Electric guitars for not-quite-newbies?

The guitar shopping thread is so interesting (even though I know literally nothing about electric guitars) that I wanted to ask my own guitar-shopping question - so, I’m taking acoustic lessons, for the past couple months. In perhaps six months to a year? whenever I feel comfortable enough with the acoustic to, say, not think twice about performing at storytime, I’d like to try an electric. (Already asked if my skills would transfer and that was a very helpful thread.)

The acoustic I bought was a $160 (well, that was their price after they knocked off this and that) starter set from Ibanez, and several people have told me it has a very nice tone. I got it at the local music shop and was impressed as hell with the service, so I imagine I’ll try to go back there again for any future guitar buying needs if they can offer me the selection I need. By the time I want to get into electric, however, I’ll be damned sure I’m sticking with it and have enough basic guitar skills - would I still want a “starter” electric? What is a starter electric? What’s the next grade up? Would I be able to tell the difference? Assuming a limitless budget, as a thought experiment, what would be the best electric guitar for me, and the best price range? (I’m sure, for example, that the features they’re talking about in the guitar shopping thread will be meaningless to me at that point.) Is it best to get a baby starter guitar anyway and then save up for a really good one as I learn what’s what with electric?

If it matters, I’d want it most specifically for playing badass electric blues styles, but something really versatile that I could play anything on. I’m asking, really, because I’m trying to plan ahead with this kind of silly frivolous purchase. :slight_smile:

And for those kind souls who helped me out in my “tell me about learning to play the guitar” thread, I’m having a blast in my lessons. Granted, I have a total leg up with decades of classical piano experience. I can sight read guitar now just about as well as my teacher can, it’s just that he never accidentally gets the wrong note. It’s so fascinating how alike and how different the instruments are - it just blows my freaking mind when he works out a riff on his guitar and plays the same notes in, like, six places! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that - it’s a huge conceptual leap for me from “one note one key” to “you can play any note on any string”. But I know twelve chords now, which is more than some people who have platinum records know.

Right on. I’m glad you’re making the leap to electric. You’ll love it. Electric guitar is so damn much fun. :slight_smile:

Remember, though, that when you buy an electric guitar, you’re really making two big purchases. You must also have an amplifier, and the amp has as much or more to do with your sound as the guitar.

A lot of your choices will be circumscribed by price range, obviously, so if you have a total budget range in mind, it would help us a lot in making recommendations.

However, the lucky thing is that there is a wide range of good choices at most price points.

I’m really not sure what the term “starter electric” means, other than “inexpensive.” To me, a good starter electric is a guitar that feels and sounds right for you, and that will keep you coming back to pick it up and play. The most important thing is to try a lot of them and see which one you bond with, and then make sure that you have it professionally set up and intonated. This will ensure that it plays easily, and sounds good all the way up the neck.

So with those disclaimers out of the way, here are some models that may start you in the right direction.

First, the Fender Telecaster. This was the very first solid body electric, and IMHO, still the best of all. It can do anything, from chicken pickin’ country to strummy folk to stinky blues to raging hard rock, and truly excel at all of them. Its design is simple and effective. The pricing on these start from about $300ish for a Made in Mexico model (MIM) all the way to well over $1000 for super-duper Made In America (MIA) tele deluxe models. Teles generally have two single coil pickups and a 3-way pickup selector, but there are models which have one or two humbuckers, or even a 3-single coil setup.

Here is a MIA telecaster deluxe, such as squeegee is considering.

Next, the Fender Stratocaster. This is the choice guitar of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, Gilmour, and a million others. These usually have 3 single coils and a 5-way selector, although there are humbucker-single-single (HSS) and two humbucker (2HB) setups as well. It also has a tremolo, which significantly affects the tone, since the vibratio of the strings is partially dampened by a bridge which can also move. In contrast, the telecaster is a hardtail. No tremolo. Again Fender has several series of these from $300ish MIM strats to MIA models which cost from $900 to over $1000.

Here is an American standard strat.

Both the stratocaster and the telecaster are iconic guitars used by thousands upon thousands of musicians, and which have been copied by virtually every guitar company in existence. Leo Fender, the inventor of both styles of guitar, eventually split off from Fender because he felt that the imported Fenders were of inferior quality. He founded a company with George Fullerton called G&L. Until recently, all G&L’s were MIA, although now there is an imported line as well called “Tribute.” Whether MIA or imported, every G&L I have ever played has been absolutely top-of-the-line in terms of fit and finish, playability, sound, and overall quality. My #1 axe is a G&L, and I’m a giant fan of the company.

Next, the Les Paul. Gibson charges an arm and a leg for MIA Les Pauls. These can range from $1000ish for a Les Paul Studio to well over $3000 for a Les Paul Custom. Standards (IIRC) start at around $2000. These guitars are generally outfitted with 2 humbuckers, and are hardtails. Wordman, however, plays one hell of a pretty goldtop LP with 2 “soapbar” pickups, which are larger-than-standard single coil pickups. They have a distinctive sound, are are damn nice pickups.

Here is a Gibson Les Paul Standard. Please note, also, that they have a TON of models that are far more expensive.


Gibson has an imprint company called Epiphone (actually an older company than Gibson itself, but that’s neither here nor there) that makes pretty much all the same styles of guitars as Gibson, but at a MUCH lower price point. Epiphone Les Pauls have been getting a very good reputation recently, and range from $300-$400 for the standard models, up to over $1000 for the Elitist models.

Also notable is the Gibson SG, which started out as a variant of the Les Paul. This is the “devil horns” guitar than Angus Young of AC/DC famously plays.

Man, it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many guitar models out there. Also worthy of consideration is Ibanez, which are widely considered “shredder” guitars, although they make a full range of fine instruments.

I’m probably missing a lot of obvious models here, but those are probably the biggest-selling models (and for good reason. They are all tried and true, and are world-class instruments.)

But remember: the guitar is only half the story. Next - amps. :slight_smile:

Rather than write a million words about carious models of amplifiers, I’ll just make it simple. In general, there are two broad classes of guitar amplifiers: tube and solid state. Tube amps are the old-school amps that operate using vacuum tubes. Solid state amps operate using diodes. The difference between them is in how they “clip.” Clipping causes the signal to distort, giving that amp “overdrive” we all know and love.

Although this is a topic hotly debated among tone geeks, tube amps are generally considered to be superior to solid state amps. The wave pattern caused by a vacuum tube clipping, for some reason, is very pleasing to the human brain.

Anyhow, there are a huge number of variables even in tube amp sound. There’s tube type, wattage, speaker type and number, and about a thousand other things.

However, if I were you, I would look for a good, inexpensive tube amp. The market is loaded with them right now. They range from about $200 for a 5-watt Fender Champ 600 or an Epiphone Valve Junior (both good for classic tones, although they are somewhat variable in their overdrive sounds,) all the way to high-end boutique monster amps that sell for $10,000 or more. You can get a reissue of the classic 22-watt Fender Deluxe Reverb (“the most recorded amp in history”) for under $1000. This amp is good for anything, and is known for its wonderful overdrive. It’s been used by country, blues, rock, and every other type of musician. It is a truly choice amp for blues.

I’m sure others will weigh in soon, so I’ll cut it off here.

I’d like to frame the “guitar shopping” thread a little. I’m someone who’s played guitar for a gazillion years, but most of those years were when I was poor. I’ve owned perhaps five instruments, ever, all of them used. Now I’m in my 40’s, after taking a break for 10+ years from playing guitar, and can really afford anything I want, within reason. I could really buy a $30k instrument if I could convince my SO, and sell a car or something to justify it. I doubt, however, if I could justify something like that to myself, but I’m willing to be convinced.

