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Sep 18, 2021 - 7:31:32 AM
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1773 posts since 8/4/2011

I keep having this nagging idea that I want to buy an electric guitar. I can't explain it, but nevertheless, there it is.

I figure at least some of you folks have knowledge of that world. What would you suggest in the $500 ballpark?

As far as tones, I don't quite know how to describe what I like, but words that come to mind are clean and fat. If you listen to the guitar lead on the Grateful Dead's St. Steven...I like that sound a lot. I like Mark Knopfler a lot. I like jazz guitar sounds a lot. Not looking for a lot of twang or distortion (but maybe that's mostly an amp thing?)

Anyway, thanks in advance for any input!

Sep 18, 2021 - 7:43 AM



2932 posts since 1/15/2014

The interplay between amp and guitar is really important. Could you share a couple of youtube videos of tone you like? The examples you gave are too broad (for example, Knopfler's tone has varied radically over the years and is quite gear dependent).

Twang ... could be an amp or guitar thing. It depends. Distortion ... back in the day it was obtained by cranking tube amps and hitting the front of the amp with hot pickups. These days there are amps with plenty of gain, so you can get distorted tones using lower output pickups and at lower volumes. 

Edited by - csacwp on 09/18/2021 07:46:33

Sep 18, 2021 - 8:01:57 AM



164 posts since 3/27/2013

I would recommend a G&L Legacy or ASAT. You pretty much can’t go wrong there. I would also highly recommend a fender champion 20 amp. All of this is within your price range and the range of tones that you can get from this set up is limitless. Jazz to nirvana to Eddie Van Halen to Metallica to Chet Atkins to chicken pickin to mark knoppfler (the legacy or a strat style guitar would help with that). They won’t be calling you to play at the Grand old Opry with this set up but it will provide countless hours of home entertainment.

Sep 18, 2021 - 8:51:56 AM

686 posts since 8/14/2018

Since guitars are generally easier to find than banjos, going to a shop and trying a few things would be a good idea. I mean it kind of sounds like you want a semi-hollow guitar of maybe a Les Paul type of thing (the Epiphone version is not very expensive), but yes, more specific examples would be helpful.

Sep 18, 2021 - 9:33:28 AM

2806 posts since 2/10/2013

I would go to Youtube and look at demos. That is how I found my latest acoustic guitar. Same thing with amps and accessories. BTW, that guitar was about $3500 cheaper than the previous guitar and sounded almost as good.

Sep 18, 2021 - 9:36:57 AM



3754 posts since 2/20/2016

Most solid body electrics can be very loosely divided into two groups: those that produce a sound somewhat similar to a Gibson with humbucking pickups and those that produce a Fender single coil pickup sound. It's only a very general division, but the difference is very clear and noticeable. Play some and you will hear it. From there on down, you can split the distinctions of various manufacturers and models into as many sub-groups as you can stand.

Mark Knopfler's sound on "Sultans of Swing" is that of a Fender Stratocaster with the selector switch set in one of the "in-between" positions. While I don't know whether the guitar he used was built by Fender or someone else, it definitely has the "Fender sound."

I don't know which recording of St. Stephen you might be referring to, but Jerry Garcia also went for an instrument that produced Stratocaster type sounds through most of his career, although he sometimes played a Gibson in his earlier days. Even though his later instruments were made by custom builders, they were designed to produce a "Fender sound."

I suggest that you visit a store that carries Fender instruments and spend an hour playing them. I believe that Mexican built Fenders are in your price range. Then go to a store that carries Epiphone or other Gibson style instruments, and spend an hour there. You'll hear the general difference in sound.

Digest what you hear for a couple of days, then go back and try both stores again. I believe that after your second set of visits, you'll know what you want.

Sep 18, 2021 - 10:10:16 AM

1773 posts since 8/4/2011

Great advice from everyone, thank you. This will help me plan and focus my research.

Sep 18, 2021 - 10:24:10 AM

2317 posts since 1/16/2010

Heck…you can score a 1960’s Teisco for a few hundred dollars. Japanese built…but play and sound really good. A lot of bluesmen played them back in the day because it was all they could afford. I have an E-100…super cool little guitar!

1960’s Harmony electrics are also readily available and affordable…made in Chicago…you can’t go wrong with one. Again…most everybody started with a Harmony back in the day…from Howlin’ Wolf to The Rolling Stones…and beyond!

The later 1980’s/90’s Korean and Chinese made Harmonys are not as good. They are easily recognized by the “est. 1892” under the logo on the peg-head.

Sep 18, 2021 - 10:44:20 AM

12300 posts since 6/2/2008

Originally posted by Joe the banjo guy

As far as tones, I don't quite know how to describe what I like, but words that come to mind are clean and fat. If you listen to the guitar lead on the Grateful Dead's St. Steven...I like that sound a lot. I like Mark Knopfler a lot. I like jazz guitar sounds a lot. Not looking for a lot of twang or distortion (but maybe that's mostly an amp thing?)

Used Paul Reed Smith (PRS) SE Santana would be right in your price range.

As someone else described, Mark Knopfler's signature sound comes from an in-between space in the pickup selector switch. I believe his guitar was not a Fender Strat, but a leading copy. In the American Standard Series launched in the late 80s, Fender put a 5-way selector switch in the Strat that made the two in-between positions official.

I think the PRS SE can give you some of the sounds you're after. They have two pickups that work as both humbuckers or single coils (activated by push-pull tone switch). Three-way selector switch gives a combination of sounds.

Demo here.

Sep 19, 2021 - 12:52:01 AM

3243 posts since 10/17/2009

Lots of good starting choices in $500 range (even below). Until you get experience, informs more what deficiencies it might have, and what you would change.

Besides tone, is quality of parts/build; keep in mind guitars parts can easily be easily upgraded... including pickups. Important is playability and how it feels in hand; make sure it is set up well.

There are some youtube channels (such as Rhett Shull) that give have videos general differences of basic designs.. of Tele, Strat, Les Paul, SG, 335 differences.

But far as tonal quality, I would look at a lot of other players tone you like and see what they are using to get that tone to get an idea of direction. That includes pickups, amp, cab, and effects pedals (and settings if possible); even strings... all which can play an important part of tone.

On that note, technology has come a long way; and modeling DSP and IR give lots of options. This includes using computer apps or plugins simulating amps, tubes, cabs/micing, effects. Many free or inexpensive that sound surprisingly good. (Amplitude is one example, but many others).

Edited by - banjoak on 09/19/2021 00:53:34

Sep 20, 2021 - 11:33:11 AM



815 posts since 7/4/2017

Go to ebay or the likes for electric guitars. Then you can sell for the same price and try something new whenever you feel like it. Sometimes you'll win a little in cost, sometimes lose a little. Eventually you will realise exactly what you are looking for.

Sep 20, 2021 - 12:27:39 PM
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3754 posts since 2/20/2016

For what it's worth, I'll add my personal experience.

In the early 1990's, I joined a high powered R & B band. At the time, I did not own an electric guitar, so I did the first couple of gigs on a borrowed instrument. Then I went to my friendly neighborhood music store to buy an instrument. At the time, they had Fender and Gibson dealerships, and carried several other brands as well. They had a lot to choose from. After a couple of hours, I settled on a Mexican Fender Stratocaster. They gave me a friendly price: $300 with a used case. I also looked long and hard at the US made Strat, which cost twice as much, and it was perhaps just a little better, but not much. I decided that there wasn't enough difference between the two to justify the extra cost.

I used that instrument on every job from the day I bought it until the band finally folded when the lead singer retired around 2018 or so. I was always satisfied with it-- it was flexible enough to use for R & B, straight blues, and the occasional jazz number. The only things I did to keep it in service were to change the strings every 3 or 4 gigs, install an extra string tree for the G and D strings, and at some point along the way I installed a bone nut.

