Category Archives: Guitar Purchase
In part 1, I talked about some common questions people have when buying a guitar (often their first).
In part 2, I’m going to talk about some other aspects to consider when buying a guitar.
How will I use this guitar?
Sometimes people get caught up with trends and they end up with a guitar that doesn’t really suite their style or their need. For instance, your favorite guitarist might be SRV (Stevie Ray Vaughn) but you and your friends are putting together a death-metal band. That single coil Fender might not give you the sound you need. Or maybe you’ve always wanted a PRS so you went out to get one. But now you’re finding that the neck it thick and doesn’t suite your fingers/style.
So think about how this guitar is meant to be used and get the one that suites your playing style and gives you the sound you need.
So when looking for the right guitar for you, try to find a comfortable guitar that feels right in your hands. There are a variety of different neck designs. For electrics, the extremes are V-shape which are very thick and will pretty much force you to play “wrapped around thumb” style to very, very thin and wide necks which are more appropriate for “thumb behind the neck” style of playing.
This is also true for acoustic guitars. Necks vary from model to model. In general, I find this with string spacing.
Before buying a guitar, definitely pick it up and play it first.
Use the Right Amp
When you’re trying out guitars in the store, sales people tend to either (a) plug you into the nearest amp they can find or (b) take you to a private room and plug you into the most expensive (ie “the best”) amp they have.
But you really want to know is what this guitar might sound like through your amp. So see if you find your amp or an amp like it. For instance, if your amp is a steady state Marshall, trying a guitar out on a all-tube Fender will not give you an idea of what it might sound when you take it home.
The vice versa is true also. If you’re trying out an amp, try to use the guitar closest to what you have.
If you use your pedals a lot, ask the sales person to also hook up a pedal that you might have so you can get an idea how the guitar might work with your pedals/effects.
Fit and Finish
This refers to the build quality of the guitar. Are there any loose parts? After playing it for a little while, does it stay in tune? Are the frets sticking out the side (of the neck)? Any defects on the finish?
Keep in mind that even though most guitars are made by machines, two guitars that should be exactly the same may not be. So look at the guitar carefully and if you find some imperfection that you don’t think should be there, pick up another one. Especially for low to mid-end guitars, a lot of times stores will stock more than one of the same model (but often in a different color).
Natural Sound – Even for Electrics
This isn’t exactly scientific or even quantifiable. But a lot of times when I buy an electric guitar, after checking it out on an amp, I’ll unplug it and just listen to it’s natrual vibrations. I’ll often put my ears up against the body of the guitar while I play and listen to the wood vibrate. In general, I look for a guitar that has a strong, round sounding vibration (rather than “tinny”).
After having bought a number of different types of guitars, the last and most important thing I look for is if the guitar inspires me to play more. Does it feel like natural like an extension of my hands? Do I pick up a bunch of guitars in the store and keep coming back to it? These are sure signs that the guitar inspires you to play and keep playing.
Guitar is a tool. When the tool inspires you to use it and to aspire to higher heights, then it’s doing more than just its job. If you are a hobbyist, you probably find your uninspiring guitar(s) collecting dust.
Some personal history: I’ve been playing guitar for 20+ years. Currently, I own 2 acoustics, 5 electrics, and 1 bass. These are some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way and I’m sure there are still lessons to learn. But hopefully this will help you on your next purchase.
If you are thinking of buying a guitar, here are some tips to help you decide. These tips are particularly helpful for first time buyers but can be applied to any purchase.
Some questions that you might be asking are:
- How much should I spend?
- Electric or Acoustic?
- Fender vs. Gibson?
- Are used guitars okay?
How much should I spend?
To answer this question, first ask yourself “How much am I willing to spend?”. This, of course, completely depends on your financial situation and there’s no right amount. You might be a student buying your first guitar (that’s a lot of ramen!) or you might be able (and willing to ) guy any guitar you like.
As a general rule of thumb:
- $200-$300 (by almost any maker) gets you a pretty decent guitar that’s probably perfect for a beginner
- over $800, you’re probably starting to pay for aesthetics, name/brand/badge, and/or exclusitivity and not necessarily function — deminishing return
Electric or Acoustic?
In general, if you’re starting out I recommend acoustic. Why?
- For the same price, they tend to be better made
- You can hear it without other equipment, make it easier to practice (will post more about this in the future)
- Stings are usually thicker and forces you to build muscles and technique
There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting an electric guitar for your first guitar. But it’s harder to go from electric to acoustic and easier to go from acoustic to electric (ie wow, these strings are so thin… so easy to play).
Fender vs. Gibson?
I don’t really understand why it’s always just Fender or Gibson. Both companies make very good guitars. Both overprice their guitars, IMHO. But I think when most people ask this question, they really wat to know Strat or Les Paul? Or… single coil or humbucker? Which one is better? Which one is the right one for me?
It really depends on what kind of music you’ll be playing. Here are some rule of thumbs. Keep in mind there are always exception.
- Single Coil (Fender, Strat) — Less output, less distortion, more “bounce” to the sound, the “quack” sound (think Stevie Ray Vaughn or Jimmy Hendrix)
- Humberucker (Gibson, Les Paul, “Super Strat”) — Higher output, more distortion, good for heavier music (ie hard rock, metal)
If you’re not sure what this means, then maybe check what guitars your favorite guitarists are using. In future posts, I’ll probably talk about not being a clone and finding your own voice. But there’s nothing wrong with immitating someone you admire when you’re starting out. And while there are a lot of other good makers aside from Fender and Gibson… chances are your favorite guitarist is using a Fender or a Gibson! 😛
Are used guitars okay?
This is definitely one area where cars and guitars are a lot a like. Would you buy a used car? If so (or not), the same principles applie.
I personally like buying used equipment. It’s more cost effective. I tend not to hang on to equipment for very long. Often, I’m able to sell a piece of equipment for almost the same price I paid. So that’s almost like paying nothing for the priviledge of using that equipment. And chances are that I’ll put a few more dings on it. 🙂
And just like a car, the moment that guitar leaves the store, it’s worth less than what you paid.
Regardless of new or used, make sure you play the guitar before buying it. There’s no guarantee of quality just because it’s new.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about some additional questions you should ask yourself to help guide you to the right guitar for you.