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.
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!