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I have been playing acoustic guitar for quite some time now. I'm not a beginner but neither am I pro. I'm now looking into buying an electric guitar. My questions are -

  1. What do I need to check/lookout for when trying out the guitars?
  2. What kind of amplifier should I go for?
  3. What are the other necessary items needed with an electric guitar?
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I would seriously consider putting the amplifier part of this into a separate question. –  neilfein Apr 12 '11 at 6:37
    
@Neil Fein So should I ask another question that specifically deals with amp? –  Anonymous Apr 12 '11 at 12:52
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@leonine, Yes, it really does warrant a separate question. It's generally encouraged here to split up multi-part questions in to individual questions so that each can get a definitive answer and in order to help people searching in the future. –  yossarian Apr 12 '11 at 13:51
    
@yossarian I'll keep that in mind next time. This time though, I think I'm done, thanks to some excellent advice from you and others. –  Anonymous Apr 16 '11 at 15:07
    
This is awfully broad. I'd prefer to see separate questions about what to look for in an amp and what equipment might be needed. I've removed the price info to avoid it being a shopping recommendation, though I think it could still be improved. The answers don't devolve into shopping recommendations, though, which is good. –  Matthew Read May 27 '11 at 23:16
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7 Answers

When it comes to buying your first electric guitar, you want to take your time, try not to rush into it. Once you have found a guitar that suits your intended playing style, and price range, there a few things it would be a good idea to check.

  • The action: if the action of the strings is too high, it could make playing difficult and uncomfortable for you. If it is too low, you may experience the dreaded fret buzz.
  • Make sure the neck is straight. A bent or warped neck is really not good.
  • Quickly check the intonation: play a 12th fret harmonic, and then the 12th fret note. They should be at the same pitch. If they are not, that needs to be fixed.
  • Check the tone and volume controls work, along with the pickup selector and possibly the tremolo, as Stuart suggested. Check every pickup works, and that it sounds clean. It should not be too hissy or crackly.

Most decent guitar shops offer a free setup with each guitar purchase. Get one done anyway, even if the guitar seems fine. A well set up guitar is a joy to play, one with no setup at all can be an annoying and frustrating experience to play.

With your first amp, I would recommend a small solid state amp. Again, as Stuart mentioned, Line 6, Marshall and Fender all market a very good range of beginner amps, with, in my opinion, The Line 6 Spider IV series being the most versatile and probably cheapest.

In terms of other accessories, you need a cable (the amp does not come with one), a guitar strap, and picks. I would suggest getting a range of pick weights/thicknesses and find your preference, even if you already have a preferred pick when playing acoustic.

I would also suggest a clip on chromatic tuner, so you can tune quickly. You may already have one if you play acoustic, but if not, get one, they are invaluable.

Hope this helps! :)

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-1 because I hate the Line 6 stuff and I think intonation and action aren't relevant as those are fixable issues. The rest of the advice is right on target though. –  yossarian Apr 11 '11 at 13:43
    
Yeah, cheapo Line 6 gear is pretty grim, but it is cheap and does the job of being a cheap first amp well. Thanks –  Ali Maxwell Apr 11 '11 at 13:49
    
I think the line 6 is one of the worst "clean" sounds I've ever heard on an amp. It's terrible. The distortion is passable for the price. But I think it's totally worth spending a little more and getting a Vox that will last you for a lot longer. –  yossarian Apr 11 '11 at 16:18
    
@yossarian @gomad below also suggests Vox amps. I'll have a go on them. Thanks. –  Anonymous Apr 12 '11 at 12:49
    
@leonine, personally, in that price range, I'd get a Vox amp and a PRS se guitar. That's a little over your budget (Total $650 - $800), but would be a very nice set up that could grow with you for 5-6 years. –  yossarian Apr 12 '11 at 13:55
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First of all play it and make sure it feels good and suits your style. Check there are no buzzes and rattles from the fret board. Make sure all the switches and controls work. Check the tremelo works ok if it has one. Make sure the action is ok. Check the paintwork for any scratches etc. Try and buy from a reputable shop and all the above should have been taken care of. You will need a guitar, amplifier, strap, lead, and some picks.

