Guitar buyers have many choices when they shop. Guitars are available at both large and small specialty music stores, as well as through on-line retailers, at a wide range of quality and prices. Used instruments may also be a good option.
See “Where To Buy Musical Instruments” for general buying advice on:
- Buying in a Specialty Store vs. “Big Box” Stores
- Buying Online vs. In-Person
- Renting vs. Buying
- Buying Used Instruments
The most important factors in selecting a first guitar are:
- Choosing the type of guitar – acoustic, classical or electric – for the type of music you want to play
- Playability and Feel: Is it the right size? Can you reach comfortably around the neck to play it?
- Keeping in Tune: Pay attention to the tuners, because it is very important to have good ones that hold the strings in tune. Enclosed or sealed machine heads are preferable to open ones.
- Sound: Do you like the sound?
Tips For Buying an Acoustic Guitar
One of the major factors that determines the price of a guitar is the type of material it is constructed from. Acoustic guitars are made from wood. Less expensive models may be made of laminate (plywood), while better guitars are made of solid wood. Laminate is less expensive, but more durable, while solid wood will produce a better sound. The guitar top, sides and back may all be made of solid wood, or just the top may be solid wood. The type of wood used will also affect the cost of the instrument, as well as the type of tone. Sitka spruce is often used for solid wood acoustic guitar tops and the back and sides are usually made of some type of hardwood. The quality of construction and workmanship will also affect the price.
As with buying any instrument, it’s usually best to stay away from the very cheapest instruments – as they are often very poorly constructed and playing them turns out to be frustrating. Pay attention to the sound and feel of the instrument, as well as the construction, condition and price.
If possible, have a teacher or experienced guitar player check out the instrument for you. Check to be sure the neck is straight and that there is no warping of either the neck or body. Be sure the frets are even and not varying in height. If played properly, you shouldn’t hear buzzing or rattling noises.
Tips For Buying An Electric Guitar
If you’re buying your first electric guitar, consider buying a “starter pack”, since you will need an amp, cables, strap, picks, case and other accessories that are often bundled with it for a good price.
Check the pickups to make sure each string has the same volume level. Make sure there are no shorts, crackles or noise. Check to be sure the volume and tone controls work.
Guitar Accessories: What Else You’ll Need
You’ll need a case to protect your guitar. A good hardshell case is a must if you plan to travel with it via plane or take it out to gigs or anywhere it might experience rough treatment. Otherwise, a “gig bag”, or soft case may be adequate.
Some guitar players like to use a stand for the guitar when they take a break. If you use one, make sure it is sturdy.
If you will be playing standing up, you will need a strap to hold the guitar.
You’ll need an extra set of strings, of course. A string-wider is an inexpensive tool that will make the string-changing job easier.
For acoustic or electric guitars, you’ll need a variety of picks. Use a thin flat pick for strumming and a thick one for playing individual notes. Acoustic players also use fingerpicks.
An electronic tuner is highly recommended. Electric guitar players will also need an amplifier and cables in order to be able to hear the guitar. If you’d like to be able to practice quietly without disturbing others, consider buying a headphone amp as well.
Lastly, a music stand and metronome are recommended for all instrumentalists.
Guitar Care and Maintenance
Protect your guitar by keeping it in a good case.
Your guitar will need to be tuned each time before you play it. Students are usually taught how to tune the guitar by ear, but an electronic tuner is handy.
Guitar strings need to be changed every few months when they start to lose their tone or become discolored and brittle. Be sure to use strings that are an appropriate gauge for your instrument. It’s usually best to replace the whole set, removing and replacing one string at a time.
When you are done playing, wipe the strings and body with a clean soft cotton cloth to remove fingerprints and oils.
Since acoustic and classical guitars are made of wood, they are sensitive to extremes and changes in temperature and humidity, which can cause warping, cracks in the finish, or weakening of glued joints. Keep your guitar out of direct sunlight and avoid keeping it in either very warm or cold temperatures. If it has been out in the cold, let it warm up in the case before playing it. Try to keep it at a constant humidity level, ideally 45-55%.