Hi, future guitar heroes and heroines. Welcome to electric guitar buying guide by Donner. As a guitar enthusiast, nearly everyone dreams of strumming chords and playing extraordinary guitar solos in front of thousands of people who share the same musical admiration as you. However, all things are difficult before they are easy as to pick the right “weapon” for you at first can be intimidating. There are so many types of guitars with different shapes, tones, neck, and sizes which make you dazzle and hesitant to choose. Although we, as a guitar company, cannot help you stun your audience with your music, we can definitely get you ready to go. This electric guitar buying guide provides you with the information that you need from general to specific to pick the very guitar you need to start your music adventure. Since the information is too much to know, feel free to contact us for further.
One easy way to help you pick the guitar you want is knowing the guitar type that is ideal for you. If you have a guitar hero who inspires you to pick up the guitar, the iconic guitar that he/she is holding is a good choice for you to consider.
When you talk about electric guitars with people, in their imaginations appears a Stratocaster most of the time. The Stratocaster was designed in 1953 and it is now arguably the best-known guitar type in the world. It is famous for its comfort in play, versatility and its sweet and iconic single-coil tones which make the Strat the most popular choice for beginners. A Stratocaster originally features 3 single coil pickups which offer a wide range of tones with sweet and bright sound catering to blues, rock, funk and pop music. But to cater to playing heavier music on the Strat, the bridge pickup of the Stratocaster is sometimes switch into a humbucker for greater versatility. The Donner DST-102S Stratocaster style guitar features 2 single coil pickups and a humbucker bridge pickup. Its pickup array not only keep the bright and sweet single coil tones of a Strat but also caters to heavier music that requires higher gain on the pickup with the humbucker at the bridge position. The history of the Strat sees its growing popularization and its use in a variety of musical styles by many guitar legends. If your guitar heroes are legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Jeff Beck, a Strat will not go wrong with you.
Another type of guitar that can go toe to toe with the Stratocaster is the Les Paul that was designed in the 1950s by Les Paul himself. With totally different design philosophy, the Les Paul is heavier, bulky and does not have many cut and edges being a single cut guitar (Do notice that the higher frets of the single cut guitar are harder to reach than double cut guitars if you have small hands). However, being heavy and bulky does not mean Les Paul is a bad model. The Les Paul is also famous for its versatility in blues, rock, metal and jazz music. The Les Paul features two humbuckers at both the neck and bridge positions and with its heavy body the Les Paul gives you a fatter and warm sound with a little bit longer sustain than the Strat. These features especially suit those who pursue something heavier. By flipping up the pickup selector, you switch to the neck pickup which gives you the warm and nasal sound typical to a Les Paul. While by flipping down the selector, you get a brighter sound with more high frequency and attack. Like the Stratocaster, the Les Paul has been extremely popular since its birth. The countless debuts of the new models and reissues of it are the best proof. It is also the iconic guitar for guitar legends like Jimmy Page, Slash, Joe Perry and Gary Moore. If your guitar heroes play a Les Paul or you want a versatile guitar with a fatter sound and solid feel, a Les Paul is definitely a good choice.
Created out of the same hands as the Stratocaster, the Telecaster is also a famous type of guitar but bears distinctive positioning. With two single coil pickups, the Telecaster pursues pure clarity and the vast difference in the features of the two pickups. The bridge pickup of a Tele is usually an open pickup and the neck pickup is a closed pickup (you can tell it is a closed pickup if there is a cover on it). The bridge pickup of the Tele is installed directly on the bridge and is open so it generates more high frequency in the sound and produces ultimate clarity that penetrates when the guitar sound is mixed in the music. However, the neck pickup is a closed one so it involves more bass and roundness and is creamier compared to the bridge pickup. Different from the guitars mentioned above, the Tele’s strings are strung through the body of the instrument and mounted on the bridge. This kind of design can improve the sustain and provide better feedback for the bridge pickup.
Back Strung Telecaster
Unlike the Strat and Les Paul, not many guitar companies offer Telecaster model and its variation. That is why we want to make this model giving guitar beginners more choices when it comes to picking your first ever electric guitar. If you want to stand out from others to have a different guitar and a guitar that gives out ultimately clear sounds that penetrate, a Telecaster may be your choice.
