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What to check when buying a new guitar?

I have a couple years experience on acoustic guitar (although I haven't played one for a very long time), and wanted to go back to playing but with an electrical one.

How do I chose a beginner's guitar and what questions should I ask when I walk into a store and buy one?

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  • I searched for a dupe, and didn't find it. But you're right, that's a dupe. This should be closed. – slim Oct 5 '11 at 12:44

Electric guitars are pretty simple things at their heart.

Aficionados worry about things like the tone characteristics of the body, but that's a really subtle effect, and budget guitars are unlikely to benefit from good enough materials for that to matter.

The absolute most important factor is action and intonation. Make sure that the neck is straight, the action is acceptable all the way down the fretboard, and that the intonation is good.

One basic check is to play a harmonic on the 12th fret, then an octave. They should have the same pitch.

It's good to have two pickups, so you can choose different tones. The pickups have a much bigger impact on the sound than the body. However, it's fine to start with cheap pickups, since they can be replaced with fancier ones at a later date very easily.

Cheap electric guitars can be very well made nowadays. Check for obvious cut corners, though. Reject anything with badly finished frets. See that the bridge looks nice and solid. Make sure nothing wobbles where it shouldn't.

Decide whether you want a tremolo arm. Many guitarists go their whole career without using one. Hank Marvin never stopped wobbling his. They have a reputation for making it harder to keep the instrument in tune, and that's more likely the cheaper you go -- but if you want the effect they provide, by all means go for it.

Don't buy a super-cheap practice amp. They sound awful. It's better to put an amp-modelling pedal through a hi-fi -- slightly more expensive practice amps such as the Roland Cube are fine too.

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  • Regarding tremolo arm: I am a huge Hendrix fan, and have had several strat guitars, but I have NEVER used the tremolo. The back of strats usually have a plate which can be removed to access the tremolo. You can place a snug-fitting wedge of wood in there to immobilize the tremolo mechanism. So in this case the tremolo has no impact on the tuning. – horatio Oct 4 '11 at 18:01
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    Also, if the fret ends stick out of the neck and cut your hand, that's a problem. – Dave Jacoby Oct 5 '11 at 3:36
  • I didn't realise just how bad fret ends were on cheap guitars until I got my new Ibanez. I don't need to take care at all when sliding down the neck now. Made me consider taking the old ones to a luthier for a bit of fret sanding/trimming (don't think I'd like to risk it myself) – Doktor Mayhem Oct 5 '11 at 14:06

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