Guitars Product Guide
The guitar is probably among the most popular musical instruments in the world. It's portable and relatively easy to learn. According to Music Trades, about 3 million guitars were sold in 2006. Of these, acoustic guitar sales accounted for 1,490,000 and electric guitars totaled 1,501,000. Though guitars have a general price range from $30 to $3,000, about one million guitars sold in 2006 were sold at the $100 to $200 price range. Two popular video games, Guitar Hero and Rock Band use special guitars as the game controller. Overall guitar sales have increased nearly 3 times over the past 10 years.
This guide helps you find your first guitar. It goes over the fundamentals of key features. When learning to play and progress your mastery of guitar, it takes lots of practice, skill, and talent. The guitar's quality accounts for much of your initial success. Many guitarists admit that better guitars tend to be easier to play. Yet, when you ask guitarists which instrument is best, they admit that each has personal preferences. So your quest is to find the best guitar for you, at an affordable price. Our aim is to help you.
Basic Types of Guitars
An acoustic guitar uses no electricity. Classical composers wrote many sonatas and concerti for the acoustic guitar. From the late 1800's to present day, the acoustic guitar laid the foundation of playing blues, country, and folk music. For the most part, the acoustic's body has a large hole behind the area where the strings are strummed. The sound reverberates through the body and the sound is projected into a room or space. Acoustics, however, were somewhat ignored by orchestral composers because (they felt) the sound would be lost in a large orchestra. Guitars with larger bodies produced deeper bass tones became popular for large ensemble pieces. Over the past several years, optional adapters have been available that allow acoustic guitar models to connect with an amplifier. A small percentage of acoustic models have such an adapter built-in.
The electric guitar (which connects to an external amplifier) was developed in the 1930's during the emergence of the big-band era and the popularity of swing music. Yet, it was the 1950's that boosted the electric guitar to the front of the band when music started to rock and roll. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were pivotal in launching the electric guitar toward enormity. With an electric guitar, everyone has the potential to be a rock star. The majority of electric guitars have solid bodies, while others are semi or fully hollow. This affects the overall sound of the instrument. Unlike the acoustic, an electric guitar doesn't generate a large enough volume of sound to be easily heard. That's why every electric guitar has a connector (pick-up) designed to hook with an external amplifier with speaker.
History of the Guitar
Though many guitar-like instruments, such as the lute and mandolin, have been around over 1,000 years, the origins and development of the modern guitar arose in Spain and Greece around the 15th century. The word "guitar" was brought into English as an adaptation of the Spanish word guitarra, which was, in turn, derived from the Greek kithara. Like the lute, the guitar produces sound by plucking, picking, or strumming a number of strings. A fingerboard attached to the body produces a range of notes. Up until the 1800's, most guitars used 4 or 5 strings, as noted in folk and classical compositions from that era. The 6th string appears to have been added at the beginning of the 19th century. Most guitars use 6 strings today.
Buying a Guitar
There are many brands of guitars, both acoustic and electric. Many brands manufacture scaled down sizes that help young children learn to play. You can get guitars for under $100 and over $3,000. This product guide aims to help you test and determine which guitar suits your purposes. There are certain variables to consider:
Type of Guitar - Acoustic or Electric
It really depends on what music you're interested in playing and where you want to play it. An acoustic guitar is a good match for folk and classical music. It doesn't need external amplification so you can play virtually anywhere without needing to drag a portable amp with you. An electric guitar is a must for modern rock but also lends itself to jazz. Many performers can use it for country, folk, and classical as well. Some acoustics allow for direct connection to an external amp but can also play without one. Electrics require amplification and a speaker. There are many portable combo amps (amp and speaker in one) that work on AC or battery; some weigh less than 5 pounds. Most amps also have headphone jacks so you can listen exclusively without disturbing others.
Electric Body Variations - Solid or Hollow
For the most part, there are three different bodies associated with the Electric Guitar: solid, semi-hollow, and hollow. Solid-body means the body of the guitar is made of a solid slab of hardwood with no hollow portions other than those routed out for the pickups and controls. The second most common type is the semi-hollow-body. This type is typically solid wood down the center of the guitar body with hollow body sides, usually seen with F-holes via which you can see into the hollow chambers within. Third is the hollow-body type, which means the body is entirely hollow, again usually featuring F-holes. An F-hole is a sound hole that aids in adding mellowness to the tone. The F-hole gets its name because they tend to be long and narrow, somewhat shaped like a scripted 'f'. Thus, the solid body will generate that post-1970's rock sound. The semi-hollow may deliver that 1950's rock and country sound. Hollow seems to be popular among jazz musicians. There's another key difference - acoustic feedback. With a solid body, the sound is primarily generated from the guitar's strings and electronics so feedback may be non-existent. The hollow bodies vibrate because of the F-holes and may need to be positioned away from amps to reduce feedback problems.
