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This page is intended as a basic guide for people looking to buy an electric guitar - providing some background information and things to look out for, particularly for those who are new to the world of electric guitars, and a bit confused by all the different makes and models out there!
We recommend that, if possible, you call into our shop and try some guitars / amps before arriving at a final decision - if this isn't possible, you still have the option of buying an instrument that is properly set-up and guaranteed from our online store. Either way, we hope this is a useful resource - but feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.
The golden rule is simply to spend the most you can afford. A better guitar and better amplifier will generally make a nicer sound, and will keep you satisfied for longer. All the guitars we sell at Sheehans are checked over and set up by our own repairer and luthier prior to sale, so they will all have a nice low action, even frets and accurate intonation.
Bear in mind that, at the very least, you will also need an amplifier, strap, lead, and plectrums, and it's usually a good idea to buy an electronic tuner (by far the easiest way of keeping your instrument in tune), and a soft case if you plan to take the instrument out of the house. There are complete packages available which are excellent value, and usually contain everything mentioned above (apart from the tuner); these are a very popular choice for people just starting out
All of our guitars are fully set up and inspected by our own luthiers / repairers before they go on sale. Many guitar shops don't do any set-up work at all on their instruments - some will try to persuade you that it's not necessary, but in our experience this just isn't true!
Why? If you pick up an electric guitar "straight from the box", you will often find that it's not playing at it's best. Sometimes the strings are too far from the fret-board (the 'action' is too high) which makes them harder to press down with your fingers, and can also bend the strings out of tune when you're playing. Sometimes the strings are too close to the fretboard, and you get unwanted buzzing and rattling noises, and some notes may not even play at all.
Sometimes there are rough fret ends that dig into your fingers, and occasionally there are more serious problems, where a well-trained eye will spot that the guitar is not fit for sale and needs to be returned to the manufacturer. Bear in mind that our basic set-up charge for a guitar bought elsewhere is around £55, yet we carry out this vital work for free even on the cheapest instruments we sell.
All new instruments bought through our shop or online store have a 5-year warranty*. In most cases, our own qualified and highly experienced repairers can perform the repairs themselves, avoiding the delay of returning a product to the manufacturer.
Also, because your guitars are made from woods which can react to changes in humidity and temperature, you may find that after a few months in your home, the instrument needs some further adjustment. If so, you are welcome to bring it back to us for a free check over.
Second hand instruments (marked S/H on our website) come with a 1-year warranty**.
*This is in addition to manufacturers' standard warranties, and covers your instrument against any problems arising from manufacturing defects.
**Commission sale instruments (marked C/S) are sold as seen.
Most electric guitars built today are based around classic 1950s and '60s designs by the pioneering guitar makers Fender® and Gibson®. The most famous of these designs are:
Fender and Gibson (and their respective budget brands Squier® and Epiphone®) are still making these models today, and there are also many guitars by other manufacturers that 'borrow' from their designs, with looks, features and sounds that resemble the originals.
Understanding a bit about each of these classic designs will give you an insight into the different types of electric guitars, and will hopefully allow you to make a more informed purchase!
Arguably the most popular guitar design of all time. Hank Marvin, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Mark Knopfler are just a few of the guitar legends who have famously used a Strat.
The body, made from alder or ash, is quite light in weight for a solid-bodied guitar (especially compared to guitars like the Gibson Les Paul or SG, which tend to have heavy mahogany bodies), and the edges of the body are rounded so they don't dig into you while you're playing. A double cutaway gives you access to the higher frets, and the bridge usually has a tremolo arm (also known as a 'whammy bar') which allows you to bend or wobble the notes that you play.
Traditionally, the Strat has three single-coil pickups - labelled bridge, middle and neck - that give the player a range of sounds to choose from (pickups set near the end of a string make a brighter, 'twangier' sound than those set near the middle of a string, which have a mellower sound - similar to the way plucking a guitar string near the bridge gives a different tone to plucking it in the middle). A few Strats and similar guitars have a double 'humbucker' pickup in the bridge position, which gives a 'thicker', more powerful sound.