Try and get an amplifier with a clean and dirty sound on it. Line 6, Marshall, and fender all make some well priced versatile amplifiers.

Take plenty of time selecting amps and guitars otherwise you will be back in the store in a few weeks looking for new gear.

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I'd also suggest taking a look at the Line 6 PODs and similar effects boxes. Not for effects but as a cheap amp substitute. You can practice with headphones, and it stores in your gig bag (or case). It's a cheap way to get started, and while you're practicing you can be saving up for a better amp. Then, when you do get a proper amp, you already have some effects to play with. I have the low-end model, and it even has a built-in tuner that works at least as well as my standalone low-end tuner. –  Anonymous Apr 11 '11 at 12:32
    
By "check the fretboard", that means to systematically intone each string at every fret. There are few things more disconcerting than buying a new guitar only to find that certain notes buzz or have other defects due to manufacturing issues. –  Anonymous Apr 11 '11 at 19:53
    
Thanks @Stuart Moir. Some people are against Line 6 amps (see answers below). Could you elaborate on "Try and get an amplifier with a clean and dirty sound on it" Also, some amps come with effects. Is that a standard thing or more like depends on manufacture thing? Thanks! –  Anonymous Apr 12 '11 at 5:52
    
@Leonine - and some are against other brands of amps. Everyone has a different opinion. You should have a listen to a few and see what YOU like. Clean and dirty refers to 2 channels, one with distortion. As for effects - reverb is fairly standard, but there is a wide range. –  Dr Mayhem Apr 12 '11 at 7:39
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Don't spend too much money on a guitar. When you start playing electric, you'll have a hard time distinguishing between different guitars. Once you've been playing for a while, you'll be able to tell huge differences in the size of the neck, scale, pickups, body, neck joint, etc. But prior to having much experience, you won't be able to tell what it is you really want.

So start cheap (relatively speaking). In the US $300 will get you a decent guitar and $450 will get you a nice guitar. There isn't much reason to spend more than about 500-600 for a first electric (if you think that doesn't qualify as "don't spend too much", I hear you, but you're in for a shock later in your guitar life).

Don't worry about the intonation or action. You can have someone fix that stuff. However, you want to check that the guitar feels well constructed. Do the tone and volume pots move smoothly? Is the neck straight? Does the fretboard fit the neck well? Do the joints look well constructed and clean? Are the frets set cleanly in to the fretboard?

In the lower price range, you can get a lot of variability in construction (you can in the upper range too, unfortunately, but not as much), so you want to make sure that your guitar is well built. Do not order a guitar sight unseen, play before buying. Think about who your favorite electric artists are and see what guitars they play. If they all play something similar, I'd look at that style of guitar for a first go around (a cheaper version, obviously). I'd plan on replacing any first guitar eventually. So don't worry too much about the decision.

You will also need an amp and a guitar cord, maybe a tuner. It's also worth picking up a spare set of strings.

For an amp, I disagree with the Line 6 recomendations. I've had a couple students go that route and they universally hate the sheap Line 6 stuff. The clean sounds are absolutely terrible. You can't really go wrong with Fender or Marshal, however, my absolute favorite starter amps that I recommend to all my students are the Vox Valvetronix. For under $200, these amps sound awesome and will grow with your playing for a lot longer than other stuff in the price range, in my opinion. Again, $200 might sound like a lot, but it's worth it (and it's not a lot, just ask my wife about the $4000 amp I keep bugging her about).

