Beginners Electric Guitar Buying Guide

Hello, future guitar legends! Welcome to Donner’s electric guitar buying guide. If you’re into Rock’n’Roll or other music that prominently features the guitar, you’re probably familiar with the dream of rocking out on stage in front of a crowd of adoring fans. The journey to achieving that dream can be long and full of hard work, but the first step is undoubtedly getting the right instrument into your hands. This itself is no simple task, but don’t worry! Donner is here to help make the process of selecting a guitar easier for you.

There are many types of guitars with different shapes sounds, and an industry full of details, specifications, and jargon to complicate the process. Reading through this guide should help to simplify things dramatically for you and help you to pick out the perfect instrument to start or continue your musical journey. If you find you have more questions that are not answered here, then please contact us or leave a comment. We’re here to help!

Guitar Types

The easiest way to pick your first guitar is to look at the instruments played by the musicians that inspire you the most. More than likely, their main instrument will be in one of the configurations below.

Strat-Style

 Donner DST-102S  Stratocaster model

Donner DST-100R  Strat-Style Model

 

Possibly the most iconic guitar of all time, the Stratocaster is probably the first guitar you think of when asked to imagine one. The Stratocaster was designed in 1953 and it is now arguably the best-known guitar type in the world. It is famous for its playability, versatility and its sweet and iconic single-coil tones, which make the Strat the most popular choice for beginners. The Stratocaster traditionally features 3 single coil pickups, which offer a wide range of tones with sweet and bright sounds that are iconic in blues, rock, funk and pop music. For musicians looking to play heavier, higher gain and more distorted music on a Strat, the bridge pickup is sometimes swapped for a humbucker for greater versatility. The Donner DST-100R Stratocaster-style guitar features 2 single coil pickups and a humbucker pickup in the bridge position. This pickup arrangement allows you to keep the brightness of the single coil pickups while adding the versatility and cleaner sound at high gains of the humbucker. The Stratocaster is one of the most popular guitars of all time, and if your guitar heroes are legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Jeff Beck, you can’t go wrong with a Strat.

LP-Style

 Donner DLP-124S Les Paul Model

Donner DLP-124S  LP-Style Model

Possibly the second most iconic style of guitar is the Les Paul, designed in the 1950s by Les Paul himself. Having a totally different design philosophy, the Les Paul is heavier and features only a single cut design by the neck, which may make some of the higher frets more difficult to reach. At the same time, being heavier and having a single cut design does not make the Les Paul a bad guitar. The Les Paul is also famous for its versatility in blues, rock, metal and jazz music. The Les Paul features two humbuckers at both the neck and bridge positions and with its heavy body the Les Paul gives you a fatter and warmer sound with a longer sustain than the Strat. Humbuckers are essentially two pickups side by side that are wired so that the noise and interference of one pickup cancels out the noise and interference of the other, with some loss to high end and a boost to the low end. This setup suits those who are looking to play something heavier. Having the noise and interference cancelled out gives you a cleaner sound when running through heavy distortion. By flipping the pickup selector switch up, you get the neck pickup which gives you the warm and nasal sound typical to the Les Paul. Flipping the switch down, you get a brighter sound with more attack from the bridge pickup. The Les Paul was has been particularly popular with guitar legends like Jimmy Page, Slash, Joe Perry and Gary Moore. If your guitar heroes play a Les Paul, or you want a versatile guitar with a fatter sound and solid feel, a Les Paul is definitely a good choice.

Tele-Style

 Donner DTC-100S  Telecaster Model

Donner DTC-100S  Tele-Style Model

Created by the same hands as the Stratocaster, the Telecaster is also a famous and iconic style of guitar, but has important differences. With two single coil pickups, the Telecaster excels with clean tones and the stark contrast between the sounds of the two pickups. The bridge pickup of a Tele is usually an open pickup and the neck pickup is a closed pickup (you can tell it is a closed pickup if there is a cover on it). The bridge pickup of the Tele is installed directly on the bridge and is open so it produces more high frequencies and the utmost clarity that cuts through the mix. The neck pickup is closed so it produces more bass and a creamy roundness to the tone. Unlike the previous two guitars, the Telecaster’s strings are strung through the body of the instrument. This design can improve the sustain and provide better feedback for the bridge pickup.

 

 Back Strung Telecaster

Back Strung Telecaster

 

Unlike the Strat and Les Paul styles, fewer guitar companies offer a Telecaster model and its variations. We wanted to give guitar beginners more choices when it comes to picking your first ever electric guitar, so it was important to us at Donner to offer one. If you want a guitar that stands out and emphasizes clear sounds that cut through in a mix, a Telecaster may be your choice.