Standard controls are a master volume knob, two tone knobs (one for each of the middle and neck pickups) and a 5-position switch to select the sound of the different pickups. On this switch, positions 1, 3 & 5 select the bridge, middle and neck pickups on their own, and positions 2 & 4 select combinations of bridge & middle pickups and middle & neck pickups.
The neck is made from maple, is bolted on to the body, and has 21 frets (more frets means you can reach higher notes). Sometimes Strats have a dark rosewood fingerboard, otherwise the frets are set directly into the light-coloured maple neck; this makes a subtle difference to the sound as well as the looks, as a plain maple neck gives a slightly brighter tone, whereas rosewood fingerboards tend to sustain the notes for a bit longer.
Fender's other famous guitar design, still very popular with country players and rock guitarists seeking an edgier, twangier sound. Perhaps the most famous Tele player ever was Elvis Presley's guitarist James Burton, but many other famous players have Telecasters in their arsenal - with Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, and U2's The Edge among them.
Like Strats, Fender Teles have a body made from alder or ash, but their larger size and squarer shape makes them noticably heavier (although not as heavy as a Gibson Les Paul). As with Strats, some models have the option of a rosewood fingerboard, otherwise the frets (again, 21 of them) are set directly into the maple neck, which again is bolted onto the guitar's body. A single cutaway helps you access the higher notes, and the bridge is normally fixed into position, with no tremolo arm (this type of bridge is sometimes called a 'hard tail').
Traditionally the Telecaster has two single-coil pickups, in the bridge and neck positions, with the bridge pickup set into a metal plate that forms part of the bridge itself - this helps give the sound the famous Telecaster 'twang'. Standard controls comprise a master volume knob, master tone knob (ie affecting both pickups at the same time, unlike the Strat), and a 3-position switch that lets you choose between the bridge pickup on its own, the bridge and neck pickups in combination, and the neck pickup on its own.
With a chunkier sound than the Stratocaster and Telecaster - thanks mainly to its 2 humbucker pickups - the Gibson Les Paul has been used by a diverse range of artists including Duane Allman, Lenny Kravitz, Slash from Guns 'n' Roses, Noel Gallagher, Bob Marley and Jimmy Page.
The majority of the Les Paul's body is traditionally made from mahogany, which makes it feel a fair bit heavier than a Strat or Tele, but the gently curved (arched) front is overlaid with carved maple, which shows through if the guitar has a transparent finish, such as sunburst. The body has a distinctive rounded shape with a single cutaway.
The neck is also made from mahogany, and is glued on to the body rather than bolted - this allows for a slimmer neck-body joint which makes it easier to get your hand round to the higher frets, and also helps to sustain notes for longer. The rosewood - or ebony - fingerboard has 22 frets, and a binding strip around the edges.
As mentioned above, the secret of the Les Paul's sound is in its humbucker pickups. These basically consist two single coil pickups together inside the same casing, wired in a special way so they cancel out 'hum' or interference from other electrical equipment, such as stage lights. As well as removing unwanted noise, humbuckers also give a fatter, denser sound, particularly when distorted through an amplifier.
Each pickup has it's own volume and tone controls - 4 knobs in total - and a switch labelled Rhythm / Treble which switches between the different pickups (the Rhythm position selects the neck pickup on its own, Treble selects the bridge pickup on its own, and the middle position selects both pickups together).
The Gibson SG shares many design features with the Les Paul (see above), but with a thinner body, and distinctive 'bat-wing' symmetrical, double-cutaway shape. SGs tend to be favoured by rock guitarists, including AC/DC's Angus Young, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, Pete Townshend and the Foo Fighters.
Like the Les Paul, the mahogany neck is glued in to the mahogany body, although the body of the SG is thinner and hence lighter in weight. The rosewood (or ebony) fingerboard has 22 frets and no binding around the edges. The guitar usually has a fixed bridge, with no tremolo arm.
