Electric Guitar Buying Guide - Best Buy Canada

August 27, 2012

What to Consider When Buying an Electric Guitar

When you’re looking for the best guitar and gear out there, starting with great names like Fender, Marshall and Gibson is a sure way to stumble upon great items. However, you’ll want to know about a few basic things to help narrow down your choices.

Whether you’re a beginner and want to learn to play guitar or you’re an old pro, having the right setup is important. From Fender and Yamaha guitars to Marshall amps and Gibson accessories, there’s a wide range of great stuff to choose from. Have a look at our handy list and get to know some of the basics before you buy an electric guitar.

Families

The Fender Telecaster is a solid body single cutaway guitar, known for its ability to produce both bright and rich cutting tones in the typical telecaster twang, as well as more mellow, warm, bluesy tones. Its solid body allows for clean, amplified string tones to play without unwanted feedback and enables musicians to emulate steel guitar sounds that are popular in country music. It is also widely used in blues, rock and jazz genres.

The Stratocaster has a sleek, contoured body shape with double cutaways that allow players easier access to higher positions on the neck – so not only does it sound good, it feels good and is comfortable to play. This type of guitar is noted for its bright, clean, and twangy tone, with more mellow and full sounds coming from the neck pickup while bridge pickups offer brighter, sharper tones.

The Gibson Les Paul is a solid body electric guitar with strings mounted on the top of the body, rather than through, as occurs in Fender models. Musicians can produce a great variety of sounds just by flipping the pickup switch between rhythm, lead and middle positions, and making subtle adjustments to volume and tone pots. These dense, heavy guitars provide deep tones without the problem of feedback while producing remarkable sustain, making it ideal for thick rock and blues.

A semi-acoustic or hollow-body electric guitar has both a sound box and one or more electric pickups. Their clean and warm tones make these musical instruments a natural favourite for widespread use in jazz, indie rock, and various other genre communities. Semi-acoustic guitars are also ideal for practice due to their ability to be quieter than full acoustic models, but more audible than solid body electric builds, when played “unplugged”. They perform well when volume is an issue.

Body Style

Before choosing the guitar you want, you should hold one and discover which body type feels the most comfortable for your playing style. Different body types include:

Solid-body electric guitars are the most common. They are great because they have no acoustic restrictions, and are available in the most varied styles.

Semi-hollow (or semi-solid) guitars offer a rounder, darker sound. To minimize feedback they feature solid wood centres with large chambers on both sides and sound holes.

Hollow-body guitars are large enough to be played without an amp, but can often produce feedback with too much amplification. They are usually chosen by most jazz guitarists.

Frets

Most electric guitars come equipped with 22 frets which are the metal strips along the fretboard. To play a higher octave, you'll want to choose one with 24 frets. Smooth frets let you do more with your guitar, and can help make playing easier and more enjoyable.

Amps

If you already own an amp, you'll want to be sure to use a similar one when testing out electric guitars. The sound will be different with every amp you test it with, which is why if you already have one you'll want to choose a guitar that sounds best with the one you've got.

Wood

The type of wood used in your guitar’s build will influence its tone; because of this, the material is usually referred to as “tonewood”. Hard woods like alder, ash, mahogany, maple, rosewood and basswood are most common, and are often used in combination with each other within the guitar’s body, neck, and fretboard. Each type within the wide range of available tonewoods can sound subtly – or distinctly – different from the next, creating unique signature sounds that better suit different kinds of music.

  • Alder: a medium-weight wood with a clear, full-bodied sound and balanced tone
  • Ash: Provides a twangy sound with pleasant highs and strong lows
  • Basswood: a lightweight wood with warm sounds and strong mids
  • Ebony: very dense, with a darker, but smooth tone
  • Korina: a medium- to heavy-weight wood with great clarity and definition
  • Mahogany: a medium- to heavy-weight wood with strong warmth, soft tones and a full sound
  • Maple (hard): a dense, heavy wood with a bright, clear sound and feel similar to rosewood
  • Maple (soft): slightly heavy, bright and brassy in the upper midrange and more dull in the lows
  • Poplar: a light hardwood with well-balanced, crisp sound
  • Rosewood: an elastic, sustained and muted sound, with solid lows
  • Walnut: harder and denser than mahogany, with a bright tone and complex midrange

Necks

For electric guitars, bolt-on necks are the most common, and are more easily repaired than set or glued necks. Set necks, on the other hand, are more expensive to buy and repair, but they're known for their solid attachment which offers incredible stability. The neck itself houses a truss rod, which is a metal bar used for reinforcement.

Necks come in various shapes, such as C-shaped, thin, wide-thin, etc., and it's important you choose one that's a comfortable fit for your hand.

Pickups

The pickup is crucial in determining the breadth of sounds that will emanate from your guitar. It is a bar magnet wrapped in wire coils that senses string vibrations, translates them into electronic signals, and transfers them to the amp and speaker. Many electric guitars have two or three different pickups located at different points on the body. Each has its own distinctive sound, with multiple pickups paired, either in-phase or out, to produce additional variations.

Single coil pickups: This design has only one coil of wire and produces a thin, clean sound. Single coil pickups also tend to be susceptible to hum. Guitars equipped with single coil pickups are commonly used in rock, pop, and country music. The single coil pickup version of the Fender Stratocaster has been played by legends like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Double coil or Humbucker pickups: Using two coils to cancel out the hum (it “bucks” the hum), this style of pickup generates a smooth, warm sound and is found on many popular guitar models like the Gibson Les Paul. Since humbucker pickup-equipped guitars produce a smoother sound, you’ll often find them in the hands of jazz, blues, and pop musicians. Star musicians like John Lennon and BB King were well known for the sound they produced with their humbucker pickup guitars.

Scale Length

Most guitars have one of two scale lengths. The 25-1/2" length provides a high tension and more trebly sound, while a 24-3/4" length makes the lower string tension slightly easier to play and provides a less trebly sound.

Bridges

There are the two main types of bridges for electric guitars.

A tremolo bridge, also called a whammy bar, lets you bend all the strings at once making it perfect for “metal” musical styles. However, it can also throw strings out of tune.

Fixed onto the body of the guitar, a stoptail bridge offers greater stability. Lots of players prefer this, as it provides more sustain than its counterpart.

Action

This is the distance between the string and the frets. The shorter this distance, the more likely frets will “buzz” when a string is plucked. However, the longer this distance, the more difficult it might be to hold the string to the fret and produce a clean note. Be certain to test a few guitars to ensure the strings are easy enough to push down without being too low.

Research

Get to know some of the different guitar makers you're interested in. Check out review sites and explore the pros and cons; knowing the details of their different models will help you make a more informed choice, especially if you're buying online.

Best Buy

Take the Next Step

Most experts recommend that you buy the highest-quality instrument you can afford, but remember that quality can be found at different price points. Check out a wide selection of guitars, amps, pedals, and other gear at Best Buy from Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Yamaha, and more. Whatever you choose, you want to be sure that the gear you choose suits you best.

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