Unlike its acoustic cousin, the electric guitar requires some additional equipment before you can start chugging power chords or shredding solos.
If you are only just transitioning from an acoustic to an electric guitar, our article “How to transition from acoustic to electric guitar” is a great resource to help you with the changeover.
It can be a little daunting to figure out all the equipment you need to become an electric guitar god.
Below we summarised the essential equipment needed to play the electric guitar and the equipment that could help, but it is not crucial.
There are three essential pieces of equipment:
1. An Excellent Electrical Guitar
Let’s start with the obvious – the electric guitar itself.
There is an abundance of guitar brands, makes, and models to choose from, all of which suit different styles and tones.
If you’re a rocker and can’t wait to learn the entirety of Guns & Roses Greatest Hits album, then you may lean towards a Les Paul, while blues enthusiasts may want to opt for a Stratocaster or Telecaster.
Most reputable guitar makers offer instruments suited to beginners that won’t break the bank, and I certainly recommend any neophyte guitar player to pick up one of these.
2. An Amplifier To Hear Your Guitar
Unlike an acoustic guitar, the electric guitar must be played through an amplifier to be heard.
This is because the pick-ups on your guitar convert string vibrations into weak electrical signals. The volume will be low unless the weak signals are amplified.
Most amplifiers have knobs to control volume, tone, and even reverb and other effects (in certain products).
Most also come with a distortion channel allowing you to play both clean and distorted music.
Amplifiers come in all shapes and sizes.
For a beginner, I recommend purchasing a small practice amp (10-15 watts) such as the CRUSH12. These are perfect for novel players as they do not take up much space and are relatively quiet.
Once you have honed your skills a little further, you may feel comfortable moving onto a larger amp with additional inputs.
If the above amp does not take your fancy, check out our “Best beginner guitar amps” article for more ideas on other amps.
3. The Cord To Connect The Guitar And The Amp
The final piece of essential equipment is a cable to connect your new guitar to your amplifier.
These are basically just wires (usually derived from copper) wrapped in a protective sheath.
They can come in almost any length you desire, but 8-10 meters is usually pretty standard.
Without a guitar lead, you will be unable to plug your instrument into its amplifier, so it goes without saying that it is necessary.
Non-Essential equipment (but still recommended to have)
4. A Pick To Allows Swift Movement Between Strings
Almost all electric guitar players will use a plectrum, also known as a pick.
They come in a variety of thicknesses to accommodate all playing styles.
Plectrums on the thicker end of the spectrum offer improved control and dexterity, while thinner picks are great for rhythmic strumming.
You should opt for a plectrum on the thinner side while learning basic chords and strumming patterns.
As you gain more confidence and start to pick individual strings, it will be time to invest in some thicker plectrums.
5. A Guitar Tuner To Maintain Consistent Sound
Having a decent tuner is pretty essential as it helps you keep your instrument in… tune.
You may not notice or even care if you are out of tune when you first start playing but trust me, a well-tuned guitar sounds infinitely better.
Regularly tunning your guitar will help you develop your musical ear, allowing you to recognize the different notes, drastically improving your playing.
Tuner technologies have come a long way from pitch pipes and tuning forks.
While you don’t need to spend much, a decent digital tuner is undoubtedly the way to go.
For more information on the best guitar tuners and their importance, check out our article “Should I buy a guitar tuner or use an app.”
6. A Guitar Case Or Gig Bag To Protect Your Guitar
If you’ve just spent your hard-earned cash on a new guitar, you’re going to want a case to keep it in.
Not only will it protect your instrument from dust, dirt, and damage, but it will also allow you to carry and transport it with ease.
Both hard cases and soft gig bags are available. The latter is best for beginners as hard cases can become relatively expensive.
7. Guitar Straps To Hold The Guitar When Standing Up
I highly recommend sitting down while learning the guitar, as it will help perfect your form and technique.
However, you may also want to purchase a strap for when you want to perform or jam with friends.
Now, there are literally thousands of strap types and designs to choose from.
Don’t get swamped trying to pick one; a simple yet solid strap will do just fine.
8. A Stand To Display Your Guitar With Pride
This is definitely not essential, especially if you have a case or gig bag. However, most people want to display their instrument for all to see, and why wouldn’t you? Guitars are beautiful!
Getting a guitar stand avoids the need to pack it away after each use, and prevents unfortunate dinks from precariously placed guitars. Trust me, leaning your axe against the desk is asking for trouble!
Plus it allows you to grab the guitar here and there during the day for a quick practice. What a great way to disestress!
Our article “Guitar stand wall mount” is a comprehensive post on the dos and don’ts for guitar stands and wall mounts.
9. A Metronome To Help Keep Your Timing
Being on time is one of the most essential skills you must learn as a musician – there is nothing worse than somebody playing off-tempo.
As a beginner, you will (hopefully) be using a metronome regularly while practicing to perfect strumming in time.
Again, you don’t have to break the bank. A decent digital metronome will cost no more than $10-$15 and will be invaluable to your guitar skills.
Our article “How to practice songs with a metronome“, will give you three essential principles to adhere to; to make practicing with a metronome effective.
10. Spare Guitar Strings To Save You When One Brakes
Guitar strings are thin, and while they are somewhat robust, they can break regularly. Especially if you are trying to learn Led Zeppelin (trust me).
