Beginner electric guitars - Advice for beginners

Some pointers on deciding which beginner electric guitar to go for

This may seem like a tough decision to make, but for the most part, as long as you stay within the realm of popular brand names, it's difficult to make too much of a mistake.

A little further down I'll get into a small list of electric guitars I know are fairly decent, and if I don't know for sure, I'll tell you.

For those who know enough about electric guitars, please excuse me while I write for the complete novice.

The first thing I like to take into consideration is what kind of music you intend playing eventually.

Someone wanting to play rock guitar, for instance, would be happier with a guitar that has a more pronounced mid range tone than say, someone interested in playing country music.

In country music you would be looking for something with a lot more treble, or twang, as some people might refer to it.

Heavy metal electric guitars would be a different breed altogether, as most heavy metal guitarists seem to like tons of gain, which requires quite a high output guitar.

Two main types of electric guitar

Back in the 1950s, solid body electric guitars began to dominate the music scene. The two most well known makes and models being the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster.

You could say that these two guitars represent the opposite ends of the electric guitar sound spectrum.

Your classic Gibson Les Paul sound could be summarized as a classic rock guitar sound, whereas the Fender Stratocaster sound is more of a southern blues rock sound.

Just to make things as clear as mud again, these are broad generalities, and often guitarists with a good ear for guitar tone will be able to adapt any guitar to suit their particular style of playing and genre.

The best way to explain it is look at examples of bands and guitarists that use them.

Bands or guitarists that use a Gibson Les Paul.

Slash of Guns n Roses, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Tom Scholz of the band Boston, Gary Moore etc.

Gary Moore has been known to play a wide variety of guitars over the years, but most of his guitar work will give you a good idea of what a Les Paul should sound like.

Anyway, i think you get the picture. The Les Paul sound is a rich and thick rock guitar sound.

Perhaps the best way to understand a Les Paul sound is to give you some classic examples of what a Fender Stratocaster sounds like, so you can hear what a Gibson Les Paul is not.

Some classic examples of a Fender stratocaster sound.

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits can be heard playing a Fender Strat on their first hit single "Sultans of swing". In fact, even the rhythm guitar was done on a Stratocaster.

Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster, albeit upside down.

Because of this guitars bolt on neck and easily removable parts, it is probably the most widely copied guitar design, with many cheaper guitar companies making almost exact replicas over the years.



Electric guitar pickups

A single coil pickup, as found on the Fender Stratocaster guitar
A single coil pickup, as found on the Fender Stratocaster guitar
A hum canceling electric guitar pickup, called a Humbucker
A hum canceling electric guitar pickup, called a Humbucker

Guitar pickups, and how they affect the sound

The electric guitar pickup is a simple device, consisting of a magnet, or set of magnets, around which an electrical coil is wrapped. When the guitar string vibrates, it disturbs the magnetic field around the magnet, which creates a small electrical signal in the surrounding copper coil, which is sent out to a guitar amplifier.

There are two main kinds of pickups to consider when looking for a beginners electric guitar. There are other variations and developments in guitar pickup design, but for the most part, a beginner electric guitar will only have either one or a combination of both these standard guitar pickups.

The single coil pickup.

These are usually found on Stratocaster style guitars, and if they follow the original design, should have a very bright treble sound. The problem with this pickup design is that it picks up interference from fluorescent lighting, which comes through as mains hum.

There are ways around it, and some people love the sound of vintage single coil pickups so much that they're willing to put up with it or innovate solutions.

The Humbucker pickup.

As its name implies, this pickup is designed to eliminate mains hum by using two coils wired in series while the magnets polarities are reversed.

This makes a slightly less treble pickup with twice the power output of a single coil, and no hum. This is the main pickup design used on the Gibson Les Paul. It'll drive your guitar amplifier into overdrive a lot sooner, so it's great for rock music.

Does it really matter which beginner electric guitar you start with?

My own personal feeling on the matter is that a good quality guitar, no matter which style of guitar, can only be a good thing, but when it comes to the best long term solution, I do have my preferences.

Beginner electric guitars have come a long way since I first began learning the guitar, so I am only marginally worried about the quality of craftsmanship. I also don't care where it was made. Everything nowadays is done with computerized woodwork machinery.

What does concern me a bit is the quality of the parts used, and the use of cheaper metals on crucial parts of the guitar.

Not all guitar companies will care enough to pay attention to this on beginners guitars. This is one of the reasons I prefer to go with a guitar company that's well known, as they have a reputation to uphold.

You can still expect the parts on a beginner electric guitar to be cheaper. They should still be of reasonable quality though.

Guitar companies worth considering

Seeing as we've been talking a lot about Gibson and Fender, its par for the course that these are two guitar companies well worth looking at.

Squier guitars are Fenders budget range, and Epiphone guitars are Gibsons budget range. This isn't to say that there aren't expensive Squiers and Epiphones as well.

Other guitar manufacturers worth considering are Yamaha, Ibanez, Cort, Washburn and Stagg (who make a fairly decent Stratocaster copy).

This isn't to say there aren't others who may make decent beginner guitars, but this is, in my opinion a fairly safe list.

My Squier Bullet Strat Demo

The cheapest beginner electric guitar

At the time of writing this, I'm visiting my sister in Australia. I decided not to take a guitar with me on the trip, instead I thought I'd just buy the cheapest beginner electric guitar I could find and mess with it till it was playable.

I bought a Squier bullet strat. To say that I'm moderately impressed would be an understatement.

The craftsmanship on the guitar is excellent. Although it has cheaper tuners than a standard stratocaster, after a minor setup it plays well and stays in tune just fine.

The only time it goes out of tune is when the tremelo system is used for anything more than a slight vibrato. It was never designed to do dive bombs.

So, am I saying that you should buy a Squier bullet strat?

If you're on a serious budget, I would say that it's great value for money, but you have to keep in mind that my stay in Australia is only for 2 months. If I was looking for a more permanent guitar there are a few more things to take into consideration.

Nevertheless, compared to the beginner electric guitars of 30 years ago (When I started), as a bottom of the range guitar, this is quite phenomenal.

I need to make a disclaimer here as well: This was the cheapest guitar I could find in the shops I visited in Oz, but that's not to say there aren't cheaper guitars out there that may or may not be as good as, if not better than the Squier bullet strat. I still think it's great value for money though.

Fender's other beginner electric guitars

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the guitar shop, Fender has brought out another range of beginner electric guitars, called the Starcaster.

Although not marketed under the Squier brand, their Electric guitar starter packs seem to feature a Squier SP10 practice amp.

I've never actually played one of these guitars, but judging by the quality of the Squier bullet range, I'd say they're probably good.

Update: I've recently been looking around at various reviews of the Starcaster electric guitars, and one thing that comes up quite often is "Sharp fret ends".

I need to tell you that the Squier bullet strat I bought had perfectly smooth fret ends, so that may be an option if you're interested in a Stratocaster style guitar. They're also cheaper than the Starcaster.

Personally though, if I wanted to buy another Fender Squier Stratocaster, I would look at anything from the Affinity series upwards. But then again, I'm not a beginner.

Epiphone beginner electric guitars

Probably the most popular Gibson electric guitar, is the Les Paul model. This is a guitar designed by Les Paul himself.

The ironic thing is that Les Paul made use of the Epiphone factory in the early days to work on his guitar designs. Epiphone was a separate company from Gibson back then.

One thing that became very obvious when shopping for a low cost but quality guitar, was just how much more expensive a decent Epiphone guitar is.

Their cheapest beginners electric guitar may be well made, but I just can't get my head around the fact that it's too thin, has a bolt on neck, and although it's modeled around a Les Paul shape, it lacks that Les Paul appeal.

The Squier Bullet Strat, on the other hand, Looks like a Fender Stratocaster through and through.

