What Equipment Is Needed to Play the Electric Guitar?

By Robert Dumas
To get started playing the electric guitar, all you need is an amp and a cable.

Neophyte electric guitar players may feel intimidated by all the equipment involved in playing the instrument. Technology has come a long way since the early days of Leo Fender and Les Paul. However, to get started, all you really need besides the guitar itself, is a small amplifier and cable to plug into it. After a few lessons, you can begin to look at all the other accessories available to electric guitarists.

Amplifier

Unlike an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar needs an amplifier in order to be heard. The amplifier makes the electric guitar louder by reproducing the sound of the struck strings through a loudspeaker. They often have a pre-amplifier that raises the signal from the guitar to a level that can power the amplifier stage. Guitar amplifiers use either vacuum tubes or transistors or a combination of both. The amplifier has knobs that allows you to control the volume, tone and reverb. An amplifier’s power is measured in watts. For beginners, a practice amp in the 15-watt range is usually suitable.

Cable

The cable connects the guitar to the amp. It may seem like an innocuous piece of equipment, but they vary in quality and durability. Guitar cables are wires wrapped in a protective coating. The wire can be copper or a fusion of different types of metals. Basic cables commonly used by beginners are usually made from vinyl, but they can crack with age and repeated winding and unwinding. More durable covers include heavy PVC and braided jackets. Cables are made in various lengths, but 15 to 21 feet is considered best for stage performances.

Tuner

An electronic guitar tuner is essential to those just starting out. There are digital and analog tuners and can be plugged directly into the cable leading from the guitar or used externally. The player sets the device to the string they wish to tune. When a string is truck, an arrow will move, or an LED readout indicates if the string is flat, sharp or in tune. There are myriad brands and styles on the market in a wide range of prices from $15 to $100, depending on its features and capabilities.

Strap

Electric guitars are heavy -- literally. Most electric guitar players will need a strap, unless you plan on playing sitting down all the time, which usually isn’t feasible. Straps come in a variety of styles, colors and materials, from cloth to leather to vinyl -- some are more durable then others. Some come with padding for comfort and are also adjustable.

Other Accessories

Depending on your budget, style and tastes, there is an array of other accessories you can purchase to enhance your guitar-playing experience. You’ll likely need some picks, which are used to strike and strum the strings. They are generally made from composite plastics and come in an variety of shapes and sizes, although a triangle-like shape is most traditional. The biggest factor in choosing a pick is its thickness. Some players prefer a heavy one, while others prefer a thin and flexible pick. If you want to play a slide-style of guitar, you’ll need a bottleneck. These are metal cylinders, which the player places over his ring finger to slide up and down the fret board. There is also an array of effects pedals and boxes available. They are plugged into the cable between the guitar and the amp and usually activated by your foot. They are used to create special effects such as a heavy fuzz tone (often used for playing heavy metal) and other unique sounds such as emulating other instruments.

About the Author

Robert Dumas has been a journalist for over 25 years. In 2007 he was the winner of the prestigious Maggie Award for magazine writing and has also received the American Society of Business Publication Editors Award. He has worked in trade journalism and community-based journalism, and spent several years as a sportswriter. Robert holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications.