iStock_000011970017XSmallMust be something in the water lately… I’ve been getting a LOT of emails about choosing a first electric guitar. So many such that I thought it time I give you some tips here.

Tip #1: Decide On Your Budget First

If you can spend $500, there’s a guitar for you. If you can spend $2000, there’s a guitar for you. If you can spend $200, there’s a guitar for you. See the pattern?

There are a variety of guitars in a variety of price ranges. Set your budget first and don’t go over it unless a particular guitar compels you to do so (more on that later…)

Also keep in mind that once guitars hit about the $1500 and up range, you tend to be splitting hairs. There isn’t really a “better” or “worse” at that point, they are just different.

Tip #2: Play Many Guitars

The more guitars you can try, the better you’ll learn what you like.

Some guitars have humbucking pickups and some have single coil pickups. Listen to the sound of guitars with both and decide which sound you prefer.

iStock_000014640293XSmallLes Paul style guitars (Gibson and Epiphone guitars in general) tend to have a “short scale” which is 24 3/4 inches of vibrating string length. Fender (Strats and Teles) guitars have a “long scale” which is 25 1/2 inches of vibrating string. That means that for a given pitch, the longer scale guitar will require more tension on the strings.

That can, however, be mitigated with a change in string gauge, so this is not an exact science. Also, some Fenders (Jaguars and Mustangs  I believe) have an even shorter scale still, like 24 inches. PRS guitars are often somewhere in the middle between “short scale” and “long scale.” So options abound.

Neck widths also vary widely, as does the radius of the fretboard (how curved it is.) All of these things go into a guitar’s general feel. So if you can pinpoint the things you want, it’s much easier to find a guitar that suits you.

Tip #3: Don’t Worry About Quality (Much)

10-15 years ago, purchasing a guitar that was made overseas in China, Vietnam, or Indonesia was a 50/50 proposition. About half the guitars I saw from those places wouldn’t have made good firewood, let alone guitars that played well.

Today, that’s changed a LOT and I’m really surprised by many overseas guitars. Especially in the $400-$800 range, but even in the $200-$400 range. So if you can’t take home the guitar in your hands (see Tip #4 below) you can at least be comfortable that it should be fine and won’t fall apart in less than a year (I’ve seen it happen.)

With all that said, if you are playing a guitar from a brand you’ve never heard of, be wary. Check the major music retail sites and see if that brand can be found at any of them. If not, it’s a smaller brand and you may want to move along.

Tip #4: Take Home The Guitar In Your Hands

No two guitars are the same, no matter what they say. You can take 2 Squier Strats off a wall, in the same color, with nearly identical serial numbers, and they won’t be 100% identical.

So when you play a bunch of guitars and you find one that “speaks” to you, take that one home. It’s common for a salesman to say, “Let me grab you a new one in a box from the back,” but tell them you want the guitar in your hands. They can put the one from the box on the floor to replace the one you’re taking.

If the salesman insists on you taking the one from the back, make sure you play it first and you are comfortable with what you’re taking home before you pay your money.

In the event that you HAVE to order the guitar and cannot try it first, make sure to order from a reputable place that accepts returns and be prepared to send the first one back. I’ve had good luck with Sweetwater, Wildwood Guitars, and Musician’s Friend. All will take a guitar back if it doesn’t work out (but always double check that first.)

This isn’t so much of a deal with the high end guitars, as there isn’t going to be one in the back in a box.

Tip #5: Get It Setup Right Away

Yes, it’s an extra expense, but in my experience as soon as your new guitar gets home and gets a few hours of playing time, it’ll need some attention. Guitars are wood and flexible, they adapt and settle in their environment.

iStock_000001256830XSmall1I have been known on more than one occasion to not even take a new guitar home, but instead take it straight to my repairman for a good setup. You certainly don’t have to do that, but I encourage you to have it looked at by a professional in a couple of months or maybe even less. Don’t have the strings lowered too far, they should be comfortable to play, but if you are a beginner you aren’t going to be subtle and you don’t want unnecessary buzzing from hitting things hard.

Finally, don’t spend your life looking for a guitar. If it’s your first, it certainly won’t be your last so don’t fear making a mistake… there’s always next time… and the time after that… and the time after that.

Got any more tips for buying your first electric? Share them below and maybe you’ll help some fellow newbie out…


    93 replies to "How To Choose Your First (Or Next) Electric Guitar"

    • dominick arruzzo

      I recently purchased an Eric Rifftone guitar. Not only does it sound and play great but it looks fantastic. They design them with artwork and will even do custom orders. Their stuff is on Reverb and they have all 5 star reviews. I was skeptical at first because they are relatively inexpensive but I am extremely happy with the quality.

    • Dave S

      The Indonesian G&L Comanche Tribute, with Z- coil pick ups and the PTB system is a great guitar. Got one used for 450.

    • Jimmy D.

      I love this subject! I love guitars! But I have never purchased one new! I currently own about 100 guitars and each and every one is pre-owned. I really get a buzz from the “hunt”. It’s usually a really great experience buying someone’s guitar. I have made a few great friends doing so. While new is good….don’t be afraid to buy used. There are probably 1,000 suitable used guitars for sale within a 10 mile radius of where you live and at least a few of those will be great players and even greater bargains! Happy guitar hunting to all!

    • Patrick

      Griff, there is something in the air, I just bought a new Fender 60s Road Worn Strat! Normally, I am a Gibson guy, but that Strat tone was calling.

    • brian stern

      I am 65 years old and playing since i was 10.My hands are not very big ( unlike my gut these days) and have a struggle finding guitars that fit me comfortably. Les Paul’s? been there. guild-the same. Always came back to a fender for hand comfort. However, I always loved Gibson and Epiphone’s 355’s but they weren’t a good fit .Searching the net I found a 335 style guitar-actually a starter guitar by a company called Firefly. It sells on Amazon for @ $140.00 and plays great. The neck is fantastic. The frets are smooth and level, the electronics are nice and it really sounds nice. So good that I bought it in 3 different colors! Plan to vary the setup on each for different uses but it is worth checking out.

