Q) What are the tonal differences between the popular body woods Alder, Ash, Poplar, Basswood, Mahogany and Maple?
Answer: (1.) Alder: full and rich, with fat low-end, nice cutting mids, and good
overall warmth and sustain. Alder is generally considered to be one of the
“traditional” body woods.
(2.) Ash: exhibits a “snappier” tone with a bright edge, but with a
warm bass and long sustain. It is often considered the other
“traditional” body wood.
(3.) Poplar: one of the softer hardwoods, nicely resonant with a meaty tone and
pleasingly lightweight. Many guitar manufacturers are using this wood as a
substitute for alder, as it is quite similar in tone.
(4.) Basswood: the principal wood used on most Japanese-made instruments. This
is due both to its tonal response (once again, very similar to Alder), as well
as the fact that Basswood is much more readily available to the manufacturers in
(5.) Mahogany: provides deep, warm mids, good sustain and nice “bite”,
and is famous for its heavy “crunch”.
(6.) Maple: punchy and bright with a nice bite on the high end. Often used only
as a laminated top instead of an entire body, as it tends to be a particularly
heavy wood. Top
Q) What does the term “neck radius” mean, relative to my guitar or bass?
Answer: The measure of the curvature of the top of the fretboard from edge to edge is
often referred to as the “neck radius”. Actually, the correct
terminology would be either fretboard or fingerboard radius and the neck shape
and size would be called “neck profile”. The fingerboard radius can be
found by first drawing a circle with a corresponding radius, (the
“radius” is the distance from the center of a circle to its outer
edge), and then cutting out a portion of that circle corresponding to the width
of the fretboard. For example, if you have a 7 1/4″ radius fingerboard, you
could tie a piece of string to a pencil, measure out a length of string to 7
1/4″, and put a thumbtack on the other end of the string. Secure the tack,
stretch the string, and draw a circle. By cutting out a piece of that circle the
width of your fingerboard, you will have an example of an arc with the same
curvature as that of your fingerboard radius. Top
Q) What is a V, C or U shape neck?
Answer: The letters V, C, and U are used today in an attempt to describe the shape
and contour of the back of various guitar necks. Necks described by these
letters will correspond (although not quite as exaggerated), to the visual
appearance of these letters. The V shaped necks come in two different versions,
a “soft” V and a “hard” V. The “soft” V shape is a
bit rounded off, whereas the “hard” V is somewhat more pointed. There
are a couple of other neck shape descriptions which do not have directly
corresponding letters. These are the “oval” and the modern “flat
oval”. Many people, however, do use the letter “C” when referring
generally to these “oval” shapes. The “U” shape is chunky
and rounded, with high shoulders, as seen in the exaggerated letter U. There is
no doubt that it is easier to understand the application of these terms to the
necks when you put your hands on them and get the feel; however, the use of
these letters is pretty accurate in describing the shapes of the backs of necks.
Q) How often should I change my guitar or bass strings?
Answer: There is no set rule for how often you should change your strings. If you’re
playing on strings which are worn, kinked, corroded, rusted or gunked
up with sweat grease and grime, then it is definitely time to change them. If
you find that you’re having trouble keeping an older set of strings in tune,
it’s also a good idea to restring. Keep in mind that if you’re constantly having
tuning problems, especially with newer strings, the problem may actually be with
your guitar (See below for common tuning problems and remedies). Really, the
only other factors that’ll determine how often you restring are how often you
play and how much your fingers sweat while playing. If you play a number of
times with the same set of strings and you find they’re no longer giving you the
tone, brightness and response that you desire, then it’s time for a
change. Some professional artists swear by having new strings put on for every
new performance while others prefer the feeling and response of their strings
once they have been “broken in”. Once again, it is a preference and
you should experiment until you determine what works best for you. Tip:
wash your hands before playing. Top
Q) Why are set-ups necessary and how often should I have one done on my guitar or bass?
