6 Tips for Purchasing Your First Guitar

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

Six Important Things to Consider When Shopping for Your First Guitar

Congratulations! You have decided to try your hand at guitar playing. Of course, there are literally thousands of guitars you can choose from for your maiden voyage, and it can be a bit overwhelming. Should you start out with acoustic or electric? What brand should you get? Which model? Where should you buy? How much should you spend?

By sticking to a few basic ideas laid out here, you can narrow down your search quickly, and find an excellent guitar to begin with that won’t break your bank.

#1 – Acoustic or Electric

Acoustic electric guitar Guitar Lessons Poway 619-306-3664

Acoustic electric guitar
Guitar Lessons Poway 619-306-3664

If you haven’t started off knowing whether you want an acoustic or an electric guitar, here are some things to consider. Acoustics and electrics each have advantages and disadvantages. Acoustics do not require an amplifier, and are therefore more portable. By the same token, they are not as loud and without a pickup attached or a microphone set up by the soundhole, it will be hard to hear it in a large venue. Although larger, acoustics also tend to be lighter than electrics.

Electric guitars are generally easier to play than acoustics. This is because the action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard) is closer, or “quicker.” On the other hand, electrics require an amplifier, so you will need to consider portability and budget. Because of their electronics and more solid builds, electrics tend to be considerably heavier.

A third option is an acoustic-electric, which plays and sounds like an acoustic, but has pickups and electronics inside to make it easy to plug into an amp.

#2 – What Brand Should You Buy?

Fender black Squier electric guitar

Fender black Squier electric guitar

This is where things tend to get a bit subjective. Some swear by their Gibsons, and others can’t imagine playing anything other than Fender instruments. And even within those two brands are a multitude of guitars, all with their unique feels and sounds. There’s also BC Rich, Martin, Ovation…the list goes on and on.

All of these brands (and many others) make excellent guitars. Typically it is best to stick to a major-brand guitar, as they tend to have higher quality control, generally include good warranties, and are easier to get parts and service for when your guitar needs to be fixed.

Ovation acoustic guitar

Ovation acoustic guitar

#3 – Don’t Buy Too Cheap

You’re not sure if this is going to be something you excel at, or just an occasional hobby. For that reason, for your first guitar purchase you may be tempted to buy the cheapest guitar possible. Don’t fall in to this temptation! Cheap guitars are generally made from low-end materials and simply won’t last as long as other guitars. They won’t stay in tune, or sound as good, and they are actually more difficult to play. If you are on a restrictive budget, a decent alternative is to buy a used instrument (more on that later).

#4 – Don’t Buy Too Expensive

Even if you have enough money to buy that limited-edition $3000 guitar, it doesn’t mean you should. If your intention is to play your guitar, and not merely show it off like a museum piece, you can get a very good guitar at a decent price. There will always be an opportunity to upgrade once you’ve reached a higher level of musicianship.

Many companies offer excellent mid-range guitars. While they may not have all the bells and whistles of the more expensive lines, and are typically foreign-made, these guitars are durable and can be used at gigs or at home. One example is Epiphone, a division of Gibson that makes very good acoustic and electric guitars. Many of the models are lower-cost replicas of their more famous Gibson brethren, such as the Les Paul electric and the Hummingbird acoustic.

Another great line is the Squier brand, made by Fender. Just as with Epiphone, most Squier guitars and basses are copies of Strats, Teles, and P-Basses, among others. Ibanez and Dean Guitars also offer very good quality for the price. Consider these when making your first purchase.

#5 – New or Used?

Buying a new guitar has quite a few advantages over purchasing a used one. Besides the thrill of being the original owner, you typically come home with a warranty and without any questions as to how the guitar was treated or used previously. There’s no wear and tear (unless you buy a new “road-worn” model), and it’s typically set up and ready to play without any hassle.

The major disadvantage is the cost. Used guitars generally cost 30-40% less than new ones, depending on the make, model, and year. In addition, sometimes after doing your research and choosing a model, you may find that it’s been discontinued and used ones are the only ones available. Not to worry! As long as you shop smart, you can get an excellent used model.

#6 – Where Should You Buy?

With the fierce competition between both online and brick-and-mortar guitar dealers, you will never have to worry about paying full price for a guitar. So with that concern aside, where should you go to buy your guitar?

Brick-and-mortar stores have a couple of major advantages. When you visit the store, you have the ability to handle guitars immediately and try them out. In addition, most guitar store employees are musicians themselves so they can give you insights that can help you make the best purchase for your money.

“Big box” retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart can save you quite a bit of money on your purchase. But their choice and inventory can be dicey at best, and you may find their musical knowledge (and sadly, their customer service skills) lacking. If you wish to buy from large retailers, it’s best to do as much of your own research as possible.

Online shopping is quick and easy and can save you money. But it’s important to do your homework! Make sure you have actually handled and played the guitar before ordering it, as you don’t want to wind up spending money and time for something you end up disliking. Craigslist is a decent route for those wishing to buy used equipment. If you want to purchase form eBay, it’s best to purchase from a dealer rather than an individual. Either way, make sure they have a high seller’s rating and a decent and clear return policy.

Final Word

If you have spent a considerable amount of time at your local music shop, you should give the sales staff there the first opportunity to make the sale, even if it may cost you a bit more. Having a contact in your favorite music store is always a good thing because you will spend more and more time there as you become a more proficient player. Besides, they will often match prices to keep your business. It’s the fair thing to do.

Glenn Sutton
Ozzie’s Music
12222 Poway Road,
Suite #27
Poway,
California 92064

Phone 619-306-3664
858-679-6997

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