So, having said that, I headed into a store and… wanted something “amazing!”, like that kid watching from the driveway in The Incredibles. And my posts were someone approaching it from that perspective, but also wanting to feel like they really were understanding what they were playing, and not just buying candy.

To my mind, you don’t want something “amazing” at this point – its ALL amazing! You just want comfort that you’re getting something that has the fewest impedents to your growth as a player, and gives you a tone you want. I think this is what you mean by a “beginner” electric – do you agree?

Wait. I’ll go ahead and post a few more of my favorite “bluesy” amps:

Peavey Classic 30Excellent amplifier. Nice price as well. Crystal clear tube amp, and is very loud and articulate. 30 watts.

Fender Blues Jr.15 watts. Early breakup (begins to overdrive at relatively low volumes).

Vox AC-1515 watts. Classic British rock and blues sound.

Aaaaaand, a reissue of the famous Marshall Plexi. 18 watts. Classic British overdrive sound.

**Ogre ** - wow, great write up. Nothing to add here.

However - one idea: a class of guitar that **Ogre ** didn’t mention is the semi-hollow. They started with the Gibson ES-335 - an electric with a solid core of wood down the center of the body, but hollow “wings” on either side. Here’s a pic - you know, the kind BB King calls Lucille, Chuck Berry plays, etc.

Very versatile, great for blues, rock, folk - almost as versatile as a Tele, but covering a somewhat different space, since 335’s are more often used for jazz than Tele’s are (but Tele’s can be!) - all while sounding quite tonally different vs. a Tele.

You might want to try one of those out - given the ground they cover they are an excellent starter guitar that could support you heading in a variety of directions. Epiphone, per Ogre’s thread, makes a “dot neck” 335-type guitar (dot-neck refers to having simple dot fingerboard markers; that was a trait of the most-sought-after late-50’s Gibson 335’s) for a few hundred bucks that can be decent. Be prepared to try a few to find one that speaks to you…

I bought a new Danelectro Hearsay on eBay for $83 and a used Peavey Rage amp or $60 in 2001 and they are still cranking. Check out the Danelectro if you want a better-than-decent electric, especially for your first.

Post-edit window…

Here is a pretty comprehensive review of the Danelectro Hearsay

I feel I want something that I won’t “grow out of” and be dissatisfied with any time soon, and unlike most beginners I’m not concerned about plunking down a reasonable amount of money and then not playing the guitar, because I’ve been playing the hell out of my acoustic. So I feel I do want to step up from the range of guitar I bought my acoustic in (no offense, little buddy!) not because I’m anywhere near the stage at which that guitar is limiting me but because I’d like to do better for myself.

Put it this way - when I buy a power tool, I look at the best one I can afford and then I buy the one a little bit better, because when you buy a crappy tool you buy frustrations. A fine tool is a joy to use. My boyfriend buys his power tools at Harbor Freight, and they’re honestly fine for what he uses them for - but I do consistently better, more meticulous work with mine. He says “You’re good at that stuff”, I say I use fine tools and take the time to get it right.

So I can’t see breaking the thousand dollar mark at all, but with some time to save up for it I’m comfortable with spending a bit of cash to get an instrument I’ll use for the rest of my life.

Also, I want a guitar that looks REALLY COOL.

Zsofia, I just looked at your past threads. Many thanks to you and the other Dopers who posted there–much like you, I’ve decided to try to learn to play the acoustic guitar. Also like you, I play a few other instruments, and have taught myself a few of them, so I’m hoping I can do the same with this.

Exactly how I feel. I’ve got myself a beautiful Seagull acoustic–a little more expensive than the “starter kits,” but a gorgeous instrument in both tone and looks, and I also figure that if I spent a little more, I’ll be more inclined to actually achieve my goal of being able to play.

Anyway, I’ll be watching this thread for any more advice that the Dopers can give us beginners. Just one question for any current/longtime player who cares to answer–when do your fingers stop hurting?