A real guitar player will always have a spare set of strings lying around, ready to replace when disaster strikes.
Even if your strings haven’t broken, it is a good idea to do an entire string change periodically to keep your instrument in tip-top condition.
Like most guitar accessories, there is a vast range of string types all suited to individual styles.
It may take a while to find your favorite brand and gauge, but I recommend opting for light (10-46) or extra light (9-42).
Our article “How to identify the gauge of strings on your guitar” provides an overview of string gauge.
11. Effects Pedals To Create Musical Effects
Now, this one is for those who are a little more advanced than outright beginners.
After you have learned the basics and have decided that the electric guitar is definitely for you, I recommend investing in some effect pedals.
Pedals are used in conjunction with your amplifier to alter the sound created by your guitar.
There are hundreds of different types. Our article “Essential guitar pedals for beginners” will help you make an informed decision on the best pedal for you!
While effect pedals are not essential, they really take your playing to the next level. This allows you to seamlessly transition between impressive sounds and tones at the press of a button.
Now you have a basic understanding of the pieces of equipment required to start playing the electric guitar.
It may seem a little overwhelming with the amount of stuff I have recommended but fear not! Many leading guitar makers offer ‘Guitar Starter Packs’ that include all the basics – at a very reasonable price.
Most music stores will offer their starter packs ranging from US$199 to US$450 and will come with the guitar, amplifier, lead, case, picks, tuner, and strap.
The trick is to shop around. This article by Music Grotto may help with the decision.
Can I Plug Headphones Directly into my Electric Guitar?
No, you cannot plug your earbuds into your electric guitar as the guitar jack and earphone connection is not compatible. However, even if you buy an adapter for the earbuds to go into the guitar’s jack, you will not be able to hear the music you are producing.
This is because of impedance matching. In other words, the electrical signals produced by the pick-ups are much larger than the electrical signals the headphones can take. This reduces the circuit efficiency allowing for a large quantity of the energy to escape. So, the energy that reaches your ears is negligible (0.213%).
Most amplifiers, however, do have a headphone jack to plug into. This means you can practice into the early hours of the morning without waking anybody – imagine shredding along with Highway to Hell at 2am!
Can You Play Electric Guitar Without A Pick?
For a complete novice, I would highly recommend learning to play electric guitar with a pick. This will allow you to strum without your fingers getting caught on the strings. However, you certainly can (and many musicians do) play the guitar without a pick, there are no rules.
For a beginner guitar player, I recommend you use a very thin pick. I use a 0.46 mm pick. This pick is super flexible, easy to use, doesn’t get tangled between strings, and is very forgiven. Perfect for us beginners learning to strum.
However, for those learning to pick, the thin picks can be less accurate and more difficult to use. For these, I would recommend you use a 0.60 mm pick. thicker picks can be easier to control when picking
Fingerstyle playing is considered to be more difficult, but it emits warmer tones with greater finesse.
Many players, especially in blues music, adopt a hybrid picking style mixing plectrum usage with fingerpicking to create their own unique styles.
Can I Play an Electric Guitar Without an Amplifier?
Technically, yes you can play an electric guitar without an amplifier. But the sound will be low due to the weak electromagnetic signals produced by the pick-ups. The amp addresses this issue by amplifying the weak signals.
So to unleash your ax’s full potential, you certainly need it plugged in and turned to 11!
To understand why you need an amplifier, you must first learn how an electric guitar produces sound.
When you strum your strings, they vibrate. The pick-ups on your guitar convert these vibrations into electrical signals (electromagnetic induction). This is fed into an amplifier to emit sound through the speakers.
There are ways to get around using an amplifier, as guitars can be hooked up to computers, tablets, and even smartphones.
But all of these options require the use of amp simulators and DAWs (digital audio workstation).
These options are really only for people regularly recording music. I wouldn’t recommend a beginner to jump right into complex computer software just yet – stick with an amp for now.
What Strings Do I Need For My Electric Guitar?
Choosing the right strings for your guitar and musical style is critical to secure great tone and superb playability.
The most important thing to figure out is your preferred ‘string gauge.’
The gauge of a guitar string refers to its physical size (in inches).
The vast majority of electric guitar players opt for lighter gauges (.010 -.046). This increases playability and makes fretting and bending easier.
Increasing the thickness of your strings makes it slightly harder to play as more pressure is required to sound each note.
However, heavier gauges produce more volume and sustain, making them perfect for heavier music genres such as metal and heavy rock.
Electric guitar strings are also made from various metal alloys, each producing unique tones, and sounds.
The most common metals used are steel or nickel, but you can also find strings made from chrome, cobalt, and even titanium.
After reading through this article, hopefully, you have a better understanding of all the required equipment to start playing the electric guitar.
While particular gear is essential (the guitar, amplifies, and lead), the other items will enhance your experience and will allow you to create different effects.
You may be sitting there asking, ‘Do I really need all this stuff?’ – and the answer is no – not straight away at least.
For all the beginners out there, I would highly recommend purchasing a guitar starter pack to cover the basics.
If you find your new passion, you can start collecting the other accessories as you go.
Throughout the years of playing guitar, you will learn precisely what equipment is right for you to suit your individual style and genre.
Let me be the first to warn you. It can become highly addictive browsing and purchasing new guitars and gear. Just don’t get carried away, or before you know it, you would have spent a fortune!