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I think for $200 you should expect something with good action and intonation as soon as you get it home. You shouldn't need to pay anyone (or spend time) correcting stuff like that. –  slim Oct 5 '11 at 12:46
    
@slim, I disagree. It's super easy to fix and $200 is almost nothing for an electric guitar. If you're a beginner and don't know what you are doing, you should get a setup on your guitar anyway. It's worth doing for any guitar, pretty much regardless of price. –  yossarian Oct 5 '11 at 13:27
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I have a friend who is a guitar builder and his advice to me on this topic was quite interesting

He told me to concentrate on the sound of the guitar rather than how it feels to plays because it is often the case that any guitar can be made to play pretty good if you get it setup by someone who knows what they are doing

That said, the cost of doing a guitar up can skyrocket pretty easily so if you can find one that feels right to you that is definitely the thing to go for. Also keep in mind that guitars in the price range you are looking at tend to not have the best pickups so if you find one that sounds pretty lively and bright acoustically chances are that you will be able to up the sound quality pretty drastically just by sticking some replacements in there later

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+1 This is interesting. –  Anonymous Apr 12 '11 at 12:58
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This answer contains most of my advice for guitar selection, no matter what the situation.

As far as amplifiers go, I would follow the same general route: try some, and pick one that works for you.

For a specific recommendation, I like Vox amps. My years-old AD30VT provides good amp models, fantastic genuine-tube dynamics and picking response, and all the effects I need except a standard wah. I also like the power-damping capability that allows me to get high-drive breakup at bedroom volume levels.

But your mileage may vary depending on what you want to play. I also love my Line 6 Pocket Pod for portability and headphone practice - or for using a stereo as an amp in a pinch!

I offer up one final piece of advice for all these equipment-recommendation questions, and like all good advice it comes in the form of a story:

I was trying to pick the items for my first electric rig, and I was terribly nervous. I had little idea what I wanted, less certainty about what I wanted to play, and I had the standard jitters about "What if I don't end up liking this guitar thing?" It was a lot of money to plunk down for something that had hit me out of the blue. I was analyzing everything, reading every review, and generally driving myself insane.

My wife said, "Remember, this isn't the only guitar you're ever going to buy. It's just the first."

And I understood what she was getting at. I was trying to optimize every facet of my decision. I was trying to get a guitar (and amp) that would do everything, that would be perfect for anything I wanted to do. And I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible, in case I ended up dropping the whole thing. I just calmed down, and focused on getting something that worked for me at the time.

I still have and still love the gear I bought then. Occasionally, I consider upgrading to a newer Valvetronix because lights and buttons are shiny and cool. But nobody will ever tear my SZ away from me. Calm down. Stop optimizing. Take care of now.

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When it comes to buying an electric guitar, there are a lot of things to look into. If you start listing them all, then it will look like a "things that I want to do in my life".

Form your question it feels to me that you don't know much, when it comes to buying electric guitar. Its good to know what to look for when it comes to buying one. But rather then deciding on these factors, take someone with you who knows about electric guitar and also knows about what AND how you play.

Picking a suitable guitar varies a lot form person to person depending on their play style. Though, selected according to the "101-ways-to-pick-the-best-guitar" might not be the best one for you.

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"Form your question it feels to me that you don't know much, when it comes to buying electric guitar" Yes, thats precisely why I asked this question. I'm aware of this part- "Picking a suitable guitar varies a lot form person to person depending on their play style. Though, selected according to the "101-ways-to-pick-the-best-guitar" might not be the best one for you." I needed to know what technical stuff I should know before shell out the money. Thanks. –  Anonymous Apr 12 '11 at 12:56
    
@Leonine Hey, don't take that offensively. I was just trying to say, apart for the technical details there are other important thinks to look at :) May be, for beginners those are more important then technical details. –  iamcreasy Apr 15 '11 at 15:31
    
None taken :D I was trying to clarify the reasoning behind the question. –  Anonymous Apr 16 '11 at 15:05
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AMP The question is do you really need real amp? Nowadays you can buy multieffect box, it cost like budget amp (below 100USD) and contains simulation of speaker, some virtual amps and effects. At home you can play with headphones, in rehearsal rooms there often are amplifiers, concert halls have own loudspeaking system you can plug into using your box in any of this applications.

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