Want to start playing the electric guitar, but not sure which one to buy. There are literally hundreds of guitars available that claim to be perfect for beginners. It’s very confusing, so what is the best electric guitar for a beginner? Unlike most things in life, brand tends to matter. The secret to a good guitar is in the build, so a reputable manufacturer will have lots of experience and know how to make each of their guitars to a high quality standard. We’ll cover what to look for in a beginner’s electric guitar as well as introducing 5 of the best beginners guitars available right now. Don’t forget to check out my post on the best guitar accessories for beginners to ensure you have what you need to become a rock god!
What to Look For
The pickups are the part of the guitar that sense the vibration and convert it into an electric signal. There are two main sorts of pickup. The first is the single coil pickup. Most guitars have at least one of these, often more. The single coil pickup is better for playing with a crisp and clean tone, but if situated near the bridge can give a punchy distorted tone too.
The second main type are humbucker pickups. A humbucker is effectively two single coil pickups put together. The two single coils are wound in reverse so that the signal is “pushed” against itself. This causes the output to be doubled. It’s said that the coils “buck” against each other, hence the term humbucker.
There are two main type of material used to make the fretboard. The most common is rose wood. This provides a thicker sound in part due to the dark color of the wood. In contrast maple fretboards tend to produce a brighter sound, due to the lighter color of the wood. If you like to play with a brighter, cleaner tone then maple might be for you. Of course, you can always overcome the natural tone by using effects.
The action of the guitar refers to how close to the fretboard the strings rest. A lower action is better for beginners because it requires less effort to fret notes. You can adjust the action of a guitar, but it can be quite an involved job. Most models will have a standard action however each individual guitar will vary slightly.
This tends to be more about personal preference and styling. If you want to sit down and play, probably best not to buy a “V” shaped guitar. Other than that it’s personal preference. There’s the classic good looks of the Stratocaster, the traditional look of the Telecaster, the aggressive lines of an Ibanez and a whole host of other styles to choose from.
Guitars actually have different fret sizes. The smallest sized frets tend to be found on older guitars. There are then the vintage jumbo that are much wider. Modern frets are narrrower but taller. Medium frets are considerably larger while jumbo are the largest available. It’s good to start with bigger frets when you’re a beginner.
Alright. Now we know what to look for, let’s look at some guitars.
Yamaha Pacifica 012
The Yamaha Pacifica is a stalwart of a beginners guitar. I remember playing a Pacifica 15 years ago having recommended it to a friend. The guitar models itself on a Fender Fat Strat, which is one the guitars that I own. When I compared my Fat Strat to the Pacifica there was a clear difference, but it wasn’t as marked as I thought it would be. Of course the Fat Strat is a superior guitar, but that’s because it’s in a different class (the Fat Strat costs around $450 more than the Pacifica).
The Pacifica comes with two single coil pickups and a humbucker pickup at the bridge. Humbucker pickups produce that thick, crunchy sounds that we associate with rock, punk and metal. When playing clean, the humbuckers give you tone somewhere between distortion and a clean tone. The single coil pickups give a clean sound, esepcially at on the neck pickup and a bluesy tone when playing with distortion. The fretboard is made of rosewood.
This full-sized guitar, with 22 frets also copies fender for it’s switch position, volume and tone knobs. The Pacifica comes with a whammy bar to fit the tremelo bridge so you can get the inevitable out of the way and play like the beach boys. The action is reasonably low, which makes it easier to fret notes. The tone is good, but once you get past the 12th fret it starts to suffer a bit. Medium frets mean plenty of fret to aim at. The build quality is good, but the fittings could be better. To be fair, it’s a beginners guitar so as long as everything works that’s good enough.
The Pacifica will be versatile enough to allow you to learn to play and you won’t need to replace it, unless you want to of course. You’ll be able to use it to play live, but if you really get into playing in front of audiences you’ll eventually want to upgrade. Definitely a good choice of guitar for any beginner.
- Reputable beginners guitar
- Humbucker and single coil pickups give tonal flexibility
- Good quality for the price
- Comes with a warantee
- Fittings are a bit cheap
- Action could be better
- Quality of tone breaks down a bit past 12th fret
Fender Squier Bullet Strat
Here’s the Fender version of the Yamaha Pacifica. Squiers have been around since 1983. Aimed at the beginner, the advantage here is that you’re getting Fender quality. The neck features a satin finish and a “C”-shaped design, which makes it very comfortable to play. The fretboard is made of rosewood. There are 21 frets to play with. Unless you’re an experienced metal guitarist, that’s all you’ll need. The frets are medium sized, so there’s plenty of room to get used to fretting notes.
