Guitar Buyers Guide
Buying your first guitar is easy. All you need to do is pay for the first guitar that comes your way, and you’re done. And yet, buying a guitar that you can actually learn on has a bit more nuance. You need to consider details like action, the fun factor, and overall instrument quality. This Guitar Buyers Guide aims to take the guesswork out of buying your first guitar.
Basic Buyers Guide
- Check the action; the distance between the fretboard and the string is called the action – the higher the action is the harder it is to play the guitar, so make sure you get a guitar with a low, comfortable action
- Straightness of the neck – if the guitar neck is even slightly warped, you will get a buzzing noise when you play, regardless of how hard you push the string down
- Gauge of string – ensure that your guitar has a light gauge of string that's easier to play
- Tuning – all guitars go out of tune, this is normal. Be sure to purchase an electronic guitar tuner and ask your salesperson to show you how to tune your guitar. Playing in the right place on an out of tune guitar will make it sound as if you are making mistakes even when you aren’t!
- Make sure to get a gig bag, and keep your guitar in the bag whenever you are not playing it -this will help the strings last a lot longer
In-Depth Buyers Guide
While you don’t need to buy a professional level guitar to start playing, buying one that is poor quality could actually prevent you from learning to play. There are some guitars out there that are so poorly built that even professional guitarists would struggle to play them.
Many people give up trying to play the guitar because they think it is too hard. Yet, it can often be caused by the guitar itself. You’ve surely heard the old adage “A bad workman blames his tools”. While this holds true in some cases, in other cases bad tools make a tough job even tougher. Imagine a Sushi chef trying to slice fish with a butter knife!
A poorly built guitar can make learning to play near impossible. When deciding on your first guitar, here are a few things to look for:
Where you buy the guitar
Where you buy the guitar makes a huge difference. Second-hand shops are less selective about what products they stock. Most music stores, on the other hand, will ensure that the stock they carry is suitable for learning on and will be of reliable quality. After all, they'd like you to be a customer for life!
Building a relationship with your local music store or an online retailer with experienced staff on hand will offer benefits like advice from professional guitarists on everything from music lessons to repairs and more.
The action of the guitar is the distance between the strings and the fretboard of the guitar. The higher the strings are, the harder it is to push them down. When you start playing, your fingers will get sore. This pain will be amplified if you have to push harder than you really need to.
While the action on some guitars can be modified, this isn’t always the case. Ask the salesman helping you whether or not the action on the guitar can be lowered. If it can, ask the store to lower the action as much as possible before you buy it.
But beware, if you lower the action too much, you can end up with fret buzz.
Fret buzz is an annoying buzzing sound that some guitars produce. If the string is touching a fret it shouldn’t be touching, you will get fret buzz. To ensure that your guitar does not have any fret buzz, ask your salesman to play each of the frets on the guitar before you buy one.
String gauge is the thickness or hardness of the strings. A thinner/lighter gauge is easier to play than a thicker/heavier gauge. The drawback of the thinner gauge, however, is that the guitar will be softer. This is especially true of acoustic guitars.
To start learning on, there is no reason to not go for the lightest gauge that your guitar can handle. You can experiment with different brands and gauges of strings as you get more experience with playing.
The setup of the guitar refers to all three of the above points. Guitars don’t often come set up from the factory. So you might have a decent guitar where the action is terrible, there is fret buzz everywhere and the strings are too heavy.
These issues can be fixed with a simple set-up so ask your salesman if a setup is included in the guitar. If not, find out how much extra one would cost and do the setup before taking the guitar home. This will make one of the biggest differences in the guitar's playability.
Quality of Instrument
You don’t need to break the bank in order to get your first guitar. It is, however, important that you don’t buy a poor quality one either. Higher quality instruments will have better components that will help your guitar stay in tune longer.
When you first start learning to play the guitar, your ears will still be untrained. Because of this, it is important that you get a guitar that can stay in tune for longer. You don’t want to train your ears to think that an out of tune guitar sounds okay.
Fun Factor and Music Style
Ultimately, you need to want to pick up your guitar. It needs to be a toy that you can’t put down.
If you really like heavy metal, then a traditional classical guitar wouldn’t be the right option for you. You would need an electric guitar and an amp with built-in distortion. In contrast, if you like acoustic folk music, an electric guitar won’t do you any good.
Old school guitar teachers used to insist that players start with traditional gut string guitars (classical guitars), but more and more modern teachers believe that if you want to play electric guitar, then buy one as your first guitar.
If you’re not sure what guitar would be best for you, then tell your salesman what music you like listening to the most, and they’ll be able to recommend the ideal guitar for you.
When you get your first guitar, it should be something that will last you for years. Ensure that you find a music store that offers backup service. Even if nothing ever goes wrong with the guitar, you will still need to have new strings put on the guitar every 6-8 weeks depending on how often you play. Some players change their strings as often as every 3 weeks!