What makes a good electric guitar? How do we define that? What differentiates a bad sounding electric guitar to a good one? Being a simplest at heart and I only have 1 or 2 guitars that I play with at my gigs. I have found a sound that is unique to me and yet is flexible enough for me to take advantage of different styles without changing out a bunch of guitars.

I’m also considered a ‘strat cat’ and I play on both maple and rosewood necks. Each have their advantages, but I find the maple neck more round sounding and the rose wood neck has more of an attack.

I even play each guitar a little differently because of the type of wood that I’m playing. On the maple neck I play with 10 gauge strings while my red wood I play 9 gauge strings.

It’s all subjective, but here a few tips that might help define for you what makes a good electric guitar.

Woody is More Than Just Toy! – The Body

Ebony, rosewood, ash, alder? What does this all mean? Does wood REALLY change the sound and makes a difference?

Surprisingly yes. There’s a reason that your 2 biggest guitar companies on the planet (Gibson and Fender) have kept the same variations of wood for several reasons:

  • Gibson & Mahogany – Gibson has been using Mahogany for the Les Pauls’ for years (it’s also a heavier wood, which explains the weight of the Les Paul), and the wood generates a warm and mellow tone with awesome low frequencies, great lower mids and a smooth and somewhat subdued higher end
  • Fender & Alder – Leo Fender used Alder all through the mid 1950s and this wood is a denser grain that produces a more pronounced upper mid range. This kind of wood is known for a decent spunky blues or rock tone with a good balance of low – mid – high ranges

Wood does make a difference in the sound of a guitar, especially on acoustics, but what makes a good electric guitar starts with the basics, the type of wood.

Woody Woodpecker – Fret Board

And along with the body of the guitar is also the neck and fret board. Guitar makers typically use 3 different types of woods for the fret board:

  • Rosewood – is your more common fret board wood, it’s a tough wood that is susceptible to staining and wearing
  • Maple – adds clarity to the tone and ages organically and noticeably, some guitar players like this kind of nostalgic look
  • Ebony – is a nice combination of both the rosewood and the maple both in feel and in tonality

The type of wood used for the neck and fret board in combination with the type of wood used for the body also greatly affect the sound of the electric guitar.

The Pick Ups – Electronics

 

This is where much of what makes a good electric guitar possible. The type of pick-ups that are used has a great effect on what sounds good. There are a ton of different variations of pick-ups, but in a nutshell there are only 2 types, single coil and double coil. Up until 1955 most electric guitars used single coil pick-ups. They sounded great but also tended to be noisy and transmitted a ‘Hum’ sound.

It wasn’t until Seth Lover discovered that if he put two of the single coil pickups together into one pick up, this cancelled out (or bucked – as they used to say in those days) the electric hum and hence the “Hum-Bucker” pick up was born.

Single coil pick-ups tend to be brighter or have a crisper sound with great note definition between each string. Humbucker pick-ups tend to be thicker or a heavier sound with more sustain.

One is not “better” then the other they just sound different.

Famous guitar Players like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix played Fender Stratocasters with single coil pick-ups while guitar players like Jimmy Page and Slash play their Les Pauls with the famous humbucker pick-ups, although it has been said the Jimmy Page did play a Fender Telecaster with single coil pick-ups on some Zeppelin albums.

Electric Guitar Hardware

Hardware is all the other essential of the guitar that many guitar players overlook. These include the tuning pegs, the bridge of the guitar, the inlay, and both the tone and volume knobs.

These all play a key role in what makes a good electric guitar. A great sounding guitar that never stays in tune is frustrating. Same with a crappy bridge if it doesn’t keep the intonation in place the same chord higher on the neck can be out of tune.

Frustrating.

Keeping a great sounding guitar in tune and in intonation can make a huge difference in what makes a good electric guitar.

The Body Style

 

This part has nothing to do with the sound of the Guitar and EVERYTHING to do with the ‘Coolness’ factor. Some guitar players like the ‘V’ style guitar (I’m not a big fan), your standard fender strat body is more to my liking, I do like the coolness factor of the Gibson Les Paul with the sunburst color, or even Angus Young’s Red Gibson SG. (Angus used that guitar because the double cut-away reminded him of devil horns)

Whatever your style, this is has nothing to do with what makes a good electric guitar and more to do with how cool does the electric guitar look!

What Makes a Good Electric Guitar?

The variation of all 5 listed above of course! You can check YouTube and hear for yourself the difference between say an Epiphone Les Paul vs a real Gibson Les Paul. Or what a Japanese Fender Stratocaster vs an American Stratocaster sounds like. The sound and the feel of an electric guitar all have variances, but I’m hoping that I have at least shed some light on this subject.

Please feel free to leave some remarks below, thanks!

 

 

 

 

10 Replies to “5 Things That Makes a Good Electric Guitar”

  1. Hey Admin (I didn’t see a name listed), your article was a curious read. I’ve never had an electric guitar and I didn’t know so many things could be used to make one let alone make one to play with. 

    Also, I want to go on record as saying that I never knew that electric guitars consisted of so many parts and pieces. I mean, yeah they do but the fact that there is so much to breaking down their composition. Anyway, your post was great. Keep up the good work!

  2. Wow I never knew that different wood would change the sound of the guitar! However I thinking about it I can understand why as different types of wood has different hardness so the sound would react differently. 

    As I don’t play the guitar it’s interesting to read about the technical aspects from an experienced player.

    I’ve heard of a fender guitar, is that one of the best guitars you can play? 

    If I was starting out and wanted to learn to play the electric guitar what one would you reccomend ?

  3. As a huge fan of electric guitars, I love your insight here. Rosewood, Maple, and Ebony are all amazing types of wood used to make guitars, but I tend to stick with Maple for the nostalgic look that you pointed out. In reference to your coil pickups section, I am a huge fan of a single coil pickup due to the sound it makes. I am no Hendrix, but to be able to play and learn using the styles he did make me a little partial. In terms of body style, I just like what feels comfortable with weight and the ‘cool factor’ you referenced has me looking toward more rustic looks. Great post and great insight!

  4. I love music but know nothing about guitars but, after reading your article, I know a lot more than I did. Your Introduction connected you to the subject which is important as it shows that you have experience and knowledge. Some of my family members are guitar players and I enjoy listening to them.  I learned all alot about what goes into building a guitar. At what age do you thing a child should be introduced to learning to play? I have some small grandchildren that I would like to see learn an instrument such as a guitar. 

    1. Hi Carolyn!  I started when I was 7, but I was eager to start playing when I was 5.  If your grandchildren are eager to go then I would recommend starting them as soon as they have the music bug.  They will pick things up faster than most.

      For children I would recommend an Academy rather than a music store.  Academy’s are geared towards classes and reading music.  The also have recitals that helps them with handling stage fright.  I was in an Academy until I was 16, I learned so much more than I would have at a music store.  Hope this helps!

  5. I’m a keyboardist and sometime when I see and hear the singer of my band, I just envy him. So I said to myself: “let’s buy a guitar and practice again. My acoustic guitar is a cheap Yamaha (second hand). For now, I say to myself that what’s important is this: do I feel OK when I hold it? Does it feel right when I put my finger on the neck of the instrument? Since I don’t play that well, I will not have a good sound even I buy the best guitar in the world. Do you think this is a good way to go? Or should I start to play with a good guitar right away?

    1. Hi Jo, thanks for your comments!

      Check my other post, that might help, but start with something relatively inexpensive, and start with a guitar that you are comfortable with.  Just go try a bunch and see what fits for you, thanks again!

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