An Educational Resource

for the modern guitar player and teacher

Jump to Content

Publishing Schedule

Product Reviews | Gear or Educational Resource

Weekly, every Monday at 3pm

Content | Lessons, Articles & Guides

Weekly, every Friday at 3pm

Newsletter | Updates & Recaps

Monthly, Friday at 12pm


Browse More Content

The Complete Guide
To Seventh Chords

LATEST ARTICLE

Actually Understanding Seventh Chords

December 19th | 2014
Full Article







From the Blog

12.19.2014

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords

Ever wondered what a seventh guitar chord actually is?

Perhaps you've been unsatisfied with available explanations or your own understanding of the concept.

What about the theory behind seventh chords?

These are questions you've probably asked yourself, before resorting back to raw memorization. Still, you continue to think, "Isn't there a better way to learn this outside of note-by-note memorization?"
Instead of just memorizing seventh chords and learning the fingerings, we're going to learn how to build them from the ground up.
The answer is yes.

A Better Way to Learn

Because of the way my brain is wired, I'm intensely pragmatic and skeptical.

As a result, I tend to look for ways to understand music at a deeper level and connect the dots thereof. So that's what we'll do here with seventh chords. Instead of just memorizing seventh chords and learning the fingerings, we're going to learn how to build them from the ground up.

We're going to learn how to connect all the dots.

Guitarists should know chords; really know them, not just how to play them.We need an academic understanding of what they are and how they work, music theory and all. We should know terminology and structure, and be able to explain it all to someone else.

It's a better way to learn something, thoroughly and completely.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. And if someone tells you there's an easy way to learn this stuff they're lying to you. I'm sorry, but there's just no other way to say it.

So we'll walk through it step by step; that way you'll actually know seventh chords.

Background Information

To understand seventh chords you have to first understand the basic underpinnings of what a chord is and then what a triad is.

  1. Formal Definition of a Chord

  2. Formal Definition of a Triad

Once we've covered those two concepts, we can responsibly define and study seventh chords.

What is a Chord?

Conventionally a chord is a combination of three or more notes, heard either simultaneously or in succession like an arpeggio.

Webster's Dictionary defines it like this:

"Three or more musical tones sounded simultaneously."

In contrast, Ottó Károlyi, a senior music professor at the University of Stirling, recognizes two or more notes as a musical chord.

Károlyi, Otto (1965). Introducing Music. Penguin Books. p. 63. "Two or more notes sounding simultaneously are known as a chord."

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
I tend to favor Károlyi's definition and hold that two notes or more should be considered a chord. However, both are valid explanations.

Triads are the next and last thing we need to cover before getting into seventh chords.

What is a Triad?

Formally, a triad is a guitar chord made up of three notes which are successive third intervals.

But what the heck does that mean?

Well, we've got three notes to work with. And we know that one of them, the lowest one, will be the root note. The next note will be a third (either major or minor) from the root note, while the last note will be a fifth (diminished, perfect or augmented).

So a triad includes:

  1. A root note.

  2. Third interval (major or minor) from the root note.

  3. Fifth interval (diminished, perfect or augmented) from the root note.

Take the following major triad example:

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
You've got your root, which is easily identified as your lowest note. Then your major third which is four frets away from the root. So if you were to start at the root note and count up the fretboard four frets, that note would match the one at the third fret on the second string.

Same goes for the perfect fifth, which is seven frets (semitones) from the root note.

You can visualize the process by simply counting up from the root note on the same string.

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
You can see that the note occurring four frets up from our root note on the fourth fret is a C, which means we can use the C on the fifth string at the third fret to begin the construction of our triad.

20th Century theorists, Howard Hanson and Carlton Gamer, expanded the term to make room for essentially any group of three notes, or pitches, that are combined for a chord.

So once again, we have both a formal and casual definition.

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
Though it's true that Carlton and Gamer's definition is valid and easier to digest, we need to at least be aware of the formal definition of a triad in order to understand the structure of seventh chords, which don't have a "non-formal" definition.

Now that we've covered the basic definition of a chord and the structure of a triad, we can finally delve into seventh chords.

Defining Seventh Chords

Unlike our previous two definitions, there's little room for interpretation when it comes to determining what a seventh chord is.

Thus the formal definition is exclusive.

A seventh chord consists of a triad plus one more note that forms a seventh interval with that triad's root note.

If you understand how our triads are constructed it will be fairly easy for you to construct a seventh chord as well.

Since you're just adding a note to an established triad, understanding seventh chords becomes a simple matter of being able to count intervals.

Take the following seventh chord for example:

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
You've got a root note, a major third, perfect fifth and a major seventh that come together to form a basic major seventh chord.

