How To Learn To Play Electric Guitar? (Beginner’s Guide)

Are you wondering how to play an acoustic guitar?

You've come to the right place!

In my latest YMI guide, you will learn the following:

  • What Are The Important Parts Of An Acoustic Guitar?
  • How Do You Hold A Guitar Properly?
  • What Are The Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners?
  • What Is The Difference Between Notes And Chords?
  • What Are The Easiest Guitar Chords To Play?

And much more!

How to Play An Electric Guitar As A Beginner

Today I’ll be focusing on some of the fundamental skills you’ll need to know in order to progress from beginner guitar player to master ax wielder!

Whether you’re transitioning from acoustic to electric, or you’ve decided that you’ve got to go loud from day one, welcome to the world of pickups and amps. 

Follow these steps, learn the basics, and before you know it you’ll be shredding with the best of them.

What Are The Key Components Of An Electric Guitar?

I’ve always maintained that being familiar with all of the components of your guitar is super important. 

You don’t have to be a master luthier, but knowing what each part is and what it does can help with troubleshooting down the line, and will help you identify any areas for improvement if you want to start customizing your axe.

The Body

Your electric guitar’s body is the most obvious component, and especially with electric guitars, it’s where the expression of design really comes into play. 

While there are hollow body and semi-hollow body electric guitars available (more on those later) typically an electric guitar is made of a solid piece of wood.

The more expensive the guitar, the better the chances that it’s made from one single block of wood.

Cheaper guitars tend to be made of several pieces of wood that have been joined together. 

Finding quality pieces of wood that are the perfect size for a template is obviously more challenging, and therefore more expensive. 

Even when you own a guitar made from several pieces, because modern finishes are so good, it’s rare to even notice!

The shape of the guitar influences its playability, its weight, and of course, the shape plays a big part in the style of music it’s suited to.

Some of the most popular shapes are based upon the Fender Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul, the Gibson SG, the Fender Telecaster, and the Gibson ES-335. Of course there have been tons of other weird and wonderful shapes over the years, from the Flying V, to some funky asymmetric stuff.

Because electric guitars don’t rely on a soundboard the way acoustic guitars do, the body material doesn’t have as much influence in the overall sound profile. 

Yes, tone and sustain are impacted by the choice of wood, but the pickups play a much bigger role.

Read More >> What Are The Best Beginner Electric Guitars?

The Fretboard

The fretboard, or as some call it, the fingerboard, is where a lot of the magic happens. 

Guitarists press their fingers onto the fretboard in between the frets to finger notes and chords.

The Headstock

The headstock, like the body, gives manufacturers a means of influencing overall design. Fender and Gibson have built their brands around instant recognizability of their products based upon the headstock alone. 

In a world of Stratocaster copies, it pays to be able to recognize the original right away!

It is said that the weight of the headstock does have an impact on sustain for electric guitars. The heavier the head, the longer the sustain. 

In my experience this is minimal, and heavier heads lead to nosedive, which makes playing uncomfortable. 

But, if this is important to you, give this point some consideration when choosing your axe.

If you’re looking to improve your guitar’s sustain with extra headstock weight, Fender makes as add on feature for this – the Fatfinger, a device that easily clamps on to avoid permanent modification or damage.

Did you know: The first electric guitars were introduced in the 1930's, mimicking the body shape and style of acoustic guitars. But BB King is credited with popularizing them with his unique style.

The Machine Heads/Tuning Heads

Machine heads are located on your headstock (in most cases!) and are one of the two attachment points for your strings. 

The machine heads, sometimes called tuning heads, have the important job of tightening or slackening strings to keep your guitar in tune.

The quality of the machine heads is one of the most important factors to ensure in a guitar purchase. 

Poor quality tuning heads mean poor tuning stability, and if your guitar can’t play more than a few chords without losing pitch then it’s pretty much firewood.

Many guitarists choose to upgrade their machine heads to a locking type, which improves tuning stability by pinching the string inside the post rather than wrapping it around.

