Buying The Right Guitar

Choosing a guitar

Alright, so you've decided you are in fact going to learn how to play guitar. And you've set clear goals for yourself in the process. If you don't already have a guitar, the next step in the learning process will be to purchase a guitar, which of course leads us to the next question: how do you pick a guitar that's right for you?

There are three important factors to consider in picking a guitar:

  1. Budget
  2. Personal Taste
  3. Feature Includes

Let's take a look at all of the factors in detail:


If money were no object, then we would all have the best guitars money could buy. And that would be an amazing world. But that, of course, is not the world we live in. The reality is, money is DEFINITELY a limiting factor. And, indeed, it is often THE limiting factor in the guitar picking process.

So what is the least amount of money you should spend? It depends on what your goals are, which is one reason why you must clearly define your goals before you even begin the process of learning guitar. If, for example, you plan on doing some recording with your guitar, then you will want to buy a guitar that will not limit the quality of sound that is produced during your recordings. Recordings have an uncanny way of immortalizing every decision you make - especially gear purchase decisions. As a golden rule, if you want to use the guitar you are going to buy for recording, you should probably plan on spending at least $250.00. This general rule of thumb applies for both acoustic and electric guitars. A $500-$1000 budget should be able to get you a guitar that will never dissappoint you, and anything above and beyond that is personal taste. Importantly, this is general advice, and there are always exceptions to every rule. You may be able to find a real 'steal' from a friend or at a local pawn shop. But if you are walking into a Guitar Center, the chances are the rules of thumb above definitely apply.

Now if you are a beginner and are NOT planning on doing any recording any time soon, it is ok to spend less than $250.00, but make sure you don't fall into the trap of buying the cheapest guitar you can find. The quality of your guitar will have a direct effect on how you feel about playing it. And if you spend $39.00 on a real cheapo guitar, the chances are you will never want to pick it up. Obviously, that is not going to have a positive impact on your learning process.

As a beginner, plan on spending at least $100. And don't spend more than $1000.00, because you don't know enough yet to pick the right sound, and everything over $500.00 is about personal taste, in most cases - not quality - which leads us to the next important factor.

Personal Taste

The next important factor in determining how to pick a guitar is fairly straight-forward: personal taste. Make sure you actually like any instrument you purchase. Ordering instruments from a catalog or online is not ideal because the most important aspect of any instrument is how it actually sounds - something you can't determine from seeing a picture of it.

Don't just listen to what other people are saying about a specific type of instrument, although this is good important feedback. Listen to the sound for yourself. The ideal guitar should somehow match your expectations of what a good guitar should sould like. Also, it should sound similar to guitars that you've heard played in the particular genre you are going to be focusing on (folk, country, rock, etc.)

Consider what type of music you like and aspire to be able to play. If you like country music, for exmaple, you should think about purchasing an acoustic guitar, as opposed to a classical or electric guitar. If, on the other hand, you wish to learn how to play classical guitar or flamenco guitar, you should purchase a classical guitar as your first guitar. If you love heavy metal and plan on learning how to 'rip', then electric guitar is for you, etc.

Make sure you buy a guitar that has a look that you are comfortable with. Don't buy a black guitar if you've always wanted a standard wood finish. But don't sacrifice the sound quality for getting a guitar that looks good. Remember, you are trying to make beautiful music, which requires an instrument that produces beautiful sounds! Looks can be deceiving.

Finally, if you plan on using your guitar for recording purposes, make sure you purchase a guitar with a fairly balanced tone. If you purchase a guitar that has too much low end or too much high end, it will be difficult to get a clean mix.

Feature Includes

The last step in picking a guitar that is right for you is to pick a guitar with the right features. Many guitars have some nice built in features, that are definitely important to think about when making a purchase, depending on your goals. If you are planning on playing live performances or open mics, you will want to buy an acoustic guitar that has a built in microphone (an electric acoustic). And for convenience, you may wish to consider buying a guitar with a built in tuner as well. These can really come in handy when you are getting ready to go on stage. However, if you are on a tight budget, you may want to sacrifice the tuner for additional sound quality.

In general, you should spend time taking a good look at the different guitars available on the market within your price range, then decide what features are important to you, given your goals. Sound quality should be your first priority, and your second quality should be playability. Guitars with 'low action' are easier to play because the strings naturally sit closer to the fingerboard. This can sometimes be adjusted, however, you'll want to MAKE SURE that the guitar is playable before you buy it.

If you can afford it, make sure you buy a guitar that has decent tuners. These will save you a lot of frustration by helping your guitar to stay in tune. And consider other features that may be important to you as well.

In the end, pick a guitar that fits your budget, personal taste and musical style, with the best sound quality and most features you can find. And buy something that you will be excited to play, even if it means forking over a little extra dough.