Disclaimer: Some information below are taken from the book The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer.

 

The electric guitar is the most versatile instrument in the world. The amount of possible ways you can play on it and the number of tricks and effects that you can get out of it is just enormous. You can also utilize every music style on it and still sound original and amazing.

The electric guitar is perhaps the most popular instrument in the world. It’s loved because of its versatility, playfulness, modern rocking sound and unique cool body.

In this post, I’ll try to define what is the electric guitar for beginners and enthusiastic fans who might not be involved in music, but still are curious enough to want to learn a bit more about this instrument and how it actually works. So without further ado, let’s begin with defining what it is.

What is the Electric Guitar?

The electric guitar is a guitar that amplifies its soundwaves electrically, unlike the acoustic guitar where the sound is amplified acoustically through transferring the energy of the strings into the soundbox (the hollow body) and making it vibrate in sympathy with the vibration of the strings to generate an audible, amplified sound.

Because the electric guitar relies on electronics and electricity to amplify the energy of the vibrating strings into an audible sound, it doesn’t need the help of a hollow body to perform this task (There are electric guitars with hollow bodies as well), hence the difference in shape, size, and weight between the electric and the acoustic guitar.

How Does the Electric Guitar Work?

We said that the electric guitar amplifies the sound electronically, rather than acoustically. But how is that accomplished?

There's a single part that unifies all electric guitars and that is the “pickups”. The pickups are responsible for converting the energy of the vibrating strings into an electrical signal. That signal then goes into an electronic circuitry inside the body of the electric guitar, along with other signals coming from the various encoders and switches embedded in the body of the guitar.

The final output signal of this electronic circuitry is delivered to the guitar cable via the input jack, to the guitar amplifier, and finally to the loudspeakers either on the amplifier itself or to external more powerful ones such as those you see on stage.

This is the whole process of generating sound with the electric guitar from start to finish.

The Anatomy of the Electric Guitar

The anatomy of the electric guitar is similar to the normal acoustic guitar, with the addition of the pickups and the various encoders and switches that can be mounted on the surface of the guitar.

The neck is also smaller and narrower, and the point where it joins the body is not a definitive matter and it varies from guitar to guitar.

This is because the electric guitar was developed mainly to be a lead instrument where artists would frequently play their solos above the 12th fret. Joining the neck on a higher point to the body would allow the solo artists to have access to these higher notes and octaves much easier.

Some electric guitars have the neck joint the body on the 20th fret and above.

The way the neck joins the body is also of a controversial matter. There are three methods of attaching the neck to the body:

  1. Glued-in neck
  2. Bolt-on neck
  3. And a single-piece neck that goes straight through the body

The main argument here is about sustain (how long the note continues to sound after the string has been struck). Which method gives the best sustain. After conducting several experiments, it turns out that the method that gives the best sustain is the glued-in neck, followed by a single-piece neck, and then the bolt-on neck. But this isn’t a final verdict, and experts are still experimenting with the different methods and techniques to be able to come with a more definitive answer.

The body of the electric guitar is mainly a solid body, with the exception of a few guitar brands that have hollow bodies.

The heart of the electric guitar is the magnetic pickups, which are mounted on the body of the guitar on various locations strategically under the strings.

The pickups are the most important part of the electric guitar. They are responsible for converting the energy of the strings into sound, as well as the sound’s quality.

For that reason, the design of the electric guitar’s body is not limited to one like with acoustic guitars, and it comes in too many shapes and variations. Perhaps the best example of this is the Gibson’s Flying V, which looks nothing like the traditional acoustic guitar with its exotic bottom “V” shape. The body’s design can come in any shape you want as long as it’s practical to use and can mount the pickups well.

However, that doesn't mean that the material used in building the electric guitar and its quality is irrelevant or of no significant matter. Because, according to the previous statement, it seems like we can use just about any material as long as the finished product is a guitar that is practical and comfortable enough for the player.

The materials used building the body and the density of the body are both responsible for the overall stability of the guitar, and its ability to block any unnecessary vibration of the soundbox which can abuse the pickups and even cause them to move. In order to get the best results out of the pickups, we want them to be as much stable and immovable as possible.

Another problem can occur and that is speaker “feedback” which could cause the pickups to generate noise.

After experimenting with various materials, experts have found that the best material for building an electric guitar is high-density hardwood such as mahogany, walnut, ash and maple, which we still use up to this day.

The quality and type of wood used for the body of the electric guitar can also affect its tone and the natural sustain it can have.

