Did you grow up blasting rock music? Maybe you idolized Jimi Hendrix and wanted to take the stage just like him.
Whatever the case, we’ve got 13 tips on playing the electric guitar right here – all tuned and refined for you. Read on to learn more!
Tip 1: Do the Research on Electric Guitars
We know it can be daunting for most beginners picking up their first electric guitar because there is so much information on the internet about tips for owning the best electric guitars, how to use one, and so forth. Therefore, we briefly addressed some of the most common and basic concerns under this first tip for you.
What Is an Electric Guitar?
An electric guitar is a fretted musical instrument that requires plucking the strings (fingers or a guitar pick). It is connected to an electrical device called an amplifier, which helps convert the string’s vibration into electrical signals. Through the guitar’s pickup to the amp, such signals are strengthened so that, ultimately, the sound is produced through one or more loudspeakers.
An electric guitar is used for multiple sounds and styles in genres. They include pop and rock, country, jazz, blues, electric blues, rock music, rock and roll, heavy metal, and much more.
Several electric guitar types exist, including the solid-body, chambered body, semi-acoustic, full hollow-body, electric acoustic, and the six-string guitar. The latter is the most common type.
How Does an Electric Guitar Compare with an Acoustic Guitar?
When merely hearing the word “guitar,” most people would picture playing an acoustic guitar, another popular string-instrument in the guitar family (and one who often sounds more romantic and serene, you can say). Its cousin, the electric guitar, is significantly different because, as mentioned previously, an electric guitar’s sound can be shaped or electronically altered to create different timbres or tonal qualities.
Furthermore, when deciding whether to start playing an electric guitar or acoustic guitar, we could argue that electric guitars are more comfortable to learn on some level. They have thinner strings, are much slimmer, and are more portable – so much that you don’t have to lean over as much to reach the fretboard.
However, there are also reasons why electric guitars are harder to learn guitar on. One of them is that electric guitarists deal with more variables in play at any one time. In other words, there are more controls or dials that you must adjust to influence the perfect sound of an electric guitar. Therefore, this may be overwhelming for many beginners at first.
In the end, both guitar versions work the same; you can press while holding the strings down with your left hand. Simultaneously, you can strum the strings with your right hand to produce music. Also, in terms of chords, electric guitar chords are the same as acoustic guitar chords. Of course, when we discuss electric guitar chords, we are referring to those on an electric. Plus, some chords sound better on electric than other guitars (like acoustic).
What Are the Body Parts of an Electric Guitar?
Invented in 1932, the electric guitar has been designed with dozens of different models in mind. However, as part of our first tip in understanding this magnificent human-made instrument, it’s good to also know the standard features found on them and what each does. The standard components of an electric guitar include:
- The Neck: Contains your fretboard where you press down to create a sound (or to ‘fret’ notes in the “guitarist” language)
- Machine heads: Small knob-heads lined after one another and located on the end of the neck/headstock. The knobs are turned to tune your strings and to adjust the pitches.
- The Tuning Nut: Located on the fretboard’s outer end, this piece holds the string in place across the fretboard.
- The Bridge: This piece is typically near the bottom of the guitar, and it firmly holds down the strings in their place. You have different bridges – the floating bridge and the fixed bridge.
- ‘Pickups’: Located centrally on the guitar’s board, The different ‘pickups’ change the tone of the guitar’s sound. They also ‘amplify’ your guitar by letting it produce sound through an amp. The main pickups are either ‘single coils’ or ‘humbuckers.’
- The ‘Pickup Selector’ Switch: This piece is located near the pickups and switches back and forth to control each pickup on the guitar to produce various sounds.
- The ‘Volume’ and ‘Tone’ Knobs: These dial controls are near the bridge, and you may have 2-5 knobs, depending on your electric guitar’s model. The knobs are turned to control the guitar’s volume and tone.
- The Jack input: It is the hole on your guitar’s bottom side, and for which you plug your cable into to connect with your amp.
Tip 2: Get What You Need but Nothing So Fancy
To work an electric guitar effectively and efficiently as a first-timer, you must own all the right and necessary gear. At the same time, you should also focus on getting decent quality equipment pieces rather than spend hundreds of dollars on each item. Luckily, though, companies out there understand how tough it is to learn a new instrument, so some offer electric guitar starter packs to help beginners get quickly started.
Below are the essential equipment pieces needed to play an electric guitar. They are:
- Amplifier: We touched on previously what an ‘amp’ is. The best guitar amps in the market can also be affordable at the same time, and you can find some portable amps as well. Simply put, without one, you won’t optimize the potential of your electric guitar’s sound.
- Instrument Cable: The cable is used to plug into your guitar’s jack input, and the other end goes into your amplifier. It may seem like just another ‘extra,’ but the amp is useless without the cable cord! Plus, among the required accessories for your electric guitar, even the best guitar cables end up being the most affordable pieces.