    • TK

      Thanks Griff! This post just cost me $600! I relocated in the process of semi-retirement, and in the months of hassle did not pick up any of my guitars more than three times, other than to refill humidifiers, and I had forgotten about my three year hunt for a Fender Mustang. Ended up buying one 30 minutes ago. Hope it’s half as purty as it looks on Reverb! Picking them all back up again soon. 😉

    • tracyanne

      Also, check out Fan Fretted, or Multi Scale Guitars, you may just discover

      1. the tonal qualities are better/more interesting/sweeter

      2. fretting and playing in general is easier, as Fan fretted guitars tend to follow the natural movement of your hand.

      I play one that a friend, who is a Luthier, built for me, I love the tone, and I find it easier to play, as my wrist, which I broke some years ago, is a little stiff.

      The Chinese are making some very nice Fan Fretted guitars at under $1000 price ranges.

    • Bob

      Squire by Fender Classic Vibe series tele’s and strats are an excellent value. You can get either for $399 new and they play like a dream and have excellent build quality for their price range. They are a great option for a first guitar or for someone who wants to venture into the world of Fender. I own both and I’m very pleased with them.

      • Craig

        I worked at a guitar store for quite a while and I agree with you 100% also check out the thin line tele

    • Mark d.

      What a great article Griff thank you very much all of my guitars are used my first one wasn’t Epiphone Strat for a hundred bucks plays great but doesn’t stay in tune got lucky found a squire Strat at a flea market got it for 40 bucks I’ve never done anything to it other than change the strings. I also agreed with the gentleman that said to you check out guitar fetish . The Earl slick guitars are awesome I bought one for a 149$ in a tele configuration. I’m telling you that is a great guitar for $149. All in all the $40 squire is the best guitar that I’ve played. It even feels better to me and plays better then my buddies very very expensive Gibson Les Paul. Don’t be scared to check out pawn stores flea markets and garage sales. Thanks to everyone for all their great comments😎😎

    • Steve

      Great article and great advice. You WILL buy other guitars and you’ll love each of them for what they meant at that time and how they played and sounded. I honestly would have difficulty remembering just how many different guitars I’ve owned since I got my first Fender for Christmas at 13 years old.

      I’ve played in bands and done one-man shows with Fender Strats of various styles and colors, but my guitars and guitar playing took a complete turn in a new direction a couple of years ago. I stumbled across a video on YouTube by Shane Speal, who builds, sells and preaches the gospel of hand-made 3-string guitars. I was blown away by how cool these things sound as well as the idea of actually making your own guitar! How cool would that be?!

      I’m not a woodworker, carpenter of handyman. I can’t hammer a nail into a 2×4 without bending it over. But I was so intrigued I decided I’d follow some directions on YouTube and try to make one. Long story short, the guitar turned out great and playing a 3-string guitar was a whole different ballgame. I had wanted to learn how to play slide guitar for many years, and 3-string cigar box guitars are geared for slide style blues playing.

      Of course you don’t have to make your own, plenty of people like me make them and sell them. I’ve made about three dozen guitars since the first one and it’s been one of the most enjoyable and challenging hobbies I’ve even had. Would highly recommend you get yourself a 3-string cigar box guitar. If you’re into blues, then you should get acquainted with what the original blues players played ~ very primitive, hand-made guitars made from cigar boxes, a board and some fence wire. This will really expand your blues knowledge and “feel” and maybe open up a fun new guitar world for you.

      • Dick Frederick

        Great fun! CBGs maybe humble , but there great fun with or without amps or frets!
        Blessings, Dick aka Fearless Freddy

    • John D.

      Sound advice, Mr. G. H.

      You could give Clapton or even a local bar band person my worst guitar and give me his best guitar. He/she would blow me away.

      Amazing volume of response to this topic.

      I enjoy the acquisition process more than the actual possession and I have gotten used guitars from people who got on the wrong path to playin’ and gave up. I have done that myself and in 2008, I sold several nice guitars because I was frustrated over zero progress, despite 15 years of stubborn persistence.

      The light bulb moment for me was when I stopped trying to play like Clapton plays after 60 years and try to play like he did on his first day, and then try to play like he did on the second day.

      I am still only borderline competent, but I’ve been having fun and I now know what it’s called playin’

    • David

      I have been playing for just over two years – never struck a note before I retired in 2017. I have progressed from complete beginner to . . . well, . . . a pretty poor guitar player, but that is a long way! I finished the Beginning Blues Guitar book, and am about half way through 52 Riffs and Fills, have 15 of Griff’s 20 Turnarounds sort of under my fingers, and am loving How to Jam Alone on Your Guitar. I use other internet sources, but BGU stuff and Active Melody are my main ones. So, I’ll give you a rank beginner’s journey on guitar selection. I started with a Gretsch Electromatic hollow body electric because the local shop was selling them (wanted to support the local guys) and it looked cool (pale green). I didn’t (and still don’t) know enough to know what neck style suits me best, but it sounds decent on my Roland Cube amp. My next guitar was a Klos full size carbon fiber acoustic electric because it is nearly indestructible and the neck screws off so you can take it in a big suitcase – I don’t go anywhere without a guitar now. It has lighter strings and is easy to play, and sounds pretty good to my ear. I just bought a “mint” 2018 Breedlove Frontier solid mahogany parlor acoustic electric guitar on Reverb that I picked up in person in SF. I chose it because I wanted an acoustic guitar made of wood, it looked pretty (to my eye), is made in Bend, OR, has been reviewed well, and was about 60% of the price of a new one. I love it! I practice about 2 hours a day, and rotate through my three guitars so I am comfortable with different instruments in my hands. For my next birthday, I’ll probably get my first solid body electric – thinking maybe a Fender Meteora. I am way too intimidated to play a guitar in a store around other people. I do inflict my music on my friends, and play my guitar at them once in a while. I am convinced that I will eventually find that perfect guitar that will suddenly turn my playing into a cross between BB King and Roy Buchanan – yeah, that’s the ticket!

      • Tim Mooney

        Hi David
        Tim here in Australia. I’m coming over your way soon. How could I contact you by email to discuss three string further?
        Tim

    • bstrings

      I say at first dont spend to much maybe $200 or $300 make sure your going to stick with it. After a year or shorter you will know. Then do your research and decide what you want and how much you want to spend. And for me I stick with American made guitars hard to go wrong.

    • Jack Grady

      My first love is a 1965 Telecaster, that purchased new in 1965. White with a blonde maple neck, it has stood me in good stead for over five decades. I have other guitars as well, including a beautiful Gretcsh my children gave me, but the Telly is till my go to. I did refinish the body to be natural wood tone, with a black pick guard because I was so impressed by the look of Keith Richards’ guitar. Left everything else original. It plays beautifully and sounds even better. My advice? Try it and you will know when you have found your true love: the guitar will speak to you: “Take me home. I’m yours”

    • tony

      Oh yeah that first one for me was a beat up harmony with dart holes in it. I have 6 guitars now. one is a acoustic a Avalon I had a pick up installed so I could play the guitar part of the Eagles tune take it easy . It never happened the band fell apart . I had a squire strat made in china not good . Found a kramer 1000 set up with a floyd rose bridge don`t know why it was installed on such a inexpensive guitar . after i reset everything and changed out the bridgeI play it a lot . also changed out the pick up to a modern one . I got a kramer 2000 and put the old floyd rose bridge on that guitar and put Seymore duncans it screams . I have a mexican fender strat 2002 it was new old stock and it had to be set up which I did and it is a wonderful sounding guitar . I have a yamaha strat and its nice sounding also . I have a les paul by epiphone heavy guitar and has Seymore Duncans on it sounds okay plays good. All in all the very best all around is the Mexican strat . I paid 500 bucks for it on ebay . It was a gamble because I was not able to play it before but had a return policy on it . When I did buy the Kramer I was able to play it . Its made in Japan and is highly prized find . I paid 250 and is now with the changes is worth about a grand. I found another set up exactly as I did selling for a grand on ebay . I collect guitars as You can see and do all the work on them as well if You have any mechanical knowledge You can learn to set up and modify Your own custom guitar. Griffin I think You could find a new set up guy You got way too much buzzing going on with some of your axes . That`s just my opinion. No offence . Oh I borrowed a 59 gibson sg with a bigsby sway bar looks like Chuck Berry`s guitar wow what a sound hollow body Today that guitar sells for about 30,000 grand . Good hunting !!!!!!!

    • Al

      In addition to my 3 acoustics I’ve owned a Fender American Standard Strat that eventually I didn’t like. I’ve also owned an Indonesian Epiphone Jr that I couldn’t get to hold tune and believe me, my tech / luthier / repair guy tried EVERYTHING to get it right. I took his advice and bagged the JR. Some low budget offshore axes are good and some are garbage. It’s a crap shoot at Best. After throwing too much good $$ after bad I still wasn’t happy chasing the ” good cheap guitar” idea. I don’t know about other players but if it isn’t being played it gets sold and it did (at a loss). I finally found my “only” electric in a used 07 ‘ Gibson Melody Maker that appeared on Craigslist for $400. Worth every dime. It turned out to be everything the Epiphone wasn’t and all it needed was a professional setup.

    • Gordon

      Of course a big probem for beginners and those who are not so good at playing like me is that you can try lots of guitars, but it’s a little embarrassing in some stores when you’re not sure what to play and can’t play very well. Some stores have sealed booths and hopefully the salesperson leaves you alone… 🙂
      Hopefully just trying some open chords and simple barre chords and a scale and picking the strings will help get a feel for what you might be able to do, but the pressure can sure be on. I suggest that if you feel uncomfortable, go for a walk and coffee and have a think.

    • Doug Walker

      I found a big difference in volume and sound quality between an all wood Martin and a laminated back and sides by another company. Big price difference as well. But I reckon worth it.

    • Donovan Hulbert

      No matter how much you pay for it even if its $50 at a yard sale, get it set up the best that it can be. There is nothing more frustrating than playing a poorly set up guitar, especially for a beginner. I spent years messing around with the set ups myself in the 80s because we had to. There wasn’t a guitar store around every corner. I still would recommend do that for someone else as well but if you don’t feel your ready for that spend another $50 and get someone to do it.

      • Joseph Tetro

        Nice article, could you send out a little explanation on the difference between major brands,? I have Gibson’s and Fenders but a newbie may like to know whist is more forgiving.
        Thanks

    • Ron

      Just my two cents. I noticed that No one in these comments suggested that you find a size guitar that’s comfortable to your size. I’m a rather big guy and smaller guitars are more difficult for me to play. They just don’t seem to fit well. When trying them out try to find one that’s appropriate for your size. The more comfortable it is the longer you’ll play.

      • Ray Schwanenberger

        Ron that is an excellent point. I have tried a few ES335 and they are just too big for me and feel unbalanced over the knee. However, I love the sound and found that an ES339 works very well and I do enjoy the sound.

        • Lou Hudson

          Seconded. I bought Epiphone 335 and 339s at the same time, because the offer was *riduculous*. The neck on the 335 was just too wide for my hands and I sold it within 2 weeks. Sometimes a guitar just doesn’t “fit”. Meanwhile, the 339 has a gorgeous mellow sound and 10 years later still stays in the “rotation”.

    • Michael Chappell

      Hey Griff,
      Thanks for the Tips and for all the tips on this page, all very helpful. I started to learn electric guitar back in Jan 2013 and started with a Suzuki Telecaster in Sunburst colour with white pick plate, stunning and stunning sound, Reduced from AUD 400 to AUD 100 Loved it and I still love it.

      Then looking for different sounds:
      Got over a period of 3 years the following: All New
      * ESP LTD Twin Double Humbers..Gutsy Sound like Les Paul but A$300 in White
      * Squire Strat present.
      *Epiphone Dot 335 Semi Hollow Twin Humbuckers in Cherry red A$650 with hardcase.
      *Epiphone EJ SCE 200 Electric Acoustic Jumbo Flat Black cutaway plus Gibson strings Including Hardcase and all set up by shop.. All my guitars are set up and re-strung by my retail shops of trust..
      *Valencia Acoustic Electric Guitar (25yrs old) second hand paid about A$200 20 yrs ago still has a good sound and was my first guitar back then for mucking around on to see if I would like it.Still love it..
      Line 6 Practice AMP & Marshall 100 Watt Amp..

      I now have all my sounds and gaining more and more experience with BGU courses and Griff..

      I have tried the Gibson Les Paul @ A$ 2,500 also Gibson 335 and Fender Strat all around A$3,500 they are all great guitars but give similar sounds to what I am getting and I am still learning..so when I win the Lotto I will go on a cruise with my wife..All good.

      Thanks
      Michael-Sydney-Australia June 2017.

      • Tom the Hacker

        I recently bought a Squire strat for my (sort of) adult son and his pals to play so they wouldn’t trash my Telly and LP Studio Special and I’ll be danged if the Squire doesn’t feel and play the best of the bunch.

        • Rick Voeltner

          You got that right, it is sometimes the luck of the draw when choosing the right guitar. My first was a Sears Sivertone, back in 1964. Had a 150 watt sivertone amp to go along with it. But for me the real deal was in practice along with a metrodome and the cromatic and blues scales. It flung the doors wide open for me. Just saying.

          • David

            If you watch the video of “GREG ALLMAN ALL MY FRIENDS” you will see Jack Pearson playing a Squire Strat through the whole show. I know Jack and he is almost always playing a Squire, even when he got up & played with Joe Bonamasa at the Ryman!

            • Keith Brown

              You can always get some Fender parts and bolt them on a Squire to come up with a pretty good guitar. The necks come with the decal, so nobody will know the difference!

      • Michael Chappell

        Hey Griff, Since my comments above in June 2017, I have progressed along your the lines of your Blog here which has been a great sharing of your knowledge and experience. Since then I have purchased from my Trusted Music Store another two plus a Squier Strat as a present from my wife, now have 8 guitars. The last two; one was a Fender Squier vintage 50’s semi hollow Tele with twin humbuckers (has a different sound to my Suzuki Tele). I had played this guitar in the store a few times but did not quite like it at the time so passed on that one hanging. I played another one much later and started to like the sound for what I was looking to do by tuning it to Open G or use only 5 strings like Keith Richards, but still had no feel for the one in the shop so I ordered another one. Had to wait about 2 months.. I then played it in the shop and requested to change the strings and lower the the bridge just to improve the feel.. Now OK. For the Fender Squire Strat Classic Vibe 50’s a repIica of the 57 Strat but newer electrics, had to order it as this model completely sold out across Australia.
        I had to wait about 3 months and asked for the strings to be changed and lower the Bridge, when I took delivery I played it in the shop and it had a really good feel but the Bridge had not been lowered and I felt it. They suggested I try it for a few months so I have given it about 10 months and I will need to have the bridge lowered. This guitar was crafted in China for Squier. My other Tele was crafted in Indonesia. I paid around AUD $800 for each. I like the Squier Electric Guitars because they are much lighter than the heavier Fenders Strats & Teles. I now prefer Elixir strings as they last much longer.
        But as you said you are always on the look out for good guitars that have the sound you are looking for by your progression in songs and Blues.
        Thanks
        Michael -Sydney- Australia Nov 6th 2019.

    • Warren

      I think a lot of first time buyers get taken advantage of at the retail music stores when they buy a new guitar. A lot of the time, you can find a good used guitar for a fraction of the cost of a new one. And if you haven’t played that long, you’re definitely going to transition and develop your particular sound and preferences. So if you’re extremely wealthy, buy, buy, and keep buying until you find something you like. If you’re watching your pennies like most guitarists, consider a good used instrument that has been checked out by a professional or experienced guitarist that you trust. Then, when it’s time to trade up, you don’t lose so much. Heck, you might make a profit on it. And as already stated in previous comments, almost any guitar will need to be set up……figure that into the cost of your purchase.

    • Lorne Hanson

      Man, I had a Gretsch Electromatic (Korean) that was sweet. Then, I got a deal on a new PRS SE Zach Taylor (Les Paul style). I sold the Gretsch because I never played it. Love, love, love the PRS and it was only $349. Same thing happened when I bought my Martin D18V. Had to sell the Gibson J45! Didn’t play it anymore!

    • Rick

      Hello all
      Really apretiate all you do Griff. I agree, play as many as you can if your shopping for that one guitar and when you find it don’t hesitate. I tend to buy used and out of the ordinary. If you find a used one that you like, get it. If it was going to fall apart, it already would have. If your shopping for your first guitar, do your research first and by a decent one just for resale if this thing doesn’t work out for you. Hopefully it will though. My first was a strat copy that my dad bought in Vietnam, have no clue what happed to it. Made my second in high school. , no clue what happened to it either. ( I grew up in the 60s and 70s). I finally bought a 73 les Paul, thought it was the best thing ever. Played many gigs with it. Then a strat loved it too. I have bought and sold to many to list. I loved every one, and not happy that I sold any of them. If you like it buy it and keep it to use. They all have a purpose. You or someone in your family will be glad to have it

    • Keith Serxner

      Years ago I bought a Samick….they make guitars for Epiphone. It looks like a beautiful book matched Gibson. Great sound and feel. Maybe it was $250. I have strats, Gibsons, G&Ls,Ibanezes, Danelectros and two kits. The feel is what is most important. The sound is…..whatever the sound is. When Paige and Plant came out of retirement, Plant was playing a Danelectro.

    • John strickland

      Your article is spot on. For a first electric, I would go for an Epiphone and cheep and easy to play. I went into Guitar Center with the intent to buy a Taylor. I played everything they had and finally decided on a Breedlove 25 year adversity Presuit. Never looked back.

    • ken

      I built my first guitar out of walnut in 1957.Never again.I love the kits out there. You can make some really nice guitars from them.There is also some real junk. They don’t have to be expensive to be good.As far as foreign guitars I kind of like the ones made in Indonesia. The quality and set up are very good if you really look at them.I went int Guitar center with $3000.00 and decided I wasn’t going to be so cheap and buy my self a really good Gibson or Fender.I left with a Epiphone sg cost $120.00. The only one of that type I liked after hours of trying the high dollar ones. I also bought a squire tele. I loved the sound and action all for another $120.00. Those are my favorite along with the musicians friend double cut kit. Out of ten in the house the last 3 are my favorite.They all sound great through my 1980’s Fender concert 2 amp. The amp is modified to the tones I love from the 60’s. Now I.m into building custom amps.At 75 years old and playing since the 1950’s this is my retirement hobby.If you are looking for a guitar try all you can until you find one you like no matter what the cost and you will keep it for a long time.