Spoons, the advice to get a teacher was totally the best. I know I wouldn’t have dug up the motivation to play enough if I didn’t know that come Wednesday I’d get a sad puppydog look if I didn’t practice.

And I don’t get all the finger pain complaints. I haven’t had much trouble with that at all - is it just the action on my guitar or something? I mean, they hurt a little bit, but nothing worth mentioning. Last night I played way longer than I usually do - probably an hour and a half, because I didn’t bring a book to keep Himself company while he edited, and they did hurt a bit then, but my wrist hurt more from sitting in a bad chair.

My fingers are in a perpetual state of sensitivity. It took a couple of years to really get calluses that I was used to and enabled me to play for hours without really getting sore - just sensitive. Then I went through about a 10 year period where the calluses were protective and I had no issues playing - but they would constantly look worn and ragged - I looked like a homeless guy or something.

For the past decade or so, they look like normal fingers, but the tips are just extra firm and rough…

**Zsofia **- I strongly recommend that you go to a music store and try “the 4 major food groups of electric guitar” - Strat, Tele, Les Paul and ES-335. Try to play the highest-end, best playing and sounding versions of each - what you are trying to do is see if any design is a clearly best fit for you. If you come back and report that one type felt more comfortable, was easier to play and/or sounded better, that is a big data point and we can help you narrow down from there. Try a few of each type - weight, neck grip, etc. can vary widely, so try to play enough that you get a sense for what the general design type feels like.

Once you get a sense for the design you like, you can explore the “buy a good tool” aspect of things. Depending on what you are interested in and what you want to achieve, you could end up in a number of places. The fact that you have a strong musical grounding may mean that your ears and fingers are better-trained and you might pick up subtleties others would miss sooner in your guitar education. If that is the case, aiming a tad higher in the model/features department may make sense for you - not sure…

Hmmm, I guess **squeegee’s ** Guitar Shopping thread piqued a few folks’ curiosity - cool! Guitars are such universal instruments, are so versatile and can accomodate all levels of skill while making cool sounds - good to know Dopers are contemplating playing more.

SDMB League of Guitar Enablement, Gear Geek Division

The only thing I have to add to the wisdom from previous posters is a bit of personal praise for Epiphone guitars. If Gibson has a guitar that feels and sounds right for you, there is a very good chance that you will find an Epiphone copy that will make you happy at a much lower price. I own an Epiphone ES-335, which I bought used about five years ago. To me, it is nearly indistinguishable from the Gibson version. I have played quite a few Epiphone Les Pauls and SGs and found them to be remarkably well-made guitars. I recently played one of their acoustic/electrics, an EJ-200CE, that was an astounding guitar for $500.

“Also, I want a guitar that looks REALLY COOL.”

You need a Stratocaster, they’re the best all around guitar ever made. They’re the workhorse of the professional guitarist.

I am a big Epiphone fan. I have their ES-335 and it is my primariy guitar in my band (we play Blues based dirt rock I guess. Kind of early Stooges meets the Stones meets mid 90s indy rock :rolleyes: .) It’s a great guitar. I also have an MIA Fender Strat, and the lead singer plays an MIA Tele from the 80’s, all three are great guitars but for the money the ES-335 is my favorite of the bunch.

Ibanez makes some good guitars, as does Yamaha (they make a great guitar that has the body of a strat, but the pickups of an SG). Look around play a lot of models find one that you feel comfortable with, then spend most of your time finding the right Amp. Look for all tube amps, and stay away from the cheeper valvestate amps that are everywhere (or were the last time I went amp shopping.)

