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A beginner's guide to the electric guitar

How does an electric guitar work?

The two main parts of an electric guitar are the strings and the pickups, which work together to produce sound. Pickups turn vibrations from the strings into electronic signals, which are then transmitted through an amplifier as notes.

While all electric guitars work in this same way, sound quality and tone can vary wildly depending on the shape of the guitar, its basic construction and what pickups are actually used.

What determines how an electric guitar sounds

Hollowbody guitars, for example, are known to produce a much rounder tone, making them a preferred instrument among jazz guitarists. These include the Gibson Dot series. Solidbody guitars on the other hand lack the natural warmth of the hollowbody, but because they do not have the same acoustic features they offer much greater diversity and can be used to create almost any type of sound.

Single-coil, humbucker and piezo are the most common types of pickup, with the former typically used to produce rich, bright sounds. Humbuckers, which consist of two pickups, offer a tone that is more rounded and smooth than their single-coil cousin, but are not as clean when it comes to high notes. Meanwhile, piezos - which are non-magnetic and generate weaker signals than other pickups - are regularly used to recreate the sound of acoustic guitars.

Famous guitars

One of the most popular solidbody guitars is the Gibson Les Paul, which has been used by rock stars such as Slash of Guns N' Roses, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. The guitars are visually distinctive due to their shape and colour schemes, which often vary in shade. They are known for producing a fat, warm, bassy sound, making them ideal for playing blues-based rock n' roll.

In recent years, Gibson has looked increasingly towards the computerisation of its guitars, developing the self-tuning Robot in 2007. The Gibson Dark Fire, unveiled in December 2008, takes computerisation even further and the company claims it has the ability to reproduce every conceivable guitar sound.

Arguably Gibson's greatest rival in the electric guitar market is Fender, which produces the Telecaster and Stratocaster brands. Fender's guitars have a sharper, more cutting sound than Gibson's and are favoured by the likes of Eric Clapton, Yngwie Malmsteen and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Visually, Fender guitars have been replicated much more than Gibsons, to the extent where 'Strat' has come to be used as a catch-all term for guitars of its style.

Affordable alternatives

Gibson Les Pauls and Fenders can retail for several thousand pounds, but beginners can buy guitars with a similar sound and style for less than £100. One example of a cheap Fender alternative is the Electric-ST Guitar + Amp Pack, which features everything a person needs to begin playing the guitar right away for under £90.00.

It includes a 15 watt amp with 6.5" speaker for practising, a guitar lead, a strap, a padded gig bag, a set of spare strings, a pick and a two-year warranty. The guitar itself has a neck made from maple - the most common type of wood used in necks - which helps to expand on the treble sounds of a guitar due to its hardness.

The guitar is capable of producing a wide variety sounds, thanks in part to its 3x single coil pickups with a reverse wound middle pickup, which enables users to experiment with playing different styles of music.

A low cost alternative to the Gibson Les Paul is the Electric-LP Guitar, which is also designed for beginners and costs under £100. The LP has a maple neck as well, but features humbucker pickups designed to create the kind of warm tones generally associated with Gibson models.

What can I do to improve the sound of my guitar?

Once a learner has got hold of the basics of playing the guitar, they can improve their sound further by upgrading. Purchasing a better guitar or an amp such as a White Horse GT112 60W DSP Guitar Amp can lead to the creation of a better quality sound, while experimenting with effects pedals can enable players to come up with something unique.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 09:00 to category : Tips and advice

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