How to Buy a Guitar

Unless you really know what you are getting it is best to go to a music shop in person so you can try it out for yourself. A guitar may have all the features you need and look good but you’ll never know if it feels comfortable unless you try it. If you have a friend who plays guitar, you could ask them to come along.

There are several factors to consider when buying a guitar, for instance do you want an acoustic or an electric? steel or nylon strings? what size guitar? what type of guitar suits the style of music you are interested in learning / playing? One thing is for sure however, how to buy a guitar is about being patient, you don’t have to buy a guitar that day. If you take your time and do some research you may find your decision changing for the better compared to what you originally thought.

When considering buying a guitar, make sure the strings have no discolouration / rust. If they do then perhaps best ask for a new set of strings to be included. The neck shouldn’t be warped either. You can check this by looking straight down the guitar’s neck from its head. Make sure there is no buzzing noise when playing each of the strings. If there is a buzzing noise this could mean adjustment needs to be made on the action of a string / strings (action means how far the strings are from the fretboard). Another reason could be a slightly loose part on the guitar; this can be more of an issue for acoustic type guitars for which the sound is amplified by the guitar’s body itself. Try holding different parts of the guitar while playing the offending string / strings; there’s no need to hold onto the different parts very hard, just moderately will do. Eventually you may come to stop a loose part of the guitar that is vibrating. For this I usually go through all six tuning pegs one at a time, then the bridge, having found both these areas to be the issue in the past. You might also find this as the cause if a guitar you have already owned for a while starts to buzz.

Plectrum – Unless you are only interested in fingerstyle you will need one of these. They come in different thicknesses measured in millimitres. Medium picks (.60mm to .73mm) are a little softer in sound, are better for strumming and are more forgiving for beginners because with flexibility they are a bit less likely to get stuck behind a string as you play it. Thicker picks (.88mm and upward) give a stronger sound and are good for faster playing due to the lack of flexibility within the pick, which contributes to the principle of minimizing movement to play at faster speeds. The thickness of the pick might not necessarily indicate its flexibility or rigidity as the material used can also affect this. You could buy or try three picks of different thickness and see which you prefer.

Nylon String Guitars – Nylon strings are softer and slightly thicker than metal strings making them easier on the fingertips. Classical guitars have nylon strings so are good for beginners. Classical guitars have wider necks but also come in overall smaller sizes of 1/2 and 3/4. Not as common but there are also nylon-strung electro-acoustics (an acoustic guitar that you can plug in to an amplifier).

Classical Guitar
Nylon-strung electro-acoustic

Steel String Acoustic – Steel strings on an acoustic guitar can take a bit of getting used to as they are harsher for the finger tips. They also require more pressure from the wrist because the rigidity of the strings requires you to push down harder on the frets, particularly if you are playing chords, which require prolonged pressure from multiple fingers at the same time (as opposed to a single note melody which would be short periods of pressure from only one or two fingers at separate times). Most beginners start with open chords, which are at the bottom of the neck, so you are working against the nut as it holds the strings up over the fret-board, as opposed to further up the fret-board where a bit less pressure is needed on the frets. Acoustic and Classical guitars made of wood sound better than cheaper ones made of plastic composites.

Steel Strung Acoustic

Electric Guitar – Although these use steel strings their gauge (string thickness) is usually less than for a steel strung acoustic guitar, making them less rigid and easier on the fingers (and why string bends are usually associated with electric guitars). The action is usually a bit lower (meaning the strings are a little bit closer to the fret-board). Electric guitars also have a thinner neck. For a beginner I would recommend no thicker than 9 gauge strings (i.e. the high E string is 9 thousandths of an inch), which is the most common string gauge. You will also need an amplifier and a cable. Many electric guitars come with a cable that has fixed ends so if the cable eventually becomes faulty you won’t be able to make repairs. Better quality cables usually come with ends that can be unscrewed for simple repairs, if the cable stops working, often it’s due to the solder in the plug coming loose over time from metal fatigue.

Electric Guitar

Bass Guitar – Bass guitar necks are a few inches longer than other guitar necks so if you can’t comfortably apply pressure on the 1st fret and get a clear note then it might be too big. There are short scale Bass guitars for younger players. If starting out I wouldn’t use anything heavier than medium gauge Bass strings. Buying a guitar can require some thought and preparation so I hope you find this guide on how to buy a guitar useful!

Bass Guitar

© Intuition Publications 2012 – present