Buying a new electric guitar might be a daunting challenge especially if you are a beginner and it’s your first guitar.
There are many things to consider and you don’t want to miss any because you might find out later that this guitar is not for you.
Also, today there are too many manufacturers and eclectic guitar models, so choosing the right guitar is not that easy. Also, there is a price to consider.
And that’s why this guide exists. It will teach you what to look for in an electric guitar, how to know what feature is good, and in general, how to choose an electric guitar that has high quality and is the right one for you.
So, let’s dive in and learn everything about choosing electric guitars.
Sometimes you’ll want to give up the guitar. You’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded –Jimi Hendrix
Check out our No.1 recommendation for learning guitar here.
Play Before Buying
The first thing you must do before trying to pay attention to features and sound is to play the instrument. You should never buy an instrument, especially a guitar if you haven’t played it.
Yeah, buying online is a great luxury because they will deliver it to your doorstep. Yeah, learning a guitar online is great but buying one is not. I have done it and regretted almost all the time.
So, why do you need to play it and what benefit it has? Well, when you play an instrument you feel it and in that way, you will see if it’s comfortable to play. Because, you might find the best guitar in the world but once you play it, it doesn’t feel right.
Sound and features are important but if you don’t feel comfortable then nothing matters. Go to your local store or perhaps your friend has a guitar you like and play it for some time.
Try rhythm and lead parts, and play in sitting and standing positions. Find out if the neck feels comfortable or if the size and shape of the body are right. And if you feel comfortable playing it, then you can start checking the features listed below.
Choose The Right Shape
Now, if a guitar feels comfortable in any position and it has a good neck and shapes for you, then it’s time to choose the shape. Because the shape is very important.
Some players like guitars that have a big bodies but some like small guitars. For example, I don’t like Les Paul-shaped guitars because they feel tiny. I like the aesthetics but playing is very uncomfortable for me.
And you might be the opposite and the Les Paul shape might be the best one for you. Just try and play guitars with different shapes and choose the one that feels most comfortable.
You may like the look of the electric guitar shape but the important thing is to feel right. Never buy an electric guitar because you like its look and shape of it. It must feel comfortable to play.
I know that your favorite guitar player might use that shape but it might not be good for you. And there are various body shapes for guitars such as Strats, SGs, offset shapes, and more. So, try all of them and find the right one for you.
But if you are still confused and don’t know which one is the best for you, I recommend getting a Strat or Super Strat shape which is the most comfortable and standard shape for guitars.
Check Weight and Size
Next, you need to check the weight and the overall size of the guitar because there is some heavy guitar that is not comfortable. But you can find light or medium-weight guitars too.
It also depends on your physique too because I’m not a muscular person so I don’t like heavy guitars but also don’t like too light guitars. However, heavy guitars tend to sound better.
So, depending on your size and physique you need to try different guitars to find out the best weight guitar for you.
Also, the size of the guitar is important. If you have small hands then a small guitar would be a good choice for you but if you have long fingers like me, it might not work.
I have played on many different guitars and when I’m choosing an electric guitar I always check weight and overall size because throughout the years I found out that one of the most important things in musical instruments is comfort.
Also, heavy guitars are not comfortable when playing standing up because your shoulder starts to hurt after some time. However, if you use a good guitar strap it might not be an issue.
So, the goal is to choose an electric guitar with the optimal size and weight for you.
Choose Pickup Configuration
Now, after you check comfortability it’s time to check the pickups and their configuration. Because it will determine the sound of your guitar and also depending on your favorite genre, you definitely need to choose the right pickup configuration for your guitar.
There are many different types of pickups such as single coils, humbuckers, P90, etc and each has its own pros and usability. However, the genre you play will determine the choice.
If you play blues, country, or even hard rock, a guitar with single coils will be a great choice. However, it won’t work for heavy music like heavy metal or even heavier styles.
For that, you will need humbucker pickups. The sound is more powerful, outputs more power, and also has hum cancelation which is a big plus.
Also, there is one of my favorite pickups - P90s which are between single coils and humbuckers although it goes in a single coil category. It produces a unique sound and is great for blues, rock, and punk, and works great with fuzz pedals.
After you choose the type of pickup it’s time to find the best configuration for you. There are guitars that have three single pickups, two humbuckers, one humbucker and two singles, and more.
The more pickups a guitar has the more tone options you will have. However, the too-weird configuration might confuse you.
So, if you mostly play blues and rock, then three single coils will be great but for heavier genres, I recommend an electric guitar with two humbuckers.
However, if you are in the middle and play various genres, then a guitar with HSS (humbucker, single, single) configuration will be a good choice. You will have the power of a humbucker for heavy music and single coil sparkle in one guitar.
So, you know the shape of the guitar, weight, and size is perfect for you, and you chose the pickups configuration. Now it’s time to check the quality of the neck and frets.
Most guitars today have great quality whether it’s a beginner or professional guitar but sometimes there are guitars that have bad-quality frets. They have hard edges, frets that produce buzz, and issues like that.
So, what you need to do is to check frets and find if there is some fret buzz or dead frets. And you do it by playing every fret on every string and that’s another reason why you need to play guitar before buying. Because if you buy it online, you won’t find this issue.
So, start playing each fret on each string and listen if there are some fret buzz or dead notes. A small buzz is OK because setting the action can solve it but dead notes are real problems.
If a guitar has dead notes (especially on a higher register like after the 12th fret) it means that the fret level is off. You will need a guitar luthier to do a fret job but when buying a new guitar, it shouldn’t have that issue.
Expensive guitars do not have that issue most likely but you will find fret buzz and dead notes in affordable and cheap electric guitars. So, if you find that a guitar has too many fret issues, don’t buy it.
Make Sure It’s Balanced
A very important thing to consider in electric guitars is balance. A guitar with a solid and high-quality build should not have the issue but many affordable guitars have. And in balance, I mean what’s known as “neck dive”.
And you can check it easily. Use a strap and stand out. If a guitar is not balanced and the neck is too heavy, it will dive which is not comfortable to play.
The neck must always be higher when you standing. Imagine how classic players play guitars when they sit - the neck is always high because it’s comfortable to play and actually, it’s the right way to play guitar.
But if the neck goes down then it’s a problem. This issue will be noticeable in a sitting position too and you will feel uncomfortable playing it.
And unfortunately, there is no way to solve this issue unless you hang some weights on the guitar's body. So, you must check the guitar for “neck dive” before you buy one.
And this issue concerns bass guitars too. I have experience with unbalanced guitars and it’s just uncomfortable.
Check for Clean and Heavy Tones
And finally, you need to check how your guitar sound with different amps and tones. You need to check each pickup with every amp you have access to. And check it for clean and dirty tones.
That’s why visiting the local store is a good option because they will have various amps you can use to check guitar tones. You need to try it with tube, modeling, and solid-state amps to see the real capabilities of the guitar.
First, start with clean tones and play different riffs, chords, arpeggios, and solos. Try different pickup configurations and you want to hear rich and clear tones. Also, try it with different effects such as reverb or delay, and see how it works with effects.
Next, pick a couple of hi-gain amps and play some heavy riffs and see if it can handle it. Although the tone is heavy, you must hear every note clearly and if the sound is messy, it's not a good pickup.
Try all types of tones such as clean, crunchy, hi-gain, and some lead tones. For that, a modeling amp is a great option because it will have all the tones and effects and is great for testing.
Also, try your guitar with various effects and overdrive pedals and see if it’s a good guitar for pedals.
You need to make sure that the sound is rich and high-quality, clean tones should be clean without any saturation and crunchy and heavy tones must be powerful yet hearable and clear.
As you can see, to choose an electric guitar you need to pay attention to various details that are very important. You might like the looks of a guitar but if it doesn’t sound good or doesn’t have the features you want, it won’t be a good fit for you. Comfortability and the sound quality are the most important things. So, this guide is for those who can’t decide which guitar to buy and hope it will help you to buy an electric guitar that is perfect for you.