    • Midnight

      Yeah, truth here. I bought a Fender Deluxe American HSS (Shawbucker) on spec, without playing it, and it’s clear after some months playing that we’re not in love with one another. Loretta will probably have to go.

    • Børre Thoresen

      There are thousands of both youngsters and adults out there who have tried to play. But surrendered. Try to buy a used one. Many of them are almost not used. Here in Norway you can get ok. Guitars between 50-300 USD And as they say here, play, play, play. I am 70 and have had and have more guitars of different brands. But I have not been dedicated enough to get anything but some chords that can be used in cozy parties. So do not spend a lot of money on your first guitar. Good luck!

    • TA Ratko

      I have one electric guitar – Fender Highway One Tele creamy white with a rosewood fretboard and fat frets, about $800 new from a small guitar shop. It looks sharp! The store set it up for me with a 6-piece Stratocaster saddle instead of the 3-piece that comes stock. This setup makes it easier to keep it in tune.

      My acoustics include a 1976 non-electric Epiphone dreadnought that my mother played in her church group band; a Martin mahogany acoustic electric 12-string; a Taylor 214ce (my beach and sitting around guitar); a mahogany Taylor 516ce that is maybe my fave; and, a drop-dead gorgeous Taylor 900ce that has a gorgeous, still-evolving voice. I still have the first acoustic guitar I purchased in 1974, a Yamaha parlor guitar that cost $100 back then!

      I almost never play my Telecaster at home, but have taken it out to a number of open mike jams – most fun one can have with one’s clothing on, IMHO. I’ve taken to heart Keith Richards’ view that one must master acoustic to get a handle on guitar.

    • Bruce

      Great article great advice. Picking a new axe can be very intimidating. There are so many guitars to pick from. All of these points will make it much easier to find the guitar that is right for you.

      • PAUL

        I HAVE HAD SO MANY GUITARS IN MY 40+ YEARS OF PLAYING GUITAR AND SINGING. I USE TO MAKE CUSTOM GUITARS FROM SCRATCH .JUST WOULD BUY THE NECKS. DID NOT HAVE THE EQUIPMENT TO BUILD NECKS. THEY WHERE CALLED DRAGONFIRE CUSTOM WERKS. I HAVE 1986 AMERICAN STRAT AND A 1969 LES PAUL I LIKE MY STRAT, BUT I MADE MY OWN TO SUIT MY STYLE AND GET MY OWN SOUND. THERE WILL NEVER BE AN ELECTRIC GUITAR WITH A CEDAR TOP OUT THERE! I MADE THE BODY FROM BIRCH AND THE NECK IS A FENDER STRAT, WITH MY HEAD STOCK DESIGN. THEY HAD AIRBRUSHED DRAGONS AND CHINESE CHARACTUERS ON THE BODY . MY CEDAR TOP SOUND GREAT EVEN GUITAR CENTER WAS THRILLED WITH THE SOUND AND THE LIGHT WEIGHT. ACTION IS PERFECT AND INTONATION IS SET. THAT’S MY GUITAR EVEN WHEN I PLAYED A GIG, I WOULD USE THAT GUITAR AND MY STRAT.

    • Bruce

      My first electric was a Fender Starcaster strat. Learned to set it up by watching YouTube and downloading Fender’s owners manual. Bought a Line 6 Spider 3 modeling amp next. After talking to a friend who saw a Jay Turser JT133 at a pawn shop I bought it for $200. Had it set up at a small boutique guitar store. I replaced the tuners with Grovers ($50). Wonderful sounding semi hollow body that looks much like Clapton’s Es335. Sold the Starcaster and Line 6 to an excited teen and bought a Blues Jr. Humbolt model as I wanted a tube amp. No more strat so I found a Nashville Deluxe Telecaster at Guitar Center. Honey Blonde with Maple Neck. I can make almost any music I like now with these guitars and I have less than $1300 invested.

    • Andy

      I just purchased a Gretsch G5420T from Sweetwater. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase and customer service. The guitar plays great and looks fantastic. I also have a Washburn 12 string acoustic ($300) and a Sigma I inherited from my Dad when he passed. I think the most important thing is to play,play, play, as many guitars as you can before buying.

      • "JD" Gemmell

        Hi Andy …. you are so right – play, play, play; And TAKE YOUR TIME SHOPPING – a valuable lesson I was given from a now accomplished lead guitar player in a darn good local band.

    • Rick

      Brain must not be connected to finger #1, DeArmond is a X155! The AF 105nt would be an Ibanez, an outstanding guitar in its own right, wanted one till I found the DeArmond! Wish I’d started playing 60 years ago, though, with young fingers and brain!

    • Chris Nation

      Martina has a very valid point. Beware ‘headstockitis’, a condition which may well cost you a lot of money for a disappointing guitar. I bought a 2nd hand Fender Strat Deluxe F.S.R. (Factory Special Run). Fabulous looking guitar, ebony fingerboard, fancy tone controls – but horrible thin-sounding Fender Noiseless p/ups and fret-sprout on the high E side that would grate cheese.

      Sold on for no loss. Good riddance. Got a Stat Plus with those creamy Lace Golds and a neck to die for. I had to sell as I was going broke … I´ve got 2 more Plus’s and neither have that same fabulous feel under the left hand as the first one, so Griff’s advice of taking home the one that feels right is sound advice.

      Look out for the Strat and Gibson-slayers – Ibanez. I have a great Roadstar 135 (s/s/s). I love the sound of the Fender TBX tone control, so I installed one of those with Tonerider ‘City Limits’ p/ups.

      For a humbucker guitar, take a lok at the Artcore range. I just bought a superb Artcore AM73, very Gibson 339 – but for GBP175 inc shipping, a steal.

