Are you thinking about your first guitar purchase but don’t know where to start? Maybe you already play guitar but you’re still confused with all that guitar jargon. We, at Samuel Music, are here to help. No matter what your situation, here are some simple answers to a lot of common questions we get about guitars.
I thought this would be a good place to start because it applies to all the other questions. To put it simply, tone is the way your guitar sounds. There are a lot of different adjectives used to describe tone such as bright, warm, smooth, chimey, aggressive, etc. Tone is very subjective and different players will want different tones. Everything from the pick you’re using to the type of speaker in your amplifier will affect your overall tone.
There are several different types of wood used in guitars. Some of the common types include Maple, Mahogany, Rosewood, Spruce (in acoustic guitars), Alder and Ash.
Maple - There are two main types of maple, hard maple and soft maple. Hard maple is usually used in guitar necks while Soft Maple is often used as a carved top on a guitar. Fender guitars usually have a hard maple neck that contributes to that bright Fender sound. Some Fender guitars even feature a one piece maple neck in which the neck and fretboard are the same piece of wood. This creates a different look and feel as seen here. Guitars such as the DBZ Bolero may have a carved soft maple top. The grain in these tops is often figured to add to the look of the guitar.
Alder – Alder is used extensively in Fender guitars among others. Its tone is balanced and full, which makes it great for a guitar body. Since alder doesn’t have much figure or distinct grain lines, it is usually finished with a solid color.
Ash – This is another common wood found in Fender guitars. It has a tone similar to alder but features darker, more distinct grain lines. Because of this, it is often finished with a translucent color.
Mahogany – This type of wood is used in guitar bodies and necks. The tone of mahogany is often described as warm and full. A common wood combination is a mahogany core with a maple top. This combo has been a staple in rock and roll since the beginning.
Rosewood – This wood is often used for guitar fingerboards or for the back and sides of an acoustic guitar. Guitarists often like rosewood because of it’s warm tone and smooth feel.
Spruce – This is probably the most common type of wood used for acoustic guitar and violin tops. Spruce is used for its amazing strength to weight ratio. This is important since guitar tops are always under stress but also need to vibrate well.
Other Wood Types – I could go on for days describing all the different types of wood used in guitars. There are too many to list on this page. The more important thing is for you to try several guitars and hear the differences for yourself. Come in our stores and ask one of our informed salespeople to help you!
Let’s start with an acoustic guitar because it’s the simplest. Acoustic guitars consist of a hollow, wooden body joined to a solid neck. The body has a sound-hole to project the sound generated by the strings. That’s about all there is to it.
An acoustic/electric guitar is basically an acoustic guitar with an electronic pickup so it can be played through a PA system or an amplifier.
An electric guitar usually has a solid or semi hollow body and requires an amplifier to be heard by an audience. Electric guitars have a much different sound than their acoustic counterparts.
There’s no definitive answer for this one. It depends a lot on your teacher and how they prefer to teach beginning guitar. There are advantages and disadvantages for each one. Acoustic guitars are nice because they don’t require an amplifier. This drastically simplifies things for the beginner. Electric guitars require an amplifier but are often easier to play because they use lighter strings.
The advantage of buying a guitar pack is that it includes everything a person needs to start playing for a great price. Guitar packs usually include a guitar, tuner, picks, strap & an amplifier (electric guitar only) in one convenient package. We recommend guitar packs to several customers for this very reason. There are also times when a guitar pack might not be the best option for you. If you have a specific guitar or amp in mind it may not come in a guitar pack. In that case your best option may be to buy separately.
There are several differences between high and low priced guitars.
More time is invested in higher priced instruments to ensure they play well and sound good. The action (how far the strings are from the fret board) of a higher priced guitar will usually be much lower, making it easier to play. The frets will also be leveled and dressed much better.
The finish of a higher priced guitar is usually much thinner, allowing the guitar to vibrate more freely. There is also more attention given to detail in the finish of a higher end instrument.
Higher priced guitars are generally made from a better grade of wood than their cheaper counterparts. Better wood makes a better sounding, better playing guitar.
The electronic components (such as pickups, pots, & switches) in higher priced guitars are of higher quality and are put together much better.
To put it simply, a pickup is a device that senses the movements of the metal strings on a guitar and then sends it through a cable to an amplifier.
There are two main types of pickups (for electric guitar), single coils and humbuckers. A single coil gets is name because it is basically a coil of copper wire wrapped around six magnets (one for each string). The sound of a single coil is usually bright and clear. They are often associated with Fender and similar types of guitars. A humbucker is kind of like two single coils connected together. They are arranged in such a way that the pickup will cancel out hum caused by fluorescent lights and other things. This is where the term humbucker comes from. Along with canceling out the hum, some of the higher frequencies are canceled out as well. This gives a humbucker a warmer, darker sound. A humbucker will generally have more output than a single coil as well.
A tremolo, or vibrato as they’re sometimes called, is a device that raises and lowers the pitch of all the strings simultaneously. There are several different types but they all do the same basic function. If you’re looking for a good example, Jimi Hendrix & Eddie Van Halen used tremolos extensively in their playing style.
When choosing a guitar, take into consideration that tremolo equipped guitars require a bit more patience & maintenance. Guitar players often find they’re harder to get in tune, keep in tune, and to restring. To some folks, this is well worth the added benefit of having a tremolo. For others, it’s an added frustration.
The scale length of a guitar is simply the distance from the nut to the bridge of a guitar. Fender guitars commonly have a 25.5” scale length, where other types may have a 24.75” scale length or somewhere in-between. Players with smaller hands and/or shorter fingers may prefer a guitar with a shorter scale length because the frets are closer together, making it easier to play. A shorter scale guitar also has a looser feel and is easier to bend on because there is less tension on the strings. There are some players, however, who prefer the longer 25.5” and like the extra string tension and clearer, more powerful sound that accompanies it.
Let’s start with the fret board radius. When you look at a guitars fret board, you may notice that it isn’t flat but arched. This arch on the fret board is the radius. Fret board radii range from about 7.25 (on some vintage Fenders)” to perfectly flat (on classical guitars). In general, more rounded fret boards are more comfortable to play chords on and flatter fret boards are easier to bend notes on. Your playing style will have a lot of influence over which style of fret board you prefer.
Guitar necks come in all kinds of shapes and thicknesses. The type of music you play may have an impact on the type of neck you choose. Guitarists that play a lot of fast passages may want a thinner neck that’s easier to move around on. Other players may get cramps from playing on a thin neck and opt for a thicker one.