Electric Guitar Guide
So, you want to play electric guitar? Great! This Electric Guitar Guide is the right place to start. You will quickly learn about the most important parts of the instrument. By the end of this article you will understand:
- What a pick-up is, and the difference between a single-coil pickup and a humbucker!
- Why electric guitars have switches, and dials.
- Why you might want a tremolo bar.
- Some of the extras you may want to equip your guitar with now, or upgrade to later.
You need to decide the type of electric guitar to purchase. Don't worry, it's a very easy decision to make, and this Electric Guitar Guide will help. Just as you made the decision between acoustic and electric, this one is based upon... the type of music you plan to play.
Very simply... if you plan to play Rockabilly, 50's/60's Rock, Blues, or Jazz you should look first at a hollow-body electric. Everyone else should look at solid-body electric guitars.
What is a Hollow-body Electric?
The hollow-body electric grew out of experiments to amplify acoustic guitars. After some experimentation by themselves and others, the Gibson company released the ES-150, with a pick-up built into a modified acoustic body. Through the years many artists, including Chuck Berry, B.B. King, and Brian Setzer have used this type of instrument to produce an easily recognizable mellow electric tone.
A semi-solid guitar is similar, with a thinner body than a hollow-body electric or an acoustic-electric.
Solid Body, Fast Action, Creative Shapes...
There are a number of reasons this is the most popular section of the electric guitar guide: The distinctive sound of a solid body electric; the quality of modern electronics; strings that are fast and low; and the ability to shape and paint the body in many imaginative ways.
How can strings be fast? O.K., they can't... by themselves. But it's easier to play fast runs on an electric. Why? Thin strings and low action!
Since the strings produce sound electronically, they can be very thin. Thin strings bend easier and farther, meaning it takes less finger strenght to play bending notes, fast solo's riffs, and runs.
The strings on an electric are low (the closer the strings are to your fretboard, the lower the action). Low strings mean you press them down a shorter distance than on, say, an acoustic with steel strings. There are two advantages for the player: First, your fingers do not need the same strength that's required to play a steel-string acoustic. Second, since they travel somewhat shorter distances to press strings down, you will play faster sooner.
Finally, you will find solid body instruments in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. One is certain to appeal to every player.
Next up for the electric guitar guide: understanding all the bits and pieces of a typical electric guitar.
The Basic Components...
Sound from an electric guitar is created when the strings are plucked or strummed. The movement of strings is picked up by a magnetic device known as, Ta-Dah!, a pick-up! If more than one pickup is involved, a switch determines which pickup is active. Volume and tone dials on the instrument provide additional control over the sound.
I can't cover each component in detail in this electric guitar guide, but the following descriptions should prepare you to shop with confidence.
If you were to take a simple pickup apart, you would discover that it is made up of one long copper wire, wound round and round one or more magnets.
Picture a large rubber band, made out of this copper wire, and you sort of have the right mental image.
When electricity passes through the wire, the magnet (or magnets) in the middle of this band of copper can detect the movement of metal. This movement is created by the strings of the guitar. The movement of the strings causes electrical impulses to travel through the wire inside the pick-up. When attached to an amplifier, these impulses create the sounds you hear.
Would You Like a Single, or Humbucker, With That?
Of all the components described in the Electric Guitar Guide, "Humbucker" wins the award for easiest explanation of a complex sounding term.
One problem with early single coil pickups (one wire wrapped around and around) was that they produced hum, just like the electric "buzz" you hear if you turn up your stereo without any music playing. If the hum is severe enough, it's very distracting.
To solve the problem of hum, the Gibson company developed a two-wire pickup, which caused the magnetic feedback to cancel itself out. The hum was significantly reduced, and the "hum bucker" was born!
Which Pickup? Switch the Pickup!
Guitar manufactures found that pickups created differing sounds depending on where they were placed on the instrument. Rather than produce many different instruments, able to produce limited sounds, they began installing two, or three, pick-ups along with a switch that controlled which pick-up was active.
If a guitar has two pick-ups, it will include a three-way switch. To explain this, we'll call the two pick-ups, Pickup 1 and Pickup 2. The switch positions will be 1, 2, and 3.
When the switch is in position 1, only Pickup 1 is active. Move the switch to position 2, and only Pickup 2 is active. Move the switch to position 3, and both pickups are active!
If you have three pickups on your guitar, you will probably have a 5-way switch. Three positions to select each pickup individually, and two to use them in combinations.
Knobs, Dials, Controls...
Most electric guitars have three knobs, or dials, on them. These usually control the volume, treble, and bass tones produced by the built-in electronics.
The Tremolo Bar.. OOoooOOOoooOOooo
The tremolo bar, sometimes called the whammy bar, allows the guitarist to easily alter the pitch or all strings, up or down... slowly or quickly. It's easy to identify: it's a thin silver bar attached just below the saddle of the guitar, and normally hangs just below your strumming hand. Not all guitars have one.
Other Considerations and Extras...
There are many, many factors to consider when selecting an electric guitar, this electric guitar guide can't possibly cover them all, but a few of the more common are covered below.
Any instrument you purchase must be able to produce sound that is pleasing to you, and stay in tune. So, use a chromatic electronic tuner when you first start trying the instrument out, then check it again after playing for a while.
If you have locking tuning keys, changing strings is faster, and keeping them in tune is easier. If you use a tremolo, or whammy bar, you should consider getting rollers for the nut, they will help keep the guitar in tune when you release the tremolo bar. Finally, fret markers on the side of the neck make it easier to learn the instrument.
Final thoughts..from the Electric Guitar Guide...
A solid-body electric guitar can quickly drive up your start-up costs (primarily due to the cost of an amplifier, although effects boxes and pedals soon become desirable). So, you might want to consider an Acoustic/Electric or a semi-hard body as your first instrument, with a plan to step up to the solid-body if the guitar bug still bites after a year. The primary advantage of a semi or hollow-body electric is the ability to practice without amplification equipment.
If you decide that a solid body is right for you, read the Amplifier Guide next.
I hope you've enjoyed the electric guitar guide!