The Ultimate Guide to Buying Your First Guitar
Buying your first guitar is both an extremely exciting and equally nerve-racking experience. There are so many different makes and models on the market that it’s crucial to choose the right one when starting out.
There have been so many people before you that have splashed out on the most expensive gear at the start of their guitar journey, only to give up in a matter of weeks or months. The guitar journey is no small endeavor and playing the guitar can be a life-long commitment.
Whether you want to serenade people around the campfire or be the lead guitarist of a world-famous metal band, you’re going to need to start somewhere. This article aims to equip you with the necessary information and advice so that you will be able to head out and buy your very first guitar with confidence and knowledge that you’re buying the right one.
So, let’s get shredding and stage-dive into the Ultimate Guide to Buying Your First Guitar!
Choosing a Type of Guitar – Electric vs Acoustic
First things first, you’ll need to decide on the type of guitar that you want to learn how to play. The most common options are the electric guitar and the acoustic guitar. Each has their own list of advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re looking to get from your guitar-playing journey.
There’s no right and wrong answer here – it all comes down to personal preference and the type of music you enjoy listening to and will ultimately play.
Let’s take a look at the various options, starting with the humble acoustic guitar.
An acoustic guitar is most probably the most popular guitar on the market. They have a hollow area inside them which allows you to play and produce amazing chords and notes without the use of an additional amplifier.
While acoustic guitars are most commonly used for genres such as folk, country, and bluegrass, don’t count them out for jazz, blues, and even pop-rock. While they may be a little more difficult to play because of a slightly wider neck, the skills you learn will be transferable from electric to acoustic and so on.
I like to think that if you learn to play on a more difficult instrument such as the acoustic guitar, playing an electric guitar will be a walk in the park. But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Advantages of an acoustic guitar
- You don’t need an amplifier to play
- They’re great for strumming chords
- You can travel with them and play in any location
Disadvantages of an acoustic guitar
- Have limitations in terms of tones
- Harder to play due to thicker strings and wider neck
- Some beginner models go out of tune quickly
Electric guitars are definitely the most popular type of guitar, not only for beginners, but for professional musicians across the globe too. There are so many different shapes and styles available, that are not only unique in their look and feel, but in their sound too.
While they only produce a very soft sound on their own, they quite literally scream when plugged into an amplifier. With a whole range of different types of effects and distortions that can be altered using pedals and other buttons, they are able to produce the most diverse range of sounds.
Advantages of an electric guitar
- Easier to play than an acoustic guitar
- Come in a large variety of shapes and sizes
- Can be plugged in and the volume can be adjusted as loud or soft as desired
Disadvantages of an electric guitar
- Can be more expensive than an acoustic guitar
- More complicated to play with the additional accessories
There is another option available, that combines the advantages of both an electric and acoustic guitar. This is known as a semi-acoustic or an acoustic-electric guitar. They look like an acoustic guitar in appearance but also have built in microphones or electronic pickups. This enables them to be plugged in, just as an electric guitar can be. They can then be played along with a band without being drowned out by the other instruments.
Another advantage is that they can be plugged into recording equipment at a studio if you wish to record your songs or into an amplifier and you can also benefit from the range of effect pedals and other plug-in accessories.
Where to Buy Your First Guitar
In this modern world, E-commerce companies have become massive and ordering goods online has become the new norm. However, when it comes to certain items, especially guitars, I wouldn’t recommend going this route. While it is a much easier and convenient way to shop, and can often work out cheaper, you need to try out a range of guitars before buying one to check the shape and size that works for you.
Not all guitars are created equal and one size doesn’t fit all which is why it is of the utmost importance that you head to a local guitar shop when buying your first guitar. This will ensure that you get some professional advice from someone who works with guitars on a daily basis and can shed some light on the matter. It’s also a great way to view a variety of different guitars, both electric and acoustic models, to find out what the best fit for your needs is.
While buying a used guitar is also a great option for further down the line, it’s not the best option for your first guitar. You could strike it lucky and view a guitar with someone who is highly knowledgeable and isn’t out to rip you off. However, the chances of that happening are slim so rather don’t take the risk.
Head to your local music store for your first guitar purchase. You can also generally pick a decent combo deal with everything you need to get you started. It will also work out cheaper than buying everything on its own and most combos from well known brands such as Fender and Cort are pretty decent.
Buying a Used Guitar vs a New Guitar
The next major consideration is whether to buy a new or used guitar. Buying a used guitar from trusted brands such as Fender, Cort, Gibson, or Ibanez will generally mean that you’re going to get a decent product made from good, solid materials that has been designed to last. That is, of course, if the previous owner/s have looked after it.
However, I would only recommend buying a high-end used guitar as opposed to buying an entry level used guitar. There are obviously occasions where you can pick up an almost-new condition entry level guitar that is technically sold as used but was an unwanted gift played only a handful of times. However, if it is a well-used secondhand guitar, I would rather suggest getting the equivalent new one purely because entry-level guitars aren’t made with the best components.
A new guitar also comes with a manufacturer’s warranty that protects you in case something is faulty. This is obviously not the case with a used guitar that you buy from someone – you’re taking a risk as you don’t know if there is something wrong with it.
There is also something satisfying about buying a new guitar with a shiny body that is ready to get shredded. You can play it knowing that you can progress on it and that no one before you has played the Stairway to Heaven solo or some serious Jimi Hendrix.
Lastly, the advancements in technology ensure that a new, entry-level guitar is going to be pretty decent in terms of its build, composition, and sound. While a really good quality used guitar can be bought for a good deal, as a beginner, you don’t possess the knowledge to pick up if it’s faulty.
As you progress in skill level and knowledge, you can find a pretty special guitar that has been kept in a hard case under a bed for 40 years and is dying to be played again. But that’s down the line – let’s focus on getting you a good, solid entry level guitar and next up we look at things to look out for when buying your first guitar.
Things to Look for When Buying Your First Guitar
There are several key things to look at when buying your first guitar. This will ensure that you get the correct guitar that is suited for your size and playing needs. Not only do you want to ensure that the guitar you buy is suited for you, but you also want to look at a few key aspects of the guitar to ensure that you aren’t buying a lemon.
First and foremost, you’re going to want to check if the guitar stays in tune. This means tuning it to that standard E A D G B E tuning and playing it a bit. Strum some chords, pick a few notes, and then see if it holds its tune. If it does, you’re onto a winner, if not, keep searching.
Next, you’re going to want to analyze the neck of the guitar. Is it straight or are there bends and curves in it? Anyone with half-decent eyesight will be able to pick it up. If you’re unsure and want a professional opinion, just ask someone at the store. They will be able to help you out and guide you in finding the right fit.
If you’re buying an electric guitar, you’re going to want to check that all the electronics are in functional condition. This means plugging it into an amplifier and listening out for any funny noises and crackles, checking the various volume and tone knobs, and the overdrive which is a function on the amplifier. If everything seems in order, you’re all set. If you’re not 100% happy, look for another guitar. While the internal electronics are a simple fix for a seasoned guitarist or music professional, it’s not something that you’re going to want to try and fix yourself.
Another important consideration when it comes to the neck of the guitar, is how far the strings are from the fretboard. The closer they are, the easier the guitar will be to play as you don’t have to push down as hard to reach the clean notes.
If there is a large gap between the strings and the fretboard, the guitar is going to be more difficult to play and this isn’t ideal for a beginner. Your fingers will get cramps and the tips will be painful and this ultimately might lead to quitting. Definitely not the desired outcome.
Lastly, you want to be able to reach all the notes on the fretboard. This can be in one of two key areas. The high notes on the fretboard can be difficult to reach if you don’t have a cutaway on the acoustic guitar. If you’re buying a guitar to progress on, then definitely bear this in mind.
The frets also need to be slightly raised above the wooden neck to ensure good, clean notes. If they are all different heights, then there is a problem. While it can be fixed, again, you’re not going to want to dabble with repairs on your first guitar – rather keep looking.
The Best Guitar Brands on the Market
The beauty about guitar brands is that there are so many options to choose from. While you’ve probably heard of the likes of Fender, Gibson, Yamaha, and Ibanez, there are also a host of other brands to choose from.
However, picking a trusted brand such as one of the abovementioned companies will ensure that you get a good, solid product and decent bang for your buck, even when buying from their beginner ranges. The other upside is that they will also most likely have beginner combos that will have all the accessories you need to get started and even progress with the instrument.
