Guitar Accessories – Buying Guide

You’ve bought your guitar and you’re ready to make some guitar music. You’ll need some essential accessories. You’ll probably want to buy some picks, a strap and some spare strings. As your guitar playing progresses you’ll discover a world of accessories to complement your guitar playing and to keep your guitar in top shape.

essential-guitar-accessories

These are some useful accessories:

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Acoustic Guitar or Electric Guitar

Acoustic Guitar or Electric Guitar

The first buying decision is relatively easy — acoustic or electric? My advice — figure out what style of music you most want to play. Forget about everything else. Your first guitar has to nurture your soul.

Like many guitarists, you’ll eventually want at least one acoustic guitar and one electric guitar. But your first guitar should be the one you’ll want to play the most. Don’t choose a guitar because you heard that it’s best to start on an acoustic guitar, or electric guitars are easier to play. Forget that, your first guitar is about making music.

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How to Buy the Best Acoustic Guitar for Beginners

Differences Between Acoustic and Electric Guitars

From a playing perspective they’re the same. Each has a neck, body, and headstock with six strings attached. An acoustic guitar is loud enough to be played without an amplifier. An electric guitar needs to be plugged into an amplifier.

Before you run off to the guitar shop, you’ll want to speak the some guitar-buying language. Here are some terms you’ll see in spec sheets, and hear from the salespeople.

The Parts of a Guitar

The basic parts of the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar are identical. Although, the electric guitar has additional gadgetry.

The Parts of an Acoustic Guitar

parts-of-an-acoustic-guitar
Part of an Acoustic Guitar

The Parts of an Electric Guitar

Parts of an Electric Guitar

Glossary of guitar parts

Back: For acoustics, only, the back will be specified because it may affect the sound quality. Higher-priced acoustic guitars specify woods used in construction. For example: Top: Sitka Spruce. back/sides: Sapele.

Bridge: On acoustics, it’s that wooden plate that holds the saddle (see definition, below). On electrics, the metal piece that anchors the strings to the guitar’s body.

Bridge pins (acoustic): Plastic pins that hold the strings into the bridge.

Body (acoustic): The sound chamber that projects the sound and produces the guitar’s tone.

Body (electric): Contains the electronics and the bridge assembly.

End pin: The metal or plastic post where you attach one end of the guitar strap.

Fretboard: A wooden layer, on top of the neck, where the fret wires are embedded. Also known as a fingerboard.

Frets: the metal wires embedded in the fretboard.

Headstock: The wooden piece at the top of the neck where the tuning pegs are mounted.

Horns (electric): The hornlike shape created by “cutaways” in the guitar body. The cutaways allow access to the higher frets.

Inlays: Also known as position markers, inlays are positioned on the fretboard to serve as a visual reference, helpful in locating specific frets.

Nut: The plastic or bone strip at the top of the neck, just below the headstock.

Neck: The “backbone” of the guitar attaches the headstock to the body, and supports the fretboard.

Output jack (electric) The guitar’s electrical output, where you plug in the cable from the amplifier.

Pickguard: A protective layer (usually plastic) mounted to the guitar’s surface to protect it from pick scratches.

Pickup selector (electric): The switch that allows you to select the pickup or pickup combination.

Pickups (electric): These are bar-shaped magnets that “pick up” the vibrations of the metal strings to create the electrical signal that gets amplified into music. You can think of pickups as microphones for the vibrating strings.

Saddle (acoustic): This is a piece of bone, plastic, or Tusq that sits in the bridge. The strings pass over, and contact the saddle.

Sides (acoustic): Curved strips of wood that connect the top and back of the acoustic guitar. Higher-quality acoustic guitars will specify woods used in construction. For example: Top: Sitka Spruce. back/sides: Sapele.

Soundhole (acoustic): An opening on the top of the guitar to project the sound. This is usually circular or oval. Some archtop guitars have “F” holes like those found on violins and cellos.

Strap button: A metal or plastic post (like the end pin) where you attach your guitar strap. Some acoustic guitars don’t have this button. In that case, you can tie the end of the strap to the headstock.

Strings: The steel, bronze, or nylon strings that run from the bridge to the headstock. This is where the music gets made.

String tree (electric) A metal hook, attached to the headstock of some guitars. It creates a downward angle for the specific strings allowing for better contact at the nut.

Top (acoustic): Also called the soundboard. Higher-quality acoustic guitars will specify woods used in construction. For example: Top: Sitka Spruce. Back/Sides: Sapele.

Truss rod: A metal rod that fits into the neck and provides structural support. You can’t see the truss rod, but you may see a plastic plate on the headstock, adjacent to the nut. This allows access to the truss rod for neck alignment adjustments. Some acoustic guitars access the truss rod through the soundhole.

Tuning pegs: Also called tuning machines, tuning keys, tuners, or machine heads. They’re used to adjust the string tension to proper pitch.

Volume/tone controls (electric): Control knobs to adjust volume and tone of the pickups.

Whammy bar: (electric) Also called a tremelo bar, the whammy bar attaches to the bridge. Pushing the bar in and out causes the bridge to wobble, changing the pitch of the strings.

How to Buy the Best Acoustic Guitar for Beginners

To find your best acoustic guitar, you’ll need to decide if you want a steel-string or a nylon-string guitar. Do you plan on playing your acoustic guitar in a band? You may want to consider an acoustic-electric guitar.

There are three types of acoustic guitar:

  • Steel-string acoustic guitar
  • Nylon-string or classical guitar
  • Acoustic-electric guitar

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How to Buy the Best Electric Guitar for Beginners

Buying a Steel-String Acoustic Guitar

This is the most popular acoustic guitar. The steel-string guitar is played in virtually all styles of music including: country, blues, folk, bluegrass, and rock.

Listen to a classic acoustic performance of “Suite – Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Steel-string acoustic guitars fit into virtually any style of acoustic music from folk to rock. If you’re into acoustic blues, bluegrass, rock or country, the steel-string acoustic is the guitar to buy.

Steel-string acoustic guitars come in a variety of standard sizes from small-bodied “parlor” guitars to large-bodied dreadnought guitars. Typically the larger the guitar body, the louder the volume. Consider your height and your hand size when choosing a guitar. If you’re under five-feet-four-inches tall, a dreadnought guitar may be uncomfortable.

Most guitar makers feature models priced in the $400 to $1,200 range. Some makers also produce the higher-end models. While others choose to produce an affordable line of guitars for the beginners.

Popular High-End Acoustic Guitars

Popular high-end acoustic guitar brands (with models over $1,500) include Martin, Gibson, Guild, Taylor and Collings. High-end guitars are made from select, solid woods (as opposed to laminated woods), and are often hand-crafted.

The great, Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison plays “Here Comes the Son” on a steel-string acoustic-electric guitar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pm3wP6tF8xE

Popular Affordable Brands of Acoustic Guitars

Popular lower-end guitar brands (starting from $200-$300) include: Takamine, Washburn, Yamaha, Ibanez, Fender, Epiphone and Seagull. You can find excellent, playable steel string guitars without spending a fortune. Lower end guitars will likely be made of laminate-wood tops which may not have the rich dynamics of solid-wood, but are perfectly adequate for most guitar players.

Examples include:

  • Seagull S6
  • Yamaha FG700S
  • Fender DG-8S

Acoustic Guitar Pricing Considerations

Pricing factors for acoustic guitars include the types of wood used. Is the guitar top solid wood or veneer? Hand-crafted parts will also drive up the price, as will fancy fretboard inlays, and bindings. The quality of the tuning pegs (hardware) will also be a cost factor.

Steel-string acoustic guitar players

  • Bob Dylan
  • Taylor Swift
  • Jack Johnson
  • Tracy Chapman
  • Tommy Emmanuel

Buying a Nylon-String or Classical Guitar

The sound of the nylon string, or classical guitar is softer and more mellow than the steel-string guitar. Besides classical music, you’ll hear nylon-string guitars in flamenco, bossa nova, and jazz.

Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia plays “Entre dos Aguas” on his nylon-string guitar.

The nylon-string acoustic guitar is also known as a “classical guitar” since it’s used in the classical guitar repertoire. But, it is also heard in a variety of other styles including folk, jazz, and Latin. So, I will use the more generic term of “nylon-string acoustic guitar.”

If you’re a beginner interested in learning fingerstyle guitar, I’d suggest going the nylon-string route. But if I were planning on using a pick for strumming and picking, I’d suggest a steel-string guitar.

Not Just For Classical Guitar

While the nylon-string guitar is designed for playing fingerstyle, nothing says you can’t use a pick (or plectrum). Watch Willie Nelson use his fingers and a pick on his well-worn nylon-string Martin guitar.

A Best Beginner’s Guitar

Some guitar teachers feel nylon-string guitars make good beginners’ instruments. The nylon strings are easier to fret and gentler on the fretting fingers than are steel-string acoustics. For fingerstyle playing, the nylon strings are much easier on the plucking fingers than steel strings.