And we can get there entirely by counting intervals from the root note.

If you're still feeling a little tepid about intervals, here are a few resources you can check out to refresh your memory or get some more clarity before moving on.
Additionally, you can refer to this chart if you need help counting from the root note. So if you know you need to add a "major third" you can look at the chart and know that you need to find a note four frets from the root.

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
Now up to this point we've only used major triads for our examples.

There are five other common or "Tertian" seventh chords that we'll cover to make sure we know the process and the way they're constructed.

  • Major Seventh

  • Minor Seventh

  • Dominant Seventh

  • Diminished Seventh

  • Half-Diminished Seventh

The process is the same for each type of chord. We'll build our chords starting with a root note, then add a third, fifth and seventh interval.

The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords
Now that we know all the elements of a seventh chord, we can go through all five of our common names and see if we can make sense of their structure.

1. Major Seventh

We've already used the major seventh as an example, but we'll cover another one here just to be thorough.

Remember, all we need to start is one triad.

We'll look for something different than what was used in the previous example.

How about we start with this major triad shape.

E|-----------
B|--------3--
G|-----4-----
D|--5--------
A|-----------
E|-----------


By now it should be fairly easy for you to spot the root note, third interval and fifth interval in our triad. Remember, it's still a major chord, so our intervals will have the following qualities:
Major Third - Perfect Fifth - Major Seventh
If you memorize this, you can create a major seventh chord with any root note of your choice.

So all you've got to do now is add the major seventh interval. Where do you think it would go? How could we figure it out?

Remember that a major seventh interval is 11 semitones from the root note. So we can simply count from the root note on the fourth string at the fifth fret, all the way up the fretboard.

If you do that you'll go from the fifth fret to the 16th fret.

E|---------------------
B|---------------------
G|---------------------
D|----5-----------16---
A|--[root]-------[F#]--
E|---------------------


That means we're looking for an F# near our original chord. The first note that comes to mind might be the low F# on the sixth string, but that's not a functional option.

However, the F# on the high E string is in perfect position to complete our major seventh chord.

E|--2--
B|--3--
G|--4--
D|--5--
A|-----
E|-----


You can apply the same process to any other triad to make it a major seventh chord.

2. Minor Seventh

All of the same principles will apply to the minor seventh chord, where the only difference is that third and seventh intervals will be minor in their relation to the root note.

Here are the intervals we need to use.
Minor Third - Perfect Fifth - Minor Seventh
We now have our root note on the sixth string at the fifth fret, meaning our chord is going to be an Amin7 by the time we're finished.

Our first interval is a minor third which is three semitones from the root. The perfect fifth interval is the same as before, now falling on the second string at the seventh fret.

E|-----
B|-----
G|--5--
D|--X--
A|--7--
E|--5--


In order to add our minor seventh interval, we need to count ten frets up from the root note.

This gives us a C, which we can include in our chord with the C note at the sixth fret on the second string.

E|-----
B|--6--
G|--5--
D|--X--
A|--7--
E|--5--

3. Dominant Seventh

A dominant seventh chord will be composed of a root, plus the following intervals:
Major Third - Perfect Fifth - Minor Seventh
Let's start with an E at the seventh fret on the fifth string.

E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|-----
A|--7--
E|-----


Our major third and perfect fifth should be easy by now, leading us to the following shape:

E|--7--
B|--x--
G|--x--
D|--6--
A|--7--
E|-----


Now we need to add our minor seventh, which will be a D note considering our root E.

E|--7--
B|--x--
G|--7--
D|--6--
A|--7--
E|-----


The seven, highlighted in red, is our D note, completing the dominant seventh chord.

4. Diminished Seventh

Figuring out the diminished seventh will be slightly trickier because you'll have two diminished intervals to deal with.
Minor Third - Diminished Fifth - Diminished Seventh
Our diminished fifth (also know as a Tritone), is going to be six semitones from the root note or one less than what we were becoming accustomed to with the perfect fifth.

The sound it creates is called "dissonant."

E|--x--
B|--x--
G|--6--
D|--4--
A|--3--
E|--5--


In order to add our diminished seventh note, we'll need to go nine semitones above the root note, which in this case is A. 10 semitones would get us to G, so one less will be F#, which we've highlighted red in our chord.

5. Half-Diminished Seventh

The half diminished seventh requires the following three intervals from the root:
Minor Third - Diminished Fifth - Minor Seventh
So this chord will actually be a bit easier to understand than the diminished seventh, since we have two minor intervals instead of two diminished intervals.

We'll start with our root note here:

E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|-----
A|-----
E|--3--


Remember that a diminished fifth is six semitones above the root.