    • Rohn

      Great comments makes me feel right at home im not the only one that has had and still do many guitars. Their like women beutiful and you want them all. I have had many guitars mostly semi hollow 335 types. I learned something though because of 2 guitars I Had a Gibson 335 and a Les Paul custom both beautiful guitars but I wouldn’t play them cause I didn’t want to scratch them lot of $$$$$$$ tied up in those 2 guitars so I sold them and replaced them with knock offs. you know I cant tell the difference and im not worried about hurting the replacements. someone here say MIM Squires are good guitars, theres a sunburst 1 locally for sale 100.00 think ill go buy it cause I want a Sunburst Strat. beats paying a bunch for an american Strat. this just happened to me last month I sprung for a Sunburst American strat on ebay, the seller was a rip off artist they never shipped the Strat. Ebay refunded my Money after a fashion so be careful if you deal with mail order. later

    • Joanne

      I recently bought a brand new Fender T bucket. ( an inexpensive acoustic electric ) The first thing I did was take it to a tech for new strings and a setup. Money well spent. I play it a lot and love it.

    • JACK FLASH

      That was very helpful. I don’t have alot of cash so cheap guitars are all I can look at. I have Rocksmith 2014 to keep it in tune but I think my Suire H.S.S. needs to be looked at. I think maybe the strings need to be lowered after a year and a half of about 3 to 4 hours a day of practice. Like Griff said I practice in spurts and my back sometimes is the main culprit for the amount of time that I can stand or sit. I am thinking of getting a Joe Bomassa Epiphone Treasure electic guitar from Sweetwater but need to save so I can make a good down payment. Everybody seems to think that I have millions of dollars or something,,,don’t understand that….Maybe you could do one on pickups…Have your setup in the treasure chest but do not know what you had done to your pickups…I have a list of your pickups but no cash….

    • Jesseray

      Good advice. Though I have several high end expensive guitars, I have far more cheap ones. (Some new some used)
      Many of these inexpensive guitars play/sound as well if not better than the costlier ones. ( And many of them were purchased online.)
      It is MOST important to find the one that feels/works for you… I recently bought an older used Koren Strat. ($400 with case.). My guitar guru friend loved the guitar….thought it a REAL players guitar…. But not having his abilities…it doesn’t feel that way to/for me… Be your own judge.

    • Wal Callaby

      If I had to add a #6 to your list, Griff, it would be not to buy new if there’s a good used one out there, and don’t fret about cosmetic damage- you’ll put your own dings in the lacquer soon enough. And watch the weight too. My Hondo LP and Squier Tele are both seriously heavy beasts, and therefore do not get played as often as the cheapo 60s Teisco Guyatone, which is featherlight by comparison. Oh, and don’t go overboard on pickups. Sorry Strat fans, but for the blues you really only need a good neck pickup- my ‘go to’ guitars are all ‘juniors’…

      • Al

        Take it from a former bass player, get a fatter strap. It makes the weight of the guitar lots easier on the shoulders making the second set or extra practice more comfortable.

    • Steve

      Great advice Griff. I’m with you on taking home the guitar that feels right in your hands, not “one just like this” from the back room. And you’re also right that there will be a next guitar…and a next…and a next. I don’t even know how many guitars I’ve bought at this point. And now I’m also making them, just to make sure there are plenty of guitars for everybody. 🙂

    • Wayne

      I’ve played guitar for over 30 years now although I’d still not compare myself a professional like Griff. He is truly amazing and up until around 10 years ago all I knew were a handful of open chords and had never taken the time to learn more. Since then I’ve learned scales, bends, hammer ons, and more importantly for myself is a lot of theory. I’ve said all of this to point out I’ve learned at least 80% of it from Griffs videos. He is truly an amazing instructor with a vast amount of knowledge on teaching guitar and it’s no different with choosing and purchasing a guitar. Take notes on all of his advice and apply them when purchasing a guitar and I promise you will not go wrong. Thanks griff, your truly an awesome guitarist as well as an instructor. If I lived within 100 miles from you I’d be bugging you every week for private lessons. Take care all

    • Neal Sims

      My advice is to,find a guitar dealer you can trust. I had a local small music store where they set up every guitar for free. Prices,were,comparable to the big Guitar Center stores. Unfortunately they closed and now I drive into Seattle to find a store like that.
      Then take it back in every rear or so for a tune up. Things change in a year. The way you play changes and you might need a different set up.

      • Rick

        + 1 on the local store and buying used! Bought a used SG Classic and DeArmond AF105 NT
        Used, couldn’t be happier, especially the price of the DeArmond!

      • Jim

        Hi Neal, where in Seattle? I’m in Tacoma and am always looking for a good place to take my Firebird.

        • Neal Sims

          I play mostly acoustic so I go to Dusty Strings. Great place.

    • Kevin

      A couple of years ago I bought a Charvel Desolation Soloist made in China for $499 and was amazed at how the quality was better than the original Charvel’s from the 80s. Same with the cheap Jackson guitars which I have played.

    • Greg

      I’m probably the king of cheap guitars. A Mexican Fender Strat I got from a buddy, a nearly functional Gibson Sonex I’ve had since college in the 80’s, a Chinese Tele, a Korean Gretsch, a real Takamine, and I still have the first guitar I got, a really crappy Kent (just like Bruce Springsteen’s first guitar!).

      Frankly, I’m blown away by the quality of the $600 Gretsch and even the $100 Tele. The big orange hollow body Gretsch is just beautiful to play and look at, I think it’s one of the best starter guitars out there because you can play it plugged in or not, and it’s loud enough unplugged to hear easily, but not so loud you’re going to annoy everyone you live with when you practice.

      The Tele was a total surprise. I bought it on a whim, expecting to be disappointed since the company selling it is known more for cheap HDMI cables than musical instruments. But, it plays great, the fit and finish is just as good as my Strat, the hardware is really nice, and it makes all the right sounds, which is why I wanted one.

      We seen to be in a golden age for inexpensive quality guitars. Just read the reviews, try to find people talking about the one you’re interested in online, pick a reputable retailer, and if possible, play it in person.

    • JB Stein

      Strats not starts

    • JB Stein

      Exactly correct; no two guitars play and sound exactly the same. I played at least 10 starts the day I bought my USA made standard American strat ( sunburst- a beauty as well). Professionally setup- as u rec. Also own several Martins- best one is D-18 Golden era- beautiful balanced sound none of my others- even a D-28 can match. Also own one Gibson AG pro from Guitar Center. Again played many guitars before that one spoke to me- it sings. Only one of two acoustics I have with a pick-up installed as well. Beautiful sound – distinct from the Martin. Great for blues. All professionally set- up. Made huge difference. Keep up the great work Griff. Please comment on need ( or not ) for guitar humidifiers. I keep all my guitars in their hardshell cases- in cool location. THX.

    • Len Canter

      Excellent Advice !!! Especially Tip #5..Get it Set Up ASAP for your own playing style.

      Experimenting with different strings will help. Lots of good manufacturers and different gauges of strings out there, Recently I changed strings on my 2003 Acoustic Gretsch G3713 Historic Series from Elixir Lights to Ernie Ball Bluegrass. The Elixir Strings were more comfortable, but I wanted to know what Bluegrass Gauge would do for the sound.
      Wish I’d known about “Set Ups” and Lowering Strings when I got my first guitar, a Sears & Roebuck Acoustic Silvertone in 1958. The strings seemed to far from the neck, etc. If I’d had it set up right, it would have saved a lot of frustration and i might have progressed more with the guitar.

      I’m retired and have several guitars; Including a 1997 Gibson Les Paul, 2013 DiPinto Galaxy 4, 2014 G&L Comanche, 1992 Ibanez Universal 7 String, 1992 Gretsch 7594T White Falcon, 1998 Gretsch G6120 Nashville, 2015 Gretsch, G5022CWFE A/E, and others. What feels good and sounds good to you makes a difference in your mood and attitude. At my age , i figure I need all the help I can get for creating a passable sound that others might enjoy.

    • PatB

      My first electric was an Ibanez RG series from a pawn shop my instructor worked in. $125.00. Crappy color with sparkles and dinged up, pups of unknown origin, but I liked the neck. I have carried it all over the country on airplanes, dropped it and jammed it in car trunks. I still play it and set it up for slide. Great slide neck. Easy to adjust with an allen wrench. It sounds really good with my Nace amp and I don’t apologize for it. It looks good between the Gibby SG and ES339SH. Still trying to get my friend to sell me his Mexican Squier. Play everything you can get your hands on and one will choose you. Incidentally, my experience aside, you will be more likely to play/ practice with a guitar you like the looks of.

    • Alex Mowatt

      Great advice as usual Griff. Being somewhat long in the tooth before reaching the ‘jump in feeling’ as far as electric guitars is concerned I favour a Fender Stratocastor. That is largely because many of the UK role models such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck play them a lot.I do appreciate there are probably a million enthusiasts that will disagree with that statement, and that there more electric guitars out there than you could shake a stick at. I am governed by a few factors, price, past mind-set, inexperience of handling very many guitars for consideration, my age and likely playing life expectancy. None of that will deter me from my final goal of owning on. I have several acoustics and an electro acoustic resonator but not a full on electric guitar – so far. Good to read your take on selection all the same. Keep up the great work. Alex.

    • JimT

      Agree with much of what you and others have said, Grif. I would add a couple of things that I have found to be true for me.

      1) Don’t buy an ego trip, i.e. buy a ‘name’ guitar to impress anyone. There are dozens of really good guitar manufacturers out there other than the name brands that will impress your friends. Buy the guitar that fits you.

      2) Buy a guitar to PLAY not sit in your living room to admire. It’s an instrument meant to make music not reside in a display case.

      3) If you’re like me in that you’ve basically only played in smaller venues with bad acoustics and constant noise surrounding the band, a good $500 guitar will sound exectly the same to 99% of the audience as a $3500 guitar and you don’t have to obsess about someone stealing it or spilling beer all over it. Especially if you can snag an $800 guitar used or on sale for $500.

    • Stan

      My dad was a pretty good plank spanker, he gave some advice when I first started playing and for me it has been very good advice. He said, son if it don’t sound good unplugged it probably won’t sound good plugged up to your amp . Meaning if it really rings out and sustains well without amplification she will sing for you when you add your amp and toys. Now you have a gem of guitar, a keeper. Hope this helps someone in the hunt for that sound, that tone, that elusive sweet spot on your knobs and buttons.

    • John Y

      When picking out a guitar of course you want one that sounds the way you want it to sound, plays the way you want it to play
      , etc. those are must items but you can check a couple of other
      things that will only take a minute and could save you a ton of grief later.
      Take each string and tune it down and back up a step or so.
      If any of the tuners are too hard to turn , now is the time to
      have them fixed, before you leave the store.
      If the store where you are shopping has a luthier on site
      take the guitar over to him and let him check the neck for
      straightness and ask him to check it at every fret for a buzz
      or a discord.
      At a reputable shop they will do this gladly and free of charge and faster than a novice ever could.
      Remember it is your money… make it work for you

    • Mr P Griffin

      I find that Shecter Guitars are brilliant guitars and not too costly to buy.

      Check a Shecter out 1st before you purchase an electric guitar !!!

    • Mike B

      I’m kind of a newbie. I’m 60, and just started learning a couple of years ago. I inherited an Epiphone SG from my son. I really wanted a Strat that I could afford. Found one on an Ebay auction. It’s built from parts of other guitars, has a narrow body… Maybe Japanese or Korean? I’ve loved it from the minute I first played it. Since then, inspired by this experience, I built one myself, using an American Strat body and a MIM maple neck. It cost me more and in some ways I still prefer my Ebay Strat.

    • Michael

      I purchased a Gibson Les Paul Studio 2017, but I couldn’t get it to sound right through my Fender Blues Jr. Amp. I decided to return it and got the Fender Start Eric Clapton model and it sound great and seems easier to play than the GIbson.

    • Mark Wales uk

      Cheers Griff
      For the advice I purchased a fender telecaster modern player a few years back I wanted a good little work horse
      To save my 1980 les Paul and 1999 fender blonde from wear and tear
      I did try it out with a fender twin reverb as I use after playing it I asked the guy in the store to play abit and try out the different
      Pickups as I stood back and had a listen since purchasing the guitar I’ve played it everyday some guitars make you want to play and others don’t
      I picked it up for a steel plus I had him to chuck in a new set of strings
      And I named her Brenda 😎🎶

    • Ray Kraft

      Three years ago I saw a used Ibanez archtop on the wall at Guitar Center, played with it awhile, took it home, fell in love, used but I couldn’t find a scratch, $375, original $800. Three years later I now have 5 Ibanez archies and they’re all fine, each has its own voice.