John Williams plays classical-style nylon string guitar on Bach’s “Prelude from Lute Suite 4.

Because classical music is played fingerstyle, the neck of the nylon-string guitar is wider. The extra space between strings makes it easier to play fingerstyle. But that also makes it a bit harder to fret chords, especially for folks with smaller hands. If you’re looking to get a small person started on nylon-string guitar, you can find student-model classical guitars at 3/4 scale size and smaller.

Some popular classical guitars include:

  • Yamaha CG101A
  • Cordoba C5
  • Yamaha C40 package
  • Giannini GWNC1 Sevilha

Nylon-string acoustic guitar players

  • Willie Nelson
  • Andres Segovia
  • Earl Klugh
  • Sharon Isbin
  • Muriel Anderson

Buying an Acoustic-Electric Guitar

The acoustic-electric guitar is essentially an acoustic guitar. However, it has a built in pickup that lets you amplify the acoustic sound. Both nylon-string and steel-string guitars are available as acoustic-electric guitars.

It’s important to know that the acoustic-electric guitar is not a substitute for an electric guitar. An amplified acoustic-electric guitar is designed to sound like an acoustic guitar, but loud enough to be heard in a bar band, or even in an arena.

If you’re planning on playing in a band, or onstage, you’ll want to consider an acoustic-electric guitar. The alternative is to use a microphone and amplifier to amplify your acoustic guitar. Note that Paco de Lucia, in the video (above) is not playing an acoustic-electric guitar, thus the guitar needed to be mic’ed.

Eric Clapton performs “Tears in Heaven” on an acoustic-electric guitar.

If you plan to play acoustic guitar in a band, or on stage, you may want an acoustic-electric guitar. This is an acoustic guitar that comes equipped with a built-in microphone or pickup. Acoustic-electric guitars can be played acoustically, but they’re really designed to played through an amp.

Besides the built-in pickup, acoustic-electric guitars have a panel with controls for volume and tone (treble, bass, middle). Acoustic-electric guitars often feature a “cutaway” body style, an opening at the guitar’s lower shoulder to allow you access to the higher-note frets.

Other Acoustic-Electric Guitar Factors

Some things to consider before deciding on an acoustic-electric:

  1. The body size is usually smaller than standard acoustic guitars.
  2. Being designed for amplification, the string gauges and general setup can make these guitars easier to play than standard acoustic guitars. This also means the guitar is not particularly loud when played unamplified.

Eric Clapton and John Mayer perform an acoustic-electric duet of Broken Hearted.

Typically, beginners would not need an acoustic-electric as a first guitar. But, if you plan on performing or playing in a band, here are some popular acoustic-electric guitars:

  • Takamine G Series EG340SC cutaway dreadnought
  • Oscar Schmidt dreadnought
  • Jasmine by Takamine ES31C
  • Epiphone PR-4E pack
  • Yamaha F Series FX325 Dreadnought
  • Taylor Guitars 114ce grand auditorium

Acoustic-Electric Guitar Players

Most performers playing an acoustic guitar live, on stage, will use an acoustic-electric guitar, such as…

  • Al Di Meola
  • James Taylor
  • Martin Simpson
  • Michael Hedges
  • Leo Kottke

How to Buy the Best Electric Guitar for Beginners

If you want to play electric guitar, before you buy, you’ll need to consider the four categories of electric guitars.

  • Solid-Body Guitar
  • Hollow-Body Guitar
  • Semi-Hollow Body Guitar
  • Chambered Body Guitar

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Solid-Body Electric Guitars

The solid-body guitar is the most popular electric guitar. The guitar’s body is made from solid block of wood and has these characteristics:

  • The guitar is virtually silent when played unamplified.
  • The solid body allows the plucked string to vibrate longer than it would on a hollow body guitar. This characteristic is known as sustain.
  • The solid body resists feedback, which is important when playing loud.
  • Solid-body guitars are heavier than hollow body guitars.

While sold-body guitars can heard in all styles of music, their bread and butter has got to be rock ‘n’ roll music. Watch one of the best, Eric Clapton, play “Cocaine” on his Fender Stratocaster.

The solid body is the most popular electric guitar. The guitar’s body is made from solid wood and has these characteristics:

  • The guitar is virtually silent when played unamplified.
  • The solid body allows the plucked string to vibrate longer than it would on a hollow body guitar. This characteristic is known assustain.
  • The solid body resists feedback, which is important when playing loud.
  • Solid-body guitars are heavier than hollow-body guitars.

The most easily-recognized solid-body guitars are the Fender Telecaster, Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.

