Choosing an electric guitar can sometimes be a bit of a minefield, so we’ve put this handy guide together to help you choose the right (or left) guitar for you.

The Anatomy of an Electric Guitar

Neck / Headstock

Body

Strings / Tuning

The guitar is normally tuned EADGBe, meaning that the notes from lowest to the highest strings sound as the tones e, a, d, g, b and e.

Now that you know which tone each string should sound like, you should make sure that your guitar is always in tune. New strings that haven’t been stretched out properly will stretch as you play them, making them go flat. An unstretched string under the stress of bending, picking and strumming, will elongate and go out of tune. The easiest way to keep your guitar in tune is with a digital tuner.

Electric guitar strings probably deserve a guide all to themselves, but we’ll go over the basics here.

Strings come in a variety of gauges and are generally divided into two broad categories, light gauge and heavy gauge. It’s recommended that newer players start out with light strings so that they can pick up and play without worrying about the pain from putting extra pressure on the strings.

String sets are most commonly referred to by the name of the thinnest string, i.e. if a string set’s thinnest string is a .010 gauge, that would be called a set of 10s. Here are some of the most common examples that you will see from most manufacturers:

  • 9s: .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042
  • 10s: .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046
  • 11s: .011 .015 .018 .026 .036 .048
  • 12s: .012 .016 .020 .032 .042 .056

How Often Should I Change the Strings?

The actual timeframe is going to be different for every person. If you are touring or in the studio some guitarists will say you should change your strings every day. If you are practicing for less than 1 hour a day, once every month or so should be fine on standard nickel plated strings. If you practice for more than 1 hour a day we would recommend changing your strings once every couple of weeks.

Your guitar has ways of telling you that it needs new strings – here are a few common symptoms:

  • Can’t stay in tune
  • Discoloration of the strings
  • ‘Dark’ or ‘dull’ tone

Woods

Alder

Alder belongs to the birch family and grows around the world throughout the north temperate zone, a large area which extends from the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle. The wealth of regional varieties falls under two main types — black alder or European alder, which is native to most of Europe and to Southwest Asia; and red alder, which is native to the U.S. West Coast.

Red alder boasts many sonic advantages. Not especially dense, it’s a lightweight, closed-pore wood that has a resonant, balanced tone brighter than other hardwoods, with a little more emphasis in the upper midrange. It imparts excellent sustain and sharp attack. It’s very easy to work with and it glues well. Notably, alder also takes finishes well — with a light brown colour and a tight grain that’s only slightly visible, it’s ideal for solid colours rather than the transparent finishes that look so good on ash.

Ash

There are two types of ash used to make guitar bodies—northern ash, and southern or “swamp” ash, which is more commonly used.

Found mainly in the wetter environs of the U.S. South, swamp ash is lighter than the northern variety, with large open pores. That makes it remarkably resonant and sweet sounding, with clearly chiming highs, defined midrange and strong low end. Two or three pieces are glued together to make an instrument body, although there have been single-piece bodies. The wood produces more treble and good sustain, with less warmth than other guitar woods.

All in all, swamp ash imparts articulation and presence with a great balance between brightness and warmth, and it looks great.

Basswood

Basswood provides the tighter grained and finer textured slabs that make it ideal for machining. This variety of wood is a lightweight tone wood that is relatively soft compared to other woods listed in this article, but it’s abundant and therefore relatively cheap. Because of its soft and lightweight nature, it’s never used as a laminate material, or on necks or fretboards.

Basswood has proven to be a divisive issue among guitarists; some think of it as cheap and lacking in character, while others see it as the ideal balanced tone leaning more towards warmth than brightness. It’s worth noting that it’s been used on signature models for the likes of Guthrie Govan, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai in the past, which suggests that it’s doing something right!

Korina

Korina is an alluring term in the guitar world; renowned for being the tone wood choice for the original Gibson Flying-V and Explorer models, it’s undoubtedly left its mark on the industry.

Korina has similar tonal and grain qualities to mahogany. It’s resilient and weighty, and delivers a warm, bass-friendly tone, though many argue it’s more desirable for its sweeter, more responsive midrange. Despite this, mahogany remains the more commonly used option for several reasons. Firstly, korina is quite hard to come by in large quantities; this is because it’s mostly found outside of the US, and many guitar manufacturers simply don’t want to fork out or go through lengthy import processes.

Secondly, it’s a difficult wood to work with! All tone woods need to be drained of moisture before they can be used, and korina happens to drain very quickly – this means that the wood is susceptible to splitting during the process. It’s also prone to staining while growing in its natural habitat. Once the wood is dried, any stains are impossible to remove, which is considered unsightly.