Answer: All electric guitars and basses which are made from wood are subject to
changes in temperature and humidity. Guitars are machines which have moving
parts, and like any other machine, they require periodic maintenance and
adjustment in order to ensure a maximum level of performance and playability. It
is very important to familiarize yourself with the different points of
adjustment on your guitar or bass i.e. truss-rod, tilt-adjust, saddle and bridge
height, and intonation, as these features are there for a very important reason.
The woods of your guitar absorb the moisture (humidity) in the air, and expand
and contract with changes in both temperature and humidity. This phenomenon may
be illustrated easily with the following example: Suppose your guitar is already
in tune, and you subsequently transport it during the heat of summer, to an
air-conditioned venue. When you take it out of the case and let it cool to room
temperature, the pitch of the guitar will dramatically drop as the wood cools
and shrinks, causing the tension on the guitar to decrease. While this dramatic
example may not require immediate adjustment compensation, it is often necessary
to make seasonal adjustments in the action of your instrument to compensate for
these changes. It is also important to note that changing string gauges or
materials will also affect the amount of tension on the neck and will usually
require a neck adjustment to compensate for this change in tension. It is also
not uncommon to experience a “settling in ” period with a new
instrument, where periodic adjustments in the action must be made until the wood
stops moving, (bear in mind that seasonal adjustments may still be necessary).
If you do not feel comfortable making adjustments in the action of your guitar,
we would recommend that you have a qualified technician check out your
instrument for the proper setup adjustments approximately every 6 months. This
would also be a great time for your tech to keep an eye on things such as fret
wear, intonation, etc. Please keep in mind that GuitarsUnited.com completely
sets up all of their instruments before selling them.
Q) How do I intonate my guitar or bass?
Answer: To maximize the performance of your guitar you must be sure to always keep
your guitar properly intonated so that the instrument will be in relative tune
to itself. Always check and adjust the intonation as needed after every change
of strings. When we intonate a guitar we shorten or lengthen the active
vibrating length of a string so that it will be in tune with itself, given the
scale length of the instrument, as well as differences in string gauges and
micro-variations from string to string which occur in the manufacturing process.
To set the intonation for your guitar you will need either a digital or strobe
tuner, either a small Phillips or standard screwdriver (depending on the type of
saddle length adjustment screws on your bridge). We recommend Floyd Rose
tremolo’s be adjusted by a professional. It is also important to install
new strings just prior to adjusting the intonation. The procedure for setting
your intonation is as follows:
1. Plug into your tuner and with the volume full up on the guitar, strike the
harmonic at the 12th fret and tune the string to the appropriate pitch.
2. Lightly press the string to the 12th fret and recheck the pitch at the tuner.
3. If the pitch of the harmonic and the pitch of the stopped string at the 12th
fret agree, then your string is properly intonated and no adjustment will be
necessary. If the pitches disagree you’ll need to make an adjustment.
4. If the stopped or fretted note is sharper (higher) in pitch relative to the
harmonic, you will need to lengthen the active vibrating length of the string
until the pitches agree. To do this, you must turn the saddle length adjustment
screw, (located at the rear of the bridge-plate) clockwise, and move the saddle
back, until the harmonic note and the stopped note are registering as the same
pitch. Make sure you stop and retune the string often at the
harmonic, as the movement of the saddle will have an effect on the pitch of the
string during this process.
5. If the stopped or fretted note is flatter (lower) in pitch relative to the
harmonic, you will need to shorten the active vibrating length of the string
until the pitches agree. To do this, you must turn the saddle length adjustment
screw, located at the rear of the bridge-plate, counter-clockwise and move the
saddle forward until the harmonic note and the stopped note are registering as
the same pitch. You may need to press the saddle forward if downward pressure
from the strings does not allow the saddle to freely move.
6. When this procedure is complete, simply retune your guitar and you’re ready
Always make sure that you use proper left hand fretting technique as too much
downward pressure as well as a claw type grip will pull your notes out of pitch
and your guitar will sound out of tune to itself even if properly intonated.
Q) What precautions should I take when traveling on an airplane with my guitar?