- Guitar Tuner: One of the dozens of tips on playing the electric guitar is always to tune its strings. Therefore, you’ll need a good guitar tuner, which can be found even through a mobile app. Tip #10 will introduce you to more on the basics of tuning your guitar.
- Guitar Strap: The strap is mainly used to better your posture when sitting or standing while playing the guitar. It also further helps to lift the guitar’s weight off your legs. We recommend woven or polyester materials for guitar straps rather than leather (no matter how much rock n’ roll they make you look) due to better durability. Plus, not too thin of a belt. Be sure to properly attach your guitar strap so no issue arise with your posture.
- Guitar Picks: The guitar pick is used to create a specific sound and help you strum your string-instrument more effectively, especially for someone who is barely starting out. Also, for just about anyone, buying the picks in packs leaves you for some spare ones if you end up losing some picks along the way (which is expected because they’re so small!). We also recommend the picks’ thickness size to be between 0.65 and 0.73. Besides this, knowing how to hold a guitar pick is just as important as picking out which picks to buy.
- Capo: A tool that clamps or tightens your guitar strings when used. This then allows you to change the key.
No matter how dead-serious you are about advancing your career as an electric guitarist, it doesn’t matter much about spending a lot on fancy new equipment. For example, you never know what happens along the way, such that you may pause from practice for a while or end up not entirely into the new hobby.
The key focus here is to start small when you are barely learning how to play the electric guitar. How you do so is to keep within a reasonable budget and keep things simple, like learning basic guitar chords first before playing songs on electric guitar. Let the learning process naturally take shape!
Where is it best to buy my equipment pieces to play my electric guitar?
These days, you can buy all the necessary gear online. However, if possible, we recommend visiting your local music store to look around and also discuss with the salesmen.
When it comes to between you and your music, each item should be treated like your own baby because they will feel more right when you actually feel and hold it at the start.
Tip 3: Get to Know Your New Best Friend, the ‘Amp’ (Its Channels and How to EQ It)
Basically, an amplifier takes sounds from your guitar and strengthens the sound waves to make them louder. The amp has different channels to help it achieve this. However, all amps have a “clean” channel: the pure tone coming from your guitar and the amp’s internal speakers.
Additionally, most amp systems have another channel called ‘distortion,’ ‘gain,’ and ‘overdrive.’ This second channel creates a more ‘fuzzy’ or ‘dirtier’ sound.
Depending on the amp you buy, some come with more than one ‘distorted’ channel. The multitude of these fuzzy channels enables you to play different and distinctive sounds and are easily switched between on the spot by pressing down on the amp’s connected foot pedal.
Keep in mind that most guitar amps have the same EQ knob dialers: gain, bass, middle, treble, presence, and master volume. They all are designed to control your overall balance of tone. The following briefly describes what each of the knobs does:
- Gain (Drive) knob: Controls for how much distortion comes out
- Bass knob: Controls for lower frequencies
- Middle knob: Controls for the frequencies in between
- Treble knob: Controls for higher frequencies
- Presence knob: Controls the tone in a way to make it more pronounced and present by increasing the upper midrange and treble frequencies
- Master volume: Controls for how loud your amp gets (overall volume)
Taking all that into account, next, we recommend setting your amp to a standard clean tone as a default. To do this, you will need to know how to ‘EQ your guitar amp.’ When guitarists tell you ‘to EQ,’ this would mean you can shape your tone in a very controlled way.
In other words, you are basically toying with several amp dials until you achieve the quality you want. You can think of your amp as the heart of your guitar tone – without a proper amp setup, you simply won’t sound good.
Here are quick, specific tips to EQ-ing a guitar amp to achieve the perfect guitar tone. They are:
- Turn all the amp knobs toward 12 o’clock: You will first set all the knobs on your guitar amp to 12 o’clock, which means directing them upwards like when the clock strikes noon or midnight. This makes for a great starting point because you can easily adjust your amp to where you want it from there.
- Focus on tweaking each knob, one at a time: Rather than directly rushing through toying with each knob, start with one control to focus on first and dial around slightly for a few minutes until you find the perfect tone. Each control features unique settings of its own but only to be discovered at a gradual pace. So, spending time tweaking each guitar amp knob is crucial.
- Avoid aggressively turning up your Gain knob: Many beginners crank up their guitar amp’s gain control because they want to achieve that perfect fun crunch tone. However, this will only turn your guitar sound into a loud, deafening buzz. Therefore, be cautious or not overly obnoxious when toying with the gain dial, especially learning how to EQ your guitar amp.
Essentially, you will have a standard set up for both your electric guitar and amp. As a result, you will play consistently and in a predictable manner.
