Purchasing a new guitar can be intimidating, especially for a new player. There are so many guitars to choose from it can get confusing and quite overwhelming. On top of that, there is always the risk of running into the “eager” salesmen, known to push either expensive guitars and gear or cheap guitars that you can’t even play. As a guitar instructor, I’ve had a chance to see a variety of different students with a variety of different guitars. I’ve witnessed countless students show up to their first lesson with a guitar that is either inappropriate for them and their level of playing, or is simply nothing more than an over-sized toy. I’ve decided to share some simple tips for new players on what they should consider when purchasing a guitar. There are many things to think about, from price to hardware, types of wood to the types of pickups. But for me, there are only three main things a new guitarist should consider when purchasing a guitar; how it sounds, how it plays, and how it looks.
Let’s start with the least important factor, and that is how the guitar looks. A guitar may look like the coolest thing in the world, with flames coming off the side, and pearl inlays on the fret board in the shape of skulls. But remember, looks can be deceiving. Place less importance on the color and the design of the inlays and focus instead on more significant aesthetic concerns. Does the guitar seem like it looks “too big” or “too small” for you? Like people, guitars come in all shapes and sizes. So make sure you get something that is appropriate for your height and size. Remember, deciding which color finish you want for your guitar should be one of the last choices you have to make. What is the point of having a nice looking guitar if it is too hard to play or if it sounds poor?
This leads me to my next topic, a guitar’s sound quality. This has more to do with acoustic guitar, but is also relevant with electric as well. Each guitar has its own tone, dependent upon the guitar’s body style, tone woods, or in the case of electric guitars, the electronics. Before purchasing a guitar, pluck the strings and try to play different notes. Pay close attention to how the notes sound. Does it sound bright and tinny or deep and rich? Do you notice any unwanted “buzzing” when you play certain notes? Make sure to play notes all over the fret board, on different frets and different strings. This will give you a better sense of the guitars range.
The look and the sound of the guitar are very important, but in my opinion, the most important factor for new players to consider when purchasing a guitar is the guitar’s playability This refers to the ease with which the player can use the instrument. When determining a guitar’s playability one of the things to pay attention to is something called the instruments “action”. This refers to how high the strings sit above the fret board. This height determines how far and, usually, how hard a player will have to push to accurately get a note. Some guitarists want a high action, with a greater distance between the strings and fret board. But for new guitar players, look for something that has a low action and that is relatively easy to play.
Remember these are just some quick, simple suggestions. Every guitar is different, as is every player. Find the guitar that you like, and have fun!
Contributed by Camden O’Connor, guitar instructor and performer.
Camden received his BA in music Theory/History from the College of Charleston in 2009. He has been teaching and performing around metro Atlanta over the past three years and joined the Metro Music Makers teaching staff in 2010.