Budget - How much should I pay for one?
That's a good question. If you're just starting out, and need to first learn how to play, a lower priced instrument may be wise. At this point, the brand is less important than the type (acoustic or electric). The guitar should feel comfortable when its held and used. You should be able to reach the length of the fingerboard and comfortably position your hands on the frets. Brand importance plays a role here because, as an instrument, the strings and body need to be positioned as correctly as possible so you don't strain to play. Remember that this is your first guitar. In a sense, your relationship to it is experimental. If you decide that an electric guitar is your choice, remember that you need an amp/speaker to play and hear comfortably. Going to guitar school is important. There are also several good guitar instruction tutorials on DVD.
Generally, the higher-priced and more popular guitars are easier to play. They are manufactured to precise standards using fine components. While a $1,000 guitar may appear somewhat similar to a $100 guitar, there are fine differences. So how much should you invest? Well, a guitar is only great if it's played well. Knowing the eagerness of your motivation to play and willingness to follow through can help determine whether you'll continue to play or the instrument will remain in the closet. Generally, there are wide selections of instruments in the $150 to $500 price range that will do nicely for a serious beginner and more advanced player. Sales statistics show that just under a third of all guitars sold fall in the $100 to $200 area. It's not the dollar value that's most important. It's how you and the guitar fit. Examine the guitar and see if it fits you and your needs.
What is the guitar made out of?
You should ask what type of wood has been used to make the guitar and how it is put together. Generally, guitar parts should be made from hardwoods such as mahogany or rosewood. The hardwood helps assure consistent tone quality and structural integrity. Shy away from guitars that have been made from plywood. The different layers of ply, while structurally reliable, may compromise tone quality.
How is the neck and body connected?
The neck may be glued or bolted to the body. Both are generally acceptable methods and are used among all price ranges. Take time to examine the guitar. If glued, does it appear to be a clean job without left over residue? If bolted, does it feel tight? If this joint isn't solid, handling and tone will be compromised. Of course, more critical attention should be paid on a higher priced instrument.
Don't fret about frets. Know them.
They're how you get the notes. The frets go up and down most of the neck. That long narrow area is referred as either the fingerboard or the fretboard. What you want to find here is a gently curved fret surface instead of it being completely flat. The curved surface helps you easily find the position of notes and is beneficial when playing chords. According to many guitarists, the curved fretboard is better than a flat fretboard. Feel the finish around and on the sides of the fingerboard. Is it smooth or is it choppy? You want it to be as smooth as possible. You're moving your fingers up and down while playing. You don't want to find a splinter or cut while playing. Put your fingers on the strings and press them to the fretboard. Are you comfortable?
Avoid a bridge over troubled waters.
The bridge is a strip that holds the bottom of the guitar strings at the body of the guitar. If you're just starting out, look for a guitar with an adjustable bridge. It helps adjust the distance between the strings and the fretboard. How comfortable are you at squeezing the string to reach the frets? An adjusting bridge lets you customize the guitar for your style and needs.
And what about those knobs?
At the very top, beyond the fingerboard, are the tuning knobs. Better tuning knobs should be sealed with no gears showing. Some tuning knobs allow for greater adjustability while others may have auto locking. These generally require no or very little lubrication. Some tuning knobs require manual winding of strings. Others have quick-connect features. When it comes to tuning control, it's a matter of a musician's preference. Check volume knobs and switches to see that they operate easily and don't seem to stick or need to be forced.
What is a Coil or a Humbucker?
A humbucker is an electric guitar pickup and is present on almost every electric guitar. There are two main types of electric guitar pickups: single coils and humbuckers. Their main function is to convert the vibration of the strings into an electric signal. This allows connection to an amp and also helps determine the overall sound output of your instrument. Single coils were the first pickups invented. It's a single bobbin (spool) containing one or more magnets. The single coil pickup delivers a cleaner sound. Humbuckers are two single coils that are wired together. By hooking a pair of single-coil pickups together, you get less noise than a typical single coil, and you get fatter, richer tone. Some guitar manufacturers prefer single coils while others offer humbuckers. Sound preference is up to you.
After examining the instrument, make sure there's an amp available to test the guitar. Make sure that the amp is at its cleanest output setting so you can listen to the instrument's natural tones. Try all the controls and make certain they perform and are compatible for you.