Then you can start playing with effects peddles. :wink:

Commenting on **Burton’s ** post about a Stratocaster - while they are great, legendary guitars that have been used to make some of the best electric guitar music, I really have to disagree with this POV. I think Strats do not make good guitars for electric-guitar newbies - for the following reasons:

[li]Mainly the whammy bar - keeping a whammy-bar equipped guitar properly set up is bigger challenge than a hard-tail guitar. And changing strings is a much bigger pain for a newbie - as you tighten up the strings, they exert pull on the floating whammy bridge, pulling the just-tuned-earlier strings back out of tune. You have to go through the full set 3 - 4 times to get it set up correctly. So unless you are set on having a whammy to use, you should really avoid this - you can block the whammy of a Strat so it doesn’t function - Clapton does this - but a noobie is better off with a Tele if they want a Fender, IMHO…[/li][li]I would also add the control set up - the pickup selector is right in the path of your strumming hand - very easy to flick it. [/li][li]I have to also add the basic nature of the Strat - on one hand all these amazing guitarists play a Strat - in fact some of the great players like Clapton and Beck moved to Strats after playing other guitars - clearly a testimony to the pull of a Strat. But what do they all say about it?: “yeah, it puts up a bit more of a fight, but it is worth it” - this means that you have to play it “just so” to get what you want out of it. To me, that is too much to expect of a new-to-electrics guitarist to have to worry about…[/li][/ul]

I think those reasons are more than enough to steer someone away from a Strat as a beginning electric. I would personally also add that of the Four Major Guitar Food Groups, Strats are the most likely to sound thin - compared to Teles, Les Pauls and 335’s, each of those design have more low-end thump and balls. You can get that out of a Strat - jeez, lookit Hendrix through a Marshall - but then again, that was Jimi Hendrix. Through a huge honkin’ Marshall. Same with Gilmour, Richie Blackmore and other heavier Strat players. Starting with one of the other guitars is more likely to get you a fuller, ballsier tone if you are wanting to play the blues as indicated in the OP…

My $.02 - I love Strats; I played one for 15 years and love the music made on them. I just don’t think they are good guitars for beginning electric players. Crotalus, you are primarily a Strat guy - am I speaking sacrilege?

If you change the strings one at time, one off, one on there’s no problem at all.

Yes, they’re longer scale guitars so they feel stiffer than a Gibson style but if you’re coming from playing a $160.00 acoustic it should feel fine.

As for the tone, that’s merely your subjective taste, I can rip your face off with a Strat and a Deluxe Reverb.

Check out Parker Guitars which are unique, very cool, and feel/play great. While many models go well over $1k, they have several in the $500-$600 range.

Uh oh. I saw the title and hurried in here to warn you of the dangers of GAS–it appears I was too late. you have officially dipped your toe into the most addicting, strangely-illogical-but-oh-i-just-cant-resist hobbies i’ve fallen victim to. my honest opinion as a professional guitar geek veteran: its just a hunk of wood and electronics. the guitar alone isnt gonna define your sound, and most definitely not your style. what IS important though is that the guitar plays well and looks hot. to that end, here is my unequivocal recommendation: your new guitar
if this particular one is not for you or its too expensive or whatever (its just a personal favorite) the company offers many more, all of dependable quality. dont be turned off by the fact that this isnt a big name company–these guys know their quality control and never skimp on parts, plus they actually care about the individual customer. (for those in the know: korina body (!), maple neck w/ rosewood, p90@neck and hum@bridge, dual action truss rod, wilkinson tuners, good pickups that do their job, and interesting bass contour knob that is like a second tone control)
if you like the design, you really cant go wrong with it because in the world of guitars, this price range/level of quality is where the point of diminishing returns is, and believe me its steep. you wont need a better guitar for “badass electric blues” likely ever.

everyone, their mother, and their dog has a les paul/strat/tele/335/generic shredder.
who wants to be just another chick with a boring guitar?

oh and find a good amp, thats where almost all of your sound is–but thats a whole nother topic.


I also agree with this guy.

I have never played a Reverend, but a number of folks whose playing I respect have and they think they are great - I would love to try one. And yeah they are really affordable.

I am not a fan of Parkers - the necks are way too thin and I find them a bit too “jack of all trades, master of none” for my taste…