Buying the right guitar to start learning on is an important step that should not be rushed. You need to consider a range of factors. I will go into detail on each factor I believe you should consider when buying your first guitar.
For many people, starting a new hobby is like trying out a new car before buying it. They aren’t sure if they will like it two, three, ten years down the track and it is hard to guess if you will like it. Many people who start to learn the guitar will give it up after a short time for different reasons. For this reason, a lot of people don’t want to spend too much money that they aren’t sure will go to good use. One option you could take is if one of your friends or relatives owns a guitar. You could ask if you could borrow it for a short time to get an idea of whether you like the idea of playing it or not. If after a while you feel that this is the right hobby for you, come back here and read this article to give you assistance in buying the right guitar for you.
This is the most important issue to consider for most people. Guitars can range all the way from cheap $20 acoustics found in garage sales all the way to prestige guitars costing thousands upon thousands. You should think about how much you want to spend and stick with it. Salespeople will give you plenty of reasons to pay more than you want to, but understand that you can get a good guitar for even low prices. Consider the following points and how they will sit within your budget.
STYLE OF MUSIC
If you have in mind what musical direction you want to take, it will influence the type of guitar you buy. If you really want to play heavy metal or similar styles you wouldn’t buy a nylon string acoustic because it won’t help you reach that goal. Likewise if you want to play soft ballad type songs that you can sing along while playing, an electric guitar may not be the right choice for you. If you have a certain style in mind, find out what type of guitars musicians of that style play. Have a search for your favorite artist’s gear to see the type of guitar they play, don’t look at the model or brand of the guitar (because famous artists normally buy the top of the range products that are extremely expensive).
If on the other hand you are not sure what direction you will be taking or want to play a range of styles, the type of guitar you buy won’t be as important to your decision in regards to style. Instead, focus on the below points to find out which guitar will be best for you.
Remember: you can always buy another guitar later on, so don’t worry if you change directions after you buy your first guitar.
STEEL STRING VS NYLON STRING ACOUSTICS
For a beginner, how easy it is to play the guitar will make a big impact on the rate you improve and the skills you develop. If you start off with a steel string acoustic for example, you will quickly notice that is hard to push the strings down and may hurt your fingers. Many females (and some males) will have a lot of trouble starting on a steel string guitar because it takes a lot of finger strength to play. If you are worried that this will be a problem for you, maybe you should consider a nylon string acoustic instead. Nylon string acoustics are much less of a strain on your fingers when pushing the strings down. For this reason, most teachers will recommend students start on nylon strings so their first month or more won’t be too painful.
ACOUSTIC VS ELECTRIC
There is a big difference between starting on an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. Many teachers don’t recommend starting on an electric guitar for the following reason. Electric guitars are easier than acoustics to play. For many people this is a good thing. The problem with electric guitars being easy to play is that you will get comfortable playing the electric so much that when you pick up an acoustic and try to play the same music, it will most likely be a major strain. Many guitarists who only play electric guitar struggle to play acoustic. It is very hard to swap from playing electric to acoustic. Likewise, it is very easy to swap from acoustic (especially steel string) to electric. This is because of the strength acoustic guitars build up in your fingers. Once you switch to electric guitars, you will find your fingers can play with ease. So have a think about this issue and if you want to play both electric and acoustic, start off on acoustic. If you want to only play electric guitar, then the choice is simple. Later down the track if you decide you want to play acoustic as well, you may find it difficult at first, but with practice playing an acoustic can improve your playing.
There is a great range in the quality of guitar available today. It is similar to the car industry: you can buy a super high quality Ferarri, you can buy a rundown second hand Toyota and everything in between. What you should aim for is to buy the best quality guitar within your budget. But don’t be fooled into thinking that only high price guitars are high quality. You will be surprised at the quality of guitars available at low prices. Your best choice is to bring a friend or relative (who are competent players) in with you to test out the guitar you are thinking about. As I explain below, you shouldn’t rely solely on the music store salesperson’s advice. Remember to stick to your budget.
Many guitarists suffer from ‘brand loyalty’. This is when they are so devoted to a particular brand that they will never buy or play a guitar with a different brand name. Don’t be one of those people. It is okay to prefer a certain brand because you like the style of their guitars, but don’t get sucked into thinking that one brand is better than all the rest. Every brand has their advantages and disadvantages.
Just like in supermarkets where you can choose between ‘brand name’ products and ‘home brand’ products, guitars will have well known ‘brand name’ guitars and unknown ‘home brand’ guitars. Sometimes the only difference between the guitars is the name that is printed on the guitar headstock. People pay big dollars for guitars that have the names fender, Gibson, Ibanez, PRS, Martin printed on the headstock. Although buying a brand name guitar will most likely give you a very high quality guitar, it can be a very expensive choice. My suggestion is to find a guitar that you like regardless of the brand name. If it is good quality and within your budget: go for it. Don’t buy a guitar solely because it has fender written on it. If on the other hand you prefer the security of buying a quality guitar from a reputable brand, it’s okay to buy one for that reason.
This section is to warn you of potential issues when dealing with music store salespeople. This isn’t to scare you off or to insult salespeople, it is to protect you from the people looking to make a high commission rather than give you what you want. Hopefully you will deal with an honest salesperson who genuinely wants to help you. Just be aware that they aren’t all honest.
My first point you need to consider is that the people working in the store are normally excellent guitar players. So good that they can make every guitar sound good no matter how poor quality it is. In a future lesson I will explain how you can make any guitar sound great. Just be aware that a salesperson can make the dodgiest guitar in the store sound better than the $2,000 fender in the glass case. This is why I recommend that you have a go playing the guitar if you can play at least something simple and even better bring a friend or relative who can play. If they know what they are doing they should be able to tell you the problems with the guitar.
It is well known that audio salespeople use a trick to make a stereo systems sound higher quality by turning the volume up slightly louder than another one. Salespeople may use a similar trick when comparing two guitars. By plugging the guitar they want to sell to you into a high quality amp and playing it loud, it can make it sound fantastic. Some people may try this to get you to spend just a little bit extra. Don’t think a great sounding guitar will automatically make you sound great. It takes a lot of work to be a competent player. Great players can make any guitar sound great and bad players can make any guitar sound bad.
My experience with buying a first guitar:
I was unaware of many of these issues when I bought my first guitar. Luckily the salesperson we dealt with genuinely wanted to help us out and made sure we got a great guitar at a good price. I had been playing my dad’s old beat up acoustic guitar for a couple years and my parents bought me an electric guitar. It is a good quality guitar and I still use it today for recording and performing. So if you make a good decision, the first guitar you buy will be useful for a lifetime.
Because I started off on an acoustic guitar, the transition to electric was incredibly simple. Consider buying an acoustic even if you want to play electric guitar down the track.
I have pointed out a few important issues for you to consider when buying a first guitar. There are many more factors you should consider but these I believe are the most important issues. If you take your time to find out what your best option is and then shop around for the best deal, you will save money and hopefully end up with a great instrument that can last you a lifetime. If you have any questions please feel free to ask me.