Jazz Guitar

 Donner DJC-1000S  Thinline Jazz Guitar

Donner DJC-1000S  Thinline Jazz Guitar

To cater to jazz guitarists’ needs of fat, warm-but-clean sounds, the jazz guitar is usually bigger than normal solid body guitars. In addition, because jazz music requires guitars to have better body resonances, semi hollow bodies are often seen on a jazz guitar creating extra sustain and resonant tones. Considering the difficulty and complexity of jazz music, it is unusual for a beginner to pick up a jazz guitar, but if you are planning on getting into jazz, Donner has got your back. We offer DJC-1000S Jazz Guitar, which is a variation on the Telecaster style. This model keeps the unique design of the Tele and swaps the single coils for two humbuckers giving you that fat, warm-but-clean jazz sound.

 

What to look for in an electric guitar

Having talked about different guitar body and pickup styles, you may have a rough idea what type of guitar you want to buy. There are more details and variations that you may need to consider first, though. The following should give you an idea what you should be looking for in different parts of the guitar from the headstock to the body and everything in between. With this information, you’ll be able to make a far better decision about what will suit you the best.

 

Tuner

 Open Tuner with Metal Knob

Open Tuner with Metal Knob

 

Let’s start with the headstock of the guitar. The tuning key, also known as machine head or tuner, winds up and creates tension on the strings to give them their pitch and keep them in tune. There are mainly two types of tuners – open and sealed. For electric guitar, sealed tuners are the best choice most of the time because they are reliable and do not need any maintenance. Some tuners’ knobs are metal while some are a jade-like plastic that give your guitar an old-school and vintage look. Also, different styles of tuning keys, like locking tuners, may require a different technique when stringing. If you don’t like your tuning keys, you can change them. It isn’t usually difficult.

 Sealed Tuner

Sealed Tuner

Nut

The nut, usually made of ebony, ivory, cow bone, brass, acrylic resin, or plastic, on the guitar supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock. The nut also sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and helps to hold the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard along with the bridge. Some guitars come with a locking nut. This is typically seen on guitars using a floating bridge and helps to keep the strings in tune when doing big bends with a tremolo bar. If you want to play heavy metal music or have a floating bridge, a nut that comes with a lock is ideal.

 

 The Locking Nut

The Locking Nut from Epiphone

Neck

A good guitar neck is critical because your intonation and the ease of playing the instrument depend on it. The neck also affects the tone of the instrument because the string resonates on top of it and its acoustic properties affect the string resonating as well. A neck with the shape that best fits your hand helps you play more comfortably. For these reasons, the wood the neck is made from and the neck profile are important when choosing a guitar.

Wood of the neck

Maple neck

A maple neck is usually seen on the Strat and the Tele styles that we talked about above. The maple neck is considered a relatively hard neck but it does not bring a crazy amount of weight to the guitar. A maple neck features a bright look and brighter tones. Roasted maple which contains less moisture, is much darker in appearance, but its tone is even brighter and tighter.

Mahogany neck

A neck made of mahogany is softer than the maple and is darker in color. It is usually seen on Les Paul style guitars and the bodies of acoustic guitars. Mahogany is lighter and grains of the wood can be clearly seen on the neck.

Rosewood neck

Rosewood is less often seen as a neck material. Rosewood is hard and smooth, so it is usually used for the fingerboard (which we’ll get to in the next section). Rosewood varies depending on its country of origin – the most famous being Brazilian rosewood and Indian rosewood. A guitar that uses Brazilian rosewood can cost much more than normal ones because of the scarcity of the wood.

Pau ferro neck

The overuse and the growing scarcity of Brazilian rosewood is bringing growing popularity to pau ferro, making it the number one substitution for the Brazilian rosewood. Pau ferro has similar hardness, smoothness and weight, and it finishes nicely and easily. This is why pau ferro is becoming more popular in the guitar market.

Neck joint

Since most guitars are not carved out of the wood as a whole, the neck has to be attached to the body. There are mainly two types of neck joint – Bolt-on neck and set neck. How the neck is attached affects the tone and the tension of the strings.

