What To Look For In Your First Guitar
Ah yes, today is the day! You have signed up for guitar lessons and now It’s time to buy your first guitar. You jump out of bed, throw on your clothes, and run off to Yandas Music (or some other lesser guitar store), anticipating that perfect shiny instrument is just within reach. Instead you’re bombarded with hundreds of brand names, thousands of guitar models, and 2 billion color options. Terms that you think the salesman might be totally making up, such as Humbucking or single coil whatevers, compound radius whats-its, solid vs laminate thingies, coil splitting potentiometer (Is that even a real thing?)
Buying your first guitar can be an intimidating experience. No need to panic! This article will help make your decision a little bit easier. The following aims to teach you, the total beginner, what (and what not) to look for in your first guitar.
- It might sound strange, but looks do matter, especially as a beginner. You want to find a guitar that is just begging you to pick it up and play it. If you take home a guitar that you think is ugly, you are less likely to pick it up and get your practice time in.
- Whatever guitar you end up taking home, get the thing properly “set-up” by a guitar tech. Most guitar shops will have a tech that will do a quick set-up free of charge assuming you bought the guitar from them.
- While you’re at it, make sure you ask the tech to dress your fret ends. More expensive, professional grade guitars will have rolled, or hand dressed frets. This makes for a super comfortable guitar that plays like butter! On cheaper entry-level instruments, however, the frets can become like 22 little razor blades ready to rip your hand apart. There is nothing worse than a guitar with sharp fret ends. Luckily this can be easily fixed by a guitar tech and will make a huge difference to the play-ability of your new guitar.
- Do not go to you local super-mart and by the nameless cardboard box guitar. Real music stores don’t carry these junkers for a reason.
- You get what you pay for. If you are about to buy a brand-new guitar that is less than a hundred bucks, you might want re-think what you are about to do. Your first guitar doesn’t need to be overly expensive, but you want to get something of quality. Nothing kills the motivation of a student faster than using bad equipment.
- The quality of entry-level instruments has improved dramatically in the last decade or so. So long as you stick to reputable name brands, you can get a great guitar for not a lot cash.
Should My First Guitar Be An Acoustic or Electric?
I get this question a lot. It really doesn’t matter all that much which way you go. If you are into classic rock or modern metal, you will want to get an electric. If you like folk, country or indie, you might want to start with an acoustic. The basics are the same either way. In the beginning you will be learning the same notes, chords and techniques whether you have an acoustic or electric guitar.
Acoustic Guitars – What To Look For
Acoustic guitars are all about body shape and woods. There are several tone-woods used to build acoustic guitars and just as many different body shapes. How do you decide which one is best for you?
The guitar’s body shape is where it’s at. First and foremost, find a guitar that fits you comfortably. This is the number one most important thing! If you are a young beginner, and still have some growing to do, do not get the massive jumbo guitar. Instead look for a parlor, 3/4 size, or concert style body shape. All to often I see kids come in for their first lesson with their dad’s full size dreadnought that they can barely get their arm’s around. This is not only uncomfortable to play, but it hinders the learning process. The body shape does have a large impact on the sound of the guitar, but again, worry about comfort first.
As a beginner, don’t worry too much about what type of wood a guitar is made out of. It just doesn’t matter to you yet. Once you start developing your own playing style and start to understand what type of sound you want, then you can look at the various woods and what they can do for you. That being said…
Solid Or Laminate?
Solid wood guitar sounds better than a laminate, or layered wood guitar. Entirely solid wood guitars get really pricey, but you can get a guitar with solid top and laminate back & sides at a reasonable price. If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, a solid top is the way to go.
I’m not a big fan of Acoustic guitar starter packs. It might seem like a great deal, they usually come with a strap, picks, gig bag, and some sort of Lesson DVD. Everything you need right? Well, maybe not. As a guitar teacher, I hope you will be taking private lessons so that DVD isn’t necessary. You really don’t need that strap as you will be sitting down most of the time. You will need some picks, but they are really cheap and its way more fun to pick out your own (pun absolutely intended). A gig bag is always nice, but many guitars will come with one anyway. The biggest reason though, the mystery guitar hidden away in that box usually is of a lesser quality then the ones hanging on the wall. If you spend just a little bit more, you can get a much nicer instrument.
Electric Guitars – What Not To Look For In Your First Guitar
There are a lot gadgets, gizmos and electronics that can come on an electric guitar. It’s important for you, a novice with little knowledge, to just keep it simple. To make your choice a little easier, here are a few things you should avoid.
Floating Tremolo System
Under no circumstances should you get a guitar with a floating tremolo system (Floyd Rose, double locking tremolo, floating bridge, whammy bar). As a beginner this is your worst nightmare. Just Don’t Do It! Floating trems are great if you know how to properly set up and tune them. For a beginner, on the other hand, a floating trem is an obstacle that must be overcome before the learning can begin. Non-Floating tremolos are okay. Many of the most popular guitars come with one, just don’t buy a guitar because it has one. As a beginner you will almost never use it. The novelty of having a whammy bar will wear off quickly when you realize that you don’t know how to use it yet.
