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What Do You Need to Start Playing Electric Guitar?

You are ready to start playing guitar, but are you wondering what do you need to start playing an electric guitar? There are many guitars and gear options online. The brick-and-mortar shops are full of excellent guitars and an overwhelming assortment of amps and other gear. So, you look for advice.

But everyone has an opinion, and they think the best choices for them are best for you. How do you know if their suggestions are suitable for beginners? How do you weed through all of the conflicting reviews and opinions?

It’s much easier than all that. You don’t need much to get started. I will provide you with a list of the necessities and some suggestions for gear that you will want after that.

start playing electric guitar

Start with thinking about what you want.

You’ve got to have a sense of what you might want in a guitar. You can save time and money by knowing your goals. If you’re going to play jazz guitar, you don’t want to start with a guitar and amp best suited for metal. If you’re going to play metal, you don’t want to start with a guitar best suited for jazz.

It’s also just fine if you don’t have a particular goal other than to learn to play. Most electric guitars are very versatile.

For information about more electric guitar features, see our article How to Buy an Electric Guitar for Beginners.

Then, make a plan.

Once you’ve figured out what you might want in a guitar, figure out your budget, do some research online, then ask a knowledgeable friend to review your choices or accompany you to the store.

First things first – an electric guitar.

Obviously, it would be best if you had an electric guitar. It’s equally important to buy a guitar that feels good to you and doesn’t get in the way of learning to play. But what does that mean? 

For me, that means a six-string guitar without tremolo or a Floyd Rose-style floating bridge. It should be comfortable for you and within your budget. 

What do you mean comfortable?

The guitar you buy shouldn’t get in the way of learning to play and take care of your guitar. Here are some things to look for:

  • A guitar that you want to play

Do you want to play it when you hold it? No matter the price and specs, if you are not attracted to the instrument at all, it’s probably not your guitar. At the same time, don’t be too precious. There will be many more guitars that you will love in different ways in the future.

  • A guitar that fits you.

Is it too heavy, or is it not substantial enough? Can you sit comfortably with it? Does it rest comfortably against your body, considering your body type? Pick up and sit with a few different styles to see what works for you.

  • A guitar that has a sound you like

Do you like what you hear when you touch the strings, even if it isn’t amplified? Ask that friend with chops to play it for you with and without an amp and listen. 

  • A guitar that stays in tune

It probably won’t be the cheapest guitar you can find. But it will be well worth it to get one that stays in tune for just a bit more money. It’s normal for guitars to go out of tune, especially after playing a while or if they’ve been sitting for a day or longer (gasp). However, you don’t want to be stopping to tune every 5 minutes. You’ll save a lot of time and frustration with a guitar that stays in tune.

  • A guitar with low action

The action is simply the distance from the strings to the fretboard. The lower the action, the less effort it will take to make the notes and chords that you want. In other words, it will be easier to play.

  • A guitar without too many bells and whistles

I can’t stress this enough. You want to be able to tune and string your guitar yourself. The more things on your guitar to adjust and break, the greater the chance you will be frustrated when you do simple things like tuning and replacing the strings on your guitar. Avoid a floating tremolo bridge unless there is a way to block it and disable it.

5 More essentials you need to start playing guitar

Yep. There are five more things you need. Only you know what your budget is, but make sure it includes more than the guitar. You will also need the following:

  • Amp or amp simulator
  • Cable to connect it to your guitar the amp
  • Picks
  • Tuner
  • Strap

Amp or amp simulator

You want to play the electric guitar for a great wall of sound that will shake the neighborhood, right? There’s time for that. Start with a small combo amp or a modern alternative like a headphone amp or amp simulator that works with your computer, phone, or tablet.

If you are buying a combo amp, there are plenty of choices at different price points. Choose one that sounds good to you because first amps have a way of sticking around no matter how much gear comes and goes.

Read more about the best guitar amp for beginners.

Cable

You will use it to plug your guitar into your amp using the quarter-inch jacks on them. You will eventually need more cables to play with your effects pedals or put a pedal tuner in the signal chain. To start, though, you need one.

It doesn’t have to be super long – just slightly longer than the distance from where you want to stand or sit with your guitar and your amp.

The cheapest cables are frustratingly unreliable, but your cord doesn’t have to be super expensive either. You want something that will be reliable and last for a few years. 

Picks

It’s easier to play with a pick when you are starting. Learning fingerpicking from the start is more challenging.

It would help if you tried out various thicknesses and shapes to see what feels the most comfortable for you to pick and strum, so buy a few different kinds or a variety pack. 

Tuner

Nothing will sound good if your guitar isn’t in tune. Pick up a clip-on or pedal tuner or download a tuner app.