If you're a die hard rocker and you really need to have a Les Paul, I wouldn't go for anything less than the Les Paul 100.

Something I need to mention here is that there are some other options for beginners that fall outside the mainstream choices here: Beginner electric guitars

The best of both worlds

What's the ultimate decision for a beginner guitar player?

If this is getting long winded, I'm sorry, but please bear with me as I'd like to show you my personal best choice for a beginner electric guitar.

It's slightly more expensive than my Bullet Strat, but it's great for a wider variety of music style, and it's an industry standard in electric guitars.

The Yamaha Pacifica features a humbucker pickup in the bridge position, where it's most useful, and two single coil pickups in the middle and neck position.

A while back I bought one of these for my fiance's son. When he left for England, he put all his other guitars in storage and took his Pacifica along. It's the guitar he ended up playing most of the time.

Yamaha Pacifica 112 playing Hendrix Voodoo Chile and other Hendrix riffs

The Gigmaker Beginner Electric Guitar Pack

Two kinds of Yamaha Pacifica

The Pacifica comes in a PAC112 and PAC012 version. The 112 is the higher end guitar, and has been used by professional musicians for ages.

The PAC012 came about more recently, and is slightly cheaper. These you'll find in their beginner electric guitar packages. The only real difference I can see is that they've used Agathis wood for the body, as opposed to Alder wood on the PAC112.

Some people prefer Agathis.

Some final advice on beginner electric guitars

No matter which electric guitar you decide to buy, every guitar needs to have a setup before it will play at its best. If you can, have a professional look at it.

In the long run, it's a good idea to learn how to do a setup yourself eventually.

Electric guitars are made out of wood, so not every guitar will be exactly the same. The frets on the fretboard have a tendency to work their way out of the wood slightly as the wood expands and contracts.

For the most playable guitar possible, have a guitar builder or technician level and crown the frets. This makes them all the same height above the fretboard.

For really young beginner guitarists, or people with small hands, you can also check out my other hub page Kids electric guitars

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Comments 27 comments

jj200 profile image

jj200 6 years ago from My Bedroom

Nice work man. It's nice to see someone who knows what they are talking about who can talk about in a way a relative dummy can grasp. Good research, too, it looks like you've purchased more than your share of guitars. The pictures/links are definitely helpful for those who are visual.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 6 years ago Author

Thanks jj200. Nice to know someone's reading my work.


Todd 6 years ago

Thank you so much for this. I have been searching for a page like this one for a week and you have answered every question I can come up with at my level of guitar knowledge. Your writing is highly appreciated.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 6 years ago Author

Wow, thanks for that. I'm glad I could help.


Calvin 5 years ago

Cool stuff here...Thanks for the good advice.

Also can you tell us if there are any heavy metal specific guitars for beginners.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 5 years ago Author

Hi Calvin,

Thanks for commenting. A very popular brand of guitar amongst metal players, is Ibanez. My ex future stepson (Sounds more confusing than it is) did quite well in a metal band with his Yamaha PAC 112, like the one in the video above. Coupled with the right amplifier, they're great for a lot of styles.

After all, at the end of the day it comes down to good wood and great pickups and the rest is really up to the amplification and effects to tailor the sound to your style of music and taste. Most decent quality electric guitars can easily be modified with higher output or different sounding pickups to get you closer to the tone you want as well.


Al 5 years ago

Thanks for the advice. Just got a Yamaha 012 kit for my lad. I was considering Epiphone LP and Fender starter packs but your advice swayed me to the Yam. Nice playing in the vid btw.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 5 years ago Author

Thanks for the positive comment Al, The Yamaha pacifica 012 isn't a bad choice at all. Nice thing about them is that the fretboard is flatter than the Strats, so they can handle a very low string height once set up properly, without the strings choking when you bend notes higher up the fretboard.

Not something a beginner needs to worry about for a good while though.


darlene 5 years ago

Hey-thanks for your article.

I just bought my son (a beginner) a Epiphone Les Paul Studio for his first electric. He's been playing acoustic since last year.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 5 years ago Author

Thanks Darlene,

Great choice for a rock guitar. No frills but all the right stuff on that one.

Cheers.

PS - I've been eyeing them out myself for a while.


6stringmethod profile image

6stringmethod 5 years ago

Good article i think the pickups in my fender need to be replaced. It gets an ok sound but compared to the ibanez i have the ibanez is much HOTTER than my fender. They both have stock pickups in it.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 5 years ago Author

Hi 6stringmethod.

Mighty mite make some great sounding hot rails you could give a try. I've heard them in a strat and they're very nice. They're quieter than a standard humbucker size humbucker and they've got the bite combined with a good low end bass response.

Much hotter than a Strat single coil without sacrificing tone.


6stringmethod profile image

6stringmethod 5 years ago

So its a humbucker. That was another issue i had while recording. Of course with single coils its hard to get it quiet to record you have that noise on the recording. Even a noise gate will not take the noise out enough. I have to record with my Ibanez which im not complaining gets a good sound but if im doing blues or some really intricate leads obviously i want to use my strat.


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 5 years ago Author

Mostly the hum is caused by flourescent lights and older computer monitors. I recently did the guitars for a Stevie Ray Vaughn backing track, and I used a Squier bullet strat, standard without modification and the pickups where quiet, but that's because I use a new plasma screen and don't have any flourescent lighting near me. The pickups are quite microphonic though, because they haven't been wax potted, so no loud guitar amp with overdrive. Anyway, next month I upgrade the Pickups.


wksoh 5 years ago

Excellent Review!! I'm pretty much going to get a Yamaha Pacifica.. :)


redwan 5 years ago

hey...thanks for such a nice review...i have a yamaha pac112xj ...can you give some hints on what pickup should i choose to replace the stock ones? Fyi, i play blues and want the srv tone(as near as possible) on my guitar...


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 5 years ago Author

Do a search for GFS pickups. I can't say which is best for a Stevie Ray Vaughn sound, cos your amp has a lot to do with it as well. I get pretty close with standard stratocaster pickups though.

My personal best choice are the hotrails for quietness and tone.

In the neck position you want something around 6K (Kilo-ohm)


sean 4 years ago

i have got a pacifica 012

wasn't happy with the humbucker tone...

if i go to change the pickups,how much value pickups should i put...was thinking of 13k

i play classic rock


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 4 years ago Author

Hi Sean.

I'm a bit hesitant to answer your question, seeing as I don't know what amplifier you're using.

I'll try anyway.

There are 2 types of magnet used in guitar pickups and these will determine the kind of sound you get a lot more than the impedance value of the pickup.

If you're getting pickups that use ceramic magnets, a 13k will do nicely for a higher output but may be on the bright side. Still, those are great for getting screaming harmonics out of your guitar.

If you're going for a mellower sounding pickup, the alnico 5 (alnico v) magnets are nice because they're brighter than alnico 2 magnets, but a 13k impedance there might be a bit too dull seeing as it means more coil windings around the pickup which kills the top end.

Usually alnicos have about an 8.5k impedance so I'm guessing you're eyeing out some ceramic magnet based pickups.

I would suspect the amplifier of being the first culprit in unsatisfactory tone though.

Just my 2 cents though.

Hope it helps.

Feel free to ask away if you've got more to say.


sean 4 years ago

hey thanks for that... never knew bout those different pickup types..

i use a vox vt series amp with few pedals.

what pickup would you suggest for me (model if possible)?

the bridge pickup will be used for my soloing mostly.

i play blues n rock n roll to be more specific

i dont have a high budget at the moment so could u suggest something reasonable...

thanks anyways


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 4 years ago Author

Well Sean, that's a difficult question to answer 100% accurately, but you could check out GFS pickups from guitarfetish.com. They seem to have a good reputation for replacement pickups at a good price as well as a really large selection.

