The electric guitar is a universal instrument that can allow you to connect with different people around the world. Whether you’ve been gifted an electric guitar last holiday or have somehow gotten your hands on one of Cape Town’s famous fully functioning oilcan electric guitars, having the knowledge and skills to actually play your new instrument is one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have. But where do you even start?
In order to start learning, the most basic tools you need are a working electric guitar and amplifier. Technically speaking, any well-tuned electric guitar and functioning amplifier is all you need. Along with the wires to connect the two and plug them into an electrical socket, any guitar-amp setup is a good place to start. In terms of making sure that the guitar has the right strings and perfectly working parts, as a beginner, this is something that’s best left to veteran guitarists or professional guitar techs. However, it’s every beginner’s duty to make sure that the guitar is tuned and stays that way. There are of course plenty of ways to tune your guitar, but beginner guitarists will first want to be familiar with standard guitar tuning, which is the most commonly used tuning in the world. Whether you’re playing an acoustic or electric instrument, this is the standard that you first need to master before attempting to learn anything else.
While some veteran guitarists will advise you to first learn on an acoustic guitar, which is easier to set up, the reality is you can start learning to play the instrument on either an electric or acoustic setup. Even our own Grammy-award winning J. S. Ondara who is a known singer and acoustic guitarist was initially inspired by iconic American bands with electric guitar-driven sounds, like Radiohead and Nirvana. This brings us to our next point: the electric guitar is mostly associated with rock and its different sub-genres.
Just like any instrument, the electric guitar can technically be used in any genre you want, whether it’s jazz, hip hop, or Kenyan folk music. However, if you’re just starting to find your way around the instrument, it’s easier to first stick to the electric guitar’s roots – pure unadulterated rock. Out of the now hundreds of different genres and sub-genres you can choose, classic rock is the easiest to become good at. In fact, there are already plenty of different classic rock songs you can start playing even with the most rudimentary knowledge on chords, timing, and rhythm.
The E, A, and D major power chords alone, for instance, can give you the foundation for playing some of rock’s most classic recognisable hits. This includes the songs I Can’t Explain by The Who and Wild Thing by The Troggs, which are some of the simplest but most memorable songs you can learn. Learning these songs is also a good way to familiarise yourself with the overdrive effect, which is the most utilised tone in blues and classic rock ‘n’ roll. You can either access the overdrive channel on your amp or obtain a pedal that can give you the desired overdrive tone.
Going down this path of learning to play the guitar is also a great way of dealing with the frustration of not being able to play whatever you want as a beginner, as these simple chord progressions can give you a preview of what you might be capable of down the line. The more you practice, the more you can develop an intuitive understanding of the electric guitar – the better you can play anything you want and eventually write your own songs. These are far from the only things you need to know before you can become a guitar master. However, if you keep these things in mind, you’ll be on the way to getting good.