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Choosing the Right Guitar
The decision to purchase an electric guitar is a big one, and in the modern gear world, can be just as intimidating as it can be exciting. After all, musical preferences, size, budget, features, and many other factors all come into play when deciding. Think about it as if you’re buying a car; what are your needs? What sound are you trying to make, and what features should your guitar have in order to make that sound a reality? By the end of this article you will not only know what instrument you want, but a series of questions you can ask yourself and others to come up with an entirely personalized answer!
Step 1. Identify 5 Songs
Think about the music you consume in your day to day, which guitar solos stand out to you? If you’re able to name a song with guitar in the mix, chances are high that someone has written about that song, listed who played what on said track, and possibly even the guitar used. If you can’t find the guitar that they used, feel free to open up different tabs and do research on what instrument they may have been playing at the time. Now that the ball is rolling, come up with 4 others and try sketching out something like this :
Comfortably Numb - David Gilmour - Stratocaster
I ain’t Superstitious - Jeff Beck - Les Paul
Cissy Strut - Leo Nocentelli - ES-335 (semi-hollow)
Little Wing - Stevie Ray Vaughan - Stratocaster
Sleepwalk - Brian Setzer - Gretsch G6120T (full-hollow)
Step 2. Identify the Genre
Once your list of songs is complete and you have an understanding of the instruments used, we’re going to add a 4th category; genre. Now our columns should look like this:
Comfortably Numb - David Gilmour - Stratocaster - Rock
Though different styles of guitars sound more natural in some genres than others, there’s no “rule” saying certain instruments can only be used for a particular style. Here are some basics on guitars and what genres they work best for!
Gibson and Gibson-style guitars, the SG, Les Paul, 335, Explorer, etc… are all loaded with humbuckers. Humbuckers have a stellar clean tone, however they’ve become synonymous with the sound, look, and overall style of what would become rock. Jimmy Page, Slash, Peter Frampton, and others have made the Gibson Les Paul known for fat beefy overdriven tones, whereas Angus Young helped pioneer the sound of classic rock using an SG. They aren’t just rock guitars though, blues players such as Mike Bloomfield, BB. King, and JD Simo have found their own unique tones using the 335 (335 style instruments are also popular among jazz players, the semi-hollow body in particular which provides a warmer tone than that of a solid body). So, remember no guitar is held captive by a genre, use legendary players within your stylistic interests as a reference of what works!
Gibson Style : Rock, Blues, Jazz
Fender and Fender-style guitars, the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster, and Jaguar are (almost) all single-coil loaded instruments, best known for clean tone. Stratocaster players include but certainly aren’t limited to; Jimi Hendrix (rock), Stevie Ray Vaughan (blues), Nile Rodgers (funk), and John Mayer (pop). All of the players named in the previous sentence are noted for having a glorious clean tone, that’s the magic of the Stratocaster! Telecaster players include Joe Walsh (rock), Brad Paisley (country), and John 5 (metal). Woah, 3 guitarists playing rock, country, and metal all use the same type of guitar? Yep, the Tele is renowned for being arguably the most versatile guitar, a stylistic chameleon allowing you to float from genre to genre in your musical journey, whilst maintaining tremendous tone.
Fender Style : Rock, Blues, Funk, Pop, Country, Metal
Nothing sounds quite like a full hollow-body guitar, it has a warmth that cannot be emulated or faked. If you’re looking to seriously study jazz, a hollow-body guitar is a tool you’ll use quite often. Players such as Joe Pass (jazz), Chet Atkins (rockabilly-jazz fusion) and Brian Setzar (rockabilly) have all played and sculpted their tones around a hollow-body! Gretsch, Gibson, and D’angelico are just a few of the companies known for their hollow-body models. Versatility is the only thing the hollow-body doesn’t have going for it, often feeding back terribly if paired with an overdrive or distortion. Hollow-body guitars work great for their respective genres, jazz, rockabilly, and some country. If you see epic power chords, a fuzz pedal, and a Marshall stack in your future, you may want to look elsewhere!
Hollow Bodies: Jazz, Rockabilly
Step 3. Find a Pattern
Now that you’ve read a little about the different styles of guitars and which genres certain instruments favor, take a look at your list! Using the example below, identify any recurring themes; same guitar, same genre, or even same player. This will help us narrow down the search! For instance, in the example below both David Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix play Rock on a Stratocaster. BINGO! If you see the same guitar on your list more than once, that’s a great sign.
Comfortably Numb - David Gilmour - Stratocaster - Rock
I ain’t Superstitious - Jeff Beck - Les Paul - Rock/Blues
Cissy Strut - Leo Nocentelli - ES-335 (semi-hollow) - Funk
Bold as Love - Jimi Hendrix - Stratocaster - Rock
Sleepwalk - Brian Setzer - Gretsch G6120T (full hollow) - Rockabilly
Step 4. Guitar Shop Time
At this point you should have a good idea of a couple guitars you’re interested in, the genre you’re going for, and maybe even a price point. Now it’s time to hop in the car, go to J. Rieck Music (or your local shop), and test out some instruments! Can’t play yet? Not a problem, asking an employee for help deciding what may work for you is a great start. Show them the list, give them a price point, and ask what instruments they have available fitting that description. Using the information given by said guitar shop worker, time to make a decision: which is the one for you?
Final Step. Find a good luthier!
Once you’ve purchased your instrument, and I cannot stress the importance of this enough, make sure it is properly setup! The playability of your instrument will rely more on the setup than it will anything else, so this step is not one to be skipped. Though it seems obvious, the better your guitar plays the more fun it is to play, resulting in you practicing more, leading ultimately to improvement over time! Asking if the shop does setups is usually a good way to go, and if not, ask if any of the guitar shop employees have suggestions!
Finding the right instrument for you can be confusing, overwhelming, and intimidating… but it doesn’t have to be. You may not know much about guitars, however you know why you want to play, because the music you love gives you goosebumps! So, if you can name 5 songs, write down the guitars used, and figure out what genre you’d like to play, you’re one step closer to giving people the exact same goosebumps.
Here's a list of links to the songs listed above, along with photos from a few of the instrument styles mentioned in this article.
Comfortably Numb : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-xTttimcNk
I Ain't Superstitious : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNcJGWQsz1Q
Cissy Strut : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXI5Nuz6OH
Little Wing : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj_NUS9hwxA
Sleepwalk : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDvfzxVDxl8