters or Gibson Les Pauls are manufactured in places like China, Japan or Mexico. Indonesia produces a lot of good guitars such as the Squier copies of vintage Fender guitars.  These guitars have the look, feel and sound of the real thing.  

What is a Humbucker?

Electric guitars differ from acoustic guitars in the way that they produce sound. When a string on an electric guitar is played, the vibration of the string makes a signal by creating a minute electric current in the magnetic pickups which act like small microphones. The signal passes through various circuits to an amplifier.  The way an electric guitar sounds depends mostly on the pickups that are used.

A key to keep in mind is that there are 2 basic types of pickups used in electric guitars.  First, there are what are called single coil pickups.  These types of pickups tend to produce a brighter and sharper sound.  Notes between strings are considered to be more distinct, but the magnetic coils do create a hum or buzzing sound.

The second type of pickups are called humbuckers which were designed to virtually eliminate the hum from the magnetic coils. Humbuckers have a sound that is often described as being thicker than single coil pickups.  This technology was first developed for Gibson guitars.

Guitar Necks and Fingerboards

Guitar necks are traditionally made from maple because this wood contributes to good tones and excellent sustain. They can be constructed with one piece of wood, or two pieces laminated together. Remember to pay attention to the thickness of the neck and find one that feels comfortable to you.

The 3 most common woods used for guitar fingerboards are ebony, maple or rosewood.

Ebony is a very dark wood so it is often used on a guitar that has an all black appearance.  Ebony wood has tight grains and doesn’t require a finish. Fingerboards constructed from ebony feel very smooth and help to create very tight sounds.

Maple is also a tight grained wood that produces bright tones.  This type of wood does need to have a finish applied to it. Maple wood is light coloured so over time is will stain and appear dirty.

Rosewood is the wood chosen most often for guitar fingerboards.  It has relatively more oil that occurs naturally and lends itself to producing more mellow tones.

Electric Guitar Construction (Solid Bodies)

Solid body electric guitars have traditionally been constructed from hardwoods such as maple, walnut, ash, alder or mahogany. Today, basswood is also used since it has great resonant properties. Bodies built from more dense woods provide better sustain which is how long a note will resonate.  Using one wood versus another does contribute somewhat to the sound of a guitar.

There are other types of electric guitar bodies such as hollow or semi-hollow, but I am focusing on solid body guitars because they are what most beginner guitarists would use.

Electric Guitar Hardware

Here are some keys to remember with regard to hardware on electric guitars.   When you are testing several guitars, try out and compare guitars in different price ranges.   If you spend a bit more money, you will find that the knobs and switches feel more solid on the higher priced guitar.   Also, if you turn the tuning heads you will notice that they feel sturdier than the cheaper model guitar.  Look at the bridge and you will see that it is a superior design on the more expensive guitar.

Keys Considered

Below you will find reviews of a few electric guitars that I believe are suitable for a beginner guitarist.  I have attempted to present lower priced guitars that have the types of pickups , the types of woods and the models that I have discussed. Prices suggested are the lowest that I found.

Guitar Reviews

Popular Electric Guitars (for Beginners)

Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Good price:  $249 Cdn

Cheapest place to buy:  Amazon Canada

Key Specs:

  • mahogany body
  • mahogany neck
  • rosewood fingerboard
  • neck pickup: Epiphone 700T Humbucker
  • bridge pickup: Epiphone 650R Humbucker
  • controls: 1-volume, 1-tone
  • pickup selector:  3-way Epiphone toggle

The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is Epiphone’s best selling entry level electric guitar.  Many describe this as a great beginner guitar. One consistent complaint about the Epiphone Les Paul is that the tuning heads don’t keep the guitar in tune as long as they should. If you like this guitar you could always replace the tuning heads with better ones.  Overall it is a good guitar considering the price.

Ibanez GRX70

Good price:  $269 Cdn

Cheapest place to buy:  Amazon Canada                                                     

Key Specs:  

  • poplar body
  • maple neck 
  • rosewood fingerboard
  • pickups:  neck:  PSND1, middle:  PSND-S, bridge:  PSND2
  • controls: 1-volume, 1-tone
  • pickup selector:  5-way blade

I wanted to include this guitar in my reviews for a few reasons. First of all the Ibanex GRX70 is a good example of a guitar manufacturer designing an entry level guitar that is built with traditional brand quality.  At the same time this guitar is priced for the beginner guitarist.  Secondly, the Ibanez Powersound pickups (bridge and neck humbuckers and a middle single-coil) combination expands the range of sounds that this guitar can produce.

The body is constructed with poplar which is generally considered inferior to alder; however, the beginner guitarist would not notice any difference in the sound.

Squier Standard Stratocaster

Good price:  $339.99 Cdn

Cheapest place to buy:  Amazon Canada

Key Specs:                                                                                                                            

  • agathis body
  • maple neck 
  • rosewood fingerboard
  • pickups:  3 alnico magnet single-coil 
  • controls: 1-volume, 2-tone
  • pickup selector:  5-way blade

The Squier Standard Stratocaster is a very good choice for a beginner guitarist.  In the Squier line up of guitars, this model should be considered to be the entry level choice.   The playability and sound of this model is far superior to cheaper Squiers. The slim line of the neck is ideal for a beginner with small hands.   The alnico pickups produce classic Strat tones. This guitar features separate tone controls for the neck and middle pickups, giving the player more options for sound modification. The Squier sealed die-cast tuners allow for accurate tuning.  This guitar is priced a bit higher, but it is worth the price.

Squier Vintage Stratocaster                                         

Good price:  $409.99 Cdn

Cheapest place to buy:  Amazon Canada

Key Specs:                                                                                                                            

  • basswood body
  • maple neck 
  • rosewood fingerboard
  • pickups:  2 Duncan designed single-coil, 1 Duncan designed humbucker 
  • controls: 1-volume, 2-tone
  • pickup selector:  5-way blade
  • tuning machines:  vintage-style

The Squier Vintage Stratocaster is a bit more expensive than typical entry level guitars, but it has so many features that make it worth the price.  Squier has incorporated traditional features found in vintage Fender guitars such as a gloss neck and vintage body finishes.  One of the most prominent features are the Duncan Designed  pickups which are several levels above the pickups in cheaper priced Squier guitars.  On this model the pickup configuration is a humbucker pickup at the bridge, with single coils in the middle and at the neck.  This feature produces a broad range of sounds.  The basswood body has a warm, uniform sound.    The vintage style tuners make tuning very accurate. This guitar is another example of building to traditional standards, but offering the finished product at a relatively low price. This guitar is a very good choice.

Please leave comments below so that I know how I’m doing.  Also, please ask questions if there is something that I could explain better.

 

2 thoughts on “Electric Guitars

  1. I would never judge a guitar by the price. If it feels and sounds good, there shouldn’t be a problem. Even if you buy a cheaper priced guitar, there’s nothing from stopping you from upgrading in time with a pickup swap or other modifications.

    1. Great comments Ryan

      I totally agree. Many of the upgrades are inexpensive and simple to do either on your own or better yet by your local guitar tech.

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