Well, music is my life, and will be my career as well, so here’s my input.
1 - A teacher is invaluable. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Teaching yourself works, but it’s just like weightlifting. If you learn how to do it right, with a teacher, you will skip that first year of making nearly no progress, like doing 3 hours a day of concentration curls and eating like crap. Shop around though, a bad teacher can be your worst enemy. You have to not only make sure he knows what the fuck he’s talking about, but you have to make sure he is compatible. Different musical styles is OK, but if you want to learn nu-metal (God forbid), don’t go to a classical teacher. And talk to him about a regiment practice. I’m sure many will have one.
2 - Guitar to buy? Jesus, I can’t believe how many people here are recommending a Fender. First of all, a good Fender Strat will run you about $1,000. This is for an instrument which you a) may not enjoy, b) may not play as much as you’d think. There are two good cheap guitars on the market which are EXCELLENT for beginners because as far as value goes, they are unbeatable, and most importantly, they cost less than $200. And if you really like playing the electric, either upgrade the guitar (new, serious, pick-ups) or just buy a new one. Same thing goes for an amp. Get a jumpstart pack, either the Ibanez IJS40 (comes with a Strat-style guitar, HH/S/S, you’ll know what that means in a second), or the Squier SE100. Both come with a guitar, strap, and amp, and random accessories.
Let me just talk amps very quickly as well. Marshalls are the top of the line. They make real musicians cream their pants. A good stack costs about a kajillion dollars, and yet the value is still good. You will not buy a Marshall. That said, understand that amps are CRUCIAL to playing, but for now, all you need is a small practice amp. The one that comes with a start pack is OK. I personally bought an Ibanez GRX40 (the same guitar that comes with the pack) and a Kustom practice amp, and until I got into a band, I was happy with that. The need for big amps and PA systems only comes much later. Hell, I personally find big dual amps useless. I only need my small Kustom for practicing, and a big stack for live shows. A stack, by the way, is comprised of a cabinet or more, the big, big, big “speaker” that can have 4 Celestion 12" speakers inside it, and the head, which is one console that controls the stack, where you find the volume, gain, EQ, etc. I go for a nice, simple head, and the best possible stack I can find, and leave the EQ and sound to a good mixer. But again, all you need now is a good practice amp.
3 - A quick rundown of guitars–
There are essentially two major types of solid-body electric guitars, the Les Paul style, pioneered by Gibson, and the Stratocaster style, pioneered by Fender. Les Pauls are big, fat, and have beautiful tone, but some dislike them because they are a bit heavy. Strats are used by too many guitarists to count, and are thinner, more lightweight, and quite old-school (think Clapton in the Bluesbreakers). My favorite style is the SG, pioneered by Gibson, which is closer to a Strat than a Les Paul. This is the guitar AC/DC’s Angus Young used. SG’s are a lot more for good ole-fashioned ass-kickin’ rock, whereas the Les Paul and the Strat are really very versatile, especially depending on which company makes them.
Another type of electric guitar is the hollow-body, or semi-hollow-body. These can be played unplugged (although they sound like shite) and are VERY suitable for jazz, although you see a few goofballs using them for rock. They are beautiful, and my favorite type of guitar overall.
One final thing about guitars. THere are two main types of pickups, single-coils and humbuckers. A humbucker does just that: “bucks” the hum that a single coil pickup often has. Top quality single-coils have very minimal, if any, hum nowadays, but even on cheap stock single-coils the sound is definitely bearable. Humbuckers also have a very thick, full sound, and with the tone turned down, can give an amazingly rich jazz sound, and with heavy distortion, the best metal you can think of. Single-coils with heavy distortion is about as rare as a hardcore gym nowadays. I like the Ibanez starting guitar because it has a humbucker and two single coils, and although the single coils are absolutely horrid, you’ll at least get a feel for all types of pickups.
Here are the major companies:
Gibson - Very expensive, very solid guitars. There’s not much I can say about them. Like Marshall amps, you can’t go wrong with a Gibson. Their main guitars are the SG and the Les Paul, and they have some cool guitars for metal, like the flying V. Gibson makes the BEST hollow-body guitars. Lennon used one (the Casino, I think it was called).
Fender - Just as expensive, just as solid. Again, can’t go wrong with a Fender. The Stratocaster is very, very versatile, as is it’s less popular bastard cousin, the Telecaster. Fenders are great for good ole-fashioned rock, as well as jazz. Again, like with Gibsons, they make many versatile guitars, try them out, you can’t go wrong with any.
Squier - Less expensive Fenders, daughter company (or sister company, w/e).
Epiphone - Less expensive Gibsons, just like Squier.
Ibanez - New age guitars, their solid-body ones are pretty much for hard rock, metal, and neo-metal (Steve Vai uses one). They’re very sleek, VERY good, and the value is incredible, from lower-range guitars to upper-range ones like the S Series (which are fucking AMAZING). They also make kick-ass hollow-body guitars, equally good for rock as they are for jazz. I really love Ibanez, they’re great guitars.
Jackson - Like Ibanez, except they really specialize in fucking metal. They’re good guitars, but frankly, I’d stick with an Ibanez unless you play one and you end up really liking it.
Paul Reed Smith - Commonly called PRS guitars, these are very top of the line, very expensive, quality electric guitars, very well suited for fusion especially–Santana uses one now (he used to use an SG in his early days, his first 3 albums).
4 - Can’t get a teacher? Teaching yourself is OK too, but you will suck. Thank God you at least play acoustic. Go to cyberfret.com, and read EVERYTHING, watch every video, learn every line. For learning songs, go to guitarnoise.com and check out the songs for beginners and intermediates section. It also has some more advanced articles that are worth looking. Those two sites should keep you busy. I’ve found that many otherse are just fluff, so stick to primarily those two.
As for practicing, just think of your own things. Those two sites will give you a lot to do, but if you need some help, read the songs for beginners section and pick a song you like and really follow the instructions CAREFULLY. At the same time, check out the scales section at cyberfret, and make your own practices based on those.
Here are my quick tips:
1 - GET A TEACHER.
2 - Don’t neglect theory. Many people wrongfully put it down saying it negates “musical creativity,” but listen to me. Those people don’t do this as a career. Their “musical creativity” is about as creative as Flex magazine. While it’s true that there are artists who went big that don’t know the first thing about theory, here’s the thing about them: THEY’RE GENIUSES. Either that or they’re lucky as shit. Being that I haven’t heard of you in a guitar magazine, I think I can safely say you are none of those things when it comes to music. So don’t listen to the bullshit about theory, just learn it, it’s not hard, it can be fun, and can the more you understand it, the more you understand how breaking some rules can make a song fun. To me, knowing music theory actually gets the creative juices flowing, it doesn’t stifle them.
3 - Don’t neglect scales. They are the backbone of soloing, and without them, you are not a lead player. Unless you’re Steven Malkmus.
4 - Practice techniques like arpeggios, hammer-ons, pull-offs (hammers/pulls with the pinky can make you play quite fucking well), natural and artificial harmonics, bends, and even slides. They make lead playing that much richer and more fluid.
There you go. If you read all of it, yay for you and have a cookie. Go play something punk.