What To Look For In A Guitar
By Kathy Unruh
Buying a guitar is an important decision that my students have often asked me about. They want to know what they should be looking for. This is an important question because no two are ever exactly alike. There is a wide variety of types, styles, colors, makes, and models to choose from.
The question is, which one is right for you? If you don’t know what to look for when you’re buying a guitar, you could end up spending a lot more money than you really need to. On the other hand, getting a “deal” may also get you a lemon. Following are some important questions to consider.
1. What style of music are you interested in playing?
The basic skills required when learning to play are the same regardless of the style of music you may be interested in. However, you should understand when you are thinking of buying a guitar, that some are more suited for a particular style than others.
Getting started in the right direction can help you to avoid costly mistakes. Do you like Rock’n Roll, Jazz, Bluegrass, or Classical music? Considering your own personal tastes can help you to determine whether to buy an electric or an acoustic guitar for example.
2. Are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced guitarist?
When buying a guitar for beginners I usually recommend a nylon stringed acoustic or an electric, as they will be the easiest on the fingers. However, students with small hands may find the wider neck of a classical guitar hard to play because of the reach involved.
Something to consider in this case is a 1/2 or 3/4 size. Musical style, personal preference, quality and price are the key determining factors to consider when buying a guitar for intermediate and advanced players.
3. What is the tonal quality of the instrument?
Tonal quality refers to the unique sound of each individual guitar. When you strum the strings or listen to it being played what do you hear? Does it sound deep, bright, soft, dull, tinny? The instrument should resonate (transmit the full vibrating quality of it’s sound) clearly.
4. How is the action?
The action is simply how high or low the strings are set on the fretboard. This will greatly affect the playability. If the strings are set too high they will be difficult to push down and you will be working harder than necessary to play the instrument.
On the other hand, if the strings are set too low they will likely interfere with the frets, which may cause a buzzing sound as you play.You should check each fret thoroughly before buying a guitar. This can be done by using the first finger of your left hand to play each string at every fret up and down the neck.
Do you here any buzzes? Does the guitar sound in tune at every point? Is it easy to push the string down? If you are unsure about doing this, then try to take someone who plays guitar along with you as you shop.
5. Is the neck straight?
If the neck is straight the intonation will be consistent. This means that when a specific note or chord is played at different points along the neck it will remain in tune. If the note or chord sounds out of tune at different points, then the neck may be crooked or warped.
You can check the neck by looking along it’s edge. Begin from the base of the body and continue on up to the base of the head. You should see a straight line. If you don’t, the neck may be bowed, twisted, or warped.
6. How does the neck feel in your hand?
Necks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you will need to determine what feels comfortable to you. Some necks are round and some have a v-shape angle to them. When you cradle the neck in your hand be aware of the fit.
Thin necks tend to be easier for small hands, but are generally not as strong as heavier ones. For example, a 12-string guitar will have a heavier neck than a 6-string. Buying a guitar that is the wrong size for your hand can be a factor in developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
7. What are you willing to spend?
If you’re just starting out, you really shouldn’t need to spend a lot of money when buying a guitar. Knowing what your budget will allow can help to speed up the process though. If you only have $200 to spend, don’t waste time looking at more expensive models.
You can always upgrade later after you’ve had sufficient time to explore your musical interests. I personally own 9 or 10 guitars and there is always room for one more! Be realistic about your own needs and keep these questions in mind as you shop. Better yet, print them out and take them with you!
Kathy Unruh is a singer/songwriter and webmaster of ABC Learn Guitar. She has been writing songs and providing guitar lessons to students of all ages for over 20 years. For free guitar lessons, plus tips and resources on songwriting, recording and creating a music career, please visit: abclearnguitar.com