Guitar makers like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez and Martin are industry standards and with reason. Their sound and build quality are legend.
However, you shouldn’t ignore the offerings from lesser known companies like Godin, Michael Kelly, Rickenbacker and Danelectro. Each possess their own unique combination of feel and sound as well as having the same high build quality as the bigger name brands - often at a lower price.
If you are concerned with the expense, many top guitar makers have created budget versions of their most revered instruments. Fender has their Squier range, Gibson has Epiphone and Godin has Seagull.
These budget lines are a great way to get a classic look and sound at a much-reduced price. They may be cheap and lack the noted build quality of their higher end siblings, but they have quality enough for the hobby guitarist or the up and coming musician.
Points to think on
For the beginner guitarist, there are many things you will need. Many guitar manufacturers offer starter kits that include a guitar, amp, distortion pedal, cables, and picks. These kits have everything you need to get started - at a reasonable price.
Amplifiers- can have an equal effect on your sound as the instrument itself.
Your choice of electric guitar amp can add colour to your music.
For bassists, your bass guitar amp will need to be able to handle the low frequency sound reproduction.
An acoustic guitar amp is essentially colourless, so that it can accurately reproduce the natural tonal qualities of an acoustic instrument.
The four basic amp types are - Solid state, Tube, Modelling and Hybrid.
There are literally hundreds of different types of effects pedals on the market. Each of them can shape your sound in subtle ways, or substantially alter it.
When listening to artists whose sound you admire, pay attention to the pedals they use and note the guitar they use them with.
You will notice that every distortion pedal will sound a little different, and a distortion pedal that sounds great with one guitar may sound muddy and dull on another.
When looking to buy an effects pedal, keep in mind the build quality and reputation of the pedal manufacturer.
Companies like Electro-Harmonix and MXR have a sterling reputation for build quality and sound.
Choosing the best guitar
Whatever the type of guitar you would like to play, choosing the one that is best for you is as much about style as it is about sound.
Naturally, the first thing you will notice is how a guitar looks. It is not unusual for manufacturers of guitars to invest heavily in the visual design and less on how the instrument sounds.
What attracts you visually is a very personal choice. This guide will focus on how to judge the sound and feel of the instrument.
Types of Guitars
Three things are important when selecting an electric guitar - the wood, the body type and the pickup.
The electric guitar's sound starts with the wood.
For the fretboard, maple is frequently the wood of choice because of its long sustain.
The tone wood often used by Gibson is mahogany. This contributes to the warm, fat mid-tones.
The lighter weight of alder and ash is preferred by Fender. These woods give a rich low end and a generally brighter sound.
The body type also has a great deal of influence on the instrument's sound. A solid body gives a longer sustain and makes the instrument less susceptible to feedback.
Classic models like the Gibson SG, the Ibanez RG and the Fender Stratocaster, are examples of this body type.
Hollow body guitars are often sought after by jazz and rockabilly players. They have a deeper resonance, and produce richer tones. However, the resonance chamber makes them susceptible to feedback.
Semi hollow-body guitars are a compromise between the two styles. They have a lower threshold of feedback than true hollow body guitars and have a richer tone than solid body guitars. The Gibson ES-335, is an example of this kind of guitar.
The electric guitar's pickup is the third major contributor to the instrument’s sound.
Pickups placed near the bridge give a more twangy lead sound; ones placed near the neck give a thicker sound.
In general, single coil pickups, favoured by many rock and blues performers, offer a bright, crisp tone.
By comparison, double coil pickups, or humbuckers, are more resistant to electrical hums and have a warmer, fatter tone.
Body type and the tone wood are the most important things to consider when choosing an acoustic guitar. Both factors contribute to the sound and playability of your instrument.
Rosewood is often praised for its complex overtones whilst cedar gives a warm sound and is also a popular choice. Spruce wood provides a clean sound, which is consistent across dynamics and is probably the most commonly used wood.
Acoustic guitars come in sizes varying from small travelling guitars to the iconic dreadnought design.
In general, acoustic guitars with a small body, produce a clean bright sound. The larger the body, the warmer and richer the low end.
Hybrids and Acoustic-Electrics
Hybrid guitars and acoustic-electric guitars are a compromise offering guitarists versatility in the style they play.
The most common of these is the acoustic-electric guitar, which has a traditional acoustic guitar body but is fitted with a piezoelectric pickup (inside).
Ovation and Takamine manufacture instruments that are praised for both their natural sound and the electronics.
However, acoustic-electric guitars, with their open sound box, can be susceptible to feedback when used with distortion.
The Godin A6 Ultra is a hybrid guitar, having a lightweight electric guitar profile, a closed resonance chamber and features a piezoelectric pickup and a humbucker.
The guitarist can have a bright acoustic-electric tone or switch to a warmer electric guitar tone. In the latter mode, he can handle a loaded pedalboard with minimal feedback.
While considering the great diversity in style and looks of bass guitars, the two most important factors when selecting your instrument are the number of strings and the type of pickup.
The most commonly seen version is the 4 string electric bass. Some manufacturers however, have created models with 5, 6, or 7 strings for added depth of tone and potential melodic variations.
Regarding the sound of the instrument - the biggest influence on the sound of an electric bass is the choice of pickup.
The humbucking “J” pickup provides an expressive mid-range at the expense of the growling low end. The split coil “P” pickup gives a fatter low-end sound.
Modern basses, in many cases, have both. These are known as a P-J basses and they have knobs to enable the bassist to blend the two sounds.
There are also active pickups, which use a built-in pickup to create a brighter, full range sound.
What to know about buying a new Guitar
When you buy a new guitar, you know that you have an instrument free of defects and unaffected by the stresses of long use and general road wear. You will also have the manufacturers warranty against production defects.
The only disadvantage to buying a new guitar is the cost.
It makes sense to purchase effects pedals and amplifiers new, as their complicated electronics can deteriorate from regular use.
What to know about buying a pre-owned Guitar
When you need to be careful of how much you spend on a guitar, buying used is a great way to get top quality gear at an affordable price.
Sometimes this means getting models that were either discontinued by the manufacturer, or made by manufacturers who have gone out of business, at a fraction of the price of a more established name brand.
Because technologies and aesthetics change, many people choose to browse used guitars and accessories for a piece of equipment that was a commercial flop in its time, but which has become a collector's item years or even decades later on.
This is especially true for amps; sometimes the best sounding amplifiers can only be found used.
Guitars require periodic upkeep to maintain their intonation and electronics.
After buying a used guitar, it is a good idea to take it to get it set-up. A qualified professional can usually make even the most road-weary guitar play like new.