E|-----
B|-----
G|--6--
D|--x--
A|--x--
E|--3--


Now we can add our minor third and seventh intervals.

E|-----
B|-----
G|--6--
D|--3--
A|--1--
E|--3--


The same principles can be applied to the minor major seventh chord and the augmented major seventh chord, which are not listed here, but are still considered Tertian. As long as you know the intervals, you're good to go.

Want to see them all in one place?

Here ya go:

Major Seventh: Major Third - Perfect Fifth - Major Seventh
Minor Seventh: Minor Third - Perfect Fifth - Minor  Seventh
Dominant: Major Third - Perfect Fifth - Minor Seventh
Diminished: Minor Third - Diminished Fifth - Diminished Seventh
Half-diminished: Minor Third - Diminished Fifth - Minor Seventh
Minor Major Seventh: Minor Third - Perfect Fifth - Major Seventh
Augmented Major: Major Fifth - Augmented Fifth - Major Seventh

If you know the intervals you discern and even build your own chords pretty quickly. So instead of looking up a bunch of seventh guitar chords and simply memorizing, you can make them from scratch.

Pretty cool, right?

Instead of having a surface knowledge and not really know what you're playing, you know why every single note in these chords exists, namely because you know the four components that make up a seventh chord.

Let's go ahead and review:

  1. Root

  2. Third Interval

  3. Fifth Interval

  4. Seventh Interval

It's not easy, at least not for the average music student.

But most things worth learning, like music theory, aren't easy.

The Process

To review and summarize what we've covered, let's look at the process by which we've gotten to this point.

  1. Understand the basic definition of a chord.

  2. Understand the definition and formal components of a triad (root, third and fifth interval).

  3. Learn how to count intervals from the root notes (by the number of semitones - use the chart provided).

  4. Build your seventh chords by finding a root note and adding the appropriate intervals depending on the commons name (major, minor, diminished, etc.) of the chord you want.

Easier said than done, but it's all there. And once you learn it, you'll be ahead of most who just rely on raw memorization with no interest in music theory to get by.

A Brief Argument for Music Theory

Most people don't like the idea of learning a lot of music theory.

It's boring, time-consuming and looms large for a lot of people who "just want to play." If you do just want to play a little, that's fine.

At the same time, this type of material probably isn't for you.

It's for those who want the numerous benefits that theory and an in-depth understanding of music has to offer guitar players. It gives you structure and definition to what you see happening on the fretboard so that you always know why you're playing something.

That's why I teach and recommend to all my students that they learn as much of it as possible.

Following Up

Do you have thoughts about the material?

Possible questions?

We don't do comments on the blog, but you can get in touch with me via Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.

Keep the fire alive.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Spencer Williams

Print Friendly and PDF


About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.







12.15.2014

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Delay Review and Buying Guide

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Review and Buying Guide

Is the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man worth the high price tag?

That's what we're about the find out.

For a delay pedal, such a high retail cost ($320) sets it back in our ratings system quite a bit. But I'm going to dig into this one all the same, especially since there seems to be a strange lack of review material available elsewhere.

Looking for something else?


We need to look at sound quality, features and what you're paying for specifically, to tell you whether or not the Deluxe Memory Man (DMM) is worth the hefty investment.

Let's start with the fun stuff.

Who uses it?

Thanks in large part to the big name guitar players who have used it, the DMM enjoys a glistening reputation dating back to the early 1980s.

A brief list of artists who's pedal boards the DMM has graced includes, but is of course not limited to:
And the list goes on.

Pretty impressive, right?

But those guys are all fairly (or at least modestly) wealthy and able to afford a $320 delay pedal. In fact, most of them probably didn't have to pay anything for it, because they're successful musicians who possess the ability to sell gear simply by owning it.

What about the rest of us who are on a strict guitar-gear budget? What do you do if you're scared half to death that you're going to make a terrible purchase?

We can dig in and know for sure if we're really getting $320 worth of guitar pedal.

First, we'll examine the DMM's most notable feature, analog delay.

Analog Delay: The First Notable Perk

We live in an age where digital delay is the dominant alternative to the old analog delays and tape echos.

But the DMM uses a completely analog system to produce its effects.

What exactly does that mean? What's the difference between analog and digital delays?

What is "digital" delay?

A digital delay pedal, like the Boss DD3, records the input signal of your guitar and plays it back, just like you would record and play an MP3.

This means that digital delays are identical replicas of the input signal for the allotted recording time.

It'll sound more crisp, pure and sterile compared to its analog counterparts. Digital delays also possess brighter tonal quality as opposed to the darker and thicker sounds produced by analog circuitry.

What is "analog" delay?

