This lesson's mostly for people hoping to buy an electric guitar. If that's not you, you may want to skip this lesson.

Product Recommendations

Electric Guitars

I recommend going to a guitar store and see what you're drawn to. Fender and Gibson guitars will be of higher quality, and Squire and Epiphone are their cheaper counterparts. There are lots of other good manufacturers too.


Fender Mustang 8" Speaker: Tons of effects

Peavey Backstage II 6" Speaker: Simple

Fender Blues Junior 12" Speaker:Simple, bigger, louder, and higher-quality.


Celluloid Picks made by Fender and many other companies are standard. They're fine but the thin ones break easily.

My favorite is the Dunlop Nylon Standard .88 pick. It has a grippy surface and won't tear like the celluloid picks.

If you struggle with holding on to your pick, Cat Tongue Picks are the grippiest I've found.


The Kyser Quick-Change capo is my favorite because I can stow it on my headstock.


If you have a smartphone, get GuitarToolkit. By far the most accurate tuning app I've tested.

If you want a dedicated tuner you can carry in your guitar case, the Snark is accurate and popular. Like the Kyser capo, you can stow it on your headstock, and since it works by sensing vibrations in the wood, you can use it in noisy environments. Its main drawback is that it only has a "All Notes" mode, which makes it less beginner-friendly.

So you want an electric guitar. God who wouldn’t want one? (rock some distorted electric lead). Well, there are a lot to choose from, so let me make the decision process simple for you.

First of all, there are benefits and drawbacks to starting on an electric instead of an acoustic. On the plus side, they, a little easier to fret, which means press the strings against the fretboard, because the strings are under a little less tension, and they’re closer to the fretboard. Also, you can get all these cool sounds out of an electric if you run it through some guitar effects. The downside is that you can’t take them camping, you’re filling your house with more gear, ‘cuz you’re going to need an amp and a guitar cable to get any sound out of it, and getting good guitar sound out of an electric takes some futzing with knobs.

I’m assuming this is your first guitar, and if that’s the case, let’s focus on the two main kinds of electric guitars, and the the most distinctive quality separating them is the electronics they use to transmit the sound of the vibrating strings to your guitar amp. I’m talking about pickups, they’re like microphones, except they sense vibrating metal instead of vibrating air. They’re the lipstick or pack-of-gum sized rectangles you see under the strings.

The two main types of pickups you’ll find on electrics are single-coils, which are the lipstick-sized ones, and humbuckers, which are twice as fat--they’re actually two single-coil pickups sandwiched together. These pickups sound pretty different, and are geared towards different kinds of music, so I recommend you choose your guitar based on what kind of music you expect you’ll be playing. Or buy this guitar because you like cheese. I really don’t care.

Single Coils vs. Humbuckers

But assuming you care how your guitar sounds, here’s the difference between single-coils and humbuckers.

A single-coil guitar tends to sound better when playing clean tones, which means no distortion. This is a clean single-coil guitar, a Fender Telecaster right here [play my tele]. But they also sound great with distortion. [play] Guitarists that pretty much stick to single-coil guitars are David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, John Frusciante of the Chili Peppers, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Bill Frisell, Stevie Ray Vaughn. Notice that there are no metal dudes in this group--these are mostly blues and country musicians.

In general, this is the kind of guitar I recommend to most of my beginners, because the first songs most beginners learn are songs where you sing and strum open chords, and that tends to sound best with an acoustic guitar or clean electric.

The company best known for building single-coil guitars is Fender, and their most popular model is the Stratocaster, the guitar Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix made famous. This is the most common electric guitar model I recommend.

Humbucking guitars, on the other hand, tend to sound best with the distortion cranked up. You can play ‘em clean too, Jerry Garcia played his Gibson SG clean a lot of the time, Bob Marley got great reggae tones out of his clean Les Paul, but they really shine playing hard rock and heavy metal. [demonstrate]. Quintessential humbucking guitarists are Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Angus Young of AC/DC, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, and pretty much any metal guitarist you can think of.

Because I consider humbucking guitars a little less versatile than single-coils, I tend to steer non metal-head students toward single-coils. But if Metallica or Maiden or Mastadon is your main thing, I’d get a humbucker.

The biggest, most famous builder of humbucking guitars is Gibson--they invented the humbucker--and their most popular model by far is the Les Paul.

So there you go: Buy a Gibson Les Paul if you just want to rock, get a Fender Stratocaster if you’re more chill...or get the cheese guitar.

Now both these companies have different tiers of quality to their guitars. The cheaper ones go for about $300 and tend to be made overseas in China, Japan, or Mexico, and the nicer models are made in the US of A and start at about $800. And both companies have counterparts that make cheaper copies. Gibson’s knockoff company is Epiphone, and Fender’s is Squier. The cheaper guitars don’t sound quite as good, and they fall apart more quickly, but they make great starter guitars.


Your choice in amp will have as big an impact on your sound as your choice of guitar, but at this point, I recommend buying a small practice amp that does the job and won’t break your bank. The main decision you should make is whether you want an amp with a built-in tuner and a gazillion guitar effects, or just a simple amp that that just has a clean and distortion channel, without any other bells and whistles.

If you want the bells and whistles, go with the Fender Mustang or something like it. It can do country, it can do metal, it can do alien invasion. For a simpler amp, the Peavey Backstage II is super-cheap and sounds good, and if you can plunk down some more money for a great vintage-sounding amp, I’d go with the Fender Blues Junior.


Finally, let’s accessorize. You’ll definitely need a guitar cable to connect your guitar to the amp,

Most electric guitarists play with a pick. They come in different thicknesses. Thin picks are easier to hold when you're strumming, but make a clickety-clackety sound when the strike the strings. I recommend getting five thins and five mediums because you'll lose some, and one or two thick picks. Play play with them all and see which ones you prefer. Consider the thins "training-wheels picks"--you'll probably want to graduate to mediums when you can. And every once in a while try your thick pick to see if you can hold onto it while you strum. Thick picks are usually what the pros end up using because they sound the best and eventually give you the most control.

You'll want a guitar strap if you ever want to play standing up. Playing standing up is fun, it's better for your back and arms than sitting down, and it looks better when you're on stage. . Get a cheesy nylon strap if you're watching your pocket book, or get the widest strap you can find if you're into comfort. And if you find that your strap slips off while you’re playing--major bummer--you can get these things called strap locks. Never drop your guitar again.

Once you've learned how to actually strum songs, you're going to want a capo. This is a clamp that enables you to change keys easily, for instance to match the song to your voice, which I’ll show you how to do later in this course. I like Kaiser capos because you can stick 'em here when you're not using them.

And then you'll need some way of tuning your guitar. If you have smartphone, just use a tuning app. They work great. Otherwise, one of these is a good choice.


So in summary, for the best value, go get yourself

$300 laminate-top guitar
$100 amp
$40 setup
$20 nylon strap
$3 picks
$20 Kaiser capo
Free tuning app

Total: $483 plus tax

Who knew you could be awesome for under $500? But Rob, you ask, can guitars really make me awesome? Yes, that's exactly how they work. Have fun shopping.

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