How to Play Electric Guitar

So, you wanna be the next rock star, jazz maestro, or maybe the lead guitarist for a rad indie band? Welcome to the electric avenue! The electric guitar is your passport to a world of electrifying sounds and musical adventures.

Whether you’re a newbie who’s just picked up their first axe or someone transitioning from the acoustic world, this guide’s got your back. Let’s dive in!

The Basics of Electric Guitar Anatomy

Know Your Instrument

Before you unleash that inner guitar god, let’s understand the beast you’re holding. An electric guitar, while similar to its acoustic cousin, has some unique parts and features.

Headstock – The topmost part of the guitar where the tuning pegs reside. Twisting these will help you get in tune and stay there.

Neck – The long portion that’s going to be your playground. This is where the magic happens. Fret not (pun intended), we’ll get to the playing part in a bit.

Body – The larger part at the bottom. It houses the pickups, volume and tone controls, and the output jack.

Pickups – Think of these as microphones for your guitar. They pick up the vibrations from your strings and convert them into electric signals.

Volume and Tone Controls – These knobs help you shape your sound. Want to go loud? Turn up the volume. Need a brighter or darker tone? Play around with the tone control.

String Theory

Electric guitars typically come with six strings. From the thickest to the thinnest, they are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Memorize these; you’re gonna see them a lot!

Setting Up: Amps, Cables, and More

Amping It Up

An electric guitar needs amplification. Without an amp, it’s like a superhero without a cape. Sure, you can strum it, but to get that rich, full-bodied sound, you need an amplifier.

Tube Amps – The OGs of the amp world. They give a warm, vintage sound and are a favorite among many rock and blues players.

Solid State Amps – Reliable, durable, and a bit more modern in terms of sound. They use transistors and are generally lighter than tube amps.

Digital Amps – The tech-savvy kid in the block. They model the sounds of other amps using digital processing.

The Right Cable

Your guitar and amp need a mediator, and that’s the guitar cable. Ensure it’s of good quality because a bad cable can make even the best guitar sound meh.

Pick Your Pick

While you can play with your fingers, a pick gives you a sharper attack. They come in various thicknesses. If you’re starting, a medium pick is a good place to start.

The First Steps: Learning the Basics

Holding Your Guitar

Right hand or left hand, the principles remain the same. Balance the body on your lap, rest your strumming/picking arm over the body, and let your fingers have easy access to the fretboard.

Fretting About Frets

The neck of your guitar has multiple metal strips. These are frets. Pressing down on a string between these frets changes the note. The first thing to master? Pressing hard enough to get a clear note but not too hard that you’re wrestling with the guitar.

Basic Chords

Like any guitar, start with the basics. Learn open chords like G, C, D, E, and A. They form the backbone of thousands of songs.

Power Chords

Now, here’s something special about electric guitars. Power chords! Played with just two or three fingers, they are the heart and soul of rock music. And guess what? They’re movable. So, once you learn one, you technically know them all!

Basic Scales

Start with the pentatonic scale. It’s the foundation for many solos and is super easy to learn.

Rocking Out: Advanced Techniques

Bending and Vibrato

Bending involves pushing or pulling a string to raise its pitch. Pair it with vibrato, a slight fluctuation in pitch, and you’ve got yourself a soulful sound.

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

Fancy playing two notes with just one pick? That’s what hammer-ons and pull-offs are for. They give a fluid sound and are essential for speedy solos.


Thank Eddie Van Halen for this one. Tapping is all about using both your hands on the fretboard. It’s flashy, fast, and fun!

Palm Muting

Want to give your sound a percussive edge? Rest the edge of your hand on the strings while you strum. It’s great for rhythmic playing.

Finding Your Sound: Electric Guitar Effects and Gear

Understanding Effects

Electric guitars have a world of sounds at their fingertips, and most of these come from effects. Whether you want to sound like you’re playing in a grand hall or want to emulate the growl of a beast, there’s probably an effect for it.

Distortion and Overdrive

The bread and butter of rock guitarists. These effects clip your guitar signal, making it gritty. Overdrive is a milder version of distortion, while distortion cranks it up to eleven.

Reverb and Delay

Reverb gives you that “playing in a large room” vibe. It adds ambiance to your sound. Delay, on the other hand, is like an echo. It repeats your play, and you can set how long the gap should be and how many repeats you want.

Modulation Effects

These include chorus, flanger, and phaser. They thicken your sound, giving it a dreamy or spacey quality.


Made famous by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, this effect alters your tone, making it sound like your guitar is talking. It’s typically controlled by a foot pedal.

Pedals vs. Multi-effects Units

You can get these effects in individual stompbox-style pedals or as part of a multi-effects unit. Pedals are great if you want a dedicated sound, while multi-effects units give you a range of effects in one package.

Setting Up Your Gear

Guitar Maintenance

First things first, keep your electric guitar in tip-top shape. Regularly change the strings, clean the fretboard, and ensure the intonation is set right.

The Signal Chain

When setting up multiple effects, the order matters. A common setup is: Tuner -> Wah -> Overdrive/Distortion -> Modulation Effects -> Delay -> Reverb -> Amp.

Tweaking Your Amp

Your amplifier has various settings like EQ (bass, mid, treble), gain, and volume. Start with everything at 12 o’clock and adjust according to your taste. Remember, there’s no right or wrong here, only what sounds good to your ears.

Beyond Basics: Exploring Different Genres

Electric guitar isn’t just about rock. You can venture into jazz, blues, funk, and even country.

Blues Licks

If you’re into blues, start learning the 12-bar blues progression and some classic blues licks. The minor pentatonic scale will be your best friend here.

Jazz Chords and Progressions

For the jazz enthusiasts, explore extended chords like 7ths, 9ths, and 11ths. Dive deep into jazz progressions and standards.

Funk Rhythms

Wanna get groovy? Dive into funk. Learn the art of rhythm playing, chucking, and syncopation.

Practicing and Growing

Like any instrument, the key to mastery is practice. Spend time with your guitar daily. Jam along with your favorite tracks, play with other musicians and always challenge yourself with something new.

Seek Feedback: Record yourself and listen back. Sometimes, what you hear while playing and what’s actually being produced can be different. Get feedback from friends or fellow musicians.

Play Live: Nothing beats the experience of playing live. Join a band, perform at open mics, or simply jam with friends. It boosts your confidence and hone your skills.


Playing the electric guitar is a journey. From the first chord you strum to the solos you’ll eventually shred, every moment is a learning experience. So, plug in, turn up the volume, and let the world hear what you’ve got!

Remember, the electric guitar isn’t just an instrument; it’s an extension of yourself. So, express, experiment, and most importantly, enjoy every moment of it. Rock on!