Can I connect my guitar to a computer?
Many musicians enjoy recording and editing their performance on a PC or Macintosh. A few guitars come with built-in USB connectors. If USB is an essential feature for you, expect a much narrower selection of available guitars. Many guitarists that use PC or Mac prefer external interfaces used in digital recording equipment to connect through to a computer. It's important to check your software to determine if it is compatible for reading guitar output signals.
There's one other type of guitar that must be included - The Bass Guitar. It isn't always classed with guitars because it has a larger body and longer neck. It resembles a guitar and shares many common characteristics but its frequency range is much lower and deeper - bass. Nonetheless the bass-guitar is found in virtually any band configuration. Consider it as an electric counterpart to the acoustic bass violin but much smaller and easier to carry.
A standard bass guitar has only four strings, much like a bass violin. An electric guitar has six strings. There is an exception. A five string bass guitar adds a string at the lower end of the tuning, which allows for the bass to have an even lower range of notes, and makes these lower notes easier to play.
Electric guitar players will use a pick to strum or pluck the strings of their instrument. Bass players can also use picks but, because they usually pluck one string at a time, many prefer to use fingers. Some bass techniques seem more reminiscent of percussive instruments, with slapping or thumping, popping, and tapping all being common techniques for moving the strings. In these instances they behave very much like an acoustic bassist - without a bow.
Like electric guitars, bass-guitars offer a selection of pickup types. The P and J pickups are magnetic pickups sourced from the Fender Precision and Fender Jazz models. There are a number of others but like all pick-ups, convert string vibration to electronic signals. There are rare cases of non-magnetic pickups for players choosing non-metal strings. While bass guitars can use combo amps where the amp and speaker are in one unit, many prefer using separate head amps and speaker cabinets. Speaker cabinets can hold one to four large bass drivers (typically 12" or 15") to deliver those deep, low frequencies.
Amplifiers and Speakers.
An amp and speaker is a necessary accessory if you're buying your first electric guitar. A combo amp places a speaker and an amplifier in one unit. Some are portable while many can be quite large. Some prefer a 2-piece set-up where the amp is separate from the speaker. In this arrangement, the amp is called the "head" because it's usually placed atop the speakers. The speaker(s) are called the "speaker cabinet". Cabinets can hold (and usually come with) anywhere from one to (over) four speakers. This arrangement lets you customize sound output to meet your tastes and needs. When a head and a cabinet are combined together, the arrangement is called a "stack". So amps can be combos or stacks.
Amplifiers may use transistors (solid state) or tubes. Solid-state amplifiers are usually lighter and less expensive but less efficient in audio processing - though capable of delivering excellent sound. Tube amps offer highly efficient circuits but are heavy and bulky. Tubes can wear out. Some audiophiles believe that tubes deliver cleaner sound and more output per watt. Tube amps are also priced much higher than transistor amps.
Would you be happier with a transistor or tube system? A transistor amp is more likely to include more extra effects than a tube amp. But the bottom line will be the sound of your guitar with no effects at all. If you're aiming for a small, portable amp, transistors are the way to go. The only way to decide between tubes and transistors is to know what you want to do with the amp and how much you want to pay for it. As with choosing your guitar, listen to a few of each type, then decide which you like best.
There are also amps developed for use with bass guitars. The circuits are designed to focus well on those low frequencies. Speakers tend to be larger in diameter for accurate bass reproduction.
Amps also may have built-in sound processing technologies. They can offer a menu of special effects to modify the output. Are you wondering how to connect your guitar to an amp? It's really simple. The cable from your guitar plugs into the Input Jack. Sound from your guitar enters a Pre-Amp as a weak signal. The Pre-Amp increases its strength slightly. The signal might pass through one or more devices that alter the signal, creating effects such as distortion. A master volume control determines how much strength the signal should have as it exits the amplifier. A second signal amplification device increases the signal. The signal passes on to a speaker (either built in to the same box, or connected by a cable). Almost all electric guitars include a cable to connect the guitar to an amplifier.
How good is your ear when it comes to notes and pitch? A tuner is a device that helps you tune your guitar. It's an inexpensive accessory (most are around $20) but an extremely important one. A guitar tuner is a must-have accessory and should not be overlooked.
It is difficult enough to play a musical instrument properly. It is nearly impossible to play one that is out of tune. You can't expect to know how to tune up your instrument once you take it home. If you're practicing specific exercises, a guitar that isn't properly tuned will deliver results that might sound terrible. It can be very discouraging. There are many electronic guitar tuners available and the great thing about them is they'll help you tune your guitar even if you have no music experience.
