Butting on to our topic from last week so we can look at a few other issues in more detail, I wanted to tackle the “Which Guitar Should I Buy” issue in a little more depth.

In my 30 odd years of teaching guitar, there is a common theme I see often and I wish I didn’t! Too many times I have seen students arrive for their lesson with their shiny new guitar that is completely wrong for them. Some are too big or too small – so size is an issue. Some are electric when they should be acoustic, they have bought a hollow body jazz guitar when they should have bought a heavy-metal guitar – so music style is important and some are just plain hideous with little concern for future value – so intrinsic value is in question here. Let’s look at these issues one at a time in a little more detail.

Electric or Acoustic?

This is often just a matter of preference and to some degree style of music. Acoustic guitars are basically a wooden box that self-amplify the sound the strings make so they do not require an amplifier. These are commonly used in folk music, country music, classical & flamenco music and have found their way into most popular styles of music around today and are still the instrument of choice of some of the world’s greatest song writers.

If you are just starting out on guitar the acoustic guitar is often a really good choice for your first instrument. They are portable (just the guitar – no amps or leads required), they are relatively inexpensive to buy (a good quality acoustic guitar can be bought for under $200) and if setup properly they play nicely and give a very pleasant sound that suits a beginner guitarist. So all round – a great choice! You can of course learn to play on an electric guitar (you will learn exactly the same things anyway) and while the electric instrument is overall smaller in size – it is usually a “one size fits all” scenario – they are often more expensive to purchase and they will of course require and amplifier and leads etc to make any sound. This is often NOT the best choice for a beginner but much better for a student who has been playing for a while and wants to discover new sounds and musical possibilities. So rule of thumb – acoustic guitars are best choice for beginners (remember to choose the correct size) and electric guitars for the more experienced players. Just a rule of thumb and there are exceptions to every rule!

Steel String or Nylon?

There is an old myth that states you should learn to play on a nylon string guitar because then your fingers don’t hurt! Well I hate to burst the bubble – but you’re fingers are going to hurt regardless of whether you learn on steel or nylon – so which one is best to start off on? Well if you’re going to learn Classical, some jazz or Folk style you will need a guitar with nylon strings so you would learn on one of those. If you are going to play Country, Blues, Rock or Pop you will require a steel string – it’s all about what style you play and the guitar shouldn’t dictate that.

Guitar Size

Guitars come in all shapes and sizes. The group who get this particular issue wrong the most are the beginners! For this particular conversation let’s just talk about acoustic guitars. When you are first starting off you need 3 main things in your acoustic guitar. 1. It needs to be the right size for you. That is your guitar needs to fit you both in the body size and the neck size so you really should TRY any guitar BEFORE you buy one! 2. The body needs to be big enough to fit under your arms comfortably but not too large as to be cumbersome. 3. The neck needs to be thin enough to be able to reach across all 6 strings and it has to sound good to you because at the end of the day – only you matter! It doesn’t make any difference what anyone else thinks… So in the world of guitars – size does matter!

Music Style

This is a very divided topic because most of the points are so subjective. I’ll just give you an opinion from where I stand as a guitar teacher. Your music style will (should) play a major role in determining the sort of instrument you buy. If you are going to play James Taylor ballads you will not need a Strat and a 100w Marshall amplifier! ┬áNow that is not to say that you CANNOT play James Taylor ballads on a Strat it’s just better using a steel string acoustic guitar – because that’s what James plays! You will sound more like the artist if you use similar equipment – simple really! Just the same, if you want to blaze away and learn Stevie Ray Vaughan’s blistering Texas style blues you probably wouldn’t do that on a nylon string classical guitar – again, not because you can’t – you just shouldn’t. See – very subjective! Consider your musical style when you’re choosing your guitar, in the long run you’ll be happier and more satisfied that you have the right instrument for the right style of music. Why do you think many guitarists have lots and lots of guitars??

Sound

YOU have to like the sound that comes out of your guitar! This is a VERY important aspect of guitar ownership. If you do not like what you hear, you probably never will – guitarists are like that, and that is why doing some research, asking some questions and doing a bit of reading (like here) will help you to overcome this. Once you have decided what sort of guitar you are going to buy – you need to hear them. This is one of the main reasons I don’t like players buying guitars over the internet – they can’t hear them until they’ve bought them! Be ruthless, listen to the sound your guitar makes both in your hands and then in someone else’s. If the sound “speaks” to you – you’ve found the right guitar.

Intrinsic Value

Last on the list is intrinsic value. This is not often on the top of any guitar players list but it probably should be. This point plays a part more for the experienced player on their second or third guitar than a beginner but even the beginners (first guitars) can benefit from this. Buy an instrument that will retain its long-term value (intrinsic) or at very least hold its value. Most guitars (like second-hand cars) depreciate in value as soon as they are purchased. You can circumvent this by buying a name brand guitar, giving some thought to the colour, keeping it well serviced, clean and cased. In the long run you will come to sell it and you will have something to sell rather than an unheard of, obscure brand, that is showing lots of wear and tear, grubby and unkempt – it will be virtually worthless. As mentioned, colour is a factor here. The most popular colours are white, black and sunburst. The vivid green guitar with the candy stripe may appeal to you today but nobody else is going to want it down the track so give it some thought. Standard, name brand guitars in standard colours will hold their value and be worth something in years to come – keep it in mind!

So best of luck when choosing your first guitar – if you are in doubt at any stage always ask the experts! Go to your local music store and ask them for advice about brands, prices and sizes and in the end you will have the right guitar for you. Next time we’ll discuss new v second-hand! Good hunting!!