Having talked about different guitar types, you may have a rough idea about what type of guitar you want to buy. However, choosing your ideal type is just the first step in that many guitar companies offer products that are based on the same model and the detailed specs of these products are different. Digging deep into the details and picking the guitar with the right specs definitely bring you a boost on your road to guitar mastery. The following part focuses on what you should look for on different parts of the guitar from the head to the bottom of the instrument and gives you the information to choose the ax that best suits you.
Open Tuner with Metal Knob
Since the headstock of the guitar does not have much to do with playing and tones, we may as well start with the tuner. The tuner, also known as machine head, is the most important part of the neck which winds up and exerts pressure on the strings to keep them in tune. There are basically two types of tuners – open and sealed. For electric guitar, sealed tuners are the choice most of the time because they are reliable and do not need any maintenance. Different guitar companies offer tuners with different looks. Some tuners’ knobs are metal while some are jade-like plastics that give your guitar an old-school and vintage look. Also, tuners like locking tuners may require a different type of stringing when you wind up your strings. If you don’t like the way of stringing of your tuners, you can definitely change them. It is not a big deal.
The nut, usually made of ebony, ivory, cow bone, brass, Corian or plastic, on the guitar supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock or scroll. The nut also sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and usually holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard with the bridge. There is not much to notice about the nut because it is not expensive and can be easily changed. But do notice that some guitars come with a lock on the nut. It is usually seen on the guitars for heavy metal music. A lock is often paired with the bridge that has a tremolo system that can exert and reduce pressure on the strings to change the pitch. The lock is to keep the strings in tune while the pressure on the strings is constantly changing. If you want to play heavy metal music or something that needs tremolo, a nut that comes with a lock is ideal.
The Locking Nut from Epiphone
A good guitar neck is essential in playing in that our fretting hand is touching it all the time. The neck also affects the tones of the instrument because the string is held on it. A neck with the shape that best fits your hand helps you play more comfortably while you are changing neck positions playing solos and fretting chords. So the wood of the neck and the neck profile are important when choosing a guitar.
Wood of the neck
A maple neck is usually seen on the Strat and the Tele that we have talked about. The maple neck is considered a relatively hard type of neck but it does not bring a crazy amount of weight to the guitar. A maple neck features a bring look and tones. However, roast maple which contains less moisture features a dark look but its tones are even brighter and tighter. You can think of a roast maple as artificially aged maple.
A neck made of mahogany is softer than the maple and embraces a darker look. It is usually seen on the Les Paul model and the bodies of acoustic guitars. The mahogany is lighter and grains of the wood can be clearly seen on the neck.
Compared to maple and mahogany, rosewood is less seen as the material for the neck. Rosewood features hardness and smoothness of its surface so it is usually done for the fingerboard which will be addressed in the next section. Rosewood has different types according to its country of origin – the most famous Brazilian rosewood and Indian rosewood. A guitar that uses Brazilian rosewood can cost much more than normal ones because of the rarity of the wood.
Pau ferro neck
The overuse and the growing rarity of Brazilian rosewood is bringing growing popularity to the Pau ferro making it the number one substitution for the Brazilian rosewood. Pau ferro, as rosewood’s substitution, has similar features of being hard, smooth and heavy and it does not take much to finish. This is why pau ferro is catching more eyeballs in the guitar market.
Since the guitar is not craved out of the wood as a whole. The neck has to be attached to the body. There are basically two types of neck joint – Bolt-on neck and set neck. How the neck is attached affects the tones and the tensions of the strings which give you a little more sustain. For these above reasons, the neck joint of a guitar cannot be overlooked when you are picking a guitar.
As the name shows, a bolt-on neck comes from the neck is attached to the body with bolts. A bolt-on neck is usually seen on solid body guitars especially the Stratocaster and Telecaster. The advantage of a bolt-on neck is that it is easy to manufacture and it can be easily installed and changed. If you are not satisfied with your current neck you can simply unscrew the bolt and change the neck. A bolt-on neck does not require great delicacy during its production compared to the set neck.
The set neck has a longer history than the bolt-on neck since it is adopted when the first acoustic guitar was invented. A set neck means the neck of the guitar is glued with the body and does not require any other stabilization. It is usually seen on a Les Paul model. A set neck is harder to manufacture because the neck has to sit perfectly in the cut of the body to eliminate any possible shaking after it is glued and a certain amount of time is always needed to wait for the glue to dry up. Compared to a bolt-on neck, the set neck has great unity with the body therefore having better resonances, tones and sustain than a bolt-on neck. However, the biggest disadvantage of it is that once the neck is glued it cannot be changed so extra attention should be paid not to break a set neck.
