Guitar players like any other musician often form a close relationship with their instrument. Consider Willy Nelson’s more than forty year old Martin guitar “trigger”, Eric Clapton’s infamous black Fender Statocaster “Blackie”, Eddie Van Halen’s custom built “Frankenstein” or the iconic Les Paul played by axe-man Slash. The real question for us average Joe’s is: how did they find that perfect guitar and what do we need to consider when choosing our own instrument?
The first criteria must be the feel. If you don’t like the way it plays you won’t want to play it. Is it too heavy, too light? How does it sit on your body? Do you prefer rosewood or maple fingerboard? What about the action, how close do the strings sit to the board? What size strings will you put on it? The best instrument for you will fit your body and feel comfortable and natural. It will call to you from across the room.
Next is sound. You need to consider what style you play; many guitars have become synonymous with certain genres. For example, Stratocasters are often seen in blues and country, Gibson SG’s are pure classic rock, and the flying V was immortalized by Rhandy Rhoades when he played with Ozzy in the 80’s bringing it to the heavy metal forefront.
Acoustic guitars also have similar distinctions. Do you want nylon or steel string? Or how about a baritone guitar which is great for fingerstyle playing? Dobro’s are made for playing slide or you could even go with a 12 strings for that added glisten. Semi-hollow bodies are a cross between an electric and an acoustic and are great for that thick jazzy sound.
When factoring in the sound of the instrument you need to try guitars made from different base woods, especially when it comes to acoustics. The type of material used has a huge impact on the sound it produces. Also there is such a thing as an “electric-acoustic” which is just an amplified acoustic. For an electric-acoustic to truly sound descent however you really need and acoustic amp, so take that into consideration when buying.
On solid body electrics the deciding factor will often be the pickups. There are two main choices, single coil or humbucking. Single coil are the type you will see on a standard Fender Strat, these were the original style of electric guitar pickups and are still quite versatile today. Because single coil had the tendency to pick up RF interference humbuckers were created. These pickups are common on Gibson Les Pauls. Basically they are two single coils attached together as a single unit. To know which pickup is right for you try both and make sure to turn on the distortion channel when testing because each of these handle overdrive differently. It pretty much comes down to personal taste. The best example of the difference is that Stevie Ray Vaughn used single coil and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top uses humbuckers, both are blues artists but they have strikingly different sounds.
Once you are satisfied with the feel and the sound of your instrument then you can worry about the appearance. Often that is the last thing any good guitar player worries about. Yes, we all want to look cool on stage but we still have make music. Be sure that whatever you pick matches your own unique personality. Most of all though, have fun with it, take care of your instrument and make more music. The world always needs more music.
For more info:
Guitar world magazine
Guitar buyers guide
Wikipedia on Guitars