Answer: First, you’ll need to determine if the airline will allow you to carry
the guitar on board with you for storing in the overhead compartment, or if you
must check it for transport in the cargo hold of the plane. In both instances,
you will want to make sure the guitar is packed with sufficient padding to
prevent any movement and potential damage within the case. If you are carrying
your guitar on board, a gig bag will certainly do the job, as long as you ensure
that other harder and heavier luggage does not get either placed on top of or
shoved into your guitar. If you must check your guitar, make sure it is in a
hard protective case and has extra padding inside to prevent movement within the
case. It is highly recommended, (as some baggage handlers may not treat your
property with the same amount of care you do), that when transporting your
guitar in the hold of any air transport, that you do so in an ATA approved,
locking flight case. De-tuning or loosening the strings on most electric guitars
and basses is not necessary; however, for acoustic guitars, set neck or hollow
body guitars, it is recommended that you de-tune 1/2 to 1 whole step. Just to be
safe, it is always a good idea to insure your instrument against loss or damage.
Q) What is “stand damage”?
Answer: Stand damage occurs when the chemicals in the rubber used on guitar stands
react with the nitro-cellulose lacquer used to finish some instruments. It can
range from a slight discoloration to the finish to actually “eating
away” the lacquer topcoat. Unfortunately, this situation is not covered
under your warranty. The safest way to prevent this from happening is to cover
the rubber parts of your stand with a soft cotton cloth (use guitar polishing
cloths). Guitar stands should only be used to ‘temporarily’ store your
instrument, such as on a gig. The safest place to store your instrument is in
its case. Top
Q) What can I do to prevent tarnish on the hardware?
Answer: Tarnish on hardware occurs due to a reaction between the plating and
moisture, either in the air or from perspiration. Keep in mind that all hardware
will tarnish eventually- it is not a sign that your hardware is
“cheap.” In some areas there is low moisture content in the air so the
tarnishing process will be slower, but it will eventually happen. You can slow
down the tarnishing process by wiping down the instrument every time you play
it! This one step will add life to the hardware and slow down the tarnishing
process. Also, make sure you store the instrument in its case to prevent it from
exposure to high moisture content level in the air. In areas of high humidity
add a silicon bag in your case or gig bag. Top
Q) What is the best way to clean my Acoustic? Is it necessary to condition the fingerboard?
Answer: We recommend that you clean your guitar or bass after each use, taking care
to wipe down the entire instrument, including the strings and hardware, with a
clean, soft cloth. Periodic cleaning with a good quality pump cleaner/polish is
advised when it is necessary to remove fingerprints or body oils. To do this,
spray the polish onto a soft cloth and wipe the body and neck, taking care
to avoid the strings and hardware. Frequent conditioning of Rosewood and Ebony
fingerboards will help prevent the possible cracking of the fingerboard which
may occur in dry climates if the fretboard is allowed to over-dry. We would
suggest that you use either raw linseed oil, lemon oil, or another commercially
available fingerboard conditioner and that you follow the directions provided by
the manufacturer of these products. Note: take care to remove the strings before
conditioning your fingerboard and dry any excess oils from the fretboard before
replacing the strings. Be careful to avoid any contact with your guitar’s
finish, electronics, and hardware when using these conditioning materials. For
regular string care and maintenance, certain products are safe and effective for
removing excess oil and dirt from your strings and in turn, prolonging string
Q) How do I care for my nitro-cellulose lacquer finish?
Answer: Some instruments are finished using layered coats of
nitro-cellulose lacquer. Although this material is very beneficial to the
overall appearance and tone of the instrument, there are some specific
guidelines for its care and maintenance. Exposure to certain synthetic
materials, leather straps, and cushions such as those found on some instrument
stands could adversely affect the finish. To ensure your finish maintains its
beauty, please follow these steps:
- Never cover or wipe your instrument with synthetic materials.
- Always remove the strap from the instrument when not in use.
- Cover or replace guitar stand cushions with cotton cloth.
