My reply to a friend who was thinking of buying a ''beginner'' electric guitar package for his wife, for Christmas.
I've held off on posting it, as I wasn't sure if she reads my blog, and I didn't want to spoil the surprise.
I am **always** happy to facilitate people getting a guitar. :)
> I'm emailing you for help with gift recommendations. I'm thinking
> about getting her an electric guiatar. Lately, she's been messing around
> with an old accoustic and she's got to get her verse set to music.
> I have no clue and need help! I'm good with spending ~250 for the guitar
> and ~50 for the amp.
> Costco and the warehouse places are selling them -
> (There's just something wrong with buying a guitar where I get 50 packs of
> And trading musician has a few that look promising too
> Any suggestions?
PREFACE: WHERE TO BUY --
I've mail-ordered from American Musical Supply --
and Musician's Friend -- http://www.musiciansfriend.com/
Both were good (as of 2003, when I moved to AU...) -- but you know
what? Musician's Friend has a better web design/interface (e.g. lets
you sort within a category by price) -- and they actually stock some
things that AMS doesn't -- so, for our current purposes, phoey on AMS.
Locally, I **love** the Trading Musician. They have a wide range of
stuff; it's mostly "used" gear (which means you'll find quirky,
interesting stuff); they stock a wide range of prices (i.e.
"collectable/botique" stuff, as well as mundane, inexpensive stuff);
and their staff actually knows what they have in stock, and actually
Costco is fine if you happen to like what they have. :)
WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR:
One of the things that I love about electric guitars (as opposed to
acoustics) is that you have tons of flexibility in modifying their
basic sound -- so you can go "country", "hard rock", "folk",
"psychadelic", and etc., with the same guitar, just by adding an
effects pedal or two.
Different configurations or styles of electric gutars have their own
broad "sound", which is somewhat affected by the amplifier (but,
you're not going to be getting into that) -- and majorly affected by
plugging an effects pedal into the signal chain (guitar --> F/X pedal
So, it depends on the type of music she hopes to play.
-GUITAR -- broadly speaking, there are four basic electric guitar
sounds (which can be mostly overwhelmed by the F/X pedals).
-Single-coil - fake Stratocaster -- these tend towards a thin and
bitey sound. Jimi Hendrix, a lot of Nirvana's stuff, Buddy Holly,
surf guitar (those 1960s California instrumentals...). Some "oddball"
ones as well, like this one at Trading Musician --
-Telecaster version of single-coil -- Used a lot in country; Bruce
Springsteen also uses, and some Buddy Holly. Bitey.
-Lipstick pickups -- Danelectro guitars are famous for this.
Inexpensive example here --
-- guitars with lipsticks tend to have a "retro" look (1960s?), as
well. I describe the sound as "buttery".
-Humbuckers -- Meaty, thick, possibly "heavy". AC/DC uses them, and others.
Most of these can emulate other sounds: for example, by using the
tone knob on a guitar with humbuckers (and using the pickup near the
tail end, rather than near the neck of the guitar) you can decrease
the lows, to give you more of a single-coil (thin, trebly) sound.
Most "beginnner" electric gutiars are what I call "fake
Stratocasters". Nothing wrong with them -- although it'll be harder
to sound "heavy". Otherwise, very versatile as far as genres and
over-all sound. :) The Costco guitar package that you linked to
falls into this category.
-AMPLIFIER -- I'd suggest getting an amplifier that has at least a 5"
diameter speaker -- any smaller than that and the sound quality
suffers (unless you only listen with headphones) -- the tiny speaker
can't reproduce the low-frequency/bassier/lower-mids frequencies,
which gives you a weak sound. This ends up sounding disappointing,
which dampens the enthusiasm with playing. (Again, your Costco kit
I have a preference for ''open back'' amplifiers for guitars: if you
can see the rear of the speaker from behind the amp, it's open-back;
if you just see the back of the speaker, and not its insides, then
it's close-backed. ;)
Bonus points if there's a headphone output on the amplifier.
Don't worry about if the amplifier includes a "distortion" or
"overdrive" button. At the beginner/intro-level guitar amps, the
sound will be rather cheesy (although useful as a special effect, I
suppose).You're better off buying a dedicated distortion pedal for
around US$30 -- e.g. the Danelectro ones here (I own some of them [not
the "FAB" line, though] --
). Put differently: at this price point, you're looking for an
amplifier that's neutral -- better to outsource the sound-altering to
a dedicated f/x pedal (which you can always upgrade, or add to...).
-EFFECTS PEDALS -- Broadly speaking, I'd start her off on one (maybe
two?) effects pedals. If she gets into it, there's room to expand.
( I own fifty(?) -- so clearly, I'm partial. :) )
If she wants just a bit of sweetness (e.g. bluesy distortion, Eric
Clapton), get an "Overdrive" pedal (or "Blues").
If she wants **obvious** distortion (hard rock, heavy metal), get
"Distortion", "Fuzz" (slightly cheezy sounding, but I like it -- old
punk rock?); or "Heavy Metal" (These are all shorthands -- people
have a sense of what general range of sounds the pedal will provide.)
If she wants a subtle to moderate amount of echo (parking garage;
"Well since my BABY left ME..."; rockabilly; surf guitar
instrumentals), get a "Reverb" pedal.
For stuff that says "Hey! I'm in outer space!", or doing artsy,
obvious echoes (e.g. play a note and it repeats twenty times), get a
For a psychadelic, swirly sound, get a "Flanger" or a "Phaser".
For a shimmery, slightly underwater effect (e.g. most of the Police),
get a "Chorus" pedal.
If you want a "funk" sound (wah-chikka-wah-chikka), then you want a
wah-wah pedal, or an auto-wah -- e.g.
There's more categories -- but those are the solid foundational ones. :)
They tend to take a 9V battery -- and/or you pay extra for a "wall
wart" power supply.
My personal recommendation would be to get an overdrive or distortion
pedal if she's going for some flavor of rock, or a reverb pedal if
she's not. (A bonus with the reverb pedal is that you can put it
in-line with a microphone...!)
GRAND TOTAL RECOMMENDATIONS: You have a better sense than I,
regarding her musical ambitions (i.e. the genre of song she's
intending to write), and her musical tastes (if you don't know her
ambitions, her listening tastes is probably a good predictor.)
-SHOPPING LIST -- Get a guitar, an amp, and one or two effects pedals.
If you get a pedal or two, you'll also need an extra guitar cable
per effects pedal. If you get two pedals, then one of the "extra"
cables only needs to be a 6" or one-foot cord, to go between them.
She probably already has a guitar tuner from her acoustic guitar
(although if a "beginner kit" includes one, that's good.) Guitar bag
and a guitar stand are bonuses, but not necessary (one of my guitars
is in a pillowcase + bath towel + some cord wrapped around...).
If you're getting just one pedal, get a reverb pedal (e.g. $30 --
), OR an overdrive or distortion-ish pedal.
If you're getting two pedals, get reverb AND a
-BEST BARGAIN -- The Costco kit for $130. Either mail order an
effects pedal (standard shipping may, or may not, get it to you by
Christmas), or support your local **excellent** music store by going
to the Trading Musician for your effects pedals.
If the lady is the sort to "personalize" stuff, include some poster
paint, stickers, cans of spraypaint, or etc.
-MORE UNIQUE: Stop by Trading Musician and tell them you want a
beginner's kit, at the cheap end. Ideally, the guitar will be around
$150-$200, although the amp might then be around $80. Doesn't leave
much room for the effects pedals...
Trading Musician may have a Kay/Teisco-ish guitar --
http://www.musicspirit.ch/media/teisco$20tulip$20definit.JPG -- in
stock. These can either be bizzarely pricey (collectable), or dirt
cheap (during my 2006(?) visit, I picked one up from them for around
$80 -- plays well, good sound...). Certainly unique looking.
(They're inexpensive because the bodies tend to be plywood, rather
than a solid chunk of wood -- and just generally cheezy --e.g. smaller
-SMALL HANDS -- I forget whether Laura has small hands -- but there's
a "cutesy" brand, designed by a woman, called Daisy Rock. Musician's
Friend carries 'em, and they seem to be around $200 for the starter
pack (the amp seems a little small, though) --
-- or $150 for the star-shaped one --
-- and the heart-shaped one --
(...not including shipping...)
Also butterfly shape, daisy shape, etc. --
They're "real" guitars, not toys. I've heard good things about them,
and I've tried out an electric bass of theirs, once (seemed fine).
Similarly, the Hannah Montana electric guitar -- really!!! -- is good
(I own one). It has a Telecaster-ish sound (i.e. twangy/bitey) -- so
you won't get a "heavy" sound out of it, but it'll do fine for folk,
blues, non-heavy rock, jazz, blues, etc.
--$50 -- but it **is** a real guitar. And, a I recall, it's a shorter
length than "regular" guitars.
If you don't want to wait, you can probably find one at your local
K-Mart, Target, or Fred Meyers (although, being the Christmas season,
it may be sold out). And you'd still need to pick up a guitar amp
(with >5" speaker!) from somewhere, as well.
So -- how's that? :)
I check my e-mail near-daily, so feel free to e-mail back if you want
clarifications or confirmations/verifications on stuff...