An Easy Guide To Buying A Guitar
You’re on stage and ready to rock. You can feel the guitar in your hands, about to tremble to the tunes. You shield your eyes with your hand to look out through the glaring lights into the audience and you see . . . a wall filled with guitars. Some are flat, others are thick. There are ones with double necks and others with red or blue bodies. Some have six strings, some have twelve. This is the stuff dreams are made of. Still, how do you, a first-time guitar buyer, decide which one is calling your name?
Choose Your Music
Luckily, depending on the kind of music you want to play, your choices will be narrowed down considerably. If you want to croon ballads like Country Western legend Garth Brooks, you’ll end up with an acoustic-style guitar. It will have a back, sides, a front (which features a hole) and steel strings that run from the bridge to pegs at the top of the neck. A rock ‘n’ roll guitar will have a flat body since the amplifier, not the vibrations of the strings resonating inside the guitar, provides the sound. Those hoping to emulate the Australian classical guitarist John Williams will choose a pretty straightforward model with nylon strings, though high-end classical guitars use beautiful woods and intricate inlay patterns around the sound hole. The bottom line is that you should purchase a guitar that will allow you to play the music you want to play.
Before your trip to the guitar store, figure out what kind of music you want to make and study the guitar styles of the musicians you admire. “Getting the knowledge beforehand will help you pick a guitar that you can play regularly and consistently as you learn,” explains Thomas Drinnen, sound engineer and lead guitarist for experimental hard rock band Urizen.
Match The Guitar To The Music
Music store salespeople are often passionate and very knowledgeable about instruments. However, there will likely be someone at the local music store who knows more about classical guitars than electric ones. If the “specialist” isn’t in that day, look around, but wait to make your purchase. Meanwhile, these are your basic choices:
- For the true beginner who has never touched a guitar: Buy an acoustic classical guitar with nylon strings. Acoustic means that you don’t need to plug the guitar into an amplifier to get sound. Steel strings can be really rough on the fingers for a newbie, especially a child. You need to build up calluses, and that’s easier with nylon strings.
- For folk and country enthusiasts: Go for an acoustic steel string guitar or a classical guitar. Nylon strings offer a mellow tone while steel strings have an intense sound. If you’re an absolute beginner and you think you want steel strings, ask your salesperson whether the guitar strings can be switched easily from nylon to steel when you’re ready.
- For rock, metal, punk and any other head-banging music fans: You need an electric guitar. Beginner models are designed so that the strings are easy on the hands.
- For the musician who loves folk, country and hard rock with equal intensity: An acoustic-electric may be what you need. This guitar looks like an acoustic guitar and can be played either with or without an amplifier.
- For the classically inclined: There’s no substitute for a classical, nylon-stringed guitar. If you’re buying for a child, “real” classical guitars can be found in small sizes. As the child grows, she can work up to a full-size model.
Become Familiar With Your Options
You can and should visit a guitar store to test out different brands before you make a purchase. Most stores will allow you to test drive your guitar in the store. This is good advice even for people who have never played guitar. Most stores have soundproof rooms where you can play in private if you’re a bit shy. If you have the time and the patience, shop around to compare prices and to test out a variety of different guitars.
New guitar players shouldn’t worry about paying top dollar for brand names. Any starter guitar can get a professional “set up" which optimizes the guitar’s sound. Set ups usually cost about $50 and can make even an inexpensive beginner guitar sound a lot better.
Set A Budget
You don’t have to max out your credit card for a guitar. There are plenty of reasonable priced models. However, you should keep in mind that there are some standard accoutrements that you will need to buy. For all guitars, expect to pay for a professional set up, strings (and maybe an second set to have around in case one pops), a guitar case, a music stand, guitar picks (unbelievably cheap and for some not necessary) and a tuning gadget. For electric or electric-acoustic guitars, add in an amplifier and cables. Also consider buying a strap, which can help balance the weight of the instrument.
Choosing the right guitar can be overwhelming. But the more you know beforehand, the better your chances are of walking out of the store with a guitar that's whispering "play me" in your ear.