To begin with a simple summation, analog delay is a lot "messier" than digital. Instead of being digitally recorded and played back, analog devices rely of something called a bucket-brigade circuits.

This circuit accepts the input signal from your guitar and runs it through a series of capacitors (C0 to Cn) moving one step at each clock cycle. This creates the echoing delay sound which becomes the recording or "output" of the pedal.

You can think of it as a group of people in a line, passing along a bucket of water to fight a fire.

Hence the name "bucket brigade."

The DMM's circuit can handle up to 550 ms (milliseconds) of delay, which is high by historical analog and tape delay standards.

Wanna geek out on the math?

Here it is:

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Review and Buying Guide
Where delay time is measured in Hz, N is the number of capacitors (typically 4096) and fcp is the clock cycle or the time measured in milliseconds.

So the math for the DMM delay would look something like this.

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Review and Buying Guide
Do you need to know your delay time in Hz? Probably not.

But it is a component of understanding analog delay. If nothing else, you can at least impress your friends.

Sound Quality

The DMM can make a lot of different noises.

That's good news for prospective buyers.

Sure, it's primarily a delay box, but the chorus and vibrato effects give this pedal some serious versatility and make it more than just a delay pedal.

Perhaps that's part of how Electro-Harmonix justifies the high price tag. But I get it, business is business. If you're going to make a great pedal, you've got to charge the big bucks. So for now, we'll focus on the sound quality and forgive the high price tag (more on that later).

The quality of each individual effect is solid and the resulting combination is unique to the DMM.

Let's start with the delay.

Delay

The DMM provides three typical controls to adjust the sound of your delay.

  • Time

  • Feedback

  • Blend

When you adjust our time knob the speed of the delay is changed. This mechanism corresponds to the clock cycle we mentioned in the bucket-brigade circuit. So when you're changing the time of the delay you're changing the clock cycle within the circuit.

The higher the time knob the more time is given to record the input signal.

The feedback knob (sometimes called "repeats" on other delay pedals) changes the number of repeating trails that you'll hear after the original input signal. This can also be referred to as the "decay" of your echo.

A blend knob will change the volume or gain of the repeating signal; it's handy if you want the echo to be a bit louder than the original input.

As I've already mentioned, the sound quality of an analog delay is conventionally darker and more "thick" than a digital delay sound. However, I found the DMM to be comparatively bright and chime-like.

While it's certainly punchier than a typical digital delay, it's not dark by analog standards.

No Tap Tempo

One disappointment for me was the lack of any tap tempo functionality. Although Electro-Harmonix did come up with a version that includes it.

That newer version is actually capable of 1100ms of delay time.

You can decide whether or not it's worth $400.

Otherwise, the delay itself sounds quite good. It's responsive, punchy and exactly what you would expect from one of the most popular delay pedals ever made.

I'd like to hear it a little darker, but that's something that can be dialed in with an amplifier or good EQ pedal.

Chorus & Vibrato

When I first heard the chorus and vibrato, I thought to myself, "Man, that sounds a lot like the "Black Hole Sun" verse riff by Soundgarden."

So I assumed that Chris Cornell used the DMM and played that riff.

After all, the DMM is plain as day on his pedalboard.

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Review and Buying Guide
But Kim Thayil actually plays that part and doesn't have a DMM in his rig. Anyway, if you listen to "Black Hole Sun" that verse riff is pretty similar to the sound you can get from using the chorus and vibrato effects at a high speed.

The chorus and vibrato seem to be more of a compliment to the delay than an effect on their own, though I would assume that's the intention.

Just don't think of it as a multi-effects pedal.

The extra effects are nice tools to shape the sound of the delay, but they don't function quite so well as standalone effects in the unit.

Overall Sound Quality

Once you use the pedal for awhile, U2's sound and David Evans' guitar playing really begin to make sense.

You start to hear a lot of their sound in your own fiddling, which is something worth considering. If you're a huge U2 fan or you just really dig the sound that Edge creates, this pedal could be a great fit for your board.

Overall, the sound quality doesn't leave you wanting. The various functions of this pedal fit together to give you all the shaping and variety you could ask for in a delay effect.

So it's certainly more than just a collector's item.

The DMM does its job extremely well, leaving little room for improvement and no sound-related stone unturned.

Pricing

The high cost of the DMM ($320 retail) can be primarily attributed to three price points.

First, the rarity of fully analog delay pedals combined with the fact that many guitarists prefer them will make it easier for manufacturers to charge more. So if you're used the digital price tags, analog delays will cause some sticker shock.

Second, you're paying for features and the added chorus/vibrato functionality. Since most delay pedals don't come with additional built-in effects, this is a unique feature that drives up the cost of the pedal.