Perspiration can also damage the guitar finish as well as the hardware
finish. Always clean your instrument and hardware with a soft, non-synthetic
cloth before storing it. To prolong the beauty and durability of the finishes we
recommend polishing it with a Hi-Gloss Polish. A
rapid change in temperature or humidity can result in small cracks in the finish
known as “finish checking”. In most cases it happens when a chilled
instrument is exposed to warm air. It occurs most frequently in the winter when
a guitar case is opened in a warm room or studio after being outside. This is a
result of the wood expanding faster than the lacquer. While this condition does
not affect the tone it certainly does affect the appearance. To eliminate the
possibility of this happening to your instrument we recommend you warm it slowly
by opening the case slowly and fanning it to induce warm air to circulate over
the top. If a bright bluish fog appears on the top, close the case immediately
and let it warm up for a few minutes. Then lift the instrument a little bit from
the case and allow the rest of it to warm to room temperature.
Q) I have a 12-String. Do I need to “tune-down” my guitar to prevent the possibility of either the bridge lifting or damage to the top of the guitar?
Answer: It is just fine for you to tune your 12-String to standard concert pitch when
using light or extra light strings. We do recommend, however, that if you use
heavier strings, that you do not tune them to concert pitch. Medium or heavy
gauge strings, when tuned to concert pitch, create a tremendous amount of
tension on the instrument, and may eventually cause damage to the top of the
guitar if used for long periods of time. If you feel your technique and playing
style dictate that you must use heavier gauged strings, we would indeed suggest
that you tune your guitar down either ½ or one whole step to E flat or D, and
capo the guitar at the 1st fret. Many 12-string players prefer to de-tune and
use a capo regardless of the string gauge used, as they find that the reduced
string tension enhances the playability of their guitars. Top
Q) What precautions should I take when storing or traveling with my guitar?
Answer: 1. Exposure to extreme temperatures or sudden changes in temperature and/or
humidity, may cause cracks or “checking”, to occur in your guitar’s
finish. These same conditions may also cause cracks to occur in the wood itself.
To ensure the integrity of your guitar’s woods during its lifetime, it is
critical to maintain the instrument within an acceptable temperature and
humidity range. Ideally the temperature should be maintained as closely as
possible to 70 F and the humidity should be maintained between 40% and 50%. To
ensure an appropriate level of humidity in your instrument’s woods, it may be
necessary to use a commercially available humidifier. These humidifiers
incorporate a system which allows you to monitor the humidity level in your
instrument and make adjustments as needed.
2. When traveling long distances with your instrument or when storing it for
extended periods of time, you’ll want to lower the pitch of the strings
approximately 1 to 1½ step to reduce the amount of tension on the neck. When
transporting the guitar in either summer or winter from say,… your home, to
your car, to a third location, you need to be aware that temperatures can vary
dramatically from location to location. ALWAYS allow time for the instrument to
sit and acclimatize to room temperature inside the case before opening the case
and removing the instrument. As guitars are made from organic components and use
different types of woods in one instrument, these woods and materials expand and
contract at different rates with changes in temperature and humidity Opening an
instrument case prematurely for example: after bringing it in from a cold car to
a heated venue or from a hot car to an air-conditioned room is the most common
cause of both finish and wood cracks in acoustic guitars. Top
Q) How do I travel with my acoustic guitar?
Answer: Most guitar owners will be adamant about keeping their guitar on the back
seat of their car versus the trunk, imagining the worst case scenario of being
rear ended on the highway. There are even better reasons. The temperature in the
trunk is more extreme, and extreme climatic changes can cause wood cracks and
lacquer checks. The car interior is always more comfortable. Hence, your first
basic rule of thumb is to keep your instrument where you yourself are
comfortable. I’m sure you wouldn’t choose the trunk of a black car in July, or
the trunk of a white care in sub-zero weather for that matter! Once you arrive,
allow the guitar to acclimate. That is, let it sit in the closed case in your
new environment for ten to fifteen minutes before playing. For those of you who
travel on planes with your Martin, try with sincere and charismatic style to
avoid checking your guitar as luggage. Most planes now have overhead
compartments that can easily accommodate a guitar in a hard-shell case. What I do
is try to always pre-board and politely ask attendants if they would be willing
to find closet space if the case doesn’t fit in an overhead. However, on really
small aircraft like the popular new shuttles, you may have no choice. In some
situations, you may be allowed to hand carry your guitar to the steps of the
plane, where an attendant will hand load it while you watch. It’s always smart
to ask if this is possible before checking your guitar in as baggage. I
recommend, whether you check your instrument or not to prepare your guitar for
air travel in the following manner:
1. Take out the endpin (if there is one and if it is not glued in place).
2. Tune each string down one whole step (DGCFAD).
3. Lock the case and add the key to your key chain.
4. If you must check it in, ask the airline check-in person to put some
“FRAGILE” stickers on it and request personal handling. (You may be
asked to sign a liability release.)