A clip-on tuner clamps onto the headstock of your guitar while you are tuning. If you choose a pedal tuner, you will need a cable to connect it to your guitar and some batteries or other power supply.

If you prefer a tuning app, make sure your phone, tablet, or computer has a microphone that will pick up the sound of your guitar before you download one.

Strap

A strap keeps your guitar in a consistent position whether you sit or stand while you play. Keeping your guitar in the same spot will make it easier to learn how to play it.

There are a wide variety of cloth and leather straps. Choose one with adjustable length. You may want a wider strap with more padding if your guitar is heavy – your shoulders and back will thank you.

More recommended gear

Here’s what I highly recommend after you have the all the essentials.

 Hardshell case or gig bag

You need to protect your investment while you are on the go or if you have to leave your guitar somewhere away from home. A case or gig bag will also give you somewhere to store the extra stuff you’ll carry with you, like picks and tuners. Most higher-priced guitars include a good quality case or bag, but there are plenty on the market if yours doesn’t come with one. 

Guitar stand

A guitar stand is another way to protect your guitar. Some stands rest on the floor or other surfaces and wall-mounted versions.

Don’t just lean your guitar against the wall or furniture and, whatever you do, don’t leave it lying on a sofa or chair. You are practically begging for a disaster. Repairing a neck or headstock is no simple or inexpensive task if someone sits on it or knocks it over.

Metronome

Learn to play in time from the start with a metronome. There are great, reasonably priced digital metronomes available. There are also metronome apps that you can download. You could also go old school, 1800s style, with a pendulum-driven metronome like the one my piano teacher used to have.

Spare strings

Guitar strings will break, usually just when things are getting good, and you should be ready with some extras. Strings come in different gauges and materials, so ask your knowledgeable friend if you aren’t sure which strings are suitable for your electric guitar.

Cleaning tools

Your guitar will get dirty, and you’ll want some cleaning tools to keep it shiny. Start with the most straightforward option – a cloth to wipe down the body and neck of your guitar after each time you play. A microfiber cloth or a clean t-shirt dedicated to the job will work.

You can use a similar cloth to apply polish to clean and shine your guitar every once in a while. For a deeper clean, there are also products for cleaning your frets and conditioning your fretboard, but you don’t need those to start.

Chair or stool without arms

Nothing complicated here, but you will play while seated a lot, so you’ll want a chair or stool without arms. The arm of the sofa or the corner of your bed will work just fine. You have to be able to hold the guitar in the proper position and move your arms. You don’t want the furniture getting in the way of strumming or picking. 

What about the fun stuff?

Pedals

You may be dying to have a crazy collection of pedals, but it’s a good idea to start with the basics. You’ll get a lot of creative mileage out of an overdrive or a wah-wah pedal. After that, get a good delay pedal or modulation effect pedal like a chorus or phaser pedal and see what you can do with them.

Look online and find out what your guitar hero uses to make a particular sound, then make sure that’s in the line between your guitar and your amp.

Of course, if you already have effects programmed into your amp or your amp simulator, you have a universe of sounds at the ready.

Capo

A capo is a special clamp that lets you play familiar open chord forms in different keys when you clamp it just behind a fret. It’s a standard tool for singer-songwriters.

Slide

These come in a variety of materials: glass, ceramic, or metal. Slide guitar takes a lot of work to master, but it’s fun to try to see what you can do.

Wait there’s more

A few more things you need.

Wide-ranging curiosity

Be open to new ideas and look for music you haven’t heard before. Don’t limit yourself to listening or learning one genre. You may want to shred today, but you may want to play along with your folk-crazed friend next weekend. Do that.

Be OK with being a beginner.

Some things will come quickly to you. Other things won’t. Don’t worry about that. Just keep playing. Take some lessons. Play with people who are better than you and learn from them. Have fun.

What was all of that again?

When you decide to buy an electric guitar, don’t become overwhelmed by all the options. When you are just starting to learn how to play the electric guitar, you don’t need everything and indeed not the most expensive electric guitar or gear available.

Think about what your goals are and choose an electric guitar that is right for you. 

Buy an amp or amp simulator that is within your budget. 

Buy a good quality cable to connect your guitar and your amp or amp simulator.

Choose some picks or plectrums, a strap for your guitar, and a tuner. 

Then, when you are ready, and your budget allows, pick up other items you will need, making your life with an electric guitar more enjoyable. The list isn’t long:

  • A hardshell case or gig bag
  • Spare strings
  • A metronome
  • Some cleaning tools
  • A place to sit if you haven’t found one yet

Don’t forget the fun stuff to expand the sounds you can make.

  • Pedals
  • Capo
  • Slide 

Be curious and let yourself be a beginner. You’ll be on your way.

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