Bolt-on neck

As the name describes, a bolt-on neck is attached to the body of the guitar with bolts. A bolt-on neck is usually seen on solid body guitars especially the Stratocaster and Telecaster. The advantage of a bolt-on neck is that it is easy to manufacture and it can be easily installed and changed. If you are not satisfied with your current neck you can simply unscrew the bolt and change the neck. A bolt-on neck does not require great delicacy during its production compared to the set neck. Guitarists also report a greater “snap” and attack with bolt-on necks.

Set neck

The set neck has a longer history than the bolt-on neck given its use on acoustic guitars throughout history. A set neck means the neck of the guitar is glued to the body if the guitar and does not require any other stabilization. It is usually seen on Les Paul style guitars. A set neck is harder to manufacture because the neck has to sit perfectly in the cut of the body to eliminate any possibility of shifting after it is glued. Compared to a bolt-on neck, the set neck has great unity with the body therefore having warmer resonances and tones and a longer sustain. The biggest disadvantage of the set neck is that once the neck is glued it cannot be changed so you have to be extra careful not to break a set neck.

Neck profile

 Different neck profiles

Different Neck Profiles(Picture from Freboard)

 

Neck profile affects the comfort of playing a guitar and it is also the most subjective quality of a guitar. This shape affects how comfortably your hand rests on the neck and how easily you can change your playing positions. There are normally two types of neck profiles that are seen on acoustic and electric guitars – C shape and U shape. Generally speaking, if you don’t know what neck shape you’re looking for, a C shape neck is probably what you should consider first. The C shape neck is known for its balanced curve and it doesn’t feel too thick nor too thin. The U shape neck is a variation of the C. Players with bigger hands may prefer it over the C shape. The added thickness, however, may make it harder if you have shorter fingers or use a lot of thumb-fretting.

With electric guitars being used more and more in popular music, many guitar companies started to design new neck profiles to fit the various needs of musicians from different musical fields. For example, Jimmy Page has a neck that is thinner in the middle on his Les Paul, Slash has a customized C shape neck that fits more with his hands on his signature Les Paul, and Eric Clapton has a V shape neck on his Stratocaster. The emergence of 7 string guitars also brings wider necks to hold that extra string. Experience matters the most when it comes to neck shapes. We suggest that you play different guitars with different neck shapes with your own hands before making a decision.

Fingerboard

The wood of the fingerboard is yet another important factor that affects the tone and looks of a guitar.

Rosewood

Rosewood features a smooth surface, dark-looking with some red color, warm tones, and is used in a variety of guitar models. As mentioned above, it is growing in scarcity, so other woods are being used more often in its place.

Maple

Maple is a high density hardwood and needs frequent cleaning. It features a bright color and a very bright sound. It is often seen on guitars that need a very clean and bright tone.

Pau ferro

Pau ferro is a hardwood that is dark in color and looks a bit like rosewood, with a similar smooth surface. The tone of pau ferro is brighter than that of the rosewood. The use of pau ferro is growing due to the higher costs and growing scarcity of rosewood.

Ebony

Ebony is probably the hardest wood in the fingerboard category and it also features the darkest color and smoothness. The hardness of ebony also gives extra bright tones and sustain to the guitar.

Fret

Frets are integrated directly into the neck of a guitar and cannot be easily changed by the owner without visiting a luthier. As long as they allow you to play smoothly (without snagging your hand on their ends) and articulate well, they will work fine. The number of frets on the guitar will vary by style. Generally, guitars have 20 to 24 frets. But for some guitars designed for heavy metal music, the number of frets can go up to 27 for higher pitch. Unless you need these extra high notes, a guitar with 21 or 22 frets is plenty.

Body

As the biggest part of a guitar, the body heavily affects the tone and resonance of a guitar. The shape of the guitar’s body can affect how comfortable it is to play also.

Body woods

Alder

Alder is a kind of light weight wood that gives guitars a brighter tone. It is usually used on guitars built for brighter and crunchier sounds, like a Stratocaster or Telecaster style. With powerful pickups, alder can sharpen a guitar’s sound so much that it cuts through like a knife which is especially welcomed by heavy metal guitarists.

Mahogany

Compared to alder, mahogany is heavier in terms of weight with warmer tones. It is a common type of wood for acoustic guitars and guitars that embrace a warmer tone, like a Les Paul. The tones of the mahogany body guitar are stable as a rock and have more mid and low frequency resonances.

Maple

Similar to mahogany, maple is heavier in terms of weight, but with a higher density. It yields bright tones and ideal sustain for a guitar.

Ash

Like maple, ash is also heavy and dense. These qualities give it good sustain and a balanced position between bright and warm tones.