5. Make sure you have a luggage tag with your name, address, and phone attached
to the case handle. Top
Q) What should I use to clean the pots in my amplifier or guitar?
Answer: Pots are made with a lubricant in them, so cleaning of any nature may wash
that lubricant away. Before cleaning, try turning the pot back and forth
vigorously to see if re-distributing the internal lubricant will clean the
elements. If that does not cure the problem, then try using a small amount of an
external cleaner. Be sure to choose an electrical contact cleaner that is
1. Safe for plastics
2. Leaves a lubricating film.
NEVER, attempt to clean or service an amplifier while the amp is plugged in.
Amps contain high voltages which may cause serious injury if handled
inappropriately. If you do not have experience and training in amplifier repair,
we would suggest that you take your amp to the nearest Authorized Service Center
for cleaning, service and repair. Top
Q) How does speaker impedance relate to the amplifier output impedance?
Answer: This answer will differ depending on whether you have a solid state amplifier
or tube amplifier. The term “speaker impedance”, refers to the load
which either a speaker, (or the combined load of multiple speakers in a
cabinet), presents to an amplifier. The load may vary depending on whether the
speakers are wired in series, parallel or series/parallel.
1. In the case of solid state amps, there will normally be a “Max
Load” (also called “Minimum Impedance”) rating for the amp. The
load plugged into the amp should never go below the minimum impedance or serious
damage may occur to the amplifier. Maximum power will be obtained when the
speaker load matches the minimum impedance. It is perfectly safe to use a higher
impedance speaker load, but there will be a corresponding drop in output power
(i.e. an 8 ohm speaker load will result in approximately half the output power
of a 4 ohm speaker load).
2. In the case of tube amps, it is best to match the speaker load as closely as
possible to the amplifier output impedance. In theory, there is some small
amount of mismatch (either larger or smaller) that will not hurt the amp. It is,
however, always recommended that you match the speakers as closely as possible
to the rating of the amp to avoid potential problems. Top
Q) How did Stevie Ray Vaughan get his tone? How can I get that kind of clean distortion from my amp? Do I need a special pedal or preamp?
Answer: The primary source of lead guitar tone for Stevie Ray (and many other
“Blues” and “Rock” players), is something called
“output tube distortion”. Output tube distortion is what happens when
a tube amplifier is turned up loud enough (or played hard enough) to distort the
“power amp” section of the amplifier. This is the type of distortion
which translates to the listener as harmonically rich, sweet, sustaining tone
and can be heard on countless recordings. While distortion pedals will add
sustain and harmonics, they also tend to make all the different instruments
played through them, sound the same or “faceless”. A pedal may be
great when you’re a beginner with your first guitar, not so great if you’re a
pro with an expensive, high quality guitar, and the “fuzz box” makes
it sound just like just another $150.00 guitar. While Stevie did use a Tube
Screamer pedal, he only used it as a boost. The foundation of his tone was an
overdriven tube amp. Top
Q) What are the differences between Tube and Solid-State Amplifiers?
Answer: Tubes and transistors are very different in both construction and sound. A valve
or “tube” is an electronic device consisting of a minimum of four
active elements : a heater (filament), a cathode, a grid, and a plate.