Fender Telecaster

The Fender Telecaster may be the hardest-working solid-body in show business. The Tele (rhymes with “belly”) was the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar. It’s a picture of simplicity: two single-coil pickups, a selector switch, and one tone and one volume control.

The Telecaster is a favorite of country players. But, you’ll find Telecaster players in all styles of music. The one area where you don’t see a lot of Teles, is among jazz players. However Ed Bickert, Bill Frisell and Mike Stern have made some great jazz music with their Teles.

John5 plays his signature Telecaster in this guitar lesson video.

Telecaster players:

  • Bob Dylan
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Richards
  • James Burton
  • John 5

Stratocaster-Style Guitars

The popular Fender Stratocaster defines a “Strat” style of solid-body guitar that has these features:

  • A double-cutaway body design that allows easy access to the high-pitched frets.
  • Three single-coil pickups.
  • A bridge that accommodates a whammy bar.

Strat-style guitars are heard in rock, blues, R&B, country, surf, and any other electrified genre you can think. However, there is one exception. You seldom see Strat-style guitars used by jazz players.

Jeff Beck can do just about anything with his Stratocaster on “Goodbye Porkpie Hat/Brush With the Blues.”

Fender produces a line of Stratocasters that range in price from $600 to $3,000. Prices vary based on woods used in the body, woods used in the neck, electronics, and hardware.

Note: Fender’s Squier brand offers a variety of lower-cost guitars including the Squier Telecaster and Squier Stratocaster. Squier guitar prices start at the $200 range. Other guitar manufacturers offering Strat-style guitars include: Ibanez, Jackson, Charvel, and Kramer.

Stratocaster Guitar Players:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • John Mayer

Gibson Les Paul Guitar — Twin Humbuckers

The Gibson Les Paul features a thick, heavy single-cutaway style with two humbucker pickups. This produces a thick, chunky sound popular among rock, blues, and contemporary jazz styles. It doesn’t have the high-end brightness popular in country music styles.

Slash plays his Les Paul on the classic Guns ‘n’ Roses tune, “Sweet Child of Mine.”

Les Pauls and other, similar twin-humbucking guitars are typically pricier than Strat-style or Telecaster-style solid bodies. Gibson Les Pauls with two, humbuckers start at $800 and on up to $25,000 for custom-shop models. Gibson’s Epiphone brand offers lower-priced models of Gibson guitars. The Epiphone Les Paul starts at around $500.

Les Paul Players:

  • Les Paul, the guitar’s inventor
  • Slash
  • Jimmy Page
  • Zakk Wylde
  • Duane Allman
  • Bob Marley

Note: Gibson has a Les Paul Junior guitar that looks like a standard Les Paul. The LP Junior has only one pickup at the bridge position. As with many Gibson model guitars, there is a lower-priced Epiphone Les Paul Junior.

A couple of noted Les Paul Junior players are:

  • John Lennon
  • Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day
  • Alejandro Escovedo

Hollow-Body Electric Guitars

The hollow-body electric guitar is designed to be played through an amplifier. But the guitar’s hollow body (like an acoustic) allows the guitar to be played unamplified. Played without an amp, you can hear the guitar, but at a lower volume than a standard acoustic guitar.

The hollow-body guitar has these characteristics:

  • The guitar can be heard at low volumes when played unamplified.
  • The hollow body gives the guitar a more mellow, electric sound, as favored by many jazz guitarists.
  • The hollow body is prone to feedback, so it is usually played in “quieter” styles of music like country, blues, and jazz. But, you will see some rock guitarists playing hollow bodies at high volumes, particular players of vintage rock and rockabilly.
  • Hollow-body guitars are lighter than solid body guitars.

Listen to the incomparable jazz tone of Joe Pass and his Gibson ES-137 guitar on “All the Things You Are.”

The hollow-body electric guitar, or archtop guitar, is designed to be played through an amplifier. But the guitar’s hollow body (like an acoustic) allows the guitar to be played unamplified, but at a lower volume than a standard acoustic guitar.

The archtop electric guitar has these characteristics:

  • The guitar can be heard at low volumes when played unamplified.
  • The hollow body gives the guitar a more mellow, electric sound, a favorite of jazz guitarists.
  • The archtop is more prone to feedback and is usually played in “quieter” styles of music like country, blues, and jazz. But, you will see some rock guitarists playing hollow bodies at high volumes.
  • Archtop guitars are lighter than solid body guitars.

Most hollow-body electrics look something like the Gibson L5. These guitars are often referred to as “Jazz Boxes” or “Archtops” as the top surface of the guitar is not flat, but instead bowed, or arched. Watch Wes Montgomery play “West Coast Blues” on his L5.

