Welcome back to the exciting world of learning how to play electric guitar! If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out Part 1 first, where we talked about some important basics that will help set you up for success.
Keep in mind that every guitarist, guitar, and amp is different, so what works for one might not work for another – experimentation is key!
4 Simple Steps to Play Electric Guitar
Now, we’ll explore a few more essential concepts, guaranteed easy steps to play electric guitar, so that you can have fun while playing. Among other things, we’ll talk about finding the right tone for your music, how to improve your sound and make sure you’re getting the most out of your instrument.
Step 1: Know Your Gear
The very first step to playing electric guitar is to get familiar with your equipment. This means understanding the different parts of your guitar (e.g., body, neck, pickups) and how they work together. The type of amp you use can also affect your sound significantly, so it’s important to make sure you understand what type of amp you have, how to adjust its volume and sound settings, etc.
Electric Guitar Hardware
The guitar parts for acoustic and electric models are mostly similar, with a few notable exceptions involving hardware and electronics.
- Jack input – A jack input allows you to plug your guitar into an amp or sound system.
- Pickups – In the absence of sound holes, pickups are the “microphones” of the electric guitar and they allow you to amplify your guitar’s sound. These are magnetic transducers that “pick up” the vibrations of your strings and send them to your amp. There are two types of pickups: single-coil and humbuckers.
- Knobs & Switches – Most electric guitars have knobs and switches which allow you to adjust the sound of your guitar. This includes the tone, volume, pickup selector switch, tremolo and various other switches that allow you to customize your sound.
The amplifier is essential for electric guitarists as it amplifies the sound of the instrument. There are a few different types of amps and they range from small, low-powered practice amps to large professional rigs with lots of features. Knowing how to set up your amp correctly can make a huge difference in your sound quality.
- EQ (low, mid, high)
There are plenty of accessories that can help you get the most out of your electric guitar.
Some of these include cables (to connect your guitar to an amp), picks (for strumming or picking), strings (to replace old ones), straps (to secure your guitar to you while playing), tuners (to keep your guitar in tune), and more. Having a few of these in your arsenal can make playing electric guitar fun, easy, and more enjoyable.
Effects pedals (to add additional sounds and textures to your playing) are also popular among electric guitar players. However, if you’re just starting out, it’s best to keep it simple and get used to playing without all the bells and whistles.
Step 2: Learn the Basics of Guitar and Amp Setup
Proper setup is essential for a comfortable playing experience. This includes setting up the guitar and the amp so that they are both in good working order, and plays properly. This can be a bit tricky at first, but with some practice you will get better at it over time. In this section, we will cover only the guitar and amp controls and leave discussing the pickup, action and bridge adjustments for later.
Note: Never play with all the settings on your guitar and amplifier at full volume.
Guitar Tone Quality
Strings. The quality of your guitar’s tone begins with the strings. The strings you choose will not only affect the tone, but also the feel of your playing. Different types, brands, and gauges of strings all yield different sounds.
While some guitarists prefer 10-gauge strings, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what works best for your playing style. Be sure to experiment with different gauges and types of strings before making a decision.
Knobs & Switches
- The tone knob on an electric guitar is typically used to adjust the treble and bass frequencies. Some find the mid powerful, so they set both the high and low settings halfway, then experiment with different mid levels.
- The volume knob controls the overall sound of both guitar and amp. Whether you turn your amp all the way up, once you lower your guitar’s volume knob, the sound won’t be as loud. Although you might think otherwise, turning your amp low will not make your sound any louder if you turn your guitar volume high.
- Pickup selector switch allows you to select which pickup is active. Single-coil pickups produce a bright, crisp sound, while humbuckers are known for their warmer, more rounded tone.
- Whammy bar (tremolo) allows you to create vibrato effects by changing the tension on your strings. This is something that some guitars have and some don’t. If you’re a beginner, you can leave this part aside for now.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to finding the perfect amp settings, but there are a few general pointers that can help you get started. Start with a clean tone and then experiment with different settings until you find something that sounds good to you.
