Last Update August 2017 – Buying an electric guitar for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many models out there, featuring different shapes and different options. For someone who just entered the world of axes, it’s easy to get confused.
So, we decided to put together this epic guide as a tool that will help you and others who are looking to purchase a guitar, in making the best decision you can.
Before we get into specific models, let’s first take a look at the guitar’s anatomy and its most important parts.
– How To Choose ?
To start things on the right path, let’s take a closer look at what constitutes an average axe.
These four elements will define what kind of sound the guitar will have, what genres of music it is best suited for, and how comfortable it is to play.
Let’s talk about each particular element and see how they affect the sound of the guitar.
Body is the main part, it is made of some kind of tonewood, and this is where you’ll find your bridge along with all the electronics. Above anything else, there are two things that define a body of a guitar.
Its type and the material used to make it. In terms of type, you have solid body, hollow body and semi hollow body electric guitars. Since the latter two are pretty niche instruments and are somewhat rare, we’ll focus only on solid body guitars in this guide.
Unlike it’s the case with acoustic guitars, the shape of an electric doesn’t have much effect on the sound you get from that instrument. Guitar bodies are mostly made of solid wood, and it’s the quality and species of the wood that has an impact on the sound.
Different shapes offer different aesthetics, and the one you choose is usually going to be the one that you like the most or are most comfortable playing.
Les Paul was first created by Gibson, and has since become one of the best in history of music. This guitar shape was used by some of the biggest legends of rock music to ever walk the earth.
It’s a very rounded design with a thicker body and these guitars are usually somewhat heavier than other shapes. A standard configuration of a Les Paul shaped guitar will be two humbuckers and a tune-o-matic bridge, both of which we will discuss in detail a bit later.
Stratocaster body style is one of the oldest and most prolific electric guitar shapes on the market. It was designed by Fender back in mid ’50s, and is one of the most copied shapes today.
Fender is the only company that makes the real Stratocaster, while there are numerous companies out there emulating this legendary model. For this body style, a standard configuration would be three single coil pickups and a tremolo bridge.
Aside from these two, there are many more body shapes to choose from. Like we said earlier, the one that is best for you will be the one that you like the most in terms of its looks, and one that feels the best when playing.
The type of wood is used in construction of the guitar will largely determine what kind of sound it will have. Different types of wood offer different kinds of resonance, depending on the density and hardness of the wood. There are numerous types of wood that are used in manufacturing of guitars, and here are some of the most common ones.
Ash is one of the more common types of tonewood used in solid body guitars. Main reason for this is the fact that ash offers the hardness necessary, while preserving good resonance. On top of that, it offers a very nice appearance and treated with clear coating.
Alder is very similar to ash in terms of sonic properties. One of its main benefits is its cheaper price. You will find alder in many mid range guitars.
Agathis is a newer type of wood that has entered mainstream use somewhat recently. It shares similar sonic properties as alder, however it’s not as resonant. Agathis is cheap, and is one of the most common types of wood used in newer, cheaper guitars.
Another type of affordable wood is basswood. It’s a soft tonewood that produces a warm sound, however it can’t take much abuse at all.
Mahogany is one of the strongest tonewoods used for making guitars. It produces warm and soft tones, with a great depth of sound. Gibson’s Les Pauls, at least the early ones, were made of solid mahogany.
Maple is the type of wood you will usually find on guitar necks since it’s heavy, hard and very strong. There aren’t many maple bodies out there due to the weight of this tonewood.
Rosewood is a precious type of wood that is too rare to be used for making guitar bodies, but is the main type of wood used in guitar fretboards.
There are three main types of necks: the bolt-on neck, set neck and neck-through-body type.
- Bolt-on neck is self explanatory. It’s a separate piece that is bolted to the body of a guitar. It’s the cheapest option, and the most common one.
- Set necks are glued to the body, and offer more sustain and resonance compared to bolt-on necks. However, this type of neck is hard to service if anything happens to it.
- Finally, there’s neck-through-body design where the neck goes all the way through the body of the guitar, until the very end. This type of neck is considered to be the optimal choice, but an expensive one as well.
Bridge is a device that are used to mount the strings on a guitar, and keep those strings in tune while also retaining perfect intonation. There are many different types of bridges, some of which allow you to create a vibrato effect using a tremolo bar, and more simple ones which don’t offer that feature.
If you want to know more about each type of guitar bridge, you can check out our extensive article on electric guitar bridges for more information.
