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Electric Guitars

There are three basic types of electric guitars.

Play the guitar before you make a purchase. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Play the guitar before you make a purchase.

Electric Guitars

Electric guitars were invented in 1931 (approximately), and music vendors began carrying the instruments in the mid-1930s, according to the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Lemelson Center. In the ensuing decades, the electric guitar spread around the world and became one of the most popular instruments ever invented.

Some of the companies that helped pioneer the electric guitar are still producing instruments, including Gibson. There are hundreds of electric guitar manufacturers around the world offering instruments that range in price from under $100 to over $10,000.

Electric Versus Acoustic Guitars

The sound of a guitar is produced from the vibrations of the strings, which create a tone. In an acoustic guitar, the tone is amplified by reverberating within the body of the guitar. Electric guitars achieve amplification by using an electromagnetic pickup, which transmits tones from the strings to an amplifier that boosts the volume.

Because they operate on different principles, the tones produced by each type of guitar are fundamentally different. The choice between playing electric or acoustic guitars depends on personal preference and the type of music being played. Some aficionados prefer electric guitars because they are easier to play and louder, while some relish the woody sounds produced by a traditional acoustic guitar.

Choosing an Electric Guitar

There are three basic types of electric guitars available: hollow body, solid body and semi-hollow body. Hollow body electrics are usually made of wood and have a hollowed body cavity, which allows the tones to reverberate within the guitar before being amplified by the guitar's pickups.

Solid body guitars do not allow sound to reverberate and depend entirely on the instrument's pickups for amplification. The materials used to make a solid body electric guitar are still important, however, as different types of wood change the way that the strings vibrate, they provide a different feel to the guitar. Semi-hollow body guitars provide a sound that is between hollow and solid bodied instruments.

Whether choosing a hollow, semi-hollow or solid body guitar, the price and quality of the guitar will be reflected in the type of wood (or other material) used to make the instrument and the quality of the instrument's amplification system. The best way to determine how each type of material affects the sound of the instrument is to experiment with different guitars made from various materials. Other things to consider that will affect the sound of the guitar include pickups and the neck and frets of the guitar.

Guitar Pickups

Different pickups provide different sound quality, and there are dozens of pickups on the market. Some electric guitars have a single pickup, while others have two or three. Some guitars have the ability to switch between pickups to change the quality of the tone. Before purchasing a guitar, it is advisable to try playing guitars with different types of pickups installed to compare the sounds.

There are two basic pickup types according to BuildYourGuitar.com:

  • Magnetic pickups: work only with steel strings and consist of magnets and coils. Singlecoil pickups are prone to pick up noise from outside sources such as transformers and other sources of interference.
  • Piezoelectric pickups: works with all kinds of strings including steel, nylon or gut. Dual coil or humbucking pickups use two coils configured to minimize any potential interference (as the coils are electrically out of phase).


Neck and Frets

Guitar necks come in a variety of shapes and the shape of the neck can have an affect on the feel of the guitar and the ease in playing. Guitar necks may have a C profile, meaning that they are rounded in a smooth curve, a U profile, which features more pronounced curvature, or a V profile, which has an angled shape.

Neck length is also important to the feel of the guitar and for the placement of the guitar's frets. The frets are pieces of metal set into the neck that mark the placement of notes on the guitar. Some guitars have 19 frets, while others may have 22 or 24 frets. Higher frets translate into higher notes available to a guitar player. Some rock guitarists, for instance, often play lead guitar using high notes found on the higher frets.

Before choosing a guitar, buyers are advised to play guitars with different neck shapes and lengths to determine the shape, width and length that work best for their particular needs. Guitar necks may also be made from different types of wood, which is important to the feel of the guitar and the ease in playing.

Cost of Electric Guitars

Beginning guitar players should expect to pay between $200 and $1,000 for a high-quality beginner's instrument. There are electric guitars available for under $100, but most experts do not recommend these instruments as they are generally of poor quality.

Purchasing a quality amplifier is also important to maximizing sound quality. Amplifiers are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and range in price from $50 to over $5,000. Beginners should expect to pay between $100 and $400 for a mid-range amplifier system.

Instrument vendors will often be willing to discuss options with beginning guitar players before they purchase an instrument. It is advisable for those looking to purchase an electric guitar to visit a local music store or music school to experiment with different types of guitars before making a purchase.

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