Electronic tuners have an input to connect your guitar. If you buy an electric guitar tuner with chromatic note detection, you will be able to tune your instrument with any note. Make sure it has an easy-to-read, informative display. If you also own an acoustic guitar, find a tuner with a built-in microphone or an input for one so you can use it to tune your acoustic guitar. Most of these guitar tuners are battery powered.
Case or Gig Bag
A case or bag for your guitar is an essential accessory to protect your guitar when storing it or when carrying it from place to place (or gig to gig).
There are hard cases. They may be bulky or heavy but offer most dependable protection.
Gig Bags are made of soft plastic polymers. Some have a bit of padding and pockets for small accessories (i.e. picks, tuner, etc.). They generally have a shoulder strap and, in some cases, a handle.
Prices can run from under $20 and up. A gig bag is a worthy investment toward your guitar's protection.
Guitars are played with a pick. A pick is a tool that is used to create a clearer and sharper sound from your guitar. The majority of your guitar playing will be done with pick in hand unless you are finger picking. These triangular devices are made of plastic or metal and come in various thicknesses. The thickness of your guitar pick has an impact on the amount of volume that you can generate. Plastic guitar picks are brittle and cause a clicking sound off of the strings when played. Finger picks and thumb picks are usually made out of metal that offer greater durability. Metal picks send out a very precise tone. Picks comes in several variations but, for the most part, there are four types that are most often used:
- The Standard pick is the most common shape. Those that apply to this category tend to be wide on side for a firm grip, with a gentle point on the opposite side for strumming. There's no set rigidity rating, it can be stiff or have some flex. When picking, the point tends to slide off the string, giving a mellow tone.
- Teardrop and Jazz guitar picks tend to be more rigid than a Standard pick of the same thickness. Players love them for their fast response and bright tone, especially for picking.
- Equilateral picks are easy to hold, since there is no right or wrong edge to grip. They can last longer since you can turn to another point if one wears down or breaks. These are also good for players who wish to experiment with filing down the point since you get three tips to experiment with.
- Sharkfin guitar picks are used two ways: as a standard pick, or rotated to use the multi-point edge to create multiple contacts per strum. Some like the multi-contact tone produced by the multi-point edge. It gets it name because it kind of resembles a shark's fin.
Some musicians don't use picks at all. They've found some personal objects, like coins, to use as picks. It's a matter of preference. If you're starting out, we recommend selecting a pick. Try many till you find the ones you like.
Inasmuch as most guitar strings are fairly durable. They do break or snap. We suggest getting a set of replacement guitar strings. Classical acoustic guitars often use nylon strings while some folk and most electric guitars use steel strings. Determining which guitar strings are best for your guitar is not an easy task because of all the different types of guitar strings there are. As a first guitar buyer, we suggest asking your salesperson for advice. There are different types of strings:
- Core wire strings - Multi filament is the first of these. It's composed of a flossy material made of nylon that is used as the core in wounded strings that are used on classical guitars. Hex core wire is an alloy of carbon steel that is shaped like a hexagon. The shape of this core wire helps sustain the life of the guitar by preventing it from slipping. Another kind of carbon steel alloy is the rounded wire
- Solid Strings - Made of one material - usually nylon or steel. Nylon strings are generally used in classical music. Steel Strings are generally used in Rock, Country and Folk music because of their twangy resonance and versatility. Nylon strings are great for beginners because they are easier on the fingers than steel strings. There are some silk/steel string composites that are easy on fingers and offer a brighter tone.
- Winding Strings - Flat wounded strings are a smoothly wrapped flat wire that cuts down the sound that comes from sliding across the strings. Jazz guitarists are common users of flat wounded strings. The round wounded string creates a clear, bright, and long lasting sound that is good on both electric and acoustic guitars. Ground wounded strings are guitar strings that are sanded or polished to make the outer surface smooth. The grounded strings tend to be even smoother than round wounded strings but can deliver several of the same tone qualities.
Sets of strings vary in thickness. A set of six strings may have a gauge range of 12 to 50 but these often vary.
Buying a guitar can be an exciting experience. The right guitar will open a world of music you've only dreamed about. It can be challenging but you'll gain insight and joy as you release your creative energies.
There are many accessories available to help you learn your instrument and make recordings with it. We've listed key guitar features and essential accessories. If you have any further questions, please e-mail us.
Did you find this guide useful or have something to add?
comments powered by Disqus