In the first part of this article, I will help you determine which kind of guitar will not only be best suited to the type of music you want to play, but will also be comfortable and enjoyable during long periods of practice. The second part of the article will provide tips to help you move through the shopping experience with confidence and ease.
No matter what type of guitar you want to buy, it’s important to find an instrument that is enjoyable to play and will not cause pain or injury. Try to find a guitar that sits comfortably on your lap, without your having to exert an effort to keep it there. Make sure that the body of the guitar is not so large that it creates tension in your right shoulder as you reach your arm over it to play. Notice the difference in the neck size from one guitar to another and determine what is comfortable to you.
In addition to monitoring your own sensations, it’s helpful to have someone give you feedback. If you don’t have a friend to help you shop, ask the salesperson to look at you holding several guitars of different shapes and sizes and advise you as to the best fit. For instruction on healthy posture and body use while playing, check out my instructional video and read the article on the basics.
(To read about a small guitar that I purchased and enjoy, click here.)
Acoustic guitars have steel strings and can vary in scale length, but typically have 14 frets to the body. They come in various sizes and shapes and may or may not have a cutaway. Unless you’re interested strictly in classical music, you will probably be looking for this type of guitar for your first guitar. If you’re interested in an electric guitar, but need the versatility that an acoustic guitar provides, you might want to look at one of the many acoustic guitars on the market that have built in pickups (electric- acoustic).
Classical or nylon string guitars have a smaller body, a wider neck and 12 frets to the body. Because the nylon strings are easy to press, many people prefer to start with a classical guitar.
Solid body electric – This is the kind of guitar most people think of as an “electric guitar”. It is made from a solid piece of wood and comes in various sizes, shapes and colors. The sound varies widely from one guitar to another, depending on the kind of wood and the number and types of pickups.
Hollow body electric – Just what the name says. Because the body is hollow, the guitar has acoustic properties. (It is not, however, designed to be played without amplification.) Hollow body guitars are usually preferred by jazz players. It is not usually the best choice for rock, as the hollow body provides a risk of feedback at high volume.
Semi-hollow body electric – The body is still hollow, but is thinner than the full hollow body, minimizing the feedback problem.
Materials and Construction
Look for a guitar with a solid wood top. (Some of the less expensive “beginner” guitars have plywood tops, which will not last as long or sound as good as one with a solid top.) Spruce and cedar are good choices for the top of an acoustic guitar.
Look for obvious signs of craftsmanship, such as symmetry, even frets, and straightness of the neck. Check for scratches, dings or irregularities in the finish.
For many people, the mere thought of trying out guitars in a store puts a damper on the desire to shop for a new guitar. Guitar stores can be overwhelming: loud, crowded with people and instruments, filled with too many choices and lacking in comfortable places to sit and play a guitar. It seems like there is always at least one hot-shot guitarist playing one guitar after another at high volume, making you feel like you don’t belong in the store unless you’re ready for the big time.
If you can’t tell a $200.00 guitar from one that costs $2,000.00, don’t know one amplifier from another, and would prefer that no one hear you play, you might feel ready to run for the door before even trying a guitar. Instead of retreating, you can easily devise a plan and cultivate an attitude that will help you find the guitar of your dreams at a fair price.
The first thing to realize is that you are not required to know everything (or anything!) about guitars in order to shop for one. Review the information in Part I of this article before you strike out and learn the rest of what you need to know through your shopping experience. Remember, you are the customer. You don’t need to impress the salesperson…they need to impress you!
You will want to visit several different stores and try out as many guitars as you feel you need to in order to determine your criteria for sound and comfort. If you don’t play well enough to “try out” a guitar, read The Basics to get some ideas about how to hold a guitar and play a simple single note exercise. If you have a friend who plays, you might ask them if you can noodle on their guitar a bit, to get more comfortable. Play your exercise or melodic fragment up and down the fretboard, to get the feel in all positions. If you can play barre chords, try them in all positions, as well. Or, you can use a three string chord, like D, to play in different positions. What you play is less important than getting a feel of the guitar and forming your own opinions about what works for you.
When you go into the store, tell the salesperson you are serious about buying, but “not today”. Explain that you are gathering information and forming opinions and would like to play a few guitars. Describe your level of playing and your goals, as well as your price range. Let him know what is most important to you: sound, comfort, versatility, etc. Be cautious and respectful with each instrument and take your time assessing it. Don’t feel shy about asking to play the same guitar several times, in order to compare it with others you play. If you fall in love with a particular guitar, ask the salesman what his lowest price is. Notice the make and model and leave!
Check around to determine that you’re getting the best price and make sure that there’s not another style, color or wood that you prefer. Think of questions that you might have forgotten to ask or features that you neglected to assess. As soon as you’re sure you’ve found the right guitar, buy it!
Purchasing the Guitar
Make certain you’re clear about the warranty before you complete your purchase. Also inquire about the way the guitar is set up. Most people assume that a guitar is set up at the factory, which is not always true. I’ve known people to be dissatisfied with the playability of their guitar for years before realizing that a simple adjustment would make it far easier and more fun to play! Ask the salesperson what gauge strings are on the guitar and buy a set of the same gauge. Be sure to pick up any other accessories such as picks, tuner, metronome, or capo.
You will need a case to protect your guitar. An inexpensive cardboard case will provide minimum protection. Your best choices are a gig bag, which has the advantages of being soft and lightweight, or a hardshell case, which offers the best protection. If you ever plan on flying with your guitar, you will probably be required to check it, in which case nothing less than a hardshell case will do.
Just Getting Started on guitar, or know someone who is? Click here for a complete description of the perfect beginner’s instructional program.
To inquire about private lessons or workshops with Charlotte, contact us.
For dates of upcoming workshops, retreats, and performances, click here.