For the sake of this article, we’ll say that you should choose a bridge that is most appropriate to your skill level. In other words, if you’re just starting out, we strongly recommend that you stay away from complex bridges such as Floyd Rose or Synchronized Tremolo types, and stick to standard simpler options.
Every guitar has some type of pickups on it. It’s what you use to pick up (no pun intended) the vibration of the strings, turn them into a signal, and then amplify using your amp. There are two ways you can categorize guitar pickups.
There are single coil and humbucker, and there are passive and active pickups.
Single coil and humbuckers
Single coil pickups are the older, original design of pickups which come in form of a single magnet that has yards and yards of thin wire wrapped around it. This type of pickup is great for lighter genres of music including rock as they offer a very bright and clear sound. The main drawback of single coil pickups is noise that they produce, which is caused by many things such as magnetic interference.
Humbuckers are the next evolution of pickups which eliminates the noise we just mentioned by having two magnets of opposite polarity being placed close to one another. In essence, a humbucker is a pair of single coil pickups. These type of pickups are more suited for heavier rock and harder genres of music.
Passive and Active pickups
Passive pickups are the standard on axe. They register the vibration of the strings and convert that into a signal that is sent to an amp. Active pickups do the same thing, but in a different way.
The initial output of an active pickup is pretty weak, so it needs an external power source and a pre-amp to boost that signal and send it to the amp. Active pickups not only offer a more stable tone, but they offer a noise free signal that you with much more flexibility when it comes to shaping the signal before it reaches the amp.
– Find the Coolest
Now that we know a little bit about the main elements and how they impact the sound, let’s see what kind of selection is there to choose from on the market.
We’ll divide this next segment into different price categories that cater to different budgets.
Speaking of which, when you’re choosing which guitar you want to purchase, keep in mind that a guitar on its own doesn’t do much. You’ll need an amp, cables, and other accessories in order to use the full potential of the instrument. Keep that in mind when you decide how much money you want to put aside.
– Your First Guitar
Alright, for this category we chose two very basic, but more than capable guitars. These guitars are affordable, which allows you to budget for the rest of the gear more easily. Let’s check out what we have in store for beginners.
Squier is a subsidiary of Fender which makes great copies of Fender guitars for the fraction of the cost. The Bullet we chose to review today is a great basic guitar which brings some of that Fender feel to its users. It’s probably the most popular beginner guitar on the market, and many players used this exact model when they were starting out.
Squier Bullet brings that legendary Stratocaster shape with a body made of basswood. The neck is a standard C shape made of maple with a rosewood fretboard. This guitar comes with a tremolo bridge, which is not something we like on low end guitars, but this one performs alright. The pickups come in form of three single coils with a three position switch that selects each, two tone control knobs, and a volume knob.
<< Demo Button – Squier Bullet offers decent tone, somewhat thin but warm and bright. You can easily use this guitar for rock and hard rock, while blues comes natural to this “Strat”. Overall the guitar is very playable, and has a pretty fast neck. It holds a tune fine as long as you don’t go too wild on the tremolo. For beginners, this is more than a decent option.
Just like Squier is a subsidiary of Fender, Epiphone has the same relationship with Gibson. Their Les Paul Special II is a low cost version of the legendary Gibson Les Paul that brings a pretty decent performance for such an affordable guitar. Even more intermediate guitar players are often taken by surprise by this Epiphone.
Epiphone Les Paul Special II sports a basswood body with various finishes available. The neck is made of mahogany, and features a rosewood fretboard that is a joy to play. Bridge is a standard tune-o-matic that every Les Paul type guitar has, with a StopBar tail piece for better sustain.
Unlike the Squier we mentioned, this guitar features two 700T humbuckers controlled by a selector switch, one tone knob and a volume knob.
<< Demo Button – Those 700T humbuckers are just made for overdrive and hi-gain distortion. You can play anything from blues to heavy metal with this thing, and you will love the sound.
When using the clean channel, you might notice that the tone is a bit muddy, but with a bit of tweaking, you can definitely get a warm clean sound. If you’re planning on playing mostly heavier genres of music, we highly suggest this Epiphone. It just sounds too good on overdrive.
– Under 1000 Dollars Selection
Now that we showed you a good selection of guitars for beginners, let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum and see what kind of guitars are available for $1000.
Gibson Les Paul is probably the one guitar everyone should have in their collection. The Studio T Faded version we’ve chosen for you today is just a steal at this price. If you always wanted a legitimate Les Paul from Gibson, this guitar may be exactly what you are looking for.
This is the cheapest American made Gibson Les Paul you can find. It features a maple top/mahogany back combination that delivers that incredible Gibson depth and sustain. You get a classic rounded mahogany neck with standard rosewood fretboard that features pretty sweet pearl inlays.
