Knowledge-->Guitar Buying Guide

Picking out a guitar is a lot of fun -- at least if you have enough money to buy the one you want. It's also difficult. It's even more difficult if you haven't bought a guitar before. When you buy your first guitar, you may not even know what kind of music you'll wind up playing, or whether you're going to play it enough to make it worth spending so much money.


Fortunately, guitars are relatively cheap compared to most other instruments, and there are a lot of good, inexpensive models out there. By comparison, try to buy a cheap bassoon sometime. You'll be grateful that you're a guitar player, I promise.


Here are some important things to keep in mind when you're buying a new guitar:


Electric or acoustic?

One of the first things to decide is whether you want an acoustic or an electric guitar. I recommend that beginning guitarists buy an acoustic first. The main reason for that is that it's harder than you think to get an electric guitar to sound good. The nicest guitar in the world won't sound good if you plug it into a cheap amplifier. It also won't sound the way you expect it to. Most of the electric guitars you hear in recorded music are being played through an effects box -- or, more likely, a whole rack of them. If you start with an electric guitar, you'll also need to buy effects and an amplifier, and that can get very expensive. If you're just starting out and you're not even sure you're going to keep playing, you shouldn't spend that kind of money.


When you buy an acoustic guitar, you don't have to worry about all those extras. You just have to worry about finding something that feels and sounds good. Keep in mind that you can always buy another guitar later. Once you've been playing for a while, you'll know a lot more about what you want, and you'll be able to choose more wisely. If you're really hung up on the idea of an electric guitar, though, Larry Lapierre has a lot of good advice on the subject.


Don't buy cheap guitars.

If the guitar you buy doesn't feel good and sound good to you, you won't play it. I know many more people who have a guitar they never play than I do actual guitarists. That happens because a lot of people think, "Well, I don't know if I'll stick with this, so I won't buy a really good guitar." They buy the cheapest guitar they can find and think they're being practical. In reality, that's not practical at all. A cheap, badly made guitar is no fun to play. If a guitar is no fun to play, chances are very good that it will end up living in the back of your closet, right next to your lawn darts and your hula-hoop.


This doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money. There are a lot of good, inexpensive guitars out there. The first guitar I picked out for myself was a no-name brand I've never seen before or since. It cost $99 new (1983 dollars), and I still play it more often than I play the $1200 guitar I bought for performing.


If you're worried that you won't get your money's worth, remember that if you buy a good guitar and you never play it, you can always sell it and get most of your money back.


Play everything.

The best way to find out what features and feel you like is to play as many guitars as you can get your hands on. Play your friends' guitars. Go to guitar shops and play everything there. Take notes. There are a lot of factors to consider.


Don't be swayed by popular brand names. Just because a guitar has a name you've heard of on it doesn't mean it's a good guitar. It also doesn't mean it's right for you. It's best not to go shopping with preconceived notions about which guitars are "the best." Every individual guitar is different. Martin is known for making some of the best acoustic guitars in the world, but I've played Martins that I wouldn't have paid $50 for. Every manufacturer turns out the occasional dud -- and the occasional gem. Don't be a snob and refuse to look at unknown brands. You might miss out on something special.