For the past 7 years I have been playing on a C.C. Clark electric guitar. My folks bought me the guitar for Christmas in 1999 and, for me, it opened up the door to rock. For seven years I practiced this hip orange/red guitar. I changed my amp from a starter Fender to a Peavey 112 (in actuality, it’s a bass amp but it’s robust and gives great umph when amplifying a guitar) but the guitar remained the same. Recently I decided it’s time to upgrade my guitar. Upgrade to something that I can hold on to. Something high quality.
So here I am, standing at the threshold of guitar equipment, realizing that I know absolutely nothing about guitar brands or guitar manufacturing.
clearly, this calls for some research.
There are a few basic things we need to know before we dive into the difference between specific electric guitars.
Here’s a representative guitar MSPaint with some vocabulary defined. When a guitarist plucks a string on her guitar the steel string vibrates. The pickups, which consist of a magnet, each have a little magnetic field around them. The physical vibration of a string is turned into an electrical ‘vibration’ in a coil of wire around the magnet when the string meddles with the coil’s magnetic field. The electrical signal is transmitted to the amp which then amplifies the signal to turn it into a rocking sound.
When it comes down to it, there are two kings in the world of electric guitars: The Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.
The Strat was designed by Clarence Leonidas Fender in the 1950’s. It’s the quintessential rock guitar. It has a tight bright sound that was and is preferred by a huge heap of popular musicians. Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour (pink floyd), Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn have all been avid Strat players.
The Strat has three pickups, a headstock that’s perfectly in line with the neck, two cutaways for high fret rocking, and a solid body that, these days, is often made out of ash or alder wood. The toggle switch shown on the image above defines which pickups send their signal back to the amp. The pickups closer to the bridge tend to give a bright lead ‘wailing guitar’ sort of sound while those closer to the neck give a more wholesome rhythm sound.
The Les Paul
The Les Paul was designed by Lester William Polsfuss. He’s a Jazz musician who stormed into the world of guitar design with the Solid Body guitar. It started off with the infamous ‘log’ which was no more than a 2×4 with electronics attached. Les Paul then collaborated with Gibson and fine tuned the design into a guitar giant.
The LP is heavy. It has two ‘humbuckers’ which are essentially double coiled pickups. These pickups are said to eliminate the hum of electric guitars. They also give a much thicker tone than the strat, some describe it as a growl. Like the strat, you can change the tone slightly with the toggle switch. Typically, the Les Paul toggle switch has three positions, front humbucker, both humbuckers, and back humbucker. Each pickup also has its own tone and volume knob which help fine tune the sound you get from the guitar. Unlike the strat, the headstock of the Les Paul is pitched backwards a bit which supposedly helps with the guitar’s natural sustain (though I don’t know why that works). Also, the strings of the instrument are kept entirely on top of the body of the LP. The strat, on the other hand, has the strings go through the body at the bridge.
Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, Kieth Richards, and Slash all played Gibson Les Paul’s at one point or another.
When you’re looking to buy a high quality electric guitar you’ll find that musicians everywhere seem to have one piece of advice: look at the musical superstars that you most admire and choose a guitar that will allow you to mimic their sound.
That advice didn’t sit too well with me. I am all sorts of impressed with all sorts of guitarists. The next best thing was, of course, to go to the store and try a bunch of different instruments.
And that I did. It was only afterwards that I found yet another fun brand to research:
PRS stands for Paul Reed Smith, the inventor of this guitar. Smith developed his guitar and pushed and marketed it himself until the company flourished. Now PRS is a famous brand known for high price (bummer) and high quality (sweet!). It’s a beautiful guitar.
Santana, Al Di Meola, Peter Frampton, and Dave Navarro have all explored the PRS. From what I can tell, the PRS stands halfway between the brightness of the strat and the growl of the LP.
PRS does not make a left handed guitar. so unless you want to pull a jimi hendrix and flip your guitar… if you’re left handed you’re out of luck.
I think I’m going to get the PRS 513 (shown above). The 513 stands for 5 pickups and 13 settings. The five pickups are two double coils and one single coil. The double coils can act just like a humbucker or just like a single coil with the flick of a toggle switch. The guitar has a 25.25″ scale. The scale is defined as the distance from the bridge to the start of the neck: the playable length of the string. It’s made of mahogany (check out all sorts of great guitar wood information here).
I’m really excited. The purchase will probably take place sometime in the next month.