Best Electric Guitars for Beginners

So what is it that a beginner should look for in his or her first electric guitar?

Monoprice Your first priority should be to buy a guitar that will make the learning process a pleasant journey. So first off, buy a guitar that looks and plays great. While looks may seem like a completely subjective matter, that’s not really the case. If you’ve grown up watching, listing to, and loving country music, it’s quite likely that you’ve been seeing and hearing Telecaster style guitars for many years. So not only will the look of the Telecaster appeal to you, so will the sound. If you like the looks and the sound of your guitar, it stands to reason that you will have more fun playing it. If you’ve grown up loving metal, a guitar like the Flying V models that are favored by heavy metal bands will most likely appeal to you for the same reasons. The point is, get a guitar that makes you smile and fits the kinds of music you like. If you are unsure of which guitar will give you the sound that you want, just go to a music store and try out a few different guitars. Don’t be embarrassed to give it a try. You don’t even have to know any chords to get a sense of what a guitar sounds like.

Buy a Guitar that is Easy to Play

The other important factor in the guitar selection process is playability. Learning to play guitar is difficult enough without making it even harder by purchasing a guitar that is difficult to play.  By design, some guitars are simply more difficult to play. A lot of this will have to do with the shape, size, and design of the neck and fretboard. As an example, Rickenbacker guitars are generally considered to be more difficult to play than most other popular brands. They are great guitars, but they better suited to more accomplished musicians. They also cost a ton of money so they probably would be a bad choice for someone who doesn’t know for certain that they will be playing a year from now.

The biggest issue influencing the playability of an electric guitar is how the guitar has been prepped or “setup” from the factory or the retailer. The truth is that almost all guitars need some adjustments before they’ll play their best, even really expensive models. However, some manufacturers do a better job than others of setting up their guitars before they leave the factory. A guitar that is setup properly will be far easier to play than one that is all out of whack. As a beginner, you simply do not have enough experience to know if your guitar has been setup well or not. In addition, you won’t have the skills or tools to do a proper setup. Hiring a guitar technician to do a setup for you will typically set you back at least $100. Therefore, it is well worth it to select a brand or retailer that has a reputation for providing guitars that are reasonably well setup from the start.

What to Look for in a Beginners Electric Guitar  

Monoprice StratAnybody buying a guitar wants to get the best guitar they can for the money. Like most other products, a guitar is only as good as the sum of its parts. The basic elements of an electric guitar start with its body and neck. In a solid body guitar like a Fender Stratocaster, the body can be a solid piece of wood that has been formed to the desired shape or it can be made up of multiple pieces of wood that have been glued together. One solid piece is the preference, especially in guitars where the grain shows through.  However, many manufacturers use multi-wood bodies and it is often hard to tell they have done so, especially when the grain doesn’t show through the paint or stain. The type of wood used in the body also has some impact on the weight and tone of the guitar. Popular tone woods include Alder, Basswood, Mahogany, Pine, and Swamp Ash.

The neck of a guitar is generally consists of two pieces. The main piece of the neck has to be able to retain its shape under the constant tension of the steel guitar strings. It also has to be shaped such that it allows the player to freely move his hand on the underside of the neck while making it as easy as possible for the guitarist to finger the desired chords. The fretboard is generally made out of either Ebony, Maple, or Rosewood. These woods are durable enough endure the constant abrasion from the guitarist pushing the strings down into the fretboard. The metal frets are made from steel wire of varying sizes. The size and height of the frets also contributes to the playability of the guitar.

The main hardware in the guitar consists of the bridges, tailpieces, saddles, the nut, tremolo bar, tuning machines, string trees, strap buttons, truss rod, pick guards, and knobs. Most of these items are there to allow you to make the adjustments to the guitar so it is as playable as possible and to allow you to get your guitar in tune and keep it in tune. Therefore, having high quality hardware on your guitar is very important. Better parts will help keep the guitar in tune, even after many hours of play.

More than anything else, the pickups determine the sound of an electric guitar.  The pickups “hear and interpret” the vibrations of the strings and convert them into electrical signals that are sent to the guitar amplifier. There are several different styles of  pickups and they interpret the string vibrations in many different ways. The most popular pickups are single coil pickups and humbuckers. Each is suited to particular styles of music. Again, if you have a particular genre of music that you really like best, the guitars used in that genre will more than likely be fitted with the appropriate pickups. It is worth noting that changing out the pickups is the number one modification that is made to electric guitars, especially on inexpensive guitars. Nothing will change the tone of a guitar faster than switching out the pickups. Aftermarket pickups can range from the very cheap import models to incredibly pricey, hand wound boutique models. If you are good with a soldering gun, it is not a difficult operation to switch out pickups.

The potentiometers (pots) are next on the list. These are the controls used to adjust the volume and tone of the guitar. Guitar builders have been doing this long enough that they have a pretty good idea of how to match up the right pots with the pickups being installed in any particular guitar. However, the quality of potentiometers found in imported guitars is often times sub-par. An inferior pot not only affects the tone, it feels sloppy and inconsistent when a guitarist is attempting to change the tone while playing.

The other two electronics items of consequence are the output jack and the switch. The output switch allows you plug a chord into the guitar that runs to your amplifier. It’s not too uncommon for these to come apart on less expensive guitars. Again, an easy, inexpensive fix. The selector switch allows you to decide which pickup(s) are active. While these simple components may seem inconsequential, both need to be solid and reliable, even if you are just planning on playing at home. Again, these are items that are frequently replaced on cheap guitars.   