All of these are sealed in a glass enclosure with its air removed – a vacuum –
to prevent the parts from burning. Tubes distort uniquely because as the signal
emitting from the plate approaches its maximum potential, the tube gradually
begins to react less and less to the original signal. This results in a type of
compression of the signal and produces a soft clipping. Clipping occurs when the
input signal increases, but the maximum power has been reached. Thus the signal
becomes cut off or “clipped”. They also tend to be subject to
mechanical problems and limitations. Tubes tend to be inefficient and exude
large amounts of heat and will wear out in relation to the length and intensity
of their use, sometimes to the point of becoming microphonic (i.e. unwanted
signal being amplified through tube due to excessive vibrations of the tube
Solid-state transistors, on the other hand, are very reliable, less
expensive, and generate little or no heat. They consist of layers of different
semi-conductor materials deposited on top of one another. Unlike tubes,
transistors do not need heaters (filament) to make them work. When generating
signal and distortion, they react exactly the same to the input signals right up
to their maximum power; then, they stop quickly, creating a sharp clipping.
These different types of clipping produce different series of harmonics
(overtones). When a transistor amp clips, it produces more odd-order harmonics
(at its worst case can be harsh, dry, and hollow), whereas tube distortion
provides more even-order harmonics and generally sounds warmer.
Various types of transistor and tube distortions are possible, depending on
the amp’s components and design. With advanced engineering and digital
technology, many of today’s modern transistor and digital amplifiers do an
excellent job reproducing tube-like distortion, but there is no substitute for
the real thing. Top
Q) When do I need to replace my amplifier tubes?
Answer: Chances are, your power tubes are worn out when your amp starts sounding weak,
lacks punch, makes funny noises, has its power fading up or down, or looses
highs or lows. If gain in one channel hums, lacks sensitivity to touch, or
generally feels as if its working against you, a preamp tube could be
malfunctioning and is in need of replacement. In both cases, though, the tubes
may not be at fault. Unless you are skilled in specific troubleshooting, regard
the high-voltage circuits found in amplifiers as extremely dangerous. Take your
amp to a qualified professional technician for diagnosis and repair.
Power tubes can last years in a light duty situation while lasting only six
months in another. Preamp tubes will generally last much longer than power tubes
unless they are used in the driver stage where they wear out as fast as the
power set they are driving. Again, let your ears and fingers be the judge.
Q) What is the best way to route my guitar effects pedals?
Answer: Although it is important for you to experiment with different configurations,
there are some basic guidelines for linking your chain of pedal effects. Here is
a good place to start: it is common for reverb and delay effects to be placed
1st in the chain (that is, closest to the input of your amplifier) so their
effect will be not get lost. If a delay or reverb effect gets
“processed” through distortion or “time” effects, they tend
to get muddy and undefined. Next, add your “time” or pitch shift
effects such as chorus, flanger, phase shifter, etc. Next in line would be your
overdrive, distortions, fuzz boxes, etc. and then dynamic effects such as
compressors and limiters closest to your guitar. Other “tone” devices
such as wahs can be placed before or after your distortion pedals depending on
your desired effect. The wah effect is more pronounced when placed after the
distortion unit, but can produce interesting and intense sounds when placed
after, as well. Equalizers can be used at a variety of stages depending on what
effect you would want to EQ. They can be helpful at the beginning of the chain
to adjust your overall sound or in the middle to enhance a particular effect
such as a distortion pedal. What is important in all of this is not to live by
the rules, but to understand the importance of experimentation in order to build
your own unique sound. Some of the most adventurous and accomplished players
have found unique and interesting sounds by breaking the rules.
Q) Should my first guitar be acoustic or an electric?
Answer: Good question. There is no right or wrong answer, but it really depends on what
you want to get out of it. Guitar playing can have many rewards both personally
and professionally. If you are just starting out, it may make sense to start
small in terms of cost and features. Generally, an acoustic guitar is the most
efficient and simple way to go. Unlike an electric guitar, an acoustic requires
no additional parts or components, to you can take it right out of the case and
start playing. There are some important factors to consider when choosing an
acoustic over an electric including the “action”, “feel”,
and “sound”. Acoustic guitars tend to have a little higher action
(height of the strings from the fingerboard) than electric’s and generally use
heavier strings making it more difficult for string bends and playing chords.