Affordable Electric Archtop Guitars

Gibson’s line of archtop guitars are very expensive. A new Gibson L5 starts at around $8,500. But Epiphone and other makers offer affordable electric archtops starting around $500. These include:

  • Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor
  • Epiphone ES-175 Archtop
  • Epiphone Emperor

Acoustic Archtop Guitars

The archtop started life as an acoustic guitar. Pickups and electronics were added turning it into an electric guitar. The guitar tops were made a bit thicker to support the electronics, which made electric archtop less desirable as an acoustic.

However, if you’re looking for a jazzy sounding acoustic guitar, you can buy archtops built without electronics. These guitars, have fine acoustic properties. Some affordable acoustic archtops include:

  • Godin 5th Avenue
  • Gretsch G100 Synchromatic
  • The Loar F-Hole Archtop

Archtop players:

  • Chet Atkins
  • George Harrison
  • Jack White
  • Wes Montgomery
  • Ted Nugent

Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitars

Semi-hollow guitars like the Gibson ES-335 and the Epiphone Dot are closer to solid-body guitars than are archtops. Unamplified, you could hear yourself playing, but would barely be heard from across the room. Characteristics include:

  • A solid block of wood that runs the length and depth of the body.
  • Not as thick (between the guitar’s top and the guitar’s back) as archtops.
  • The center block reduces feedback at high volumes.

These guitars are highly versatile and can be heard in virtually all styles of music from hard rock to mellow jazz. Watch Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters rock out on “Best of You” with his Gibson ES-335 guitar.

Semi-hollow guitars like the Gibson ES-335 and the Epiphone Dot are closer to solid-body guitars than are hollow-body archtops. Unamplified, you could hear yourself playing, but would barely be heard across the room. Characteristics include:

  • A solid block of wood that runs the length and depth of the body.
  • Not as thick (between the guitar’s top and the guitar’s back) as archtops.
  • The center block reduces feedback at high volumes.

B.B. King plays, “The Thrill is Gone” on Lucille, his custom, Gibson ES-335.

The Semi-Hollow: A Highly Versatile Electric Guitar

A semi-hollow guitar is highly versatile and can be heard in virtually all styles of music including jazz, blues, country and pop. The Gibson ES-355 was prominent in rock ‘n’ roll history as Chuck Berry’s guitar of choice. While Gibson’s ES-355 is a pricey guitar, Epiphone’s version of the ES-355, the Epiphone Dot, is an affordable semi-hollow guitar.

Other affordable semi-hollow guitars include:

  • Epiphone Sheraton II
  • Hagstrom Viking IIP
  • Hofner CT Club

ES-355/Semi-Hollow Guitar Players:

  • B.B. King
  • Chuck Berry
  • Dave Grohl
  • Larry Carlton
  • Alex Lifeson

Chambered Electric Guitars

Chambered guitars like the Fender Thinline, start as solid body guitars with chambers routed out of sections of the guitar. Of all the various hollow-body guitars, these are the closest to being a solid body guitar. Chambered guitars are:

  • A bit lighter than solid-body guitars.
  • Unlike a solid-body, you could practice unamplified and still hear the notes from a chambered guitar.
  • There is enough mass in the guitar’s body to resist feedback at high volumes.

Being similar to solid-body guitars, you could play virtually any style of music with a chambered guitar. However, you don’t see a lot of guitarists playing chambered-body guitars. A chambered-body guitar might be a good choice for someone who finds solid-body guitars uncomfortably heavy.

Merle Haggard plays a modified Fender Thinline, with a laminated top and without the usual F hole. Hear him on “Mama Tried.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxQbvSjQy9A

The electric chambered guitar is essentially a solid-body guitar with hollow chambers carved out of the solid body. Many traditional solid-body guitars have spun-off chambered versions built for lighter weight and greater resonance.

A Solid-Body Guitar in a Lighter Package

A chambered guitar would be a good choice for a player who wants the characteristics of a solid-body guitar in a lighter package. A popular chambered guitar is the Fender Thinline. It’s basically a Telecaster body with hollowed chambers.

Dierks Bentley plays a Fender Thinline chambered guitar on the “Feel That Fire” video.

Fender also offers a budget-priced Squier Thinline. Other chambered guitars include:

  • Epiphone Les Paul Ultra
  • Godin Radiator
  • Gibson Les Paul Studio

Chambered guitar players:

  • Merle Haggard
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Jim Adkins
  • James Valentine of Maroon 5