How Much Should a Beginner Spend on an Electric Guitar?

So, with all this in mind, the next thing that has to be considered is your budget. If you’re rich, congratulations. You can buy whatever you want because it simply doesn’t matter. Buying a $10,000 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be a great guitar player, but you are sure gonna look the part. The rest of this are going to have to give this a little more thought.

So, I sincerely hope you have the discipline and stick-to-it-ivity to make it to the point where guitar playing is nothing but fun. Unfortunately, not everyone succeeds. Many people give up and end up selling their guitars. Again, that’s not what I hope for  you, but you don’t want to take a financial bath if it does. So there are two paths you can go down. The first is to go cheap. I am a big believer in going cheap. Here’s why. Over the past decade, the quality of guitars being imported from China, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan has improved dramatically. Now not all imported guitars are really good. In fact, some are downright terrible. But you don’t have to worry about this. I am going to tell you which companies you can go to for great instruments.  Believe it or not, you can get a really decent guitar and amp for $200. Now these instruments won’t be brands you’ll probably recognize, but the quality is really good. Given that you’re not going out-of-pocket too much money and you should get most of it back on Craigslist should you give up, going cheap is not a bad option. The other option is to spend more money and go for name brand guitars and amps. You’ll easily spend more than three times as much money, but you’ll have equipment that will be more marketable should you bail out.

Here are our Top Picks for Electric Guitars for Beginners

So what are my choices for the best electric guitars for beginners? Well, before I give you the answers, let me explain something to you. Every website like this that is recommending particular guitars and amplifiers is doing so to earn what are referred to as affiliate commissions. Websites like Amazon, Musicians Friend, and the Guitar Center pay people like myself to send folks like you to their websites, provided you buy something. Being that we earn more money when you buy a more expensive guitar, which guitars do you think we’ll be recommending? That’s right, the more expensive ones. Well surprise. The number one guitar I am going to recommend to you today comes from a company that doesn’t pay me to do so. So why on Earth would I send you to their website? Because it’s just plain the right thing to do. Besides, the affiliate commission I’d earn if you did purchase one of their guitars would probably only be about $4. That’s not going to make or break me. And if you think I’m feeding you a line of bull, take a look and see if any other website is recommending this guitar. No one is. And besides, maybe you’ll a different guitar from a website where I’ll earn a decent affiliate commission.

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So without further adieu, he’s  my number one pick. Probably most of you have never heard of Monoprice. They are a distribution company based out of Southern California that specializes in electrical cabling and networking components. It just so happens that they also import their own brand of electric guitars and other instruments from China.  Now, they are not the only company importing guitars from China, but they have simply done an amazing job of controlling the quality and the costs of these instruments. It’s my opinion that they are importing the best cheap electric guitar in the country. In fact, they have two of the two best guitars for beginners. The Indio Retro Classic is their Tele style guitar and the Indio Cali Classic is a Strat style guitar. At this time, both are for sale for $99 with free shipping and a gig bag. Not only is this dirt cheap, but these are instruments that are perfect for a beginners and intermediate players. I own an earlier version of the Strat model and I love it. It plays easily and the tone is very good. But don’t take my word for it. Click through on the links below and read what people who have purchased these guitars have had to say. You’ll be surprised.

Now Monoprice also has two wonderful tube amps that deliver outstanding tone at prices that can’t be touched anywhere. They have both a 5 watt and a 15 watt amplifier. The 5 watt version is a simple amp that is the perfect bedroom or apartment amp. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of bigger amps, but it delivers beautiful tone for just $100! It’s 15 watt big brother offers more in the way of options and quite a bit more power. It sells for about $200.

So, if it turns out you don’t like what Monoprice has to offer, I have two more companies that sell some very good, very affordable electric guitars. The first is Rondo Music. They have quite a few guitars under the $150 mark that get very favorable reviews from customers.

Now the last company I’d like to mention is Thomann Music. They are based in Germany and they are the largest online seller of musical instruments in Europe. They sell all the major brands, but that’s not why I’ve included them here. They have their own line of import instruments that they sell under the Harley Benton brand name. By and large, Harley Benton electric guitars get rave reviews. There are lots of accomplished musicians that play Harley Benton guitars. Many professional musicians are very reluctant to bring really valuable guitars to gigs simply because they run the risk of having them stolen or damaged. Harley Benton guitars give them an option to have a great playing, great sounding electric guitar that they can take to a performance without the worry of taking a big financial hit should their guitar disappear.  It’s Thomann’s in house quality control that makes the Harley Benton guitars so extraordinary. Every guitar is setup and closely examined before being shipped out.

Now for those of you here in the States, the only downside to buying one of these guitars is the cost of shipping. The cost for shipping is $35.55. However, the shipping cost doesn’t change whether it’s one, two, or three guitars. So if you want more than one guitar or if you have a friend that  wants a guitar, the shipping costs are not that great. Besides, even for a single guitar, it’s altogether worth it when you look at the tremendous quality of these guitars.

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So yes, there are a number of name brand guitars you can buy if that is your preference and you have the money. But dollar for dollar, these companies provide beginning guitarists with an opportunity to start out with a really good guitar that won’t break the bank.

So good luck and we’ll see you onstage soon!

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