If those extra sounds aren't important to you or if you already have a chorus pedal, you might be paying for needless functionality.

Third, there's a lot of novelty and heritage that has come to be a part of this pedal's value.

  1. Rarity of fully analog delay pedals.

  2. Features and the chorus/vibrato functionality.

  3. Novelty and heritage.

The notoriety that it has received amongst popular musicians and the fact that it has been on the market for three decades gives it some appeal as a collector's item, in addition to being a great-sounding delay.

All three of those things are converging to keep the price high.

Whether those are three things you want to pay for is up to you. Personally, I prefer and recommend that you put as much money as possible into sound quality. If you must cut costs, intangibles should be the first to go and then you start cutting down features.

I like to think of a great sounding delay with only basic controls as the "stripped down" version of a car I want to buy.

No backup camera, sun roof or dashboard navigation, because I don't need that stuff anyway.

I'd rather just pay for a car that runs great and limit all the fuss.

Buying DMM means you're paying for features and for the collector appeal. So while I could recommend this pedal based on the sound quality alone, I also need to point out that there are other things you're paying for when and if you purchase one.

Overall 

There's nothing not to like about the sounds this pedal is capable of producing. The analog circuitry along with chorus and vibrato effects are one of the most classically appealing combinations that a guitar pedal can offer.

Based on sound quality alone, the DMM is nearly perfect.

While the chorus and vibrato are wonderful to have, their importance should have taken a back seat to getting a tap tempo function onto this pedal at the retail price. So the DMM deserves a decent score for features, but also loses points for the lack of an important one.

The high price tag seems inflated and suggests that you're paying for more than just the tangible benefits of the pedal itself. It also makes affording the DMM difficult for the average consumer.

If the price tag is too high for you, the T-Rex Engineering Stereo Delay is a good alternative at $250.

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Review and Buying Guide
You get your tap tempo and a simple control scheme with everything you need in a much smaller box.

That's not to say this is necessarily "better" than the DMM, but if you don't want to pay for the extra features and novelty, the T-Rex Replay Box is a favorable alternative.

Here's are final assessment of the DDM. It's good, but it doesn't quite make the editor's choice tag.

Pros: Fantastic sound quality, analog circuitry and plenty of clout from professionals are all things you'd like to see in an ideal delay pedal. From a sound quality perspective, it's nearly flawless. Chorus and vibrato are a unique and useful addition.

Cons: No tap tempo. Resides in the upper reaches of delay pedal pricing conventions.

Conclusion: The sound quality alone could be worth the investment, but it'll be up to the discretion of the buyer to decide whether or not the features and novelty justify the high price tag. Though it narrowly misses the editor's choice tag, the DMM is still a fantastic delay pedal.

http://amzn.to/1Gp6gFT
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of shannonpatrick17


Print Friendly and PDF


About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.







12.12.2014

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality

I get it. You don't just want a guitar, you want the guitar.

And you don't want to spend several hundred dollars (either on yourself or someone else) in vain.

Here you'll learn how to avoid that, how to side-step the dreaded "bad purchase."

To be an educated and informed guitar player you need to know your gear. That's why we do a lot of buying guides, recommendations and reviews that are interspersed with our more formal educational material.

We want to help you narrow down your choices, feel less overwhelmed and find that one special guitar that is absolutely perfect for you.

Well, maybe not that one.

Even the beginner needs to find their niche, and the right guitar is the first (and perhaps the most crucial) step in making that happen.

Need something else? Check out these other buying guides:

What Makes a Great Beginner Guitar?

Your first guitar should accomplish three things.

1. It should be inexpensive.

Don't go "bare bones" when buying your first guitar, because a crappy instrument can ruin the experience altogether. You ought to prepare to spend three figures.

That said, it should definitely be inexpensive.

So one of the simplest prerequisites that an ideal beginner guitar needs to meet is that it should be reasonably affordable. Plan to be in the neighborhood of $200 to $400.

2. It should fit the initial interests of the player.

What do you (or the eventual owner) want to accomplish on the guitar? What do you want to play and what kind of music do you like?

Though subject to change, the goals and leanings of a new player should be initially considered. Things like deciding between an acoustic or electric guitar can be helpful to establish, as well as considering what musical genres are most interesting to them.

In short, the new guitar should correspond to those goals and interests.

But how can you know if it does, before you even play it?

We'll do the heavy-lifting for you and mention the ideal stylistic leanings for each guitar featured. Just know your the musical genres and styles that you want to target, up front.

Also, breathe easy.

Most guitars of our day can accommodate a large variety of different styles and musical preferences, especially the models we've featured here.

So don't worry so much about making a mistake.

Look for something you like and something that appeals to you. It really is that easy.