As for the strings, electric guitars can use only steel strings, and the lighter gauge ones are preferred because they are easier to bend, a technique so often used when playing on the electric guitar.

What is the Best Electric Guitar?

To be honest, I grew up knowing that Fender is the best electric guitar company in the world, with Gibson following close behind. If I had to make a top five list, I’d go for the following:

  1. Fender
  2. Gibson
  3. Jackson
  4. Ibanez
  5. Epiphone

That’s only my opinion, but I believe others would probably have either the same list or a slightly different one. Please share with us your top five in the comments below and why!

For me, Fender has always been the king of the electric guitars. The most popular Fender brand is the Telecaster, which many of the top guitarists in the world use and has used, and the most famous one of them is the legendary Jimi Hendrix. You can say that the Telecaster is the trademark of Jimi Hendrix. That’s how awesome this guitar is!

Besides fame, Fender is known to have one of the best tone quality, sustain, tuning stability, and can be used with any genre of music be it Rock, Blues, Jazz, and even Metal!

The only downside I see in Fender is that it’s too freaking expensive. For beginners or casuals, the majority go for Ibanez and Epiphone, and even Jackson for those diehard metalheads.

If money isn’t an issue for you, then I suggest going for the Fender or Gibson, or even a high-quality expensive Ibanez. Steve Vai’s main electric guitar is Ibanez!

How to Play on the Electric Guitar

You can start learning the electric guitar immediately if you are a beginner, or pick up the acoustic guitar first and study it before making the switch to the electric. Most guitarists go for the acoustic first and then after they learn how to play the basic form of the guitar and have their physique ready, they move to the electric guitar.

Many people claim that learning the electric guitar is easier if you know how to play the acoustic first.

Both options are viable, it’s up to you to decide which path you want to take.

In the beginning, you will learn to play on the electric guitar with a clean sound only before even starting to learn about the different encoders on your amplifier. After spending some good amount of time playing with a clean sound and experimenting on the guitar, you will be introduced to the amplifier and start using effects and distortion to spice up your training and exercises and get into this stuff.

Some instructors start with distortion after the first couple of lessons. I’m not a big fan of this method, I prefer learning to play with a clean sound first, because a clean sound will always point out your mistakes and you will hear the notes better, and so your ear will start to get used to them and this will improve your intonation later on. It’s important to develop your musical ear as well.

Learning the electric guitar involves learning a lot of techniques and tricks, this includes:

  1. Bending and Vibrato
  2. Alternate Picking and Sweep Picking
  3. Hammer-on’s and Pull-off’s
  4. Muting Strings
  5. String Skipping

Expect to dedicate lots of practicing time into each one of these techniques, if you want to be an expert on them and be able to use them cleanly.

GuitarTricks is an awesome online guitar lessons website that has an amazing beginner learning system with over 2 million subscribers as of today. They can help you learn to play the electric guitar starting from the very basics up to an advanced level where you can start playing songs on your own and improvise. The monthly subscription costs less than a single private guitar lesson with a private tutor. Check my full review on the program below

If you want to see other similar programs and compare prices and features, click here to see the full list (we will add more reviews in the future).

Summary

The electric guitar is an amazing instrument. There are many ways in which you can play on it, your imagination is the limit. No two guitar players playing the same piece of music will sound the same.

The most important part of the electric guitar is the “pickups”. The pickups are responsible for converting the energy of the vibrating strings into electrical signals, which are then transferred through the guitar cable into the amplifier, to the loudspeakers.

The pickups and the body of the guitar are both responsible for the quality of tone, the ability to generate natural sustain, and the overall stability of the guitar.

Fender electric guitar, and especially the Telecaster brand, is regarded by many as the best electric guitar in the world. But Gibson with the Les Paul is Fender’s toughest competitor and many would choose the Gibson over Fender any day.

Learning the electric guitar is a very exciting thing to do. Many prefer starting with the acoustic guitar, but starting straight ahead with the electric is also a viable option that many people do. I presented to you with the best options I know to learn how to play the electric guitar at home, online, cheap, and with as much efficiency as possible.

Going for my recommended options or choosing to have a private guitar instructor, both are excellent choices and you’ll have to compare these two options yourself and decide what’s best for you.

No matter what your decision is, avoid relying solely on yourself and youtube videos to learn the most versatile musical instrument in the world because your basics will be lacking, your foundation will be weak, and there is simply not enough free information out there to even cover a quarter of what you should learn.

It’s better to learn everything right from the beginning than to start on the wrong foot and be forced later on to relearn everything from the start.

For feedback, suggestions, opinions, please write everything down in the comments below.

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