Basswood and poplar

These two types of wood are common body materials for Donner electric guitar lines. Basswood is light but has a warm sound. It gives a lot of mid-range punch. Its light weight and balanced tones make it suitable for beginner guitars. Poplar is also light weight but with greater hardness. Poplar tones are bright and crispy which makes them a great match with the Telecaster style.

Body types

Besides woods, body shapes also significantly change tone. For electric guitars, there are mainly two types of body – solid and semi-hollow. As you might guess, the solid-body guitar usually features a sturdier sound than the semi-hollow and it’s more versatile, while the semi-hollow guitars have warmer and cleaner tones with a kind of acoustic resonance. Semi-hollow body guitars are heavily used by blues and jazz guitarists for these unique qualities. Semi-hollow guitars are not usually suitable for high gain due to their tendency to feed back substantially.

Cut

The cut of the guitar’s body doesn’t affect tone much, but it does affect a player’s experience. Generally speaking, a double cut guitar is more comfortable for players when they play a lot on the higher frets. On a single cut guitar, you have to stretch your fingers more to reach those higher frets. One style isn’t inherently better than the other. It’s just a matter of personal preference. Some people like the heft of the single cut guitar while some people like the better grip you can get when bending on the higher frets of a double cut guitar.

Pickup

Pickups are undoubtedly the components that affect the sound of a guitar the most. If you want to change the sound of a guitar, swapping the pickups is the most efficient and economic way.

Single-coil pickups single-coil-pick-up

Single-coil Pickup 

Single-coil pickups have been in use since the first electric guitar was released. Even the Les Paul model that features humbuckers today had single-coil pickups known as P90s when it was invented. A single-coil pickup, predictably, has only a single coil of wire wrapped around it. A single coil pickup can have only one magnet for all of the strings or a separate magnet for each string, which is more common nowadays. Single-coil pickups have bright, clean, thin, crunchy and transparent sounds. They can really stand out in band and cut through a mix. Single-coils are commonly used on Stratocaster- and Telecaster-style guitars. Although single-coil pickups give you charming and transparent sounds, they are prone to electromagnetic intereference, which can give them a nasty hum or other unwanted sounds even when not playing.

Humbuckers

 PAF Humbucker on a Les Paul

PAF Humbucker on a Les Paul

 

In the 1950s, due to the annoying hum present in single-coil pickups, guitar companies decided to design a kind of pickups that don’t pick up so much hum or noise. Around 1955, Gibson first designed a pickup that was essentially made from two single coil pickups side by side wired to  eliminate or buck the hum, giving them the name “humbuckers.” Due to the opposite polarity of the two coils, the ambient electromagnetic noise would be opposite in each, and cancelled out when combined. The doubled guitar signal gives a warmer and fatter sound. After being invented, the humbucker made its debut on the 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard and the models released in the several following years. The sounds of the humbuckers on the early Gibson Les Pauls are so popular that Gibson sells reissued models of the 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standards, and the PAF humbuckers are exclusive for these models. Because humbuckers produce thicker sounds with less noise, they are popular for heavier music.

With special guitar wiring configurations, it is also common for a double-coil pickup to have a  switch that makes it a single-coil, essentially turning off one of the coils. Other wiring configurations allow for the two halves of the humbucker to be wired in parallel rather than in series, giving a sound closer to a single coil pickup.

Bridge

 Tremolo Bridge

Tremolo Bridge

 Stoptail Bridge

Stoptail Bridge

 

There are two main types of bridge for electric guitars; the tremolo bridge, also known as a floating bridge, and the stoptail bridge. The tremolo bridge usually has a whammy bar that comes with the guitar. The tremolo bridge allows you lower or increase the tension, and therefore pitch, of all of the strings at once moving the whammy bar. This kind of bridge is popular in metal music. The downside is that the constant pressure changes on the strings can throw the strings out of tune more quickly. The stoptail bridge is a fixed bridge, so it goes out of tune less often. Since the strings are fixed in position on a stoptail bridge, vibration lasts longer giving you extra sustain.

 

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide can give you some useful information on choosing your electric guitar. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong guitar, but there may be a guitar that is better for your needs. If possible, try to find and play the guitar before making your  decision.

If you still have any questions, feel free to reach out to us by clicking the contact us button. Last but not least, we hope that you find the guitar you’re looking for from us here at Donner, and all the best on your road to guitar mastery!

*P.S. If the brand names mentioned in this article is infringing, please contact us for solutions.

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