Read More >> What Are The Top Intermediate Electric Guitars?

The Bridge

The guitar’s bridge is the other of the two securing points for your strings. 

There are several kinds available for electric guitars, some are typical of manufacturers, some are typical of the style of guitar.

  • Tremolo Bridge – this allows the addition of a tremolo arm, which lets a guitarist experiment with large vibrato and tremolo effect without the need for electronics by reducing string tension.
  • Hardtail Bridge – these bridges provide a solid connection to the guitar body. They don’t feature a whammy bar, but because they are rigid, they allow for huge amounts of sustain as vibrations pass right into the body.
  • String Through – with some guitars, strings are actually fed through the back of the body and then up and over the saddles. These are often used on guitars with typically thin sounds (like Telecasters) to provide the maximum possible sustain.

The Pickups

Guitar pickups are devices that take the vibrations of a guitar string and convert them to an electrical signal, which are converted by an amplifier into sound.

The pickups contain powerful magnets which detect disruptions in their magnetic field as the strings vibrate above them.

There are two main types of electric guitar pickup – humbucking and single coil. Single coils are known for their bright, almost twangy sound, whereas humbuckers have a fat, rich tone. 

Humbuckers were actually invented in order to reduce the audible hum that single-coil pickups produce through an amplifier as they pick up a lot of interference other electrical and magnetic influences, but the difference in tone that they produce opened up a whole new world of applications.

How Do You Play An Electric Guitar While Standing Up?

If you read my piece on how to play an acoustic guitar, you’ll note that there was a whole section on how to properly hold a guitar – much of that advice still stands for electric guitars, but one thing that’s more so applicable with electrics is how to play while standing.

It seems like it should be intuitive, but there’s still a learning curve involved, and if you plan to rock out on stage at some point, it’s a good idea to learn these techniques early on.

The focus does need to be less on looking cool, and more on being comfortable. 

Some good advice I was given is to sit down and play in the most comfortable position – this is your reference point for where your guitar needs to be positioned while standing.

Next, make sure you have a good strap! Guitar straps come in all shapes and sizes, but not all are created equal. You want one that’s well made, as wide as you’re comfortable wearing, and preferably padded. 

Thin, cheaply made straps will become irritating fairly quickly, not only that, if they break while you’re using them, you risk dropping your guitar – and that’s even less cool than playing seated!

Here’s a couple of recommendations for great guitar straps to suit all budgets

High EndLevy’s Garment Leather Padded Strap

AffordablePerri’s Leathers 2” Wide Leather Strap

Affordable AlternativeErnie Ball 3” Locking Neoprene Strap

I’m personally a big fan of the Perri’s Leathers strap (I keep one on my SG!).

Once you have a strap, set it up to match the position of your guitar while seated.

Do not, I repeat, do not, worry about looking goofy with your guitar perched up high. 

The lower your guitar, the more stretched out your fretting arm is, and the tougher it will be to wrap your hands around the neck.

As you get used to playing while standing, you can slowly lower your guitar one notch at a time and practice in that position. Eventually, you’ll be able to play with your ax slung low like Slash!

Read More >> What Are The Ultimate Electric Guitar Amps Out There?

What Are The Best Electric Guitars For Beginners?

There is a whole wide world of awesome electric guitars aimed at the beginner’s market. I listed some of my favorites in my piece on the top 5 beginner electric guitars, but because there are others that deserve some love, I’ll highlight them here!

Before I list anything, I’ll note that you really should be looking for quality over and above everything else. 

It’s definitely not a requirement to spend huge amounts, no matter how good you get! 

I’ll suggest avoiding department store specials with names you’ve never heard of, and avoid the temptation to buy straight up knock offs from overseas.

If you’re looking for the best guitar, three beginner electrics I’m loving right now are the:

These are three excellent guitars that way exceed their price point in terms of capability and quality. 

For between $180 and $400, you’ll get a great guitar that is not only designed to last, but will stand out. 

While most new guitarists opt for Strats or Les Pauls, you could stand out, and have something a little more unique in one of these – way cooler!

Read More >> How Do You Set Up An Acoustic Guitar?

What Are The Best Electric Guitar Accessories?

When you’re learning guitar there are a few important accessories and tools you’ll need to help keep your instrument in the best possible playing condition. 

These days, it’s so easy to get your hands on this essential gear, you don’t even need to make a trip to a music store anymore! Almost everything you need can be found on Amazon.

After your electric guitar and amplifier, the next most important tool you’ll need is a guitar tuner. The easiest ones to use are clip-on tuners like this one from Fender.

If you’re looking to get something a little more robust, then consider the BOSS TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Stompbox. It’s an industry-standard pedal loved by pros and amateurs alike.

Another essential you should consider is a capo. A capo lets you easily change the key you’re playing in, giving you easy access to more of your favorite songs. This D’Addario capo is what I keep in my gig bag.

Guitar picks are another important purchase to make. 

I always suggest buying a variety pack like this Jim Dunlop set to find out exactly which you like before committing. 

The best part about picks is they’re dirt cheap, so it’s no big loss if you don’t like what you’ve got and want to try something new.

What Are Notes And Chords?

If you want to learn to play guitar, you’re going to have to put in some time to learn your notes and chords.

Your electric guitar most likely has 6 strings (there are some specialist guitars with 7 and even 8 strings available, but those are definitely not recommended for beginners!), and those strings are named (from thickest to thinnest) E A D G B E. 

The name of each string denotes the note that it plays when struck open, ie when you aren’t fingering anywhere on the fretboard.

The frets placed along the fingerboard are there to mark out the positions of the rest of the notes. To play individual notes, place your finger firmly between (not on) the frets and pick or pluck the string.

So, we’ve covered notes. What about chords? 

Chords are formed when two or more notes are plucked together and are named for the root, or lowest note, in the chord.

What Are Power Chords?

Power chords are essential when playing rock music on electric guitar. These basic chords might not have a lot of complexity, but what they lack in-depth, they make up for in punchy tone. 

Like barre chords, power chord shapes and are also moveable. 

This makes chord progressions easy to play smoothly for new players.

What makes power chords a great place for beginners to start is the fact that they only require up to three notes. The below diagram shows the basic shape of a power chord. 

Like other chords, they are named for their root note, and as you can see, they’re super simple to play.

Most power chords are played with the root on the low E string, but they also work with the root on the A string, too. 

When you’re new to guitar playing, power chords can help you quickly jam along with your favorite songs in no time at all.

Read More >> How Do You Choose The Right Acoustic Guitar For You?

My Final Thoughts On Learning To Play Electric Guitar

The electric guitar is such a versatile instrument, there isn’t a type of music in the world you can’t play on one, which is why it’s my absolute favorite.

There are a lot of great ways to learn to play this awesome instrument. Video lessons have gotten way better over the last few years – you should definitely check out Fender Play if this is the route you want to go! I’ve used their lessons myself. 

They cover the full spectrum from first time picking up a guitar to expert level technique training.

Above all else, stick with it. If you do, I promise, before too long you’ll be shredding riffs like Keith Richards, and pulling out epic guitar solos like Jimi Hendrix.

One more thing – never part with your first guitar if you can help it! It’s tempting to trade it when it comes time for an upgrade, but resist it – you’ll thank me in years to come when you still have it.

Simon Morgan

Simon Morgan

Simon Morgan is the Lead Guitar insider here at Simon is originally from the UK, and has been playing for over 20 years. He counts Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and B.B. King as his biggest influences. Look for updates and reviews about all the latest guitar gear from Simon as he shares his knowledge and expertise with you.

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Simon Morgan

Simon Morgan

Simon Morgan is the Lead Guitar insider here at Simon is originally from the UK, and has been playing for over 20 years. He counts Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and B.B. King as his biggest influences. Look for updates and reviews about all the latest guitar gear from Simon as he shares his knowledge and expertise with you.


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