Because it's not a right or wrong answer. Is there some wisdom involved? Sure. But we'll take care of the wisdom part so you can worry about more fun things, like picking a good color.

3. It should provide a reasonable standard of quality.

Like I said, you don't want to cheap out completely on your first guitar.

It'll make the process of learning the instrument more difficult than it has to be and could potentially discourage you from even wanting to play. That's not a situation you want to be in before you've even really gotten started.

In an ideal world you would obtain the most quality possible for the price. So a good beginner guitar isn't just cheap, but it also meets an acceptable standard of quality.

But that "acceptable standard of quality" is what gets to be pretty foggy for a lot of buyers.

What is that standard? Where's the bar?

That's how this article can help you. We give you a list that meets the bar so you can make a choice, without worrying that you're making a "bad purchase."

Combining Quality and Price

I write these lists in response to the question: "What kind of guitar should I buy for _____?"

So my goal is to help you find the best value, which means we look for the lowest cost possible while targeting the highest quality product in that price range.

If we can do all that while catering to the interests and stylistic leanings of the player, we've got a good shot at getting our hands on the optimal beginner guitar.

Let's get to work.

1. Epiphone LP-100 Les Paul

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The LP-100 is lighter (7.9 lbs.) than a real Gibson Les Paul, which is partly by design to cater to beginner players and to cut costs, of course.

It's a bolt-neck model, which is the case with most guitars at this price, disappointing though it may be.

Gibson LPs will have a set in neck, which is pictured here:

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Avoiding a set-in neck is also a cost-cutting tactic, since the bolt-on simply screws into the body of the guitar.

Bolt-on necks hurt your tone and sustain, but that's the unfortunate reality of budget guitar shopping.

With all the looks and controls (two volume, two tone and three-way switch) of a real Les Paul, you're getting a great starter guitar that can last you a couple years (or until you want something nicer) before upgrading. The reviews for this guitar are worth a read if you're seriously considering it.

Be advised that "fret-buzz" seems to be a fairly consistent complaint with this model.

Pros: Lightweight, two tone and volume controls, tune-o-matic bridge and sunburst option are all great. And hey, it looks like a legit Les Paul.

Cons: Bolt-on neck hurts your tone. This one is also said to be difficult to keep in tune, though, not unlike many other cheap guitars.

2. Epiphone Les Paul Standard

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
For $130 more than the LP-100, you can get an Epiphone Les Paul Standard that's going to feel a lot more like a genuine replica of a Gibson LP.

It's also considered by some to be Epiphone's "flagship" Les Paul model.

I would be inclined to agree.

Alnico pickups and all the features of the LP-100 are included, along with Grover machine heads and a locking tailpiece. Note that it also weighs more than the LP-100 at 8.5 lbs., more accurately replicating the shape and feel of the Gibson LP Standard.

Pros: Locking tailpiece, Gibson-esque controls, and Grover tuners. Better construction with a hand-set neck and wider body. We like the trapezoid inlays as well.

Cons: It's not a Gibson.

3. Fender Modern Player Telecaster

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The Modern Player Tele features an HSS style pickup configuration (at the bridge position), giving it a little more edge than the standard Telecaster models and serving the role of "most intriguing feature."

A standard Stratocaster pickup is installed in the middle (the black one with the metal dots), while the familiar Telecaster pickup sits at the neck position.

That's a lot of different tones to choose from.

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Pickup configuration.

It's more than enough to keep you busy for awhile.

This guitar can sound almost any way you could want, as it's able to deliver anything from the familiar Telecaster twang to a far heavier and aggressive rock tones with the humbucker at the bridge position. The five-way pickup selector gives you all kinds of different sound options, while the guitar also responds well to a lowered volume knob, allowing you even further tonal versatility.

Moving the pickup selector to the bridge position gives you a smooth and heavy tone with some extra low-end, a sound you don't typically expect from a Telecaster.

Clean sounds on the Telecaster pickup come out pretty bright, with plenty of twang to boot.

And at $400 you can't ask to get much more noise from a guitar.

Also note that you're getting a real Fender and not just a Squier replica. That's not to say Squiers can't be good guitars, but since some of the base-model Fenders are so cheap, I've always recommended them instead.

Pros: Five-position pickup switching, HSS pickup configuration and gloss polyester finish.

Cons: For the versatility and price tag, we're not complaining one bit.

4. ESP LTD M100FM

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Aesthetically the M100FM from ESP LTD has a lot to offer, as it does a good job of looking the part of a more expensive guitar.

But there's some substance here as well.

