Knowing how to buy a guitar is very much like buying anything else. You don’t need to be an expert guitarist, but you do need to be a savvy shopper. That means doing some research, learning all you can about the product and then shopping around. Buying a good guitar takes patience and diligence.
Anatomy of a Guitar
There are three basic types of guitars to choose from; acoustic, classical and electric. The guitar you choose will depend on the style you want to play. You should at least be familiar with the parts of a guitar before you go shopping. This will help you understand the salesperson’s jargon.
The body of the guitar is the largest part. The sound hole is where the sound comes out, located in the center of the guitar body. The strings are attached to the body of the guitar near the sound hole, along a strip called the bridge. The long piece of wood that sticks out from the body of the guitar is called the neck. You will notice the neck is divided into sections. These are called frets. At the end of the neck, you will see that the strings are each sitting in a groove called a nut. Each string is attached to a tuning peg that is turned to tune each string. This area attached to the neck, where the strings end, is called the headstock.
Electric guitars have some additional features that are not found on acoustic or classical guitars. They have a volume knob on the body and often feature a “whammy bar” used to alter the sound of the guitar. Electric guitars also have a “pickup”, which is an electronic component that picks up the vibrations of the strings, which are then sent through a cord to an amplifier. The body of the guitar will have a small hole where the sound cord can be plugged in.
Types of Guitars
Acoustic guitars have steel strings, which can be much harder on the finger tips of new players. Watch out for guitars with “high action”, meaning there is a lot of distance between the strings and the neck. The more pressure you have to put down with your finger tips, the more painful the guitar will be to play in the beginning. High action can also cause unnecessary wear on a guitar, causing the neck to bend over time.
Acoustic guitars can be amplified through the use of a pickup that is installed in the sound hole. This allows the player to amplify the sound for large audiences. These types of guitars are called acoustic-electric.
Electric guitars come in three categories: Electric, Hollow Body Electric and Steel. Each type of guitar creates a very different sound. When buying an electric guitar, consider the cost of the amplifier as well, since the music cannot be heard without one. You will also need a sound cord and a shoulder strap.
Standard electric guitars can be made of solid wood or another composite material. They can be had very affordably, for around $100. The sound of an electric guitar will depend on the type of pickup used. Single-coil pickups give a brighter, less distorted sound. Humbuckers are preferred by those who play loud rock styles because they transfer distortion better.
Jazz musician will often choose a hollow body electric guitar because it produces a unique sonic resonance through the use of two chambers cut out of the guitar body.
Steel guitars are known for their unique, twangy sound, often heard in country music. These guitars are placed on the player’s lap and feature elevated strings. The player uses a tone bar to play the guitar, a cylindrical piece of metal, worn on the middle finger, which slides across the strings.
Just like clothing, guitars come in different sizes. It is important to try on a guitar before buying to see how your arm feels when strumming. A large-bodied guitar can make playing very uncomfortable for someone with a small body frame. You can also buy ½ and ¾ sized guitars for children.
Also like clothing, looks are important in your choice of guitar. This is especially important with new players. You need a guitar you will actually want to play. Choose one that appeals to your sense of style, color and personality.
A guitar can cost anywhere from $100 to several thousand, depending on your needs. When shopping for a child, stick to a smaller budget. Try to spend under $300 for a child’s first guitar. Avoid buying a “toy” guitar for your child if you want them to stick with playing. Your child will lose interest in the instrument as they quickly develop a better sense of sound.
Also consider other equipment when budgeting for your guitar. You will need a digital tuner to keep the guitar in tune. A case is useful for carrying the guitar back and forth from lessons. A music stand will be needed for holding music sheets while your child learns to play a piece. Lessons are also vital for children to develop a long-term interest and talent with the guitar.
If you are shopping for yourself, your budget will have more wiggle room. Pay less attention to how much you spend and put more focus on the quality, looks and feel of the guitar. When you go to buy a guitar, bring someone who knows how to play the guitar with you. Your friend can help you try out guitars and overcome the shyness new players often feel when trying out a guitar in a public place.
Take the time to try out several guitars and ask questions. Take notes and do some additional research before you make your final decision. Music stores are like car dealerships. There will be some dickering and bargaining. See if you can get a discount or some added gear thrown into the deal. You’ll walk away with a sense of satisfaction and a new hobby that will bring you years of pleasure.