Different Neck Profiles（Picture from Freboard）
Neck profile gives a guitar player the most intuitive physical feelings of a guitar and it is also the most subjective element of a guitar. It affects how comfortably your hand rests on the neck and how easily you can change your playing positions. There are normally two types of neck profiles that are seen on acoustic and electric guitars – C shape, U shape. Generally speaking, if you don’t know what neck shape suits you, a C shape neck is what you should consider first. The C shape neck is known for its balanced curve and feels neither being too fat nor too slim. The U shape neck is a variation of the C. Players with big hands may like it over the C shape. However, if you have shorter fingers and use a lot of thumb-fretting during your playing, you may not want to choose the U shape in that it makes it hard for you to fret and brings frustrations in playing.
With the guitars developing, many guitar companies started to design new shapes of neck profile to fit various needs of musicians from different musical fields. For example, Jimmy Page has a neck that is thinner in the middle on his Les Paul, Slash has a customized C shape neck that fits more with his hands on his signature Les Paul, and Clapton has a V shape neck on his Stratocaster. The emergence of the 7 strings guitars also brings changes in neck shape for its extra width on the fretboard. Besides, guitar companies also provide different neck profile on the same model to cater to their target customers in a specific area. For instance, guitars that mainly sell in Asia have slimmer necks than those in the US and Europe. Finally, experience matters. We suggest that it is better to actually feel different neck shapes with your own hands then make your decision.
Fingerboard is yet another important factor that affects the tones and looks of the instrument. Since the only changeable element of the fingerboard is the wood, here are some major choices and their features for you.
Rosewood features a smooth surface, dark-looking with some red color, warm tones, and is used in a variety of guitar models
Maple is a kind of hardwood with high density and needs often cleaning. It features a bright color and a very bright sound. It is often seen on guitars that need a very clean and bright tone.
Pau ferro features a dark color and looks a bit like rosewood. The tone of the pau ferro is brighter than that of the rosewood. It is a hardwood and has a smooth surface. The use of pau ferro is growing due to the higher costs of the rosewood.
Ebony is probably the hardest wood in the fingerboard category and it also features the darkest color and smoothness. The hardness of the ebony also brings extra bright tones and sustain to the guitar.
There is not much a consumer can do with the specs of the frets as they are integrated with the neck by the manufacturers. As long as they allow you to play smoothly and articulate well, they will do. However, there is one thing you can pay attention to and that is how many frets a guitar has. Generally, guitars have 20 to 24 frets. But for some guitars designed for heavy metal music, the number of frets can go up to 27 for higher pitch. If it is not your case, a guitar with 21 or 22 frets is enough.
As the biggest part of a guitar, the body heavily affects the tones and resonance of a guitar depending on the woods and types of the body. Besides, the shape of a guitar body can influence how much comfort a guitarist can have during playing.
Alder is a kind of lightweight wood that brightens the tones of guitars and the sounds are penetrating. It is usually used on guitars built for brighter and crunchy tones like the Stratocaster and Telecaster. With powerful pickups, alder can sharpen the tones so much that it sounds like a knife which is especially welcomed by heavy metal guitarists.
Different from alder, mahogany is heavier in weight with warm tones. It is a common type for acoustic guitars and guitars that embraces a warmer tone such as a Les Paul. The tones of a mahogany body guitar are stable as a rock and have more mid and low frequency with desirable resonances.
Similar to mahogany, maple is heavy in weight but with a higher density. It embraces bright tones and its solidity brings ideal sustain for a guitar.
Like maple, ash is also heavy and dense. These features give it good sustain and a balanced position between bright and warm tones.
Basswood and poplar
These two types of wood are common body materials for Donner electric guitar lines. Basswood is light but has a warm sound. It gives a lot of mid-range frequency. Its lightweight and balanced tones make it suitable for beginner guitars. The poplar also features lightweight but with hardness. The tones of it are bright and crispy which makes it a nice match with the Telecaster.