      You can buy a good new Ibanez Artcore archtop for around $400, great value, good blues and jazz instrument.

      One thing I think is very important, find a neck that feels comfortable to your hand, fingers. This is very personal. Fender and Ibanez are my favorite necks, PRS, Gibson, don’t feel right, but that’s just me, maybe perfect for you. If the neck isn’t comfortable you won’t like to play it.

    • bob parsons

      I am an accoustic guy….love my Larrivee…made in BC, Canada…tried many others but as you say “it spoke to me”.

      I also have an Epiphone “Les Paul”…….plays well but very heavy…..will look for a Fender type.

      Good advice…thanks Griff.

    • Mike

      Hi all, I have never had the pleasure of owning a high end guitar, although I have played a few. My favorite guitar that I own is still my British made semi acoustic Wilson that I bought in 1972. All my guitars (9 to be exact)are in the £500 range and I wouldn’t change any of them.

    • Bill45

      I believe Sweetwater includes a professional setup with every guitar. Plus their equipment (besides guitars) usually comes with a free warranty even if other retailers charge extra for a warranty. I have always had a good experience with Sweetwater.

      • Steve P

        Have two Sweetwater guitars.
        Had each set up after I played them for a bit.
        Has nothing to do with Sweetwater.
        Gibson j45 Gibson Memphis 335.
        Brought them to a private luthier.
        Authorized by Martin & Taylor.
        It’s worth it.
        Sweetwater experience always positive.

    • cowboy

      good advise Griff…and the good news is that there is that are so many good playing guitars being made…with the used market better than ever…I usually won’t buy unless there is a good sale or used price…its easy to want more than one…later.

      cowboy

    • Ken Widger

      Good info Griff. I have put together kits from the far east, cost me $79 on eBay. All the parts are there. They indeed are cheaply made, but if you have some chops in the “good with your hands” area, you make your own guitar.
      That finished guitar was under $100 and it plays nice. It is no Les Paul though it doesn’t look bad, sounds a little funky, but certainly worth the time and money. (Change out the cheap hardware for some good stuff and you will add $500 to the cost.)

      I build guitars from scratch, and I have found that if you know how to set up a guitar properly, you can have a real sweet ax for not much money.

    • BB

      I feel happy to learn the decision making how to purchase electric guitar . I may go in for same in a few months . I have noted the main points . Thus I will be able to get good piece and set up .
      Thanks Griff

    • Jyff

      I’ve had phenomenal luck with dent and scratch models. Some of them I still can’t find the blemish. They’re always reduced price.

    • Billy

      All good points. Try to develop a relationship with your local guitar store if possible. They will learn the things you like in a guitar. A good dealer can make a difference and offer honest advice. Do not feel pressured into buying something from a pushy salesperson.

      Also, try to play through an amp similar to what you have at home. It will be easier to match the tone you heard in the store when you get home.

    • Mark M (UK)

      You’re absolutely right Griff about no two guitars – even the same make and model – being the same. I’ve tried quite a few over the years and I recall buying a Gibson Les Paul in 2002. I tried three, the one I bought felt 20% lighter than the other two and the neck is like butter – smooth and creamy. Don’t be afraid to look at really old discontinued guitars either, certainly made in Japan ones. I received a 1971 Jedson Les Paul copy for Christmas. (A Jedson was my first guitar in 1976). Book matched top, stunning bridge pick up. It’s been well used but with a pro set up / new frets and strings it is fantastic. In fact I use these two as examples as the Jedson is a pick any time and play/practice/abuse guitar – the Gibson is such a work of art it rarely sees daylight. Pick a guitar you’re not frightened to scratch with picks and belt buckles – it encourages practice and the Jedson was eight times cheaper than the Gibson. Whilst writing – thanks for all your good work Griff.

    • Doug Evans

      Don’t overlook the used market. You can find some tremendous values in that arena plus if it doesn’t work out, you can typically sell for close to what you paid. 👍

      • legoge47

        But I’ve heard that you need to avoid the cheap guitars from pawn shops.

        • Ray Kraft

          Keep your eyes open. I got a beautiful red Squire Strat (Fender) from a friend who got it for her daughter who decided learning to play guitar was too much like work . . . $80 . . . not a scratch, sounds great, plays great. Squire Strats are good instruments, great values.

          • Lego47

            Thanks for the advice. I had an Epiphone SG I bought in 2008. I thought it was a bit heavy at the headstock. I recently donated it to Guitars For Veterans. Hope someone will give it a good home. I have been thinking about a different electric guitar and not sure what brand to get. My budget is $300 or less.

            • Grant Ritter

              Check out Guitarfetish.com…

              I’m pretty sure you can find something you like…
              eg: XV 500 series … solid mahogany body solid maple top…$219.00…

              Or if you’re a P90 afficianado look at the Earl Slick series…SL59’s are only$199.00.

              I have no connection with GFS. I saw your budget number and thought you may not have seen these.

    • Dave Keck

      Some really good points and agree with much of what you say. I have a few fairly high end American made guitars and I also have a thin hollowbody Yamaha SA 1100 that was produced in Taiwan in the 80’s. The guitar is a direct knockoff of a Gibson ES 335. It also happens to be a very good knockoff of a Gibson. I paid a few hundred dollars for it used almost twenty years ago. Although I could probably afford the Gibson today, I can’t justify because I don’t think I would be gaining any more guitar.

      Some really good guitars can be found today for around $500.00 and you are right Griff. The right guitar will speak you.

    • Doug Evans

      Excellent advice as always..! I wish I had this advice when buying my first 6 or so guitars.

    • Martina

      My best advice is to not get stuck on playing the same kind of guitar your guitar hero plays just because they play it.

      I love the look and sound of a Les Paul, and with two of my key influences being Slash and Jimmy Page, I tended to only pick up Les Pauls to play, but as I matured I realized that if the Jackson or Ibanez I was holding sounded great and felt super great in my hands, that the name on the headstock mattered a lot less than how easily the guitar allowed me to express myself.

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