The electric guitar is the sound of rock 'n' roll. For decades, musicians have turned to the electric guitar to define their sound and express themselves. Though it is the dominant element in rock, punk and metal, this instrument is found in several genres of modern popular music. Unlike the acoustic guitar, the electric requires an amplifier to be heard. However, there are also acoustic electric guitars, which take the best of both by giving you the hollow body of an acoustic (smaller in size than a full acoustic), and the amplification and effects of an electric guitar.
Electric guitars vary widely in their sound. The type of wood used to make the guitar is important. Harder woods like alder and ash will give you more sustain and a warm tone. Maple, another hard wood, provides a harsher, stronger, louder tone – this is important if you're the only guitarist in the band, since you're the only one carrying the guitar sound. Softer woods like mahogany, ebony and rosewood give you a deeper, warmer tone, and are great for jazz. The strings, pickups, body, amplifiers and add-ons such as effects pedals also play a role in determining the sound of an electric guitar.
There are many different guitar makers out there, but one of the most famous is Fender. A Fender electric guitar will give you a distinct bluesy tone. Some of the best guitarists in the world have made Fender their guitar of choice, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, John Frusciante and many more. A Gibson Les Paul, by contrast, would give you a harder, angrier sound – perfect for hard rock and metal.
Fender's most easily recognized body style is the Stratocaster. Its double-cutaways make it easy for guitarists to reach the highest notes on the fretboard, and its three single-coil pickups provide a wide range of sounds and tones. Nothing quite sounds like the soulful wail of a Strat. There's no patent on this body style, so you'll see it copied on many other makes. It's the headstock that makes the guitar unique.
The bass is the deep booming brother of the electric guitar. Electric bass guitars fill out the bottom end of a band's sound. They have fewer strings than a regular guitar, but the strings are much thicker, to produce those low notes. You can play a bass with a pick, but most bassists tend to use their fingers to pluck the strings. Your fingertips give a much more muted sound than a pick, which is often the desired effect. Most bass lines consist of single notes, not chords; another reason you won't need a pick. Some bassists, on the other hand, like the sound of the pick against the strings – it all depends on the individual player.
Well-made guitars don't come cheap. Lower-end electric guitars retail for about $200 to $500, depending on where you shop, and higher-end guitars sell for about $1,300 to $2,000 – and that's just the guitar by itself, not to mention guitar accessories. But there's no need to spend all that money right away on something you might not stick with. If you're thinking of taking up the guitar as a hobby, you could start off by getting a guitar package.
Electric guitar packages are often put together by a retailer, though some are assembled by the manufacturer. They usually consist of a guitar, amp, cord, picks, strap, tuner, extra strings and a starter's book and/or instructional DVD. You might even get a soft case with it. Packages usually go for $250 to $500; not bad considering everything you're getting. The guitar won't be anything spectacular, but for a beginner, it's fine. If you decide you want to seriously pursue electric guitar playing, that's when you should upgrade to a well-made guitar.