The tremelo bridge gives the ability for string bending using a whammy bar. The humbucker at the bridge and the two single coils give you a good tonal range. The guitar is light-weight, which is another great feature for beginners. Squiers are decent, but I’m not sure I’d want to play live with one, not regularly anyway. As with most beginners guitars, the fittings can be a little questionable. The machine heads aren’t the best so that’s something to watch. It might just mean tuning a little more often.
Strats are comfortable to play when sitting or standing with the lines of the body designed to rest against your body comfortably.
- Fender quality & good looking guitar
- Beginner friendly design
- Decent range of pickups for tonal range
- Comes with a guarantee
- Fittings aren’t the best (machine heads especially)
Ibanez GIO GRX70QA
Ibanez. A name synonymous with heavy rock and metal. The action on this guitar makes it perfect for beginners. There are two sets of humbucker pickups, one at the bridge and one at the neck. You can create some noise with this guitar. The frets are medium sized so good for beginners. Ibanez make very good guitars and this is no exception. It’s excellent quality for the price and a great introduction to Ibanez guitars.
Although Ibanez predominantly aim at the rock/metal market, this guitar is plenty capable of producing clean, smooth tones. Similar to the Pacifica and the Fender Squier there is a five way pickup switch and two knobs to control tone and volume. The guitar comes fitted with light strings, great for beginners because it’s easier to fret notes (definitely less painful on the fingers).
The neck is maple, so nice and smooth with a treated New Zeland pine fretboard, producing a similar tone to rosewood. 22 frets means plenty of room to explore the fretboard. Ibanez are well known for their funky finished. I played one once that had licks of flame all the way down the body. This one looks ok, but it’s not the best finish. This is a great choice for a beginner, especially if you’re into your metal!
- Great action
- Great pickups
- Two sets of humbuckers!
- Finish isn’t the best
- Aimed more at metal guitarists
Fender Squier Bullet Mustang
This is one for the indie fans amongst us. The Mustang has a distinctive body shape suited to playing either sitting down or stood up. There are 22 medium frets, which is the same as the Yamaha and one more than the Squier Strat. The fretboard is made of rosewood. Two humbucker pickups provide a rocky, crunchy tone all controlled by a three way switch. Two knobs control volume and tone. It’s got a decent action for beginners too.
There’s a bit of a complaint with the neck, there’s no satin finish so it’s not ultra smooth. The tone and volume knobs aren’t very responsive and you’ll only really notice a difference when turned all the way up or all the way down. It’s a little short scale at 24″ and has a skinnier neck, which makes it good for those with smaller hands
Lots of people say that this is great for a beginner or even as a backup guitar. That’s testament to it’s quality if it can be used as a stand in behind guitars that can cost much more. A great choice for those looking to play indie and 90’s rock.
- Two humbucker provide excellent tone
- 22 medium frets for plenty of range
- Fender quality
- Neck isn’t as smooth as it might be
- Better for indie than other styles
Epiphone Les Paul Player Pack
This guitar also comes as a beginners pack, so on top of the guitar you get:
- 10 watt practice amplifier (with headphone jack)
- Clip-on digital tuner
- Medium plectrums
- Downloadable guitar lessons
I’ve always coveted an Epiphone SG due to the fact that they are a fraction of the price but, in my view, sound just as good as the Gibson SG. So it is with this guitar, the Epiphones just sound great.
- Sounds great – not dissimilar from a much more expensive Gibson
- Two humbuckers for a great tonal range
- Comes as a part of the starter pack
- Neck is bolted to the body, which can affect the tone slightly
Whilst you can pick up electric guitars super cheaply you tend to get what you pay for. These guitars are not expensive by any means, but I wouldn’t want to recommend a $70 guitar that’s sure to disappoint. That’s why I feel going for a lower end of a brand in a good move. You’re getting guaranteed quality and usually they throw in diet versions of the features that make their higher end guitars so great.
I do love Fenders, but I have to say that the Epiphone Les Paul is the stand out winner for me amongst these 5. The Ibanez is close behind, but the quality of guitar and the accessories thrown in make this a brilliant choice for anyone just starting out.
I hope you’ve found this post useful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Alternatively get in touch via my contact page. Happy strumming!
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