Advice On Buying Your First Serious Electric Guitar
It was an exciting moment for me. I started off plaing guitar when I was 13 on a hand-me-down Harmony that my brother had. When my parents saw I was practicing and enjoying playing, they bought me my own acoustic guitar, I believe they bought it at Sears and I don’t recall the brand. For all I know it was a Kenmore.
When I was 16 I started working at a dry cleaner and saved my money for a Gibson Dot, semi-hollow double cutaway electric, similar to one I’d seen John Lennon playing. After a few months of saving, I found a red one in a local music store and bought my first serious guitar for $150. I didn’t keep it long and it’s rare that a day has passed since then that I haven’t hissed about it. Semi-hollow guitars were on their way out and Strats, SGs & Les Pauls were roaring to dominance in the electric guitar market.
In the 1960’s there were far fewer choices than today, but the choices that there were seemed to fall into two categories: excellent or trash. Today, there are a lot more choices, a lot more great guitars and a lot more junk than ever before. That’s an opportunity and it’s also a trap. Today I’m going to focus on your first serious electric guitar and in future blogs I’ll cover acoustic guitars and bass.
When you go out shopping for a serious instrument, most of us head out the door with a fairly good idea of how much we’re willing to spend or are able to spend. When we actually shop the tendency is to take that amount that we thought was our maximum and it becomes the least we’ll spend. We always seem to be able to justify another $100 for a little better guitar. So yo head online to shop or take a road trip to a music store or two to see what they have.
As you look through the racks filled with gloss and power for your first serious guitar, you may have a make, model and even color in mind. That’s a good place to start, but I don’t think it’s a good place to end your search. Do some comparisons and afterwards, you may still buy your initial choice going in, but you’ll buy it with more confidence that it is, in fact, the guitar you really want.
The first thing that catches our eye, in purchasing guitars and so much of life, is how it looks or attraction. That’s fine, but there’s a world of difference between attraction and relationship and this serious guitar is going to be a relationship. This is also good advice for dating as I think of it.
For the first serious guitar, I don’t recommend that you spend a huge amount of money, even if you have a huge amount of money to spend. Over the years, as your skill develops so will your musical style, tastes and preferences in guitars change. Also, if it turns out you’re not as committed as you thought you’d be, you don’t have a fortune invested. So as appealing as a high end Paul Reed Smith or Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul might be, I suggest you leave that purchase for somewhere down the road.
My suggestion is that first you discover the range of sound and feel. Test it, play it. Carefully note how different guitar necks feel, how the body shape feels resting against your body. Play guitars with single coil pickups, humbuckers and combinations to get real insight into how they perform and how they differ. If you want more information on single coil and humbucker pickup, refer to my article on guitar and bass buying on this web site by going to http://www.openmindedmic.com/?page_id=597 where you’ll also find a lot of other detailed information on wood choices, neck construction and buying ideas.
Play the guitar standing up and sitting down. See if it’s comfortable both ways. Most people who are attracted to “V” shaped guitars, or the guitars shaped liked bats have another opinion when they try to play them sitting down. They’re awkward and the only way I know to play them sitting is to place the “V” or base of the guitar over your thigh.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that \eEven a good guitar with a lousy setup will play and feel awful. What you may have is a guitar in your hands that would be perfect for you, except it needs adjustment. If you’re in a store, you can ask that question. One of my most closely held guitar buying tips is don’t buy it from a store that has “mart” in the name. Even if it’s not junk, which it often is, nobody there would have any idea how to setup a guitar.
Consider making some inexpensive, but very worthwhile, upgrades that will really improve the quality of the guitar. Ditch the plastic nut in favor of a Tusq or bone nut. It’s inexpensive and can add a lot to the sound and tone. I’ve also taken low priced guitars and put a better bridge on and the guitar went from OK to incredible.
If you buy your new electric guitar online from ebay, American Musical or one of Amazon’s vendors, make sure there’s a return policy. Also be aware that sometimes shipping can knock a guitar setup right out of line and you may need to get it setup again or return it. You still may want to shop online for the savings and usually this isn’t a problem as long as you know what you can do if the guitar isn’t right.
So here’s my list of guitars that I recommend as your first serious electric:
- Epiphone SG G400 – it’s not a Gibson, but it plays great for about $350
- Fender Blacktop Jaguar – with two humbucker this plays & sounds great for about $500
- Sterling by Music Man AX30 – is a well made import with a great brand affiliation for about $450
- Schecter Solo 6 Special – don’t walk past the Schecvter lineup: this one is about $500
- Ibanez AG95 – for about $580; I banez makes some great high end electrics
- Gibson SG Special – for about $700 it’s genuine Gibson and genuine quality
- PRS SE Santana – a beautiful double cutaway. Release the beast for about $696
- Godin Exit 22 – simple, powerful, great playability for about $500
- Fender Standard Stratocaster – made in Mexico and made WELL in Mexico for about $500
- Epiphone Limited Edition Les Paul Custom – for about $600 it’s a lot of guitar
This isn’t an all inclusive list and I’ve left a lot of fine guitars off the list because it’s limited to ten. If you have a nominee for the best first serious electric, I’d love to hear what it is.
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So what’s your opinion? Do you have a nominee for someone’s first serious electric guitar? Let me hear about it. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply on this blog. Be Heard. Prof. Dave