The guitar just looks like gorgeous. Humbuckers are slightly different compared to the previous version of Les Paul Studio, and come in form of 490R and 498T units.
<< Demo Button – Sound this thing makes punches way above its price category. It’s Gibson Les Paul in every sense of the word. The new set of humbuckers they chose create really clear but warm cleans and saturated overdrives with lots throughout the frequency range. No matter how you play this guitar, your tone will be defined and crisp.
Gibson really gave us a beast for under $1000, and we feel this is about as good as it for that kind of money.
Schecter Guitar Research is a young brand that builds some of the best guitars geared for heavier genres of music. This is something that not everyone appreciates, but we certainly do.
Schecter Hellraiser C-1 is a very mighty guitar in terms of sound. This thing just brings the thunder in a best possible way. We wanted to add some diversity to our selection with this guitar, especially since there are people looking for something like this.
When you first pick up this guitar, you’ll immediately notice the level of craftsmanship and detail. The body is made of mahogany with quilted maple top, and pretty nice abalone binding all around. This guitar sports a set three-piece neck made of mahogany with a rosewood fretboard that features abalone inlays. The whole thing is just a joy to look at, let alone play.
Speaking of which, the electronics really make this guitar shine. You get one EMG 89R at the neck, and one EMG 81TW at the bridge. These active humbuckers were simply made for metal. The controls for the humbuckers comes in form two push-pull volume knobs, one tone knob, and a three-way switch. The bridge is a Floyd Rose unit.
<< Demo Button – What can we say, this thing is brutal. When used with a distortion pedal or overdrive channel, Schecter Hellraiser C-1 offers an abundance of high gain focused distortion that just blows anything else out of the water.
Since they are active pickups, you can dial in just about any kind of tone you like without loss of definition or clarity. For this amount of money, you probably won’t find a better guitar for metal.
* PRS SE Custom 24 *
Paul Reed Smith has been providing high quality guitars with consistency that is rarely found among other manufacturers. Their SE Custom 24 is an epitome of that policy.
This guitar brings you the Gibson Les Paul sound at a lower, more affordable price, while also offering some of the most beautiful aesthetics in the industry. If you haven’t considered this guitar before, it’s time to put it on your list.
The body of this guitar features a maple top and flame maple veneer with beveled edges. The back is made of mahogany and really flows into the overall aesthetics of the guitar.
Maple neck comes with a rosewood fretboard that sports those classic Bird inlays. As far as pickups go, you one SE HFS treble humbucker and one SE245 Vintage humbucker.
Controls come in form of a volume knob, push/pull tone knob and a three-way pickup selector. Bridge is a tremolo design which works great, and holds a tune without any issues.
<< Demo Button – In terms of sound, PRS SE Custom 24 has a lot of that Les Paul vibe going on. Only in this case it’s a lot more versatile platform. With a good amp you can dial in that vintage rock sound, while you can also achieve a more modern tone.
In all seriousness, for this price, this guitar offers a very versatile sound that has all the qualities you would expect from instruments in a higher price bracket.
– Under 500 Dollars Selection
We saw what $1000 gets you these days, but what is the best under 500 dollars? Even at this price range we are still looking at great guitars that offer decent quality and more importantly great sound.
You probably won’t find some high-end features, but there’s more than few great models that we think are a bargain for this amount of money. Without further ado, let’s see what we got.
Yes, we have another Paul Reed Smith on the menu today, only this time it’s the SE Standard 24. This company simply offers some of the most balanced and overall best guitars in every price range, and we would be foolish to ignore that. This PRS really brings one of the best value for the money ratios we ever saw in this price bracket.
Design wise, PRS SE Standard 24 shares many attributes with the Custom 24. The mahogany body comes in several different finished including a very nice Sunburst that is just beautiful. The neck is made of maple and features a rosewood fretboard with Bird inlays, just like the Custom 24.
Hardware is mostly nickel plated, depending on the finish you choose. Now, pickups are the main difference between the Custom 24 and Standard 24. You get S2 HFS and S2 Vintage Bass humbuckers which deliver a sound pretty close to that of Custom 24. Bridge is an S2 Tremolo unit and performs great.
<< Demo Button – The selection of pickups on this guitar really deserves words of praise. The S2 Vintage Bass neck pickup offers really full and warm tones while the HFS bridge pickup brings that punchy high end to the table. Together these two pickups sound amazing, and can handle anything from overdriven blues to full on hard rock. PRS SE Standard 24 is really a well rounded package.