Again there are 2 humbucker pickups, each with its own volume and tone control, and 3-position switch labelled Rhythm / Treble which allows you to select the different pickups (the Rhythm position selects the neck pickup on its own, Treble selects the bridge pickup on its own, and the middle position selects both pickups together).
An electric guitar with a hollow body, the ES-335 is the best known of several 'semi-acoustic' guitar models developed by Gibson and Epiphone during the late 1950s and early 1960s, all of which shared the same basic features. Famous '335 users include Buddy Guy, and Noel Gallagher from Oasis.
The hollow body, which is shallow* like an solid-bodied electric guitar, is made from Maple; the arched top has f-shaped soundholes above and below the strings similar to a violin. The ES-335 is quite a lot louder than a solid-bodied electric guitar when it's not plugged in (although nowhere near as loud as an acoustic guitar), and because it resonates like an acoustic guitar, the sound has a more of a 'chiming' quality when plugged in.
Like Gibson's solid-bodied guitars, the ES-335 has a glued-in mahogany neck with a 22-fret rosewood fingerboard, 2 humbucker pickups each with its own volume and tone control, and a 3-position switch to select the different pickup combinations. The Epiphone "Dot" ES-335 shown in the picture above has a fixed Gibson-style bridge and tailpiece, some similar models are fitted with a Bigsby® tailpiece, with a thick, flat tremolo arm, allowing you to bend or wobble the notes.
*Deeper bodied semi-acoustics are also available, and are particularly popular among Jazz players.
Since the birth of the electric guitar in the 1950's and 60's, guitar makers have experimented with more original body shapes (such as Gibson's 'Flying V' and 'Explorer', and Dean's 'ZX'). It's arguable whether these make any real difference to the guitars' sound, but they certainly look good on stage!
A couple of things to bear in mind if you're thinking of buying a guitar with a crazy body shape:
These issues don't apply to every wacky-looking instrument out there, and many players who aren't really bothered whether they can sit down in their bedroom and play their new V-shaped guitar, as long as it looks right in front of those screaming fans... just don't say we didn't warn you!
The locking tremolo consists of a set of small screw-down clamps built into the nut, and a special tremolo bridge with fine-tuners. This system holds down the strings are held down at either end of their sounding length (the bit of the string that you actually play), they stay in tune much better when the tremolo arm (the 'whammy bar') is used, even when bending the pitch down a long way*.
If you want to play fast, accurate guitar solos, and use the whammy bar a lot without constantly having to tune up your guitar, then a locking tremolo could well be what you need. Here are a few things you should be aware of if you are considering buying a guitar fitted with a locking tremolo system:
If you're thinking of taking up guitar for the first time, and you're looking for an instrument to learn on, we suggest that it's probably better to avoid guitars with a locking tremolo system - at least to begin with.
*Bending the pitch up a long way on any tremolo system is not recommended - it will eventually cause the strings to snap, and could damage your guitar.
More popular on bass guitars, but also fitted to some modern electric guitars as well. Guitars described as being 'active' or having 'active electronics' have a small pre-amp built into the instrument, usually powered by a 9V battery, which boosts the signal going from the guitar, through the lead, to the input of the amplifier.
Reasons for having active electronics:
Reasons against having active electronics:
The shape and size of a guitar's neck, along with the gauge (thickness) of strings you are using, are the major factors that determine how comfortable it is to play. Whether a guitar neck feels right for you depends to some extent on the shape of your hands, but also on personal preference - and this is an area where measurements and descriptions are no substitute for actually trying the guitar out for yourself.
In fact, manufacturers' websites and magazine reviews sometimes quote so many technical details, that it's easy to get confused or side-tracked, and lose sight of actually finding a guitar that feels and sounds right for you! However, for the technically-minded, here is a quick run-down of what those facts and figures mean:
Here are some of the other gadgets you may find on electric guitars and basses: