8 FACTORS EVERY BEGINNING GUITARIST SHOULD CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASING THEIR FIRST GUITAR
by Rich Freeman
I often recommend NOT to purchase a cheap guitar unless you have no other choice. Many beginners tend to buy cheap guitars with the mentality that IF they decide to quit, they won’t lose much money. Try to avoid this type of mentality and instead start with a positive mentality that you WILL learn the guitar and nothing will stop you. Cheap guitars are terrible and even if setup correctly, they still may not play that great and thus no money will actually be saved because you will just end up spending more $ to purchase a better guitar (this is just the cold hard truth).
- Set a budget, and spend the budget on the guitar. In general, you can expect to spend at least $350 on a decent guitar. Hey… this IS an investment into your own fun, fulfillment & overall wellbeing :)
- Don’t be afraid to buy a used guitar. There are some really great deals out there. My recommendation though would be to make sure you do some research before handing over any cash. Also, have your teacher check out the guitar’s setup and if needed, invest in a tech to set the guitar up properly.
- Now if you just can’t afford to spend a few hundred dollars on a guitar - Get ANY guitar you can find within your budget (even if it’s only $50). ANY guitar is better than NO guitar. I’ve helped students find decent playable guitars for $50; but they always end up spending more money after a few months to buy a more playable guitar with a better setup.
2. Try It BEFORE You But It
I hear very frequently that beginning guitarists have purchased their guitars online/craigslist without ever having a seasoned guitar player (whom they know and trust) try it out or make a recommendation. This is a terrible risk to take and can end up costing you more money in the end. Stay away from this pitfall and make sure you talk with an experienced player who can help you pick out the right guitar if you plan to purchase online.
3. Choosing The Correct Type/Style Of Guitar
What type of guitar do you really enjoy listening to - Acoustic? Classical? Electric? Whatever the answer is to this question - it is important to understand that every guitar comes with a different set of challenges that must be overcome and your fingers will hurt from each type of string until calluses are built. I highly recommend starting on the electric guitar. Electric guitar strings are much easier on your fingers than acoustic steel guitar strings. It is true that Nylon Acoustic guitar strings are the softest on the fingers, but there are many other factors besides strings that make the Acoustic guitar much harder to learn. A few examples are the guitar size, string height (action) and fret size (how far your fingers need to stretch to go from one fret to the next). In almost every one of these areas, the electric guitar naturally wins in terms of ease to play. One final note, the electric guitar is much easier to make adjustments to without the need for a belt sander which makes setting it up much quicker and easier. In my experience, all students (adults & children) progress much faster when beginning on an electric guitar.
Here are a few recommended starter guitars
Note on Electric guitars:
- Watch out for electric guitars with a "Floyd Rose Bridge" because for a beginner, these types of tuning systems are very hard to learn and change strings on. I would recommend you buy a fixed bridge for convenience.
In my experience, this is one area almost never even considered by new guitarists. Students should be aware of their own height & arm length and should seriously factor this in when purchasing their first guitar. For many beginners, full dreadnought acoustic guitars are extremely big and bulky and can cause unwanted discomfort when trying to sit down or stand up with the guitar. There are many different shapes and sizes for both the electric and acoustic guitars. My recommendation for beginners is to really consider smaller bodied guitars (especially if the student is a child). Yes, you will compensate some of the “fullness of sound” from the guitar when going with a smaller body, but the playability and comfort zone will rise which will make you more likely to pick up the guitar and play it. Before buying, sit and stand with the guitar and make sure YOU feel comfortable.
Examples of small bodied guitars
- Electric Guitars
- Ibanez Mikro
- Squire Mini
- Mitchell Mini
- Acoustic Guitars
- Taylor Big Baby
- Martin Little Martin
- Parlor guitars
ALWAYS pick up the guitar and see if it feels like a ton of bricks. Heavy guitars can put unwanted strains on our backs and leave us with cramps, pains or even long-term shoulder/back problems. Find a guitar that has a comfortable feel in YOUR hands and easy on YOUR back before making any big purchases.
- If buying a guitar as a gift, I tend to recommend going with a gift certificate or take the person out and let them shuffle through a few guitars to find the right one. The right guitar will make all the difference in the world.
Often never even mentioned, considered or brought up by a salesman is the setup of the guitar. Music chains are infamous for selling poorly setup guitars with extremely high action (strings 10 feet away from the fretboard). This is a huge motivation killer and most beginners never even know that this is one of the biggest factors in why they CAN’T play correctly. Make sure you tell the salesman that you want a tech to set the guitar up before you leave the store or spend ANY money. Most stores will try to charge you additional $ for a setup but if you point out the fact you are about to spend a few hundred dollars and are not spending any more on a setup (which IMO should be included from the get go) then they should take care of you. Don’t make the mistake of not getting your guitar setup BEFORE you leave (it will only add an extra unwanted trip back to the store and then they may want you to leave the guitar there overnight and charge you).
- Ask the store to change the strings for you, a lot of these guitars have been hanging in the stores for months and have been played by many people. Strings start to rust over long periods of time.
7. Action - The Height Of The Strings From The Fretboard
Even though action really falls into the setup category (mentioned above); I find this so important that I wanted to point it out separately. As a guitar teacher, I have seen numerous students buy guitars with terrible action. When the strings are very far (high) away from the fretboard, your fingers need to be much stronger to actually play a clean note. This is massively frustrating for the beginning guitarist because the difficulty level has just now sky rocketed, and unfortunately this one seemingly small aspect actually plays a huge role in what will make or break your guitar playing progress. A proper action is needed to play smoothly. In general, you want pretty low action with no fret buzz (buzzing notes). That being said, DO NOT OVERLOOK THIS STEP.
8. Why Do You Want To Learn How To Play The Guitar??
- Has it always been your passion?
- Is it just for fun?
- Is it for self satisfaction?
- Is it to attract someone?
- Is it just to free you from boredom?
- Is it to express yourself?
- Do you just think it’s cool?
- Is it because you love music and you want to create your own impact on the world?
These are great questions to answer before even picking up a guitar. This will help you find out where your head is and also the direction you will want to head in regards to your short & long-term goals. Give some thought to this and always remember - The main objective for playing is to HAVE FUN!!!
Items you may want to purchase
(While your at the store anyway)
Metronome / Tuner
Gig bag or Hardshell case
Practice amp (for electric)
Music Stand (foldable one)