This is not to say they are any worse or better than an electric, only
different. An acoustic guitar is excellent for building strength and dexterity
and provides excellent preparation for transition into an electric at a later
date. Also, the sound of an acoustic is dramatically different from that of an
electric since its sound is created and amplified by the body of the guitar
alone. Better still, today’s low-end or entry-level acoustic guitars have come
along way from the mail-order catalog guitars of the past. They offer great
playability and excellent sound at a price that is easy to swallow for the first
time buyer or parent.
Now, what about that electric guitar? If you can’t wait to crank up and play
your favorite riffs, then an electric guitar may be for you. With the advent of
the popular “gig rigs”, it is possible to get a quality electric
guitar, amplifier, and accessories all in one package at an incredible price.
Electric guitars are fun and easy to play, but require more effort to generate
sound. The guitar must be plugged into the amplifier using a guitar cable, then
by manipulating the volume and tone controls on the guitar and the amplifier, a
variety of tones and volumes can be achieved. If the guitar has more than one
pickup, you will use the selector switch to choose which pickup (or both) will
be turned “on” and will pick up the string vibrations. Pickups toward
the bridge (lead) of the guitar tend to sound louder and brighter and pickups
toward the neck (rhythm) tend to sound deeper and softer. Sound complicated?
It’s really not, but it is more advanced than an acoustic.
With better quality, more affordable electric and acoustic guitars being
offered for the beginner, it is getting tougher to decide where to start, but
you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true acoustic guitar. Top
Q) What do I look for when buying an electric guitar?
Answer: There are many factors to consider when purchasing an electric guitar. Is this
your first, second, or third guitar? How much money do you want to spend? Is
this a guitar for practice at home, local giging, professional studio use? etc.
Let’s start by assuming you already own one or two guitars and you are
purchasing your first “serious” guitar. We will discuss 7 key areas
for consideration. They are: construction/materials, sound/tone,
playability/action, appearance/body style, cost/resale, domestic/import, and
Construction. There are two basic types of electric guitar construction:
those guitars with bolt-on necks and those with set-in necks. Guitars with
bolt-on necks tend to be less expensive due to their streamlined manufacturing
capabilities and offer the freedom and flexibility to change necks if you have
structural problems or damage or if you would like a different type of neck or
fingerboard wood. Set-in or glued-in necks are often more expensive due to the
additional labor required for their construction and offer increased sustain and
overall strength, but are generally permanent parts of the guitar and require
major work if there is a structural problem or damage. Both types of necks can
offer great playability and feel, so it is best for you to try them out for
The types of woods used can also play a big part in the sound and performance
of your guitar. Quality tone woods such as mahogany, maple, alder, ash,
basswood, and poplar are common. See the wood portion of this FAQ section for
more detail on the varying tones of these woods. What you need to watch for is
whether the body is composed of solid wood or laminates. Many imported or less
expensive guitars are constructed from plywood or have multi-piece bodies.
Although this method is accepted and widely used, it does not contribute to
professional quality tone or lasting value. Pay attention to the materials used
in the manufacturers spec listing. When possible look for A grade materials and
solid wood bodies. Neck materials are fairly consistent. Most manufacturers us
maple or mahogany for their neck stock and occasionally you will find composite
or composite reinforced materials which are very stable and are used to add
strength. Fingerboards are generally made from rosewood (dark and warm), maple
(bright and snappy), ebony (bright and snappy – similar to maple), and pao ferro
(similar to rosewood).
Sound/Tone. The tone of the instrument is basically dependent on three key
factors: body materials, construction, and pickups/electronics. We have already
discussed materials and construction so lets take a look at pickups. The two
most common types of pickups are single-coils and humbuckers. Both have their
place in history, but have very distinct properties and sounds. Single-coils
peak at the mid-range and offer bright, glassy, and cutting tone. Many of
today’s single-coils are hum free or have extra coil windings for increase
output. If you are looking for the Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi
Hendrix, etc. tone, the single-coil pickup is for you. Humbuckers are two
single-coils wire together to create a higher output and hum-free operation.