Features we like include a Floyd Rose-style locking tremolo system, 24 jumbo frets and a decent transparent gloss finish. You're also getting a thinner neck, that when coupled with the jumbo frets gives you what we'd call a "fast" or "shred" neck.

So in short, it's a speed guitar.

The M100FM would be ideal for an aspiring speedster, rock or metal guitarist. And while it's not fair to assume that's all you can do with it, I wouldn't say that this guitar is known for its versatility.

Pros: Floyd-Rose style tremolo system, 24 frets, thin neck and gloss finish gives you a few things to write home about.

Cons: Bolt-on necks are still terrible.

5. Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
I'm not normally a fan of the Squier guitars.

Yet the modified vintage models are reputable and are often said to be as reliable as their Fender counterparts. Now please don't take that to mean that you can get a $300 guitar that is comparable to a $1300 guitar.

Anyone who tells you that is either exaggerating greatly or simply abnegating reality.

There's a reason the Fender American series guitars cost more. Price points don't happen in a vacuum, so there are tangible differences in quality that allow Squier models to retail for as low as they do.

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Additional Jazzmaster controls.

That said, Squiers can still really help the beginning guitarist, because they give the buyer a budget option.

But make no mistake, buying Squier is not (cannot be) the same as buying Fender.

Even still, the Squier Jazzmaster is a particularly good choice for beginners as it gives them a unique style and sound, providing all the same tonal controls as the Fender version.

This model includes a floating vibrato. Nice touch, Squier.

Pros: Floating vibrato and Duncan-style pickup are handy. You also get the same control scheme as the Fender version.

Cons: It cons people into thinking they're getting something "close to" a Fender.

6. Fender CD-60CE Dreadnought Cutaway Acoustic-Electric

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The CD-60CE acoustic makes the cut because of an included Fishman preamp, built-in tuner and a great looking finish.

When you see the term "dreadnought" tagged onto the model name and number, that's simply referring to the shape of the body, or the larger body design that most acoustic guitars employ.

I've noticed that the sound of this guitar is strikingly similar to that of my Taylor 214CE, which retails for around $800. So this guitar does have good tone and even boasts features (pickup, tuner, cutaway, etc.) of much more expensive models.

So even at $300 it can last someone past the beginner-guitar stage before they need to upgrade.

Pros: Fishman preamp and onboard tuner, cutaway and nice looking finish are typically hallmarks of more expensive guitars.

Cons: You can't help but feel like acoustic guitars aren't Fender's thing, because they're not.

7. Epiphone SG Custom

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The chrome hardware and 1960s style looks great while providing all the aesthetic appeal of the Gibson SG Customs.

I personally dig the headstock on the customs, which Epiphone does a great job of replicating.

Additional features include Epiphone stock pickups, a LockTone TM Tone-O-Matic/Stopbar tailpiece combo and the vintage tremolo bar. Like the Fender acoustic, this guitar can be serviceable in a semi-professional rig just as much as a beginner rig.

Out of all the Epiphone SGs, this is to be considered one of the higher quality models.

If $450 is more than you want to pay for a beginner guitar, checkout the SG Vintage.

Pros: Vintage look, tone-o-matic/stopbar tailpiece and tone controls are all here. The guitar looks the part of a Gibson in every way but the name.

Cons: It's an oddly constant reminder of Angus Young.

8. Dean Vendetta 4.0

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The Vendetta 4.0 has a lot of modern appeal with a sleek white finish and mirrored diamond-shape fretboard inlays. The Dean "Time Capsule" pickups are nothing to write home about, but the black/white contrast does give the guitar some added visual appeal.

It kind of reminds me of Dave Navarro's signature PRS.

This guitar also comes with a Floyd Rose tremolo system, upping the value quite a bit.

If you're looking for something well-suited to the hard-rockers or modern metal enthusiasts, this guitar is likely an ideal fit.

Pros: Floyd Rose tremolo system is a great feature, modern look and feel will satisfy the resident metal head.

Cons: Stock pickups could stand to be replaced, but that's not unusual for a $400 guitar.

9. Applause by Ovation AB24A-4 Balladeer Acoustic

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The price (usually around $200 or less) is extremely inviting, making this stripped-down Ovation acoustic and ideal beginner guitar. A sculpted Ovation headstock is also pretty desireable, even if buying an Ovation means you'll likely have trouble keeping the bowl shape on your lap.

Whenever I played one, it always seemed to slide forward.

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Be advised that there are no onboard electronics or preamps, which basically means that you can't plug it in as-is.

Although you can easily add your own electronics with something like a a Seymour Duncan soundhole pickup.

You could also just use a microphone.

Pros: The simple Ovation design is refreshing. We like the mid-sized cutaway as well.

Cons: Electronics would be nice, but it's $170 on Amazon for a reason.

