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Buying the Right Guitar
by Michael Setz

Buying the right guitar can be a lot more difficult than it seems. That's because there are a lot of them to choose from; electric, acoustic, classical, folk, hollow body, semi-hollow body, solid body, 12-string, and 7 string just to name the more common ones. Which one is right for you?

First, it will be important for you to know the type of music you are interested in playing. If you are only interested in screaming solos, you could probably just focus on an electric guitar. If you like playing folk music, a steel string acoustic would be an excellent choice. What about Classical and finger picking? A Classical guitar is definitely what you need. In any case, know the music you want to play and that will also help you choose the right guitar.

When choosing your guitar, there are several factors to consider:

  • Price
  • Playability
  • Sound
  • Looks
Which is the most important? They are ALL important in their own way!

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In no particular order of merit, here are the reasons:

1. If you are on a budget, then obviously the price you intend to pay is important! Most of us have wallets with limits! This is self-explanatory.

2. The playability of a guitar (how EASY it is to play) is important. Are the strings close to the fret board? Is the neck a comfortable fit for your hand size? Is the body shape comfortable to hold? This will also make a big impact on your progress as a guitar player. Anything that hinders your progress can be disheartening and should be eliminated.

3. Sound; Do the notes ring out on the guitar and sustain (last long before dying out)? Does the guitar sound fat and full, or bright and thin? What sort of tone do you want? For example - Rock and Metal players often favor fat, full sounding guitars. 4. Are looks important? You bet! You want to look at your guitar and think it's cool. Playing something that looks like a dog will not inspire you! Also, the look of a guitar can be important for the image associated with a certain type of music. Like we mentioned earlier, Telecaster shaped guitars are often associated with traditional blues and country playing - Les Paul-shaped guitars are often associated with classic rock, Flying V guitars are usually associated with heavy metal.
With that said the first place to start is whether to buy new or used. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but generally the primary difference would be your budget. Stay flexible here and be on the lookout for good deals. It is important to note however, that guitars do tend to hold their value over time as long as they are well cared for and have no significant dings, dents or other damage.

You can check out some excellent guitars at my website www.guitars-on-line.com. There is also a section for auctions, so go take a look.

Nonetheless, you can usually expect to pay slightly less for a used guitar versus a new and comparable guitar. The downside to buying used is that there will undoubtedly be wear on necks, frets, fingerboards, and pick guards, and there could also be hidden or less noticeable damage.

You can find multitudes of places on the Internet as well as in newspapers, and magazines for used guitars. However, one often overlooked place where great deals can be found is at pawnshops, flea markets, and swap meets. Keep this in mind when you begin your shopping. I have found some of the very best deals at the local pawnshop.

There are many affordable new guitars on the market today as well, and these should not be overlooked. Despite the slightly higher price, buying new is usually less risky when it comes to quality. But that is not to say all new guitars are good. One advantage to buying new is you will get a warranty. So it's worth comparing the new guitars in your price range to the used ones.

You can often get a decent new acoustic guitar worthy of a beginner for right around $100 and no more than $150. I would expect to pay about 10-20% less for a comparable used instrument. Check out some excellent guitars at my website www.guitars-on-line.com and you may also consider some of the package deals for an extra value.

Always buy a case! There are two types: Hard-Shell and Soft-Shell. You should opt for hard-shell. New cases can run between $50 and $75, and sometimes you can get them thrown in the deal, it’s always worth asking the salesman. If you do not buy a case you can rest assured that you will get dings and scratches, and it is also more difficult to safely move your guitar from place to place.

Choose a guitar that has the strings close to the fretboard or playing will be difficult. However, if they are too close then they will produce a buzz and affect the tone produced. Be sure that it produces a clear sound, with no buzzes at any of the frets, and that the guitar is constructed of high quality wood, so the neck doesn't "warp”.

Woods to look for include hardwoods such as Ash, Mahogany, Cherry, Maple, Rosewood, and Birch. These are some of the more common, and the key is looking for hardwoods. Not only does this help to resist dings, it also improves tone.
Generally, my recommendation to beginning guitar players is first learn on a nylon string acoustic guitar. These are also called Classical Guitars. The reasons I recommend nylon acoustics are first, Classical guitars use nylon strings, and nylon strings are easier on the fingertips than steel strings. After you've played an hour straight you'll know what I'm talking about. Imagine a thin piece of wire being pressed against your tender skin and then moved back and forth like a saw. Ouch! Now imagine a soft nylon string and you can easily see why I recommend nylon.

Don't get me wrong, your fingertips will hurt regardless, and that's ok. All guitar players need calluses on the fingertips. And you will very quickly develop them if you persist in your playing. But nylon strings will make a significant difference in how painful it can be, and it will ultimately let you practice a little longer before you can't take anymore.

Second, the neck is wider on classical style guitars. Although this may seem to make playing more difficult initially, it actually helps with finger placement and the always troublesome issue of fingers touching other strings and muting them. This is especially true on electric guitars which have a much narrower neck. By having more space between strings you have less chance of this occurring. In addition, wider necks will help build dexterity in your fingers quicker too.

Finally, when you start with a nylon acoustic guitar you don't need to buy an amplifier or any other accessories to go with it. You can play it anywhere and hear it loud and clear, thus saving you money, allowing for more mobility, and producing clear sounds to hear your true playing style and progress. All these add up to my recommendation that beginner guitar players start with a classical style guitar.

If you must buy an electric guitar first time out, and you have no interest in an acoustic, you will be faced with many choices of guitars, amplifiers, and hordes of other pieces of equipment. While much of the gadgetry is fun, the SINGLE most important part of your setup is still the guitar itself.

Regardless of how much money you have to spend, try to get the best guitar you can - even if it means not being able to afford an amplifier to begin with! Unless you are playing in a band, you don't really need an amp to start off with, and the better your guitar is, the easier and more enjoyable your learning experience will be!

Remember how it is in most cases - you generally get what you pay for! However, with these few key points in mind, you can have confidence that the right guitar with the right price and right quality can be found.
Get guitar lessons at www.guitars-on-line.com, Home of the guitar lesson: Play Guitar in 7 Days.

About the Author
Founder of Guitars-on-line.com and author of the eBook "Play Guitar in 7 Days". Award winning guitar player and professional musician for over 20 years.