Although I later inherited a nice Gibson from my father, and would occasionally bring it along and use it on a few numbers for a fatter sound, it always served only as an add-on to the Fender.  It was nice to have the Gibson available for jazz numbers, but it wasn't essential, and I didn't use it often.

I played many hundreds of jobs on that Fender. It was certainly $300 well spent. I guess a similar Mexican Fender would cost around $600 new. A used one in good shape could certainly be found within your budget.

Good luck in the hunt.  Spend a few hours in the stores in your area, and you shouldn't have any problem finding an instrument that suits you.  Maybe it will be a Fender, maybe something else.  There's a lot to choose from these days.  Listen to what your ears and hands are trying to tell you, and you'll figure out what fits your needs.

Edited by - rcc56 on 09/20/2021 12:39:57

Sep 20, 2021 - 12:50:53 PM

12300 posts since 6/2/2008

Originally posted by rcc56

... I settled on a Mexican Fender Stratocaster. They gave me a friendly price: $300 with a used case. I also looked long and hard at the US made Strat, which cost twice as much, and it was perhaps just a little better, but not much.

I bought an American Standard Strat in 1987 for $385, case included, at Chuck Levin's in Wheaton, Maryland. That's the price I was quoted when I was shopping a couple weeks earlier. The price had actually increased $5 or $10 the day I went to buy, but I was paying cash, so the salesman gave it to me.

Other models -- Deluxe, various signature models -- did cost a lot more.

I think the Mexican Strats were great no-frills electrics, in the mold of the originals.

Ten years later, I sold the Strat for $500 to a guy who wanted a complete set of '87s in every color. Mine was black with maple board.

Sep 23, 2021 - 7:48:22 AM

1773 posts since 8/4/2011

Well, I've listened to a lot of videos and did quite a bit of research.

I realized the tone I want most is clean and fat humbucker. I'm leaning toward a D'angelico Premier Atlantic or Brighton (used). I like the tone, the look, the size, and the versatility with coil split options. Wish I could play one first but don't know if there's a dealer nearby.

Appreciate everyone's input! Might be a while before I pick one up, but looking forward to exploring some new sounds.

Sep 23, 2021 - 1:17:31 PM
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34 posts since 3/2/2021

Sounds like I'm a bit late, but I'm a guitar player and repair guy. It sounds like you are on the right track... something with humbuckers or P90s. Someone said a semi-hollow body. That's a good suggestion.
Ibanez Artcore series are mostly sub-$500 and are *great* guitars for that price.
My usual suggestion is to go to a big box store and play anything that catches your eye. Also talk to the repair techs if you can, not the sales associates. Make some notes about what you like and don't like. Then walk out and shop for a used instrument. You'll almost always get a better guitar for your money.

Sep 29, 2021 - 8:10:55 AM

6883 posts since 9/5/2006

IMHO a strat,,a tele ,, a les paul and a gretsch will cover all needed ....all around the strat is the most versatile . but nothing sounds like a les paul in full grind... chicken pickin is a tele ,, and full rounded tone of a gretsch hollow body is hard to beat.

Oct 4, 2021 - 7:52:04 AM
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1773 posts since 8/4/2011

This is what I ended up getting. D'angelico Premier Atlantic.  Dual humbuckers with push-pull coil splits. 

I love it :) Now I just need to learn how to play it!

Here's a video of someone playing the same model who knows what they're doing :)


Oct 5, 2021 - 8:24:56 AM

916 posts since 3/23/2006

Yes, clean and fat sounds like a humbucker. Lots of good recommendations above. In addition to your amp, you will discover pedals that can change aspects of your guitar's tone (ie, signal going to the amp). Jump in! You will discover a whole new world of instruments and options to get the tone you want. And as with the banjo, a lot of the tone is in your hands.

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