From The Store Floor: How to Buy Your First Electric Guitar

Buying your first electric guitar should be one of the coolest experiences of your life. Even if it’s a gift that you’re being given, it should be an incredible experience from start to finish. Lots of people want to play electric guitar, but getting started can be a challenge. What do I need? How much is it all going to cost? These are all understandable questions. I sought out to take away all of the intimidation from picking up your first electric guitar. Whether it’s for you, or someone you know, I wanted to give you a basic jumping off point so that you can go into any Sam Ash and shop like a pro! So, I grabbed my camera crew, headed down to Sam Ash on 34th Street in New York City and got into some cool stuff. Let’s take a look!

How To Buy Your First Electric Guitar “THE VIDEO”

The Best Option

If it falls within your budget, then by all means, pick yourself up an American Fender Stratocaster, or a Gibson Les Paul.

Stratocasters or “Strats” are played by iconic guitar players of our past and present and are praised for being articulate and expressive. For this reason, you’ll often find them with guitar players who like to solo on their instruments such as John Mayer, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and others.

Les Paul’s are revered in the rock and roll community for being powerful sounding instruments. They clean up nice for many genres, but really shine when you throw some dirt on them. These are played by such players as Slash, Jimmy Page, and Zakk Wylde.

These American made guitars are the best of the best. They’re made of the finest woods and materials, they sound incredible, and they’ll last you a lifetime. On top of all that, they’re really easy to play.

Approx: $1,300-4,000

The Better Option

There are more affordable guitars from these brands that still look and sound incredible. Usually, with beginners, I start with Les Pauls and Strats because they cover a lot of bases and styles. If you know for a fact that you want to play METAL!!!! then we can talk about a few more, but for now, let’s stick with the greatest guitars that cover the most ground.

Mexican Fender Stratocasters

Fender has a Mexican factory which produces amazing affordable instruments. Mexican Strats use more affordable materials and techniques to still produce an amazing guitar.

 

Approx: $599-1,000

Epiphone Les Pauls 

Epiphone is a brand owned by Gibson that makes more affordable versions of their high end guitars.  This brand covers a wide range of instruments of varying quality. They’re great for rock music, but can still handles and blues and pop.

Approx: $280-800

The Good Option

In the most affordable categories you still have these same brands.

This Epiphone SG Special is a stripped down version of it’s Gibson predecessor and it sounds great for beginners. This guitar is doubtful to become your lifetime everyday player, but it honestly sounds really nice, it’s easy to play once it’s setup nicely, and it has a cool kill-switch built into the volume knob to give you the option of that cool effect.

Approx: $179+

Fender also has another brand called Squier that makes the most affordable versions of their guitars.

These are stripped down versions of their predecessors as well. Again, may not be your lifetime everyday player, but still sounds great for a beginner and will do the job for learning how to play the guitar.

Approx: $150+

Bottom Line Most Affordable Options 

Some companies like Fender and Epiphone make these packs above. They come with a guitar, amp, case, picks, cable, etc. These are made very affordably and are the least expensive option that you can get. You may or may not see these in the stores. They are more prevalent around the holidays. But these will be the most budget friendly.

Amplifiers

An electric guitar is useless without an amplifier. You need this to make some noise.

Tube VS. Solid State Amps

Tube amplifiers use vacuum tubes to increase the power of the signal of your guitar. They are revered for their warm and classic tone.

If a nice tube amp like the Fender Deluxe Reverb is in your budget, then consider it. It’s a fantastic and beautifully sounding amp.

Approx: $1099.99

One common drawback is that tube amps tend to weigh a million pounds, you have to let them warm up to play them, and you have to be more careful with them and replace the tubes every few years. Maybe not the best choice for a beginner, but I want you to know they exist, because they’re awesome.

 

Solid State amplifiers are a lot less work. They’re usually light weight and use electronics to power them and direct the signal. They come in all shapes, sizes, and wattages. The more watts, the louder and more powerful that it will be for you. The best thing is that these days, solid state amps also come with a lot of effects built in to have fun with right out of the box.

 

 

 

For beginners, consider the Fender Mustangs or Blackstar ID Core series amps. They sound great, they come with awesome effects, you can get them in various wattages and speaker sizes, and  they’re very affordable.

Approx $99-350

Accessories

Every guitar player needs a Tuner no matter how long you’ve been playing. I use one everyday. The Snark Clip On Headstock Tuner is a good place to start, but there’s all different brands and companies that make these.