You'll see why I think it's a difficult question to answer when you get there.

As far as the amp goes, I used to own one but I wasn't impressed with the sound so I took it back. It was one of the smaller models though so it didn't have a 12 inch speaker, which I recommend as an optimum size for good guitar sound.

That was at least six years ago so I don't know what their VT amps sound like now. I remember it sounding too thin.

You could try the alnico V GFS pro series seeing as a lot of people like to replace their stock Les Paul copy pickups with those.

I've got an Agile AL3100 Les Paul style guitar with alnico V's in and they're very similar to a classic Les Paul sound.

Kind of between an alnico 2 and ceramic.

Sorry I took a while to answer.


Naito 4 years ago

I wish I was smart enough to do research and read reviews before I buy my first guitar which is Epiphone Gibson SG and heck I'm having hard time playing it.. I've been learning on and off because it's frustrating when you can't play decently no matter how long it takes.. Really I could have given up anytime with that guitar as my beginner's.. Gotta blame the seller for not giving me any opinions and just toss me this one and say it's good enough.. Anyway I don't really know what the cause is but I find it easier to play with my friend's guitar compare to mine.. Am still not into guitar but one thing I'm sure is that this one is a long neck one and I never get use to it :/


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 4 years ago Author

Hi Naito. Epiphone make decent Gibson SG copies. My advice would be to take it for a professional setup. This usually solves most playability problems, also, the guitar technician can have a look at the thing and see if there are any other problems that need addressing. As for the long neck, I guess that's what an SG has so not something you can fix there.


seabass 4 years ago

hi, i just rewirerd my squire strat an got some new pots an switch and used good wire to try and reduce the hum and buzzing pickups are next on the list but they tested good. now its got good tone and and switch setup but the buzzing and hum remain im thinking ground loop or the sp-10 is just takeing a dump...any ideas? thanks


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 4 years ago Author

Hi Seabass, I've got a few good ideas. The first one being the cheapest. Use tin foil to cover the underside of the scratchplate entirely and at the same time also cover the entire cavity under the pickguard (scratchplate) in effect creating an rf isolated booth for your pickups. 2nd idea is to buy some hotrail pickups, which are basically humbucker pickups in a single coil size. If you want to maintain the single coil sound nicely with these then buy a set of high output hotrails and wire them in parallel rather than series. Parallel will give you less than half the impedance and output but will still be humbucking but you need to get around 6 Kilo-ohms impedance in parallel so you'll need something super high gain where both coils in the pickup are wound to the same impedance (ohms). Something like the Duncan Scorcher which is 20 kilo-ohms in series actually works out to 6.4 K in parallel. Don't get Dimarzio pickups cos they wire each coil differently inside for specific effect. You could also go for something with less impedance like the Dragonfire rails at 12k in series and they're cheap as well. Hotrails actually buck the hum better than regular size humbuckers, maybe because they're compact, I don't know why exactly but they do. Hope that helps.


levinstein 6 months ago

Hi... This article is of great help!

But i wanna ask if ibanez grx 150 is not worth buying.. I have a great interest in buying it though i have never experience it. If u have any suggestion plz sughest me! Thus is my firat electric guitar.. What about cort x1 thnks


Andrew Webber profile image

Andrew Webber 6 months ago Author

Hi Levinstein. I don't have experience with the Ibanez grx 150 specifically, but I do own two Ibanez electric guitars at the moment and have owned and sold other Ibanez guitars that in hind sight I have to say I regret having sold. As a brand, Ibanez are a great choice and I would tend to trust their reliability. I've never owned a Cort, but I've heard good things about them and was sufficiently impressed to buy my step son an X1 years ago. It was a left handed guitar so I never got to play it. Eventually though, he ditched the X1 when he got a Yamaha Pacifica 112. Buy what you want. The brands you've mentioned are pretty solid. Cheers for now.

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