Choosing the best electric guitar for your needs can be more than a bit overwhelming. The amount of choice you have in selecting an electric guitar is mind boggling. There are hundreds of styles, all of which are made with different materials and come at different price points.
- Electric Guitar 101: The Basics
- Electric Guitar Terminology
- Top Electric Guitars
Electric Guitar 101: The Basics
Electric guitars are relatively simple instruments; The vibration of the strings is transferred to an electronic signal by magnetic pickups, and that signal is transferred to the speakers of your amplifier.
Well, that’s actually kind of a hard question to answer. No matter what genre you play, you’re going to want a guitar that will work well with that type of music. Shredders wouldn’t be caught dead using a vintage Epiphone Archtop, and blues guitarists probably aren’t going to pick up a solid-body Ibanez with DiMarzio pickups.
So first things first, you need to decide what you want your electric guitar to do. If you want to break out your skin tight leather pants and release your inner Eddie Van Halen, you need to find a guitar that will help you do so.
As a general rule, single-coil pickups (like what you’d typically find on a Fender Stratocaster) are used for lighter genres, while humbuckers (like what you’d typically see on a Les Paul) are used for heavier ones.
Electric Guitar Terminology
Humbucker: A humbucker pickup is what you’d find on something like a Les Paul. This pickup uses two magnets to cancel out the “hum” (static interference) that you get with single-coil pickups. The sound of this type of pickup is generally a bit warmer than a single-coil, and it generally handles distortion better.
Single-Coil: Single-coil pickups only use one magnet. This type of pickup generally sounds a bit thinner, but it has a better upper-mid to treble frequency response.
P90 Pickup: P90 pickups are the middle ground between single-coil and humbuckers. They tend to be bit warmer than single-coils, but they still have the same hum.
Tremolo/Bigsby/Floyd Rose: Tremolos, Bigsbys, and Floyd Roses are all different types of bridge configurations that allow player to change the pitch of the strings by shifting the arm.
Semi-Hollow: A semi-hollow guitar has two hollow chambers, giving the guitar a bit “woodier” of a sound. This body style is more prone to feedback than a solid body guitar, but less so than a fully hollow body.
Hollow: A hollow guitar (like the Epiphone Casino) has one hollow chamber. This type of body style has an almost acoustic sound, but it’s incredibly prone to feedback.
Active Pickups: Active pickups allow guitar players to achieve higher amounts of gain, though they require an external power source (generally a 9-volt battery) to do so.
String-Through (or String-Thru): In a string-through bridge, the strings go through the body. Generally this bridge configuration is considered to have more sustain than other types.
Top Electric Guitars
The guitars we discuss today have been around long enough to be time-tested and have established legacies. Many of these guitar designs were introduced long ago and have evolved over decades and they are listed in no particular order. They all available today in some form and all are a great way to get into playing the electric guitar.
Gibson Les Paul
The guitar that made Les Paul a household name, the Gibson Les Paul is among one of the most iconic guitars ever produced. Originally introduced in 1952, the Les Paul was a combined effort on the part of Gibson’s president Ted McCarty, factory manager John Huis, and Les Paul.
Originally, the Gibson Les Paul came equipped with two P-90 pickups, as well as a trapeze style tailpiece. The model has seen dozens of different models and revisions in the decades following its release. What we now consider to be the traditional Les Paul configuration (a Tune-o-matic bridge and dual humbucking pickups) was introduced in 1953, and was marketed under the moniker “Gibson Les Paul Custom.”
The Gibson Les Paul Standard also features a maple cap on the top of the guitar which is unique to the design and enhances both sustain and overall resonance. PAF pickups were the original humbuckers used on early Les Pauls. They were designed by the venerated Seth Lover, who went on to become one of the most respected names in aftermarket guitar pickups.
The Les Paul guitar is perfect for classic rock, blues, and believe it or not jazz. The guitar was originally intended to be a dedicated jazz instrument, and though it hasn’t been widely used for the genre in recent years it is still capable of producing a quality jazz tone. The Les Paul is also a very convincing reggae guitar, as evidenced by its use by Bob Marley. While the Les Paul has been used for everything from reggae to jazz, the instrument is most suited towards good old rock and roll. However, the instrument can perform well in almost any context and is considered one of the more versatile guitars.
Founded in Fullerton, California in 1946, Fender is undoubtedly one of the most influential companies in the history of music. The company has manufactured guitars that have been played by some of the most important musicians in living memory, and has created a legacy that will survive for centuries.
At the time of its invention, the Fender Stratocaster was the guitar that performing musicians had always dreamed of. It was the first electric guitar to feature three pickups, and it also boasted a unique and innovative spring tension tremolo system.
The Fender Stratocaster has been used extensively in almost every genre imaginable. The guitar was used to great effect by both Eric Clapton and the Beatles (George Harrison and John Lennon used the guitar on early Beatles albums), as well as musicians as diverse as Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
While the Stratocaster has gone through a wide variety of changes since its introduction in 1954, the modern incarnation still has a lot to offer players.
Aside from inarguably being one of the most influential guitars in history, the Fender Telecaster has a long and storied career in music. The design was the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar. It’s simple yet effective and durable design broke new ground for luthiers everywhere.
Initially introduced as the Esquire in 1950, Fender’s first solid-body electric guitar came equipped with either single or double pickups. The Tele is a continuation of one of the most popular designs in the world, and it offers a distinct tone.
Gibson released the ES-335 in 1958 as the world's first commercial thinline semi-acoustic archtop. It is called semi-acoustic because the guitar features a solid block running through the center with acoustic wings with violin-style f-holes on either side, giving the guitar a unique tone.
The ES-335 is popular in genres like jazz, blues and rock.
The Fender Jaguar was introduced in 1962 and is one of the most popular offset-body guitars in the world today.
It has a smaller scale length than many of Fender's other guitars like the Stratocaster and Telecasters, so many players with medium-sized or smaller hands find this guitar comfortable.
Originally popular in surf music, it has found favor in punk, rock and shoegaze.
The Ibanez JEM first appeared on the scene in 1987, the JEM line is the signature series of virtuoso Steve Vai. As you may have guess, since this guitar was co-designed by Vai, it is most popular with shredders in prog rock and metal.
The Gibson Explorer was originally released in 1957. It did not sell as well as Gibson hoped and was discontinued in 1963. Thankfully, it was reintroduced to the Gibson lineup in 1976.