Buying your first guitar can be difficult because of the wide range of offerings available. If looking to start guitar lessons, you might not know what you are looking for. Any guitar can be made playable but buying a quality instrument makes learning easier and enjoyable.
Getting In The Ballpark
Most people have a vague idea of what style of guitar that they want to play before they go shopping. The three common ‘classes’ of guitar; Classical, Acoustic and Electric. Each type has certain tonal characteristics, benefits and drawbacks. Guitars are precision instruments, requiring a modicum of care to keep them playable.
Classical Guitars are designed for playing scales and have wide necks and large frets. Classical guitars are difficult to play as they tend to go out of tune and the neck width makes it difficult for new players to form chord shapes as the distance between notes and strings is greater and requires more of a stretch to play. Classical guitars use nylon strings which are easy to press down which helps playability but it does not offset the wide neck shape. In addition to being difficult to play, Classical Guitars have little aesthetic appeal for new players looking for an iconic guitar shape.
Acoustic Guitars are similar to Classical guitars in construction but use steel wound strings and have a slimmer neck which is easy to play. Acoustic guitars come in many sizes, from small parlour and folk sized guitars to gargantuan dreadnaught sized guitars. Acoustic guitars are loud and are built for maximum resonance and projection. This means that you’ll be able to hear someone playing an Acoustic guitar wherever you are in a building, even if they are trying to play it quietly. Bare this in mind if you are buying a guitar for someone, especially if they live in an area high noise levels are prohibited.
Electric guitars are the easiest type of guitar to play, with their necks being designed to be ‘fast’ or easy to play. Electric guitars have strings closer to the fretboard than a Classical or Acoustic guitar, will hold tuning better and will have a thinner neck. Electric guitars made from solid wood, so dropping them or bumping them into things is unlikely to ruin the entire guitar, instead, chipping the paint. Electric guitars are quiet when you play non-amplified and can be played using headphones to keep the noise down whilst practicing.
I recommend that you start learning on an Electric guitar. In addition to the benefits noted, electric guitars allow for correct hand positioning whilst the wider neck of an Acoustic or Classical guitar can strain your hands if you are not used to it. If you are buying a guitar for a child or are worried about the weight of the instrument, there are half-sized and three-quarter sized guitars available.
Budget and Aesthetics will play a part in first-time instrument purchases and they are important to think about before you go and buy something. Many people are unsure whether they are going to enjoy playing guitar so they will buy a cheap guitar. This is a false economy as cheap guitars are made from low quality hardware and are difficult to play. In addition to this, cheap guitars have little to no resale value. The cheapest guitars that you might find in supermarkets will sound dull, be difficult to keep in tune and play and you will not want to practice playing with them. Anything that costs less than ~£100 new is unlikely to be worth buying.
How much should you spend on your first guitar is a difficult question to answer. Whilst having a low quality guitar is better than having no guitar, it is difficult to recommend the cheapest models. Cheap manufacturers such as Encore, LAG or Stagg use poor quality tonewood and cut corners to achieve their low prices.
Aim to spend a little more than the minimum and you can get a perfectly serviceable guitar around the £200 mark. If you go down the second hand route, your money will stretch further. Manufacturers that create inexpensive but good instruments are Fender/Squier, Ibanez, Crafter, Tanglewood, Epiphone and Jackson when you are looking in a shop, whilst you can look at even better guitars when you look at the second hand market, with Paul Reed Smith (PRS) SE series guitars going for as low as £180.
Try Before You Buy
Visiting your local music shop(s) to see what models they have in stock when you are buying your first guitar. This will allow you to try out different guitar and feel the differences in body shapes, neck widths and pricing and often the shop assistants can tell you more about the different variants that each manufacturer offers. By playing a range of guitars, you will develop a feeling for what 'feels right’. Don’t feel pressured to buy something and try as many guitars as the staff will allow you to. Try the expensive guitars as well as this will inspire you to save up and purchase a professional grade instrument some time in the future. Ask the shop assistants what kinds of guitar that your favourite musician or band plays and they will be able to point you in the right direction. If you are buying for a child and they have their eyes on an instrument that is out of your price range, you can implement some type of system so that when they practice guitar and make progress, you save a little money up for them to purchase their dream guitar in the future. This is a great way to encourage practicing without forcing your child to practice and will make it feel like they have earned the guitar.
What Accessories Should I Buy?
There are a huge number of accessories out there for people to buy to aid them learning the guitar. Whilst not all of them are worth buying for guitar lessons, it is worth purchasing at least one of the following:
- Guitar Stand
- A Tuner
- Spare Strings
- String Winder
- Soft Case
In time, you’ll also want to buy a metronome and some music books and a music stand to aid you in your learning.
Buying your first guitar should be an exciting and interesting venture and with luck you’ll have a great instrument that allows you to learn to play easily. If you would like a little more help with picking a guitar to play, you can contact me for more personalised advice.