Having said all of this, korina is still considered to be a gem in the tone wood world, reminding people of a golden era in guitar making when manufacturers were taking bold steps years ahead of their time.

Mahogany

Alongside maple, mahogany is a classic ingredient in both slab and multi-wood (or laminated) bodies, and is a common neck wood, too. It’s also used in single-wood bodies.

Harvested in Africa and Central America, mahogany is a fairly dense, medium-to-heavy wood that yields a wide range of guitar-body weights, depending upon stock sources. Used on its own, mahogany’s characteristic tone is warm and somewhat soft, but well balanced with good grind and bite. There is usually good depth to the sound, with full but not especially tight lows, and appealing if unpronounced highs.

Maple

Used for both bodies and necks, maple is a dense, hard, and heavy wood, sourced mostly in the Northeast and Northwest United States and Canada. Maple is often used as an ingredient in a multi-wood body, where it is generally partnered with a second, lighter wood. All-maple bodies aren’t unheard of—although the weight is usually off-putting—and, on its own, a maple body produces an extremely bright, precise tone with tight lows.

Maple is also one of the most common ingredients of laminates used for semi-hollow electric-guitar bodies, where it contributes tightness and clarity.

The Body

Hollow Body Guitars

Hollow body guitars (sometimes known as jazz guitars), as the name implies, are completely hollow inside. The earliest electric guitars were hollow body guitars and were in many ways the closest to acoustic guitars. They usually have F-holes like semi-hollow guitars, but they lack the centre block This is not the same as an acoustic-electric guitar, which is an acoustic guitar with the addition of pickups or other means of amplification.

Semi-Hollow Body Guitars

Semi-hollow body guitars attempt to capture some of the resonance and richness of hollow bodies while eliminating some of the feedback and allowing the build to be a little thinner by adding a solid block of wood within the cavity or creating chambers within the structure.

Solid Body Guitars

Solid body guitars are what most people think of when you say electric guitars and are made from a solid core of wood.

In a solid body guitar, there is no chamber for the sound generated by vibration of the strings to reverberate, so the only sound heard is what is initially detected by the pickups.

The Neck

The neck of a guitar includes the guitar’s frets, fretboard, tuners, headstock, and truss rod.

When picking up a guitar, perhaps the first thought to hit you—at least in terms of playability—is the feel of its neck. There are two related factors to consider: the thickness of the neck and its profile shape.

Preferences vary widely. Before discussing neck shapes, it may help to ponder variations in hand sizes—a basic design consideration. A large male hand is approximately 27-percent bigger than a small female hand. A large guitar neck (such as a Fender U-shaped neck) is only about 17-percent thicker than Fender’s standard thin neck. Therefore, typical neck thicknesses don’t span a range as varied as players’ hand sizes.

Another factor that can elicit strong opinions is how a builder seals the back of a wooden neck to protect it from sweat, skin oils, and the elements. A glossy polyurethane or nitrocellulose finish will feel different from a satin or Tung oil finish. The latter two can allow your hand to more easily slide along the neck, especially on a hot and sticky day.

Different woods used for the neck impart different characteristics. Harder woods, such as maple, result in a brighter tone. Mahogany, which is softer, will warm things up. Fretboard wood also has an effect—ebony will surpass maple and far surpass rosewood for brightness.

Pickups

Single Coil

A single coil pickup is a type of magnetic transducer, or pickup, for the electric guitar which electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal.

The characteristic tone of a single-coil pickup is bright and cutting. Telecaster-style pickups have a distinctive ‘twang’, with sparkly highs and punchy mids. Stratocaster style single coils are not as narrow, and not as bright and ‘twangy’ as Tele pickups as a result, but more ‘rounded’ and warm, with a snappier, punchier tone.

Humbucker

A humbucking pickup, humbucker, or double coil, is a type of electric guitar pickup that uses two coils to “buck the hum” (or cancel out the interference) picked up by coil pickups caused by electromagnetic interference, particularly mains hum.

This worked a treat and had some very desirable side effects. The two coils increased the output of the pickup, but also rolled back some of the higher frequencies. The resulting tone was richer, warmer and more powerful. And as time would prove, when overdriven, it would provide rock music with its voice.

P90

The P90 is a single coil pickup, but one with a wide coil. This increases the area of the strings that the pickup ‘hears’, and results in a bigger sound, that is less bright than a typical single coil.

The P90 is found in several forms: the ‘Soap Bar’ is a rectangular design, with mounting screws contained within, and usually a plastic casing, which is generally white, cream or black. The ‘Dog Ear’ is similar in shape but has ‘ear’ screw mounts either side. Finally, P90s are sometimes found in humbucker style casings.

Any Questions?

If you want to know more about choosing the right electric guitar, pop into the shop or give our electric guitar team a call on 01524 410202.