The Top 10: Purchasing Your First Guitar
I can remember back when my parents bought my first guitar for me. I had a rental for the first three months of lessons while I completed my first lesson book. After the first book I felt that I was qualified for a guitar of my own. My instructor insisted that I start with an acoustic. The store where I took lessons had a wonderful looking acoustic auditorium style guitar that I immediately gravitated towards. I really liked it because of its look. I still remember the rosewood sides that had wonderful looking grain.
Next I noticed that this guitar played much easier than the rental and sounded bigger and warmer. I knew instantly upon testing out this instrument, that I would be dedicating a considerable amount of time to it. I wanted to play the guitar to the best of my abilities. Buying your first guitar can be an incredibly inspiring time in one’s musical experience.
This article can be a guide for things to consider when deciding what to invest in for your first guitar. There are many choices and features that can vary from guitar to guitar. The following are the top ten things you should know when purchasing your first guitar.
Acoustic or Electric:
Your first decision should be whether to buy an acoustic or electric guitar. The best way to decide is to be honest with yourself as to which instrument is more inspiring to you. You are entering a commitment to a consistent practice routine. If you see yourself strumming an acoustic as an accompanying instrument for your voice, look at acoustic guitars. If your inspiration lies in dreams of being a rock star and playing rock music as a lead guitarist, then perhaps starting out on an electric guitar will influence you, thereby resulting in more practice time, and more progress and results.
The next thing to determine should be your budget. This will define what features and quality you will get with your first guitar purchase. Keep in mind that if you go with an electric, you will have the additional purchase of an amplifier. If you want to try out guitar playing to determine if you enjoy it enