Are you getting ready for your guitar lessons and need to pick the right guitar? There are a dizzying number of guitars on the market to choose from. You can certainly spend upwards of $1,000 and get a fabulous guitar, but the trick is to find a guitar that works for you for much less!
Acoustic or Electric?
Acoustic guitars are either Steel String, or Nylon String (also known as a “Classical Guitar” or “Spanish Guitar”). They are good choices for children because they are available in ½ and ¾ sizes.
Steel String Guitars are great for finger picking and strumming, and are used by such artists as Jewel and Bob Dylan – the characteristic “Folk guitar” sound. The necks are of medium width, and the bodies come in many different sizes.
Nylon String Guitars are good for Classical Guitar music, and for Brazilian music. They have a mellower sound, smaller bodies, and wide necks, making them more challenging for people with small hands.
Electric Guitars have small, flat bodies, steel strings, and make little sound on their own. Therefore you will need an amplifier and cord as well (extra $$). The necks of the guitars are generally small to medium in width.
How much do you want to spend?
Below $250. There are some nice playing guitars in this range, but it is really hit or miss. All the major guitar makers now offer “knock-offs” of their more expensive standard models in this price range. Fender offers the Squier models. Gibson offers the Epiphone series. Really scrutinize what you are buying.
Generally guitars in this range are strung with extra-light gauge strings that can disguise problems with the neck. The action is often really high (height of the strings off the neck). This makes the guitar hard to play. They also have lower quality tuning machines and poor intonation that can result in a guitar that never seems to be in tune.
There are many used acoustic guitars in this price range. Shop with care! Some of these guitars will sound and play fine with a new set of strings and a professional set up, which can run you ~$60 on top of the price of the guitar.
$250-$750. There are a lot of decent quality guitars in this range. As a beginner or intermediate, a guitar in this price range should be well-built and provide years of enjoyment. Try Takamine, Fender, and Gibson.
$750 and above. Professional quality instruments. Higher quality through out. As the price increases, the use of expensive rare woods and cosmetic features such as mother-of-pearl inlays becomes more common. My favorite is a Taylor.
Solid wood top is the way to go. It vibrates more freely than plywood, and will sound louder and more alive. Spruce and Cedar are the most common woods for Steel String and Nylon String guitars respectively.
Solid wood sides and back are better, but many lower priced acoustic guitars have plywood back and sides.
Size matters! – Choose a guitar with a body size that fits yours.
Pickups – either humbucking or single-coil. Some guitars have both. The single-coil pickups can be noisy around fluorescent lamps, and humbucking pickups are constructed to avoid this (hence the name). Single-coil pickups have a thinner tone, and are found on guitars modeled after the Fender Stratocaster. Humbucking pickups sound thicker and more powerful and are usually found on Gibson brand guitars such as the Les Paul.
Body shape – really wild shaped electric guitars can look really cool, and if that means you will play it more – go for it! Often these guitars slide off your leg when playing sitting down, and you will definitely need a strap to help you hold on to the guitar.
Try out many guitars in your chosen style and price range
Pick up the guitar, and hold it in playing position. Make sure you can easily reach the end of the neck and the sound hole and controls. It should feel comfortable in your hands.
Press the strings down to the fret board at various places – if it feels like real work to do this, then you may have found a guitar with “high action”. This is a common problem with used acoustic guitars. It can sometimes be fixed, but it’s best to find another guitar.
Run your hands up and down the neck, check for sharp edges on the metal frets. The frets themselves should be polished with no obvious grooves.
Rotate the tuners at the end of the neck. They should move easily, and feel solid.
Pick each string, and listen – does it buzz or rattle?
Check all the switches and controls and the output jack on electric guitars. They should all move smoothly with no noise or crackling. If it is loose or crackling, it will need to be repaired. The store should do this for no cost. If not, find another guitar.
You will know when you find the “right” guitar. It will feel comfortable – not too big or too small. You will be able to get your hand around the neck, and easily reach the strings. It will probably look “cool” to you. For children, I feel the two main considerations are the size of
the guitar, and how “cool” it looks! For parents, cost of course is an issue!
The “right” guitar will make you more excited to play and that is what you want! Happy picking!
– Guest contributor, Andy Garby