Tip 4: Know Your “Elephants and Donkeys Grow Big Ears”
Are we still talking about electric guitars?
Yes! Part of the early stages in learning how to play the electric guitar involves understanding your guitar string notes function. Some would argue it is also almost like learning a new language because knowing the ins and outs of guitar sheet music will help you better communicate with other guitarists.
Furthermore, learning this very basic step in guitar playing speeds up your learning process. For example, if your instructor says, “we will be on the G string,” but this takes you some seconds to think about, then you might miss out on their subsequent instructions because you’re still wondering which string is G?
Each guitar string is associated with its own letter. They are as follows (from thickest to thinnest):
A key trick to memorizing this group of letters would be to note down the mnemonic device, a sentence where the first letter of each word corresponds to that string’s name. What’s more, is that most are usually humorous, making it easier for you to recall!
You can choose to remember one of the following mnemonic devices:
- Elephants and Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Elvis Always Did Get By Easy
- Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie
Tip 5: Learn by Watching Influencers and YouTubers
Watching is one of the ways many people learn new things, especially with playing an electric guitar. It used to be that back then, learning to play a new instrument was more challenging because the internet was more or less absent.
However, now you can familiarize yourself with the technical aspects, such as enrolling in online courses or (and we like free, so we suggest this one more) through YouTube. With the rise of the social media influencers phenomenon, dozens of these ‘local celebrities’ are more or less paid to share their video tutorials over a broad range of topics, including electric guitar lessons.
Additionally, you clearly can choose an offline teacher or who is merely a friend willing to help you out. Compared to learning guitar lessons online, nothing is as enriching as the old-fashion method. Your lessons are more valuable from just seeing your tutor’s facial expressions, the way their fingers dance across the fretboard, and how they arch their back.
Tip 6: Learn by Listening to Guitar Lesson Podcasts
Beyond visualization, another method in which we humans learn and grow is through listening. Ironically enough, there is a growing trend in audio technology, which will become the next big thing in the future. In turn, this has given rise to the disruptive medium of podcasting.
Therefore, we recommend improving your electric guitar skills with audio-based training. For example, on your way to work or biking to school, you may enjoy the popular podcast, The Guitar Podcast by Loren Hunt.
In the process, you will develop not only a higher Guitar IQ but an excellent overall ear. Plus, generally, listening to podcasts involves no costs or fees at all!
Tip 7: Download a (Free) Metronome App
There are many tips on playing the electric guitar, most of which have popularly advised using a metronome!
A metronome is a timing device that creates a steady pulse while the musician plays. It’s another piece of equipment to help with your practice, but it is free or one of the low-cost tools benefiting you. It’s easy to find online a free metronome or download a metronome app.
Timing is everything, especially when it comes to making music. You’d want to have good rhythmic control when you start initially. Then, later on, your sound results will flow in tune with other musicians.
Like with all good things, it takes time, and starting small goes a long way. So, always play any piece of music slowly with a gradual increase in the tempo.
Tip 8: Hit the Books on Music Theory
Hands-on experiences are backed by theoretical knowledge. To be practical with an electric guitar, one must also have some background knowledge of music theory.
Music theory is, basically, the study of music. Interestingly enough, music existed before theory because people were making music naturally before finding ways to explain how and why. Therefore, you don’t need to have taken a class to become a good musician. It’s just very beneficial to know the terminologies or technicalities.
Imagine those who cannot read or write but can still verbally express their feelings and thoughts to get others to understand them. Musicians are similar in that some are self-taught, never having learned to write or read music due to finding it all tedious an unnecessary.
So, by taking it upon yourself to understand some music theory related to electric guitar playing, you may end up picking up new techniques, creating unfamiliar music styles, and developing overall higher confidence in the process.
Tip 9: Sit up, Strap on, and Relax
Did you know that your body posture influences the effectiveness of your guitar sounds? But also playing guitar affects your body posture? That is why knowing how to hold your guitar is important.
For instance, when you stand or sit while playing your guitar for some hours, you may feel a strange ache, mainly in the back, shoulders, legs, and wrists. Due to tension buildup, this is quite common among beginner guitarists.
Here are several common areas of your body that mainly suffer from guitar playing and specific tips on reducing the pain.
Back Pain (When Sitting)
Some of us may already have bad posture when we sit to read or write. Guitar playing promotes this even more when you sit down to play because it causes you to hunch over to reach certain parts of your instrument.
To avoid bad posture when sitting and playing, push your chest slightly outwards. What you really want to avoid is arching your lower back outwards. Plus, you can consider investing in a quality ergonomic chair for all your guitar rehearsals and beyond.