Besides woods, body types are also significant in deciding the tones. For electric guitars, there are mainly two types – solid body and semi-hollow body. As you infer, the solid-body guitar usually features a sturdy sound than the semi-hollow and it is more versatile. While the semi-hollow guitars welcome warm and cleaner tones with a kind of acoustic resonance with it. It is heavily used by blues and jazz guitarists for its unique tones. However, do notice that if you plan to buy a semi-hollow guitar and put much gain on it, it can create a crazy amount of feedback to the amplifier hence making squeal sounds.
Although how the body is cut does not affect the tones much, it does affect a guitar’s playing experience. Generally speaking, a double cut guitar is more comfortable for players when they do a lot of high positions fretting. While on a single cut guitar, higher stretches of fingers are needed to reach those higher frets. There is no right or wrong in choosing a double cut or a single cut. It is all about personal preferences. Some people do like the bulky feelings on the single cut guitar while some people like the tight grip when bending on high frets that you can only have with a double cut guitar.
Pickups are undoubtedly the components that affect sound the most. If you want to ameliorate the sound of a guitar, changing the pickups is the most efficient and economy-friendly way. Different types of pickups bring completely different features to a guitar. Besides, different combo and setup of the pickups also affect the sound so choosing your desirable pickups types are critical in bringing back the guitar you want.
Single-coil pickups have been in used since the first electric guitar came out. The Les Paul model that features humbuckers right now had single-coil pickups known as P90 when it was invented. You may have this idea by knowing its name - a single-coil pickup has only one coil of wire and it is the number of the coil of wire that decides whether or not it is a single-coil pickup in that a pickup can have only one magnet or six separate magnets for each string, which is the common setup for pickups nowadays, still being called single-coil. Single-coil pickups have bright, clean, thin, crunchy and transparent sounds. It can make the sound of guitars really stand out in the band. Single-coils are commonly seem on Stratocaster and Telecaster. They are really popular guitars in blues, rock, country, indie, pop, and funk music. Although single-coil pickups give you very charming and transparent sounds, they tend to absorb and be interfered with by radiation in the air causing an undesirable hum in the amp when hands are off the strings but this hum can be reduced by using noiseless single-coil pickups.
PAF Humbucker on a Les Paul
In the 1950s, due to the annoying hum in the single-coil pickups, guitar companies decided to design a kind of pickups that do not hum under interfering circumstances. So around 1955, Gibson first design a kind of pickup that consist of a double coil of wire and excitingly eliminate or buck the hum getting the name “humbuckers” Due to the opposite polarity of the two coils, the physical principle that opposites attract makes it possible to reduce or eliminate unnecessary electromagnetic interference to improve the quality of the output signal and produce a resonant and warm guitar sound. After being invented, the humbucker made its debut on the 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard and the models released in the several following years. The sounds that the humbuckers made on the early Gibson Les Paul are so amazing that people nowadays keep buying the reissued models of 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standards and the PAF humbuckers are exclusive for these models. As a result, the prices of these humbuckers and guitars are skyrocketing. Because humbuckers produce thicker sounds, guitars for heavier music like heavy metal and core music all feature humbuckers and many guitars have a combination of single- and double-coil pickups.
With the technology developing, guitar companies manage to come up with different guitar wirings. With special guitar wiring, it is also common for a double-coil pickup to switch to single-coil turning off one of the coils to offer a choice between single- and double-coil. You can switch to single-coil usually by pulling up the volume or tone control knob on the body.
There are mainly two types of bridges for electric guitars; tremolo bridge, also known as a floating bridge, and stoptail bridge. The tremolo bridge usually has a whammy bar that comes with the guitar. The tremolo bridge allows you to bend up or down all strings together by exerting or reducing the pressure on the strings. With the tremolo bridge, you can imitate many unusual sounds with your guitars like the sounds of a dropping bomb. This kind of bridge is typically welcomed by metal-style music. However, the constant pressure changes on the strings can throw the strings out of tune. For the stoptail which is a fixed bridge, being out of tune is not a common issue. Since the strings are fixed on the stoptail bridge, more vibration is prone to last bringing extra sustain on the guitar.
Finally, I hope this guide can give you some useful information on choosing your electric guitar. There are no right or wrong setups for a guitar. But there is sure a setup that is right for your need. Do think twice about what you really need before your purchase. Condition permitting, it is better to actually play and feel the guitar before making any decision.
If you still have any questions, feel free to reach us by clicking the contact us button. Last but not least, we wish that you can have the guitar that is in your mind hopefully from Donner and all the best on your road to guitar mastery. Keep playing, musicians!