Approx: $14.99

 

Guitar picks are what we use to pluck the strings on an electric guitar. Fingerstyle is great too, but you’ll want some picks to get you started. These come in all shapes and sizes, so for now, I’d stick with the Dunlop Variety Pack LT/MED (Light to Medium). It comes with lots of different shapes and thicknesses in one pack. So you can try them out, see what you like, and then buy a whole pack of that particular pick.

Approx: $3.99

 

A Guitar Case is essential. You can get a hard case or a gig bag. For a younger child, and adults for that matter, gig bags are more convenient and are lighter. They also usually come with backpack style straps for easy carrying. Hardshell cases are more protective, but they are heavier and a bit bulkier.

Approx: $50-200 

A guitar cable is essential. You won’t be able to hook up your guitar to your amp without it. These come in different lengths and of varying quality. The Fender Custom Shop series is a great place to start, but that’s just one preference.

What’s in a more expensive cable? That usually has to do with sound quality and shielding. How nice do you want your tone to sound for recording or playing live music? That’s usually the question that you ask before buying a cable. Good shielding will help prevent interference from outside waves creeping in on your signal. I remember sitting in church as a kid, and every once in a while you’d hear the local pop radio station creep in and out of the sound system during the sermon. It was really funny for us kids. SHIELDING!!!

Approx: $12.99+

Other Options

There are other optional things you could get to keep your guitar clean, like a nice non abrasive cloth and some polish. You could also get yourself a guitar stand so you don’t have to keep it in the case all of the time. And if you see it waiting for you looking beautiful on a nice stand when you get home, you’ll probably be more likely to pick it up and play it.

Approx: $15+

 

Maintenance

One thing to keep in mind is that guitars do not take care of themselves. It’s up to you as the owner to subject it to regular maintenance. Just like getting the oil changed on your car. Your guitar needs some occasional work. We usually recommend ever 3 months or so as the seasons change. Guitars are made of wood and are therefore very susceptible to humidity and changes in weather. This can throw the neck out of alignment and things like that. Your strings will also need to be changed regularly depending on how much you play, but at least every 3 months.

Sam Ash Guitar Setup Plan

Taking your guitar in to get a regular setup can be upwards of $75+ dollars every time you go. At the rate of 4 times a year, that adds up. Our service plans are usually the same or less than the cost of 1 setup. What do you get for it? You get 4 free setups a year for 2 years. All you have to pay for are the parts (usually a pack of strings for $5). So, right on schedule, every 3 months, you bring your guitar into your local Sam Ash, and you’ll get your guitar playing beautifully like the day that you got it. But wait, there’s more. Say you grab yourself a beginner guitar with a setup plan, and within a year, you want to trade up to something better. We will buy your guitar in for a guaranteed half back towards your trade. Not to mention that it just makes it easier for us to help you if you have any other issue that may arise with your guitar.

Take it from me, I’ve been a gigging musician for years, and I was always hesitant to take my guitar in for setups because of the cost at the local shops. The Sam Ash plans pay for themselves and are a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of. The prices of the service plans vary depending on the price of the guitar that you purchase. So please keep it in mind as you shop for your first electric guitar.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited that you’re interested in picking up an electric guitar. They are like anything else in as much as you get what you pay for, but hopefully this brief guide will help you feel more confident when you shop. I would pick a brand within your budget and then find that guitar that looks really cool and makes you want to pick it up and play it, because that’s what really counts most.

Good Luck, enjoy, and be sure to shop at Sam Ash.

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Dave Stutts
Dave Stutts is a native of the greater Hampton Roads area of Virginia. He received his Bachelors of Music degree in Theory & Composition from the prestigious Christopher Newport University music school. He is a music composer living and working in New York City. He specializes in orchestral/symphonic work as well as pop and digital music. His scoring work has ranged from Chamber Ensemble pieces (String Quartets/Brass Quintets), larger ensembles compositions (Wind Ensemble/Symphony Orchestra/String Orchestra), as well as short film and video game work.He is also a songwriter and a regular gigging musician in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. He refers to his style as Pop/Rock and Blues. His musical career began when he started playing guitar at age 5. He later progressed to Bass in middle school, Drums in High School, and finally Percussion and Piano in college. When asked, he has cited Michael Giacchino, Hans Zimmer, and John Williams as his major film and video game inspirations, and John Mayer as his primary pop inspiration.