Buying your first guitar – what to consider
Buying your first guitar is a rite of passage for many, and the first step towards international stardom for a few. Given this may be your first foray into an illustrious career (or at least a rewarding lifelong hobby), it’s worth taking a bit of time to make the right choice, as the wrong instrument can put you off for life.
Thankfully, we’re here to help! Below we’ve listed the most important questions to ask yourself and how to find the right answers for you.
What type of guitar do you want?
On a very basic level, there are three types of guitar: electric, acoustic, or bass.
Acoustic guitars are great as they don’t require a separate amplifier; the sound they make comes from the body of the guitar (note that an “electro-acoustic” guitar is just an acoustic guitar with a pickup so it can be plugged directly into an amp, though it will also work without an amp). Acoustic guitars come with either steel or nylon strings. Nylon strings are softer and easier to play for untrained fingers, but are not as loud as steel strings.
Electric guitars have steel strings so can be harder to play, and also require a separate amp. However, they offer a wider range of tones when plugged into an amp or effects pedals, including the classic distorted rock sound heard on millions of records.
Bass guitars generally have only four strings which are tuned an octave lower than electric or acoustic guitars. They also fulfil a different role in that they are mostly a backing instrument designed to provide bottom-end weight to a full band meaning they are not so well suited to playing on your own. That said, bass is an essential part of any band and bassists are in high demand!
To help you decide which type of guitar to go for, have a look at what your guitar heroes play – is it an electric like Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain, or an acoustic like Ed Sheeran or KT Tunstall? Most guitars come in either right- or left-handed versions, though left-handed guitars often need to be ordered in as they are in lower demand.
What style and shape do you want?
Guitars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from the iconic Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul shapes to an almost infinite range of weird, wonderful and downright horrendous designs. Fundamentally, what you go for is very much a matter of taste. Think of it like buying clothes; there is no right or wrong, just what you feel fits, looks good, and makes you feel comfortable. If you are buying for someone else, have a look at what sort of guitars the people they admire use, and choose a colour that they like.
There is also a basic practical consideration: if you’re a child or smaller than average person (or buying for someone who is), it may be worth buying a guitar with a smaller, lighter body. We offer a range of half- and quarter-size acoustic models designed specifically for children.
Some guitars also come with what is known as a “cutaway” – a section of the guitar’s body is removed to allow you to play the higher notes, meaning the guitar is more versatile.
When it comes to acoustic guitars, note that size affects more than just the look of the instrument – a larger body will be louder than a small body – so this is worth taking into consideration too.
How much do you want to spend?
Hey, we’re a music shop! So feel free to take what we say here with a pinch of salt…
As with most things, when it comes to buying a guitar, you get what you pay for. There are some extremely cheap products on the market that may appear to tick all the boxes specification-wise. However, these instruments are often poorly constructed, so will not be comfortable to play and will not last long. You’re buying your first guitar, so you don’t want to go crazy in case you go off the whole idea soon, but there is nothing that will put you off playing more than an instrument that isn’t playable.
The good news is that the quality of guitar production at the low end has increased hugely in the last few years, and budget instruments from the likes of Squier (Fender’s lower cost brand) and Epiphone (Gibson’s lower cost brand) offer great value for money.
What do you need to go with it?
There are a huge range of accessories available for guitars, but at the very least, if you’re buying an electric guitar, you will need a cable and an amp (check out our guide to the best amps for home use for help with that).
Other accessories you may want to consider are:
• A Stand so you have somewhere to safely place your guitar when not in use
• A Strap so you can play the guitar standing up
• A Case or Gig bag to keep the instrument safe when you’re moving about
• A Plectrum (or two) to help with strumming and picking
• An Effects Pedal (or two) to offer more tonal versatility to your electric guitar
And finally… do you need to try it first?
A guitar is an intensely personal thing, and every single unit differs in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, so it really is worth coming into one of our stores to try a few out.
Ideally you will pick an instrument up and fall in love with it. That’s when the magic happens and your road to guitar stardom really begins…