If you are buying a guitar for the first time either for yourself or for someone else to begin learning on, here are a few tips to help you make a good purchase.
Set your budget
It’s very easy for the prices to creep up as you look at more and more guitars. It is possible now to buy a very playable guitar for under £100, which while it may not have the best tone, is still more than adequate to learn on and develop. If you’re definitely serious about learning and want to spend a bit more then some of the more established makes will be available to you such as Yamaha, Tanglewood, Cort or Crafter for example.
Buying second hand
As a rule I would not recommend buying secondhand guitars in the lower price brackets as there are some terrible second hand guitars out there. The exception to this would be if someone is helping you make the purchase who is more familiar and is an experienced guitar player able to spot the lemons of the guitar world! There are some excellent guitars to be got cheaply second hand but you really need to know what to look for. It may be best to avoid them or get some help if you want to buy second hand.
Get some help
Even if you’re not going to buy second hand, I would still recommend getting some help from an experienced guitarist. It means you should avoid making a really bad purchase. However, watch out, as invariably they will steer you towards more and more expensive models. They can’t help it! – so stick to your budget.
Acoustic guitar or electric guitar?
As a guitar teacher I would say acoustic. Acoustic guitars are the much simpler and easier to maintain option. Since an electric guitar also needs an amplifier, this means your budget is now split between two items rather than just one if you buy an acoustic guitar. However, since the quality of guitars at this price point has increased a lot in past years this factor is not as important as it used to be.
Another issue to consider is what type or style of music you want to play. If you’re really into heavy rock or metal for example then there’s probably not much point in buying an acoustic guitar.
Do some research
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably already doing it. Find out the likely prices for beginner instruments and compare whats on offer.
What size of guitar?
If the guitar is for a child or adult with small hands then be aware that there are 3/4 and 1/2 size guitars available.
Some technical checks
Check to make sure there are no buzzing strings as you fret each note on each string up the neck. Strum the open strings on the guitar hard and listen for buzzes or other noises.
Check the action. This is the gap between the strings and the fretboard and will determine how hard it is to press down on the strings. The higher the action, the more effort needed to press the strings down. Try 3 or 4 different guitars at different prices and you’ll soon understand about good and poor action.
Check the neck. Hold the body of the guitar up to your eye with the neck pointing away from you and check to see how straight the neck is. There should be a very very slight curve in the neck, a dip around the 7th fret or so where the neck seems further away from the strings. This is normal. On the other hand, a curve which brings the neck closer to the strings is a bad sign – avoid this guitar completely.
Check the Intonation. Unless you already play guitar this is a difficult thing to check. Intonation is basically the guitars ability to play in tune all the way up the fret board. Very often on poorly made guitars, the guitar will sound ok and be in tune at one point on the fret board, but at another point it will sound out of tune. It usually gets worse the further up the fret board you go. A quick rough check is to play an open string and remember that note and then press down at the 12th fret (usually has double dots) on the same string, play that note and check if they sound the same. The 12th fret note will be one ocatve higher but it should harmonise with the note at the open string. If it sounds really off then there could be an intonation problem.
A more accurate check is to use a technique known as harmoncs. Instead of first playing the open string, you play a harmonic at the 12th fret. You play the harmonic by gently touching your finger to the string right over the 12th fret and then plucking it. You should hear a clear bell or harp like note. You then do as before and press down on the 12th fret and play a normal note and check the difference between the two.
It is relatively simple to correct the intonation on electric guitars. Acoustic guitars are more complex to correct.
Check the neck to body joint. This applies more to acoustic guitars since many electric guitars have bolt on necks. The neck joint is probably the most critical joint on a guitar and you should check it for quality or for any signs of trouble. If the finish is cracked around the joint this could be sign of problems. If the joint is poorly made then problems could be ahead.
Finally, check that all the tuners on the headstock turn freely.