Most electric guitar starter combos will come with the guitar, amplifier, cables, picks, straps, and a bag, while acoustic combos will come with the guitar and a couple other accessories
I have a best friend that had his first beginner Fender Squire for years, was in multiple metal/rock bands, and used to make it sing. They are really solid guitars that are only limited in your playing ability. As you progress and start noticing the finer details and refine your playing style, can you then start buying other guitars that look, feel, play, and sound different.
There are also a whole host of other, lesser-known brands that are producing solid guitars these days. With advancements in modern technology and materials, these brands are able to produce some pretty decent guitars that can rival their well-known counterparts. But just be sure to do some research online first and chat to guitarists and music stores who are in the know.
Different Guitar Shapes and Sizes
There are so many different guitar shapes and sizes on the market, each with their own unique look, feel, and sound. The size of the body of the guitar is particularly important when it comes to younger guitar enthusiasts as it can affect their playing ability.
There are several different electric guitar body sizes on the market, namely a half size, ¾ size, and full size, which are 34″, 36″, and 40″ respectively. A smaller body will be better suited for younger guitarists, and they can progress to larger guitar bodies as they grow.
While you may think that guitars are like clothing and your youngster can grow into it, this is not the case. They could really struggle playing it and also pick up bad habits when playing which they could carry through into their older years.
When it comes to acoustic guitars, there are also many different sizes of guitar bodies, and it all comes down to what feels good. The most important thing is that the guitar feels comfortable in your arms, and you can play it with relative ease.
Guitar shapes differ so widely that it’s ultimately down to personal preference. Classics like the Gibson Epiphone or the Fender Telecaster are known across the world and are incredibly popular. However, neither might be the right fit for you and your body shape.
This is why it is so important to go into a store and pick up and feel the guitar that you are interested in. It’s all down to what feels right for you and not the person next to you, or what Jimi Hendrix or Mark Knopfler play.
Essential Guitar Accessories for Beginners
The last category in this article is the essential guitar accessories that you will need as a beginner. They will ensure that you keep your guitar in tune, protected, and playing epic songs.
Firstly, a bag or hard case is non-negotiable. This will protect your guitar from scratches, and accidental drops, and will keep your strings from rusting. While a bag is fine for keeping your guitar safe at home, nothing beats a hard case. This will protect your guitar if you drop it but ultimately, is the best form of protection.
A tuner is another important accessory that you can do without. The beauty these days is that there’s an app for everything, and a tuner is no different. One of my favorite tuning apps is Guitar Tuna, a free app that’s available for both Android and iOS. Alternatively, you can buy yourself a separate tuner that you can tune your guitar with, whether you have an electric or acoustic. Most semi-acoustic/acoustic-electric guitars have built-in tunes which is pretty convenient.
A guitar pick is another important, but not essential, accessory. Many guitarists prefer to play using only their fingers to pick away at the strings, however, a pick allows you to play individual notes and strum chords. There are so many different options available, from super hard to super soft picks, each giving off a different sound and used for different purposes.
If you decide to go for an electric guitar, you’ll need to get yourself an amplifier and cables to plug your guitar in. If you buy a beginner combo, you’ll most likely get an amplifier with it. It will be a smaller amp of around 15 Watts, but it will be more than loud enough for you. A pair of headphones also goes hand-in-hand so that you can play without everyone in the house hearing. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
Lastly, an extra set of strings are essential when starting out. You’re likely to break one or two playing or tuning your guitar, especially the high E-string. Poorer-quality strings also tend to lose their pitch and become quite faded rather quickly due to finger sweat coming into contact with the uncoated strings. Always look to replace the entry level strings with a nice set of coated strings such as Elixirs.
This now brings us to the end of the Ultimate Guide to Buying Your First Guitar article. I trust that I’ve covered all the fundamentals of what to look for and the various considerations when buying your first guitar. I’m by no means the best guitarist on the planet, but I have been playing for more than 15 years, so I think I know a thing or two that I can pass on to you.
Being able to play guitar is one of the coolest things in the world and making music is equally as rewarding. But it requires a lot of time and effort if you’re going to want to progress and improve. It’s by no means easy, but nothing that’s worthwhile is. So, brace yourself for a lifelong journey of ups and down, sore fingers and sweet melodies, and ultimately a lifetime of musical progression.