Knowing a few electric guitar basics can help both as you learn to play the electric guitar as well as when you shop for a new or used instrument. While the electric and acoustic guitar have many things in common, there are some notable differences that are worth knowing.
Perhaps the most notable difference (which is what makes an electric
guitar electric) is the pickups, which is the part of an electric
guitar that translates the vibrations of the strings and turns it into a
signal that is picked up by the amplifier and comes across (hopefully)
as music. There are a wide variety of pickups, all of which affect the
sound of the instrument. Some pickups are geared for specific kinds of
music such as blues, rock, or country. There are pickups famed for their
thin yet cutting sound (single coils) and others renowned for a thick, powerful sound (humbuckers).
Although some acoustic guitars (known as acoustic electrics) have
pickups, for electric guitars, the pickups are an integral and even essential part of the
Electric guitars typically also have much lower action
than do acoustic guitars. "Action" simply refers to how far the strings
are off of the fretboard or fingerboard. Guitars with lower action are
easier to play (though some players, like Stevie Ray Vaughan, preferred
the tone of higher action). Generally, electric guitars are a lot easier
to adjust regarding the action, as well as the intonation (how well the
guitar stays in tune up and down the neck). With electric guitars, you can usually adjust individual string heights. With acoustic guitars, such adjustments are not possible due to the instrument's construction.
As opposed to
acoustic instruments, electric guitars also have more flexibility with
respect to the bridge (the area where the strings are attached to the
guitar's body). Many electric guitars are outfitted with a vibrato bar
(also called a "whammy" or, erroneously, a tremolo) that allows the players to lower (and
sometimes raise) the pitch of the strings. Players such as Eddie Van
Halen and Brad Gillis have made the vibrato a significant part of their
individual styles. Popular vibrato bars include Fender (both vintage and modern), Floyd Rose, and Bisby
These are just a few electric guitar basics to help you understand the instrument a bit better. If you have any questions about understanding or buying an electric guitar, please don't hesitate to let me know!