How to Buy A Guitar
Electric or Acoustic
There are 3 types of guitars to learn: Electric, Steel stringed acoustic and a Nylon stringed Acoustic. Simply put the Electric is the easier of the three to play. The guitar body is the smallest of the 3 so getting arms around it is easy. The string tension is lighter causing less pressure on your fingers and less strain on the players’ hand muscles. And often electric guitars have a slimmer neck. The trade off is it is heavier and requires an amplifier to get a complete sound.
For the acoustics, there are two string types – steel string acoustics and nylon string (classical) acoustics. The nylon stringed guitars have wider necks at the nut and depth with a shorter scale (neck length) and often a flatter fretboard than steel string acoustics. The nylon strings are softer on the fingers making it more comfortable for beginners. The strings create a softer, mellower tone. Steel stringed guitars require the most strength from your hands and often have a larger body (although there are different sized acoustics available).
All three guitar types come in child sizes (half or ¾ sizes) however, some of the smaller electrics don’t tune properly and some are built to be just toys. That’s not a bad thing for a child who is interested in playing but maybe not ready for lessons yet.
Most people recommend starting with a steel stringed acoustic. Many parents endorse this advice as well. I have to disagree with this recommendation and rather look at what the player would like to listen to and play.
If you or your child enjoys acoustic guitar players, likes the idea of camp songs by the fire or is completely new to the instrument a steel stringed instrument is great. It’s mobile, easy to transport and most are quite durable.
On the other hand, If the player is listening to Black Sabbath, Sum41 or Billy Talent then an acoustic won’t encourage practicing or dedication. Always select the instrument that will make you or your child happy. I know parents like to start off with the acoustic and then move to the electric. “play for a year then we will get an electric” is a familiar phrase! I have seen this backfire a number of times. Their child loses interest and finds a passion for learning difficult. The reason to choose acoustic first can come from an unreliable source; advice from a “somewhat qualified” third party like and Aunt or Uncle who plays guitar, in a band 4 times a year. Or often because parents don’t want to listen to a highly distorted guitar tone. Or parents do not want to encourage “bad music.”
A guitar should mirror the player. Both electrics and acoustics are interchangeable, meaning what you learn on an electric can be learned on an acoustic and sound the same.
Technology Wins Again
I started out with an electric bought for me, by my father, when I was 13. I found it intriguing and liked that it was quieter than an acoustic (unplugged- yes, an electric works without amplification). The downside is that you don’t truly get the full impact of the instrument without an amplifier. But amps are so cheap these days and every single one of them have a headphone jack. (Yay for parents!) There are also smaller little amps that can plug directly into the guitar…and have a headphone jack! Some even allow for an iPod to be plugged into play along with a favourite song….with headphones. Did I mention headphones?
In terms of price you can get acoustic or electrics at affordable rates. Acoustics are a little cheaper as there is no need for an amp but starter electric packages can be $150-$200. Very reasonable! Rental is also an option here in Toronto. It’s a good way to start too.
Warning- Some of our clients have bought guitars from Best Buy with disappointing results. Their turnover for instruments is slow and their stores are dry and a guitars’ worst nightmare! It’s always better to trust a music store, like Long and McQuade for your guitar purchases. For accessories, Best Buy is great.
What should I get?
Adults– Get what you want to get and don’t listen to the salesperson. Yes, there are very helpful salespeople at music stores but they don’t have your ears. The guitar that’s the best is the one that sounds the best- nothing more. Don’t let your lack of qualification deter you from the guitar you like the sound of (INCLUDING electric guitars unplugged) If you can’t play. Ask the salesperson to play it for you and ask for them to play at different frets of the guitar…not just in one place. If you like the sound of it, buy it. If you can’t afford it wait until you can then buy it (most music stores offer financing options.) Settling often breeds regret.
Parents- Research what guitars that are in your price range or what you’ll be willing to pay. Rentals are a great option. (At Footprints we offer rentals with lessons – check if your local school does the same.) If your child wants an electric guitar or a bass guitar I would get that. If music lessons become a battle of proving one’s worth (IE getting an acoustic first to see if she will stick with it) there is the definite possibility that your child will lose interest in music fast. Think about it this way, do you settle for your choices? An instrument is an investment in your child. This doesn’t mean you buy the $1600 Taylor or $2000 Parker Fly. But listening to your child can bring you and your child a good return on the investment (IE interest and pleasure in playing it).
You get what you pay for- almost-always-tips for buying
- Solid top acoustics sound the best and will sound better as they get older.
- Cheap Costco guitars and guitars in toy stores are just that and most won’t tune properly. Not for someone ready for lessons.
- Play the guitar before you buy it- if it’s an electric plug it in but listen unplugged too.
- Spend more if you want it! Don’t feel you aren’t worth it. A good quality guitar is a good investment.
- Get the colour you like and the one that looks the best to you! You have to look at it every day (you are going to practice every day, right?) so it’s gotta look cool.
- You will regret making a pressured choice instead of your choice. Stick with what you want.
- Always try to get the best deal and “throw ins” (bag, capo, strings, picks etc) It doesn’t hurt to negotiate.
Buying a guitar can be an amazing experience. Learning to play, one even better! Common sense often rules when purchasing however, let the music style drive the buying choice.