* ESP LTD EC-256 *
ESP has always produced great guitars with excellent performance and features. Their subsidiary, LTD is definitely sticking to that same policy. The EC-256 we chose to review today definitely brings a lot of that ESP Eclipse sound that most of us like, only at a more affordable rate. Don’t be fooled though, this guitar is not a cheap rendition of the Eclipse.
With a cutaway mahogany body treated with a matte black finish and gold hardware, this guitar is a thing of beauty. The 3-piece set mahogany neck sports a nice contour which makes it easy to play, and is generally pretty comfortable. Fretboard is standard rosewood with binding and inlays.
EC-256 features ESP’s LH150N and LH150B passive humbuckers that are controlled by two volume knobs, one push/pull tone knob and a pickup selector switch. To top it all off, you get a high quality tune-o-matic bridge with a tailpiece.
<< Demo Button – The sound EC-256 delivers is pretty versatile and offers many attributes found that of ESP Eclipse. LH humbuckers seem to be better suited for high gain distortion although they offer a pretty rich clean tone as well.
The sound is generally warm, with a good response throughout the range. You might have to balance out the highs and lows a little, but once you learn how these humbuckers behave, you will find that you can play just about anything with this guitar.
If you love that classic Gibson SG style, Epiphone has a pretty great model for you. The G-400 Pro brings you the style and partially the sound of the legendary devil’s horns in a pretty affordable package. It’s the closest thing to a legit SG you can find, if you want a genuine feel of that ’62 classic.
G-400 Pro features a four-piece mahogany body that is covered with thin but very smooth mahogany veneer. The whole body is finished with a nice layer of transparent cherry coating that really pulls the grains from the wood to the foreground. When it comes to looks, this guitar is a beauty.
The three-piece mahogany set neck brings that classic Gibson C-shaped slim profile that most people find extremely comfortable. Add a nice rosewood fretboard with even nicer inlays to the mix, and you got yourself a real contender.
Electronics Epiphone chose to install in this guitar is a pair of Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers with improved components. After a bit of experimentation, you will find that these humbuckers just excel when pushed hard through an overdrive channel. The bridge is a LockTone tune-o-matic with a brand stopbar.
<< Demo Button – For a relatively affordable Epiphone, this guitar is capable of delivering very rich and snappy tone, especially in the high end of the spectrum. The midrange is somewhat limited, but you get enough flexibility to compensate this in many ways.
Overall the sound is pretty well rounded, and offers lots of versatility. If we had to lock this guitar to a specific genre of music, we’d probably go for hard rock, especially as a rhythm guitar.
– Guitars Under 300 Dollars
Many people thing that you can’t find anything decent under $300, but that is simply not true. This is the segment of the market where most manufacturers fight most aggressively for the customers. Thanks to this fierce competition, we have a pretty great selection of guitars to choose from.
* Schecter Omen 6 *
While the best Schecters are undoubtedly the ones with active EMG electronics, their more affordable models share a good portion of that fierce sound and attitude that made this company the favorite of the metal crowd. The Omen 6 is just one such guitar that we feel delivers a great performance, and looks mighty fine for the money.
In terms of tonewood they chose for this guitar, it’s a middle of the road solution. The body is made of basswood with a nice finish and binding, while the neck is a nice maple thin C design. The fretboard is standard rosewood with pearloid inlays which add a nice touch to the overall aesthetics of this guitar.
The pickups on Omen 6 are Schecter’s own Diamond Plus series of passive humbuckers. Bridge is a standard tune-o-matic with a string-though-body design. Overall, build quality and feel of the guitar are great.
<< Demo Button – Even though they are not active EMG’s like we can find on more advanced Schecter guitars, Diamond Plus pickups they deliver with this guitar are very fond of high gain distortion. You get that signature Schecter sound that is simply perfect for heavier genres of metal. For the money, this guitar is an absolute beast.
* Ibanez RG421 *
Ibanez is known for making very balanced guitars that are versatile and easy to shape into any genre of music. The RG421 is not one such model. This thing is an ’80s metal legend that is made for shredding and heavy distortion. It’s your low cost ticket into that old school trash metal experience.
This guitar boasts a solid mahogany body with a Wizard III three-piece maple neck. The rosewood fretboard comes with white dot inlays and jumbo frets. The bridge is fixed type, so you can’t really indulge in those screaming dive bombs.
However, the pickups compensate for any shortcoming in the bridge design. You got two Quantum pickups that are just shine when you start shredding.
<< Demo Button – When we said this guitar was made for shredding, that wasn’t just a metaphor. Quantum pickups are designed specifically to track fast input that is usually associated with shredding. Naturally, they are also optimized for nice thick distortion with a rich sound that.
The pickups are paired with a five-way selector switch that simply multiplies the ways you can shape your sound.
When people talk about axe, you will rarely hear anyone mentioning Yamaha. In most people’s eyes, they are a brand that does bass and acoustic guitars, and that’s about it.
While they certainly don’t have an overwhelmingly diverse range of axes, they have one model that makes up for it. Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V is a true gem of affordable guitars, and here’s why.
This guitar mimics a Strat theme molded into Yamaha’s own body made of alder. The neck is a maple unit with a rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays. This guitar comes with one humbucker and two single coils which are all controlled by a five-way selector switch. The bridge is a tremolo design that works great and holds a tune just fine.
<< Demo Button – This interesting combination of pickups gives you the tonal range that goes from Stratocaster to Les Paul and anywhere in between. Compared to the previous two guitars we mentioned, this Yamaha offers a more subdued, refined tone. Its versatility is why many consider it to be one of the best affordable guitars, period.
– Acoustic Electric and Hollow Body
Last but not least, let’s look at some acoustic electric guitars, and some hollow body electric guitars that are worth mentioning. We reduced our choice to three models which we think best represent these two categories of guitars.
* Yamaha A3R *
No list would be complete without at least one Yamaha. The A3R is a very versatile guitar that just surprises with its performance and tonal range.
It comes with great electronics that are more advanced and offer a lot of flexibility in terms of sound shaping. It’s just an incredible model for any application.
This Yamaha sports a solid Sitka spruce top combined with solid rosewood back and sides. That fact alone is impressive. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard, and is pretty fast for an acoustic guitar. Guitar arrives with great intonation, ans is very playable in general.
The electronics are where this thing shines. You get the full System 63 SRT package, which means a pickup combined with a preamp. This choice of electronics gives you great sound reproduction and fidelity along with the ability to shape the sound using the on-board EQ.
<< Demo Button – The sound this guitar produces is impressive. It delivers deep but rich bass tones, very open mids and defined trebles. Yamaha A3R has a lot of projection and great volume thanks to a very resonant soundbox and great bracing. When you plug it into an amp, you get a very wide tonal range to work with.
The complex SRT pickup is to thank for this as it has dedicated elements for each string. These electronics can blow any standard piezo pickup out of the water with no effort.
Seagull is one few brands under the umbrella of Godin, a Canadian manufacturer that delivers handcrafted instruments with top end materials for an affordable price. Seagull Performer CW is a mid-range guitar made by some of the best luthiers in the business.
This guitar features a solid top made of pressure tested spruce while the back and sides are made of flame maple. The neck is a silver leaf maple design which is quite a decent wood for this price.
It’s a Dreadnought style guitar with a cutaway that allows you to reach high notes more easily. Electronics found on this guitar belong to the Quantum IT series with a built-in tuner. Overall you get a hand crafted guitar at a price that is hard to match.
This guitar has a very bright and full sound. Trebles and mids stand out with clarity and definition while there is enough bass to fill the void. It’s a punchy guitar but it’s hard to compare the sound to any other model. Projection is great, and there is enough volume at your disposal. Quantum IT electronics do a decent job at reproducing the sound of this guitar.
* Fender Coronado *
You can trust Fender to deliver a fine hollow body guitar that features great craftsmanship, attractive design, and most importantly great sound. Fender Coronado is definitely one of the better hollow body guitars on the market, and has a lot to offer to those who are looking for that vintage sound.
This guitar brings the same legendary design as the discontinued original from the ’60s. Laminated maple body and nicely bound f-holes really define the aesthetics of this guitar.
You get unique tailpiece complements the tune-o-matic bridge just like the vintage one. One of the main differences between the original and this revamp are the FideliTron moderate-output humbuckers.
<< Demo Button – The sound you can expect from Fender Coronado is a clear and defined tone that is unique to single coils, but without the hum that is usually an integral part of these pickups.
It’s spongy, and punchy with a pinch of rude bark when you select the bridge pickup. This odd combination makes this guitar perfect for a genuine country style rockabilly
This concludes our 2017 Epic Guide. We’ve covered most important categories of guitars that the majority of people are interested in and showed you some pretty great instruments in every price range.
Hopefully as you’re reading these final words, you have gained a good understanding of what’s available on the market. There’s not much more left to say other than good luck, and that we hope you find your perfect electric guitar!