- Volume – This is the loudness of your amp. Adjusting this knob will determine how much power your amp has and how loud it can get.
- EQ (low, mid, high) – These knobs allow you to adjust the frequencies in your sound and help you find your ideal tone. It allows you to fine-tune your tone so that it sounds just how you want it to. These are also known as bass, mid, and treble.
- Gain/Overdrive – This controls how distorted your sound gets and can be used to create a variety of sounds from soft, clean tones to crunchy, overdriven riffs.
You can have a default, “basecamp” setting that you can return to when you’re lost experimenting with different types of tones.
The typical range for your EQ controls is 0-10. Set them all to 5 or midway. Next, on your guitar, turn the volume on your guitar up to 10, then adjust the tone control halfway. Once you have your basecamp tone, then you can start to tweak from there until you find something that works for your playing style.
To focus on the basics, turn off any built-in effects your amplifier has (such as chorus, delays, flangers etc). If you’re just starting out on guitar, it’s simpler and more effective to use the gain/overdrive built into your amp instead.
Step 3: Tuning the Guitar
For optimal sound quality, your electric guitar needs to be in tune. There are a few different ways to do this, and a few tools to help (e.g., electronic tuners, tuning apps, etc.).
If you want to learn how to tune your guitar by ear, that’s great! However, if you’re just starting out, it’s faster and wiser to use a tuner. A tuner will help train your ear to hear the accurate sound of each string before attempting to tune manually.
You’ll also want to make sure your strings are in good condition and strung properly — an old set of strings can really hinder your playing!
Step 4: Playing the Guitar
Now comes the fun part – playing! Once you’ve got your guitar set up and tuned, it’s time to start playing.
A tip for you: electric guitars create a clean sound with less work than acoustic nylon or metal-stringed instruments. The fact that they’re closer to the frets makes it easier for beginners who want big sounds without having too much trouble pressing down on their guitars, which is great!
Master Chords & Strumming
At this point, you should be familiar with the basics of playing chords and strumming. Chords are built by combining notes together and form the basis for most songs. When strumming, you’ll want to keep a steady rhythm with your picking or strumming hand as you play through each chord.
Create your own riffs.
Riffs are short musical passages that add flavor and can be used to spice up your playing. If you’re feeling daring, give this a try – it’s simply a different way to play the scales. The more you practice creating riffs off of basic chord progressions, the sooner you’ll be able to start composing your own pieces of music!
Try doing solos.
As your confidence grows, try branching out into soloing. This is when you play lead lines (melodies) over the chords. You can use scales such as the major and minor pentatonic to craft memorable guitar solos. There’s no need to feel pressured into playing complicated, fast-paced solos. Start slow and simple instead.
Develop speed and accuracy.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to work on speed and accuracy. This is done by playing the same riff over and over until you can play it quickly and accurately while maintaining your desired sound quality. Use a metronome to help you keep time while you practice. Start slowly, and then increase the tempo as you get faster and more accurate.
Practice common techniques.
If you want to go the extra mile, try this early on. There are many ways to spruce up your playing style, but you can start with these three basic techniques – bends, slides, palm muting.
Then you can try hammer-ons and pull-offs. These techniques add a bit of flair to your playing and create a more interesting sound.
Learn new songs regularly.
Don’t get stuck in a musical rut — challenge yourself to learn new songs regularly to improve your skills.
Try playing along to your favorite tunes or jamming with other musicians. You can even record yourself playing and listen back to it for future reference.
Learning new songs is always rewarding. You don’t have to be a virtuoso — just pick songs that are within your level of playing and challenge yourself as you go along.
Every Great Thing Starts Small!
When you put all of these steps together, you’ll have a great foundation for playing electric guitar. With enough practice, dedication and patience, you’ll be able to master your instrument in no time!