Buying your first guitar is tricky business. First off, you can’t play anything yet! so you can’t really “try it out.” Second, you’re not really sure what a good guitar is supposed to feel like. As a teacher, I’ve seen some terrible instruments. This is not good. A guitar should help, not hinder your growth as a guitarist. It’s extremely frustrating for anyone to not have a good instrument, but for a beginner this may make or break their will to play. A bad instrument may be difficult to play, and that does not encourage playing/practicing. Here’s somethings to consider when buying a beginning guitar.
Steel or Nylon Strings? Electric or Acoustic Guitars?
Playability, or easy of playing, is the primary concern for beginners. A appropriately sized guitar of any flavor will work just fine. I look at it this way: whatever keeps the student interested is the guitar they should buy. My first guitar was a Washburn electric.
How Much Should I Spend on a Starter Guitar?
Depends! There are some great, cheap guitars out there. My best suggestion is to take someone more knowledgeable about guitars with you to the shop. If you’re an adult beginner with a bigger budget, it’s worth your time to look used. When buying a used guitar, you often get more instrument for your money. Read reviews, ask friends and don’t be afraid to get in touch with your local guitar teacher.
Children Need Smaller Guitars
This is very dependent on the player. Young students or smaller adults should consider a 1/2 or 3/4 size guitar. There are more and more of these instruments out there, so look around. A good test would be to have a the perspective student sit down with the guitar. Can they easily reach the first fret without having their arm as a strange angle? If yes, the guitar will probably be okay. Many music stores will have people on staff who do teach guitar or are extremely good players with a lot of experience, don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
A note to Southpaws: If you’re left handed, consider carefully playing right handed. There will be more instruments available to you as a righty. The downside is that some lefties feel as a disadvantage because their “strong” hand is not picking. In classical guitar the right, picking hand does a lot of the work. I’m not sure if playing righty would be a major detriment or not. I do know a few guitarists who are left handed and play right handed, all are very good.
Shopping for a Second Guitar
So you’ve been at it a while and are looking to buy your second guitar, huh? That’s good. Whenever we get a new instrument it forces us to grow as a player. After starting on a few hundred dollar cheapo classical, I moved up to a “student” model from a luthier that I still play today (though I’m looking for a concert instrument). Moving to a better guitar is an exciting thing, but the rules are not the same as buying your first model. For the serious classical guitar student, sound and tone quality should be the primary concern when purchasing a new instrument. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to hear this from behind a guitar. So take a friend! Preferably a friend who’s got some more “mad skillz” than you, and can really play the crap out of the guitar. Listen to it, what does it sound like? Do you like it? Is it a spruce top or cedar?
The important this is try a lot of guitars out. Remember that you can really get used to playing anything, so a good sound should take precedent. Cost is a deceiving factor in many guitar sales. My “student” guitar rang up at around $1,500. However, it sounds extremely good for a student guitar. Even guitars that are the same model and price from the same luthier may have completely different sounds! This is why it’s important to try before buying. Sometimes a cheaper guitar will have a better sound. It’s really hard to say. Even ordering a custom instrument from a well-known luthier can be a risk. I have a few friends with very nice concert guitars (A Thames and Beyers). When I asked them, they both felt nervous about the guitars and whether they would be good when they received them. But when you’re dealing with such great luthiers, the risk is minimized.
Got a instrument buying story? Leave it in the comments!
WARNING! purchasing instruments, guitar related gear, sheet music or other equipment may lead to serious cases of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.).