10. Ovation CS24-4 Acoustic-Electric

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The CS24-4 picks up where the AB24A-4 leaves off.

With an onboard preamp, tuner, three-band EQ and low-battery light, you get all the specs of a more expensive acoustic-electric setup.

The Lyrachord cutaway Ovation body is still there and you're not paying too much more at $370 or so. Solid Spruce is used for the top of the guitar.

If you want the electronics, this is a better option than the Applause. However, if you don't care about amplifying your acoustic, this one could be overkill and not worth the extra expense. It's really just a matter of how you want to use the guitar.

Pros: It's rare that you see an acoustic guitar with a three-band EQ for less than $400. We're happy to have finally found one.

Cons: It looks so nice that you might not even want to play it.

11. Ibanez RG450DX

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The RG450DX is one of the staple economy guitars offered by Ibanez, with all the looks of more expensive models.

One notable downside is the tremolo system; a cheaper Edge-Zero model instead of a real Floyd Rose.

Bummer, I know.

However you still get locking tuners and the three-pickup configuration (one single coil between two dual coils) with a five-way selector.

The neck is also thinner than most, designed for faster playing.

So this model is ideal for the aspiring speedster, lead player or just the average hard rock fan who wants a guitar that's going to be a little more aggressive and built for their style of music. In other words, this guitar's owner would get along well with the M100FM owner.

Pros: Thin neck and built for speed with plenty of modern amenities. Five-way switch is a nice touch.

Cons: Has an "I can't believe it's not Floyd Rose" tremolo system.

12. Fender Standard Stratocaster

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Though $500 is a little high for a beginner's guitar, I still recommend Fender's Standard Stratocaster for primarily two reasons.

First, you can often get it used for much cheaper. $400 isn't an unusual price to see.

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
Second, it's just one of the best all-around guitars that has ever existed and has long been the most-popular and best-selling guitar in the world. It can handle just about any style of music, being capable of a multitude of different tones and sounds.

Not sure what style you'll like or what direction you want to go? No worries. Buy a Fender Strat and it'll cover most of your options.

I've seen a lot of people buy a Fender Standard Strat initially and then buy another main guitar that was more stylistically specific, but while still keeping their Strat as a capable backup.

In other words, you can't go wrong. Just pick a color.

Pros: It's one of the most reputable guitars in existence. Good used prices and plenty of tone versatility.

Cons: Price is a little high if you don't buy used. One volume knob is extremely close to the strings, though that's the case with any Stratocaster.

13. Seagull S6 Original Acoustic

13 of the Best Beginner Guitars: Ideal Fusion of Cost and Quality
The reviews for the Seagull S6 are astoundingly good.

Made in North American this model sports a pressure tested top, truss rod and a tapered headstock. The simple design and price, often dipping under $400 if you buy used, makes this acoustic a popular beginner model and a solid value.

The Ovation Applause is an acceptable comparison, despite the price difference.

Pros: Reputable, well-received and simple construction. Nothing to complain about here.

Cons: It's a bit uninteresting to look at.

All These Guitars Will Work

By "work" I mean that they'll pass that bar we mentioned earlier while meeting an acceptable standard of quality, considering what you're paying.

In other words, they won't be bad purchases. 

Can you spend $200-$400 and get something that isn't acceptable?

Yes, absolutely.

People do it every day because they don't take the time to research the guitar they're buying or perhaps because they don't even know where to begin. This is that starting point. From here on out, the only thing you have to think about it getting something you like.

Where else can I buy?

Guitar Chalk is supported through Amazon associate links which gives us a fantastic alternative to banner advertising or using ad systems that spy on you.

We don't like that stuff. It's ugly and intrusive.

So the links we use for products will most often take you to Amazon. That said, I have observed over the years that Amazon is one of the cheapest places to get good guitar gear, which is why I started Guitar Bargain to highlight some of those great deals.

At the same time, that doesn't mean there aren't some other great places to buy gear. Here are a few that I'd recommend:
Ebay and Craigslist are of course the less-structured options, while places like Reverb and Musicians Friend are formal retailers.

The reason I like Amazon is because you tend to get the best of both worlds.

You get the formal protection of a major retailer and you get the low prices of third-party stores and sellers.

But it's all a matter of what works for you and where you feel comfortable shopping.

Looking for more buying guides?

I consistently publish posts that are designed to give you help and direction when it comes to purchasing new (or used) guitar gear.

If you haven't found what you're looking for in this list, perhaps one of these posts will have an answer for you.
And if you're still stuck, feel free to reach out to me personally, via the Guitar Chalk about page or on our social media accounts at Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of junkwork

Print Friendly and PDF


About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.