Back Pain (When Standing)
When playing and standing, be aware of lengthening your back and keep your guitar at a comfortable distance. One solution to this would be to invest in a durable guitar strap, as mentioned earlier in the article. In this way, you control the distance from which your guitar is held.
What you can further do is adjust your strap first when you are sitting with the guitar. Then, your guitar should be at around the correct height for you when you stand up. Some prefer to hang their guitar lower or beneath your waist. However, the main idea is not to bend your wrist too much when playing. Also, when the guitar is too high, your shoulders become too raised for playing open chords.
Unknowingly, most of us harbor our anxiety and stresses within our shoulders. Guitar playing promotes shoulder tension even more, especially when playing a fast passage. As this area of your body is where pain commonly occurs due to heavy guitar strumming, you should always actively remember to relax your shoulders then.
Tip 10: Tune Like There’s No Tomorrow
Often hear the term ‘tuning’ when it comes to playing the guitar? Tuning your guitar strings is one of the best ways to make it sound consistently exceptional at all times.
Tuning your guitar is a habit you need to develop – not just a skill.
We recommend learning how to tune your guitar strings as soon as possible because the sooner you know, the quicker you will have fun naturally playing without looking at the clock.
‘Standard tuning’ is one of the most common ways to approach guitar tuning. It strikes a balance between playing chords and playing guitar scales. Also, tuning a guitar involves various ways, such as tuning by ear (without a tuner) or tuning with electronic tuners, mainly including a microphone-based tuner, vibration-based tuner, and a plug-in/pedal.
For beginners, tuning by ear may be the longest time to learn but the most valuable (and natural) method. You will always have your hearing to rely on, if not your electrical tuner with you. Plus, you would not have to buy an additional piece of equipment if you mostly know how to tune by ear.
Nowadays, however, the most modern approach is tuning a guitar with an app. Given that most people spend most of their time on their phones, a guitar tuning app is the most convenient and low-cost method. Some tuning apps to consider are Cleartune and VITALtuner.
Lastly, what happens if you avoid tuning your guitar for too long? You would then have been consistently playing and untuned guitar, which makes you already used to the off-tuned sound at that point. Thus, it will be hard to recognize or become familiar with the sound of the “correct” pitch for each string.
Tip 11: Focus on Accuracy Before Speed
As often seen on rock n’ roll music videos, many artists thrust their heads back and forth while strumming quickly to the loud power of their electric guitar. It so happens that this should not be the case.
Most beginners focus more on speed before accuracy with their electric guitar. This is where it becomes problematic because you should be starting slow and steady. When you’re barely learning how to play guitar at first, you will need to train your mind first to know how to apply the right fingers to each of their associated notes and move around on your fretboard.
If you feel you have mastered one particular area in your run of notes, you can challenge yourself more in the next part by gradually increasing your speed.
Tip 12: Avoid Strumming Away Your Pain
When next focusing on how to strum your guitar, some players forget about what to avoid. The common disassociation with playing the electric guitar is that often beginners assume strumming hard to produce louder sounds is the way to go. However, violently strumming your guitar can lead to finger cuts, bleeding nails, and, thus, awkward bandagings.
An important tip we want to really stress is to strum in a balanced way. Besides, your amplifier is there to strengthen the electric sound waves. So, you don’t even need to strum as hard as you want your strings to sound. Bass tones are the first to be stricken, and as a result, they absorb most of your force. Strumming the guitar strings too hard leads to no balance in the bass tones and almost no mid or treble tones.
Tip 13: Rehearse Not Only Regularly But in the Dark and out in the Spotlight
Mr. Hendrix didn’t become ‘one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time’ overnight. But that is why likely many of us start to pick up an electric guitar in the first place.
Still, with such a ‘god-given talent’ like his, there were undoubtedly endless nights of blood, sweat, and tears into forming such legendary greatness.
Our final tip is beyond the obviousness of practicing regularly – you should also do it alone and in the public eye.
Rehearsing alone will lead you to have fewer anxieties than when having people around you. You may want to repeat a few bars of music a hundred times until you get it right. For this part, playing in solitude is the key (but then checking up on whether your neighbors are home is a different story). Plus, an intense solo practice will also allow you to, eventually, play without looking (maybe even blindfolded if you get that good).
Then, after months of rehearsals in solitude or combination with a few friends/tutors here and there, you will likely have a performance-ready piece. This is when we recommend you jump out of your comfort zone and into the spotlight.
What’s the point of honing mad electric guitarist skills if you won’t, eventually, show it off to an audience? Will you always want to play for yourself? Of course not!
Let’s not forget, after all, you boldly took it upon yourself to learn a whole new instrument in the first place. After conquering your intimidation and nerves of learning all the ins and outs of playing the electric guitar, you’ve come a long way, my friend – even far enough to conquer your next challenge, stage fright. So, stop fretting!
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.