Choosing The Right Guitar

One of the most common questions I get asked by those interested in learning guitar is "what guitar should I buy?" or "how do I know if I'm buying the right guitar?". It's a good question to be sure- after all, if you're going to be investing your time and your money into something you want it to be worth the cost. At the same time there are a number of factors that go into making the decision which make it not an easy question to answer.

The best thing you can do if you're interested in buying your first guitar is to take along a friend who is already an adept musician and will be able to help you check for things with the guitar you might not think to look for. Additionally, you and your friend should plan out several different shops to visit on a weekend, they'll have different options and may even have a better price on a guitar you really like than a competitor does.

Okay- so the big day is here, you have your musician buddy ready to help and you know where you want to look. But what are you actually looking for?

Style Of Guitar

First things first, what kind of music are you wanting to play? Will you need an electric guitar, a steel string acoustic, or a classical nylon string? Keep in mind that if you're buying an electric guitar you're going to need an amp and cable of some kind too.

There's no right answer to this question but an electric guitar will lend itself better to rock and roll where as a nylon string is a more natural fit for classical music. Steel string guitars can often go both ways, especially if you start adding pedal effects to them (but more on that another time).

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Once you know what type of guitar you want to buy, you'll want to establish a budget. The harsh truth is that in the music world, you really do get what you pay for...really.

While you might be able to get away with it for an electric, if someone wants to sell you an acoustic guitar for under $100 there's a strong chance it's going to be a very poor quality instrument. In my experience, guitars in this range are usually difficult to play, sound dull, and leave beginners feeling frustrated rather than inspired. Hey, I still get frustrated playing on instruments that just can't sound good.

That being said, there are a lot of solid guitars to be found in the $200-500 range. Just be patient and try out as many as you can. I still keep my Seagull guitar around when I want to be able to play something while camping or at the office.

What To Look For

Once you know your budget and you're at a shop it's time to start trying out guitars!

The most important things to look for are: does it feel good? Do you like holding the guitar? Does the neck fit your hand comfortably? All guitars are going to feel weird the first time you hold one but you'll notice a difference in how each one sits on you.

Next I usually like to press my ear against the shoulder of the guitar and just play one string at a time listening to how long the sound rings. I also will pluck each string as well as strum several chords to make sure the sound is consistent across the board. Other things to look for that your friend may be able to help with include: is there any string buzz as you move up the neck, is the intonation accurate, are the frets smooth along the neck and do the strings hold their tuning when stretched/bent?

Once you've found a guitar that feels good, is easy to play, meets your budget, and sounds good across the neck it's time to take it home and start rocking!