More Then Six Strings
Seven, Eight, and even Nine string guitars might seem cool, but please learn how to play 6 strings first.
There is nothing wrong with active pickups, but they require a battery. A dead battery is an awfully convenient excuse for not practicing. As a beginner you won’t care much about the tone of an active pickup vs a standard passive pickup anyway. Just keep it simple. Stick to passive pickups.
Long scale Guitars
Long Scale & Baritone guitars are longer than standard guitars, and are made for lower than standard tunings. In theory, you could tune one of these up to standard tuning but it would require greater string tension. That means the strings will be harder to push down and play, and that means more pain for your squishy, un-calloused fingers.
Odd Shaped Guitars
That Flying V might look cool, but it’s also really awkward to play while sitting down. Learning guitar is hard enough, it’s even harder when your main focus is keeping your guitar from sliding off of your lap. Stick with the standard guitar shapes for now.
…So what should I get?
Still aren’t sure huh? That’s understandable. There are hundreds of guitars to choose from. Remember, so long as you stick to reputable name brands, you will be fine. After you get some learning under your belt you will probably want to upgrade anyway. It’s understandable if you are still a little apprehensive though. Below is a list of acoustic and electric guitars. Any of these instruments would be a great choice for your first guitar. Get anything off of this list and you will be just fine. (Click On The Model Names For Links)
Beginner Acoustic Guitar Recommendations
-Fender MA-1 –
A budget friendly 3/4 Size guitar, great for youngsters. You will most likely want to upgrade down the road.
-Fender CD-60S / CC-60s –
An extremely popular choice among beginners. The CD-60S Dreadnought, or CC-60S Concert, features Solid tops and are available in Natural, Sunburst, Black, & Mahogany.
-Fender CD-60SCE / CC-60SCE –
The same as the CD-60S / CC-60S but with built-in electronics / tuner, and a cutaway which allows easy access to the upper frets.
-Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy –
A fun little parlor that’s easy on the wallet. The small body size makes this great for younger players.
-Art & Lutherie Roadhouse –
Small Bodied Parlor size acoustic guitar with a solid top. Big bang for your buck. Various Finish Options Available.
-Art & Lutherie –
Biggest bang for your buck. These are quality guitars. Concert (legacy) or Dreadnought (Americana) Body shapes with Solid tops. These are a step up in price from the Fender offerings, but are huge upgrade in terms of quality. These come with built-in tuners and are available with or without a cutaway. A nice padded gig bag is included. Not really a “beginner guitar” but you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get one. One of these will last you for the long haul.
-Taylor Academy Series –
Taylor Guitars are known for their super high quality American made guitars, and the hefty price tags attached to them. Their new “Academy” series line, however, is made with the beginner in mind. While still being pricier then the other guitars on this list, the academy 10e dreadnought and 12e Grand Concert, are much more budget friendly then most Taylor’s while still offering up the quality that Taylor is known for. One extra cool feature is the forearm bevel that makes playing much more comfortable and the built-in Tuner is always a plus. When you buy a Taylor, your buying quality. If you are serious about learning to play, one of these would make an excellent first guitar.
Beginner Electric Guitar Recommendations
A short scale guitar pack that is great for youngsters. It has everything you need to get started. The downside being that you will certainly want to upgrade a year or two down the road and these have poor resale value. That being said, this is the most affordable way to get started, just don’t expect to get you money back out of it when it’s time upgrade.
If you want to go with the “Starter Pack” route, squire makes the best in the business. Everything you need to play in one convenient pack. While the amplifier leaves a little to be desired, the Squire Affinity Strat is a great instrument to get started on. You will want to upgrade from the Frontman amp sooner than later though.
The stratocaster is one of the most iconic electric guitars one the planet. The affinity strat is that same iconic design with an extremely affordable price tag. I see more beginners walk in my studio with one of these than any other guitar.
… or if you are okay with spending the extra cash, then get the real deal. The Fender Standard strat is the Mexican made version of the legendary guitar.
For you metal heads out there, you need something with a little more edge then the strat. Ibanez “Gio” series has several offerings that fit the bill. Offering modern features and designs at a friendly price. Any of these would be a great choice for your first guitar.
-ESP / LTD-
ESP guitars are made in Japan by some of the best luthiers on the planet. Known for their custom shop that will build you just about anything you can dream up if you have the cash. LTD guitars are the mass-produced, and much more affordable versions of the ESP designs. Perfect you aspiring head-bangers out there.
If you get an electric you will need an amp to go with it. I’ll spare you the details here as that would fill up a whole separate article, just get one of these.
And there you have it folks, i hope you find this helpful as you make your buying decision. Remember, buying your first guitar is just the beginning. That shiny new instrument in your hands won’t do you any good unless you learn what to do with it and Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you are in the Kearney area and need to sign up for lessons, contact me to get started.