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