Types of Electric Guitars

There are so many different styles and body shapes that it can be very difficult to choose an electric guitar. The majority of electric guitars are "solid body", meaning they are built without a soundbox. There are also semi-hollow body electric guitars which rely on both a soundbox and electronics to produce sound. The soundbox on a semi-hollow body guitar is not as powerful as an acoustic guitar, so they are typically played amplified.

Semi-Holow Body Electric Guitar

Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar

Body shapes very widely among electric guitars. There are electric guitars shaped like lightning bolts, hearts, and even the United States of America. I would recommend something a little more traditional for most beginners. Stratocasters (STRATS) are comfortable, as well as versatile, and are a great choice for a first electric guitar.

Here are a few of the most common styles of music where electric guitars are used.

  • Rock
  • Blues
  • Punk
  • Jazz
  • Country
  • Contemporary Classical
  • New-age

Pickups

The type of pickups used in a guitar can have a big influence on its tonal characteristics. The two primary types of pickups are single coil and humbuckers.

Stratocaster style guitar

Stratocaster style guitar

Single Coil

There are many different single coil pickups on the market, many of which have very distinctive sounds. In general, single coil pickups produce a bright, clear tone. Fender guitars, both Telecasters and STRATS are famous for using single coil pickups. The P-90 pickup made by Gibson is also very well known. The "lipstick" pickup by Danelectro, which has a very distinctive look, is also a single coil pickup. One of the drawbacks of the single coil pickup is that certain pickup configurations can be prone to hum. Some single coil pickups, such as the Fender Vintage Noiseless and the Lace Sensor, try to minimize or eliminate this hum.

Humbuckers

Humbucker pickups use two coils as opposed to one, which helps cancel out much of the noise associated with single coil pickups. In general, humbuckers produce a fat, warm sound. Humbuckers were originally patented by Gibson. The Gibson Les Paul (LP) is probably the most famous style of guitar that uses humbuckers, but these pickups are a popular choice for many electric guitars. Even Fender, which is famous for a single coil pickup sound, has adopted the use of humbuckers in many of its designs to add tonal variations.

Les Paul style guitar

Les Paul style guitar with humbucker style pickups

Active vs. Passive

Passive pickups are much more common in guitars than active pickups. Active pickups are frequently found on bass guitars, where the added power is often necessary.

Active

Active pickups require a battery. Leaving a guitar with an active pickup plugged in will result in the battery being drained, so be careful to unplug your guitar in between uses. There are a few models of guitars that use active electronics, but this feature is not particularly common on electric guitars.

Passive

The majority of electric guitar pickups are passive and do not require a battery.

Materials and Construction

The electronics, guitar hardware, wood choices, and attention to manufacturing details all play a role in the overall quality of an electric guitar. Rosewood and Maple are popular choices for the fretboards of electric guitars. There is a lot of variation in wood choice for the bodies of electric guitars. Different woods give the guitars different tonal characteristics. They also affect the weight, balance, and beauty of the guitar.

Buying Considerations

Beginners do not need to spend a lot on an electric guitar to get a functional instrument. Most of the inexpensive guitars on the market today are surprisingly good. One of the most important things to watch out for is to make sure the instrument will hold a tune reasonably well.

That being said, you do get what you pay for. A guitar made with quality materials will sound nicer, hold a tune better, and generally be more enjoyable to play than a cheap guitar. It is also likely to function well for much longer because the parts tend to be more durable.

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