They first appeared in Gibson’s 1957 Les Paul’s and have a fat, beefy tone and
creamy sustain that have made them popular choice among many rock and metal
guitar players such as Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Ace Frehley, etc. When choosing an
electric guitar, whether you are a single-coil or humbucker lover, it is
important to understand the effect of the pickup on your sound.
Playability/Action. They way a guitar plays and feels is crucial to your
appreciation and enjoyment of it. Ideally, you are looking for guitar that has
the right “action” for you. Some prefer the lowest action possible and
would possibly be interested in a Les Paul style guitar which has a shorter
scale (24.75″) and the ability to be set up with the strings very close to
the neck. Others may prefer the increased tension of a longer scaled
(25.5″) instrument such as a Strat style. Although this type of guitar is
capable of having excellent action, there is always a little more tightness in
the strings due to the longer distance between the bridge and nut. Generally,
the more expensive hand-crafted instruments tend to play better and respond
better than less expensive guitars. Although, in today’s competitive market,
mid-priced and low-end guitar companies are making great strides in producing
great sounding and playing guitars.
Appearance/Body Style. Don’t forget about the way the guitar looks. Since
many of us are influenced by other musicians, we tend to see ourselves with a
guitar like our heroes. Given this, you will want to choose a guitar that you
feel comfortable with long term. There are many body
styles to choose from. Make sure to make the right decision based on who you are
or better yet, who you want to be.
Cost/Re-sale. The almighty dollar can be a strong influence on our ideals and
decisions, and buying a guitar is no exception. Sometimes it is difficult to
“see” the difference between a $ 500 guitar and a $ 5,000 guitar, but
believe us, there is a reason for it. It is important to research the how’s and
why’s and make an educated decision, yet stay true to your gut and your budget.
Know the market and the manufacturers and get an idea of what your guitar is
worth in relation to what you are paying for it. Be aware that your instrument
will more than likely depreciate in value, it’s just a matter of how much.
Hopefully, you are buying a guitar for life and won’t ever have to sell it for
the rent, but you never know, so buy smart. Major brand names are usually a
pretty safe bet and many of them have reputations for increasing in value.
Bottom line, you get what you pay for, so take your time and make sure you are
buying a particular guitar for the right reasons. If you just need a second
guitar with a whammy to bang around on, you’re not at as much risk as if you are
buying “that” guitar that you have been saving for years to get.
Domestic/Import. While this may not be a factor to some, it is worth
considering. Generally, American made guitars tend to be more expensive and
consequently fetch a bigger price if you want to re-sell them. There is also an
emphasis on obtaining the highest quality materials, fine craftsmanship, and
attention to detail – all at a price. This is not to say that imported guitars
are always inferior, quite the contrary. Many overseas manufacturers have
mastered the craft of guitar building, but because of the availability of
inexpensive labor and the need for mass manufacturing or inability to acquire
quality materials in the same quantity as American manufacturers, they generally
produce less expensive guitars.
Detail work/Extras. It is also important to pay attention to the details. By
this, we mean the little extras that bring beauty, improved functionality, or
value to the instrument. If a guitar has binding on the body, neck, or
headstock, these are generally signs of a more precision crafted instrument –
and usually more expensive. These may not mean much to the playability or tone
of an instrument, but they can have an effect on the appearance and resale
value. Does the guitar have a new technical improvement or advancement that will
take your playing to the next level (synth capabilities, locking tuners, Floyd
Rose, coil-splitting, etc.)? These items may improve the playability and sound
of your guitar, but may have little or no effect on its value. Getting the
picture? Make sure the guitar has quality tuners and hardware – no one wants
their dream guitar to have tuning problems. Finally, pay close attention to the
cosmetics and set up work. Is the guitar well-buffed, frets crowned properly, no
sharp fret ends, nut and bridge slotted correctly, binding is well-scraped and
there are not ridges or seams, etc.
Summary. What all of this means is basically, “you get what you pay
for”. The secret to selecting the perfect guitar is that there is no
secret. Just research and educate yourself on the various manufacturers and the
different models and options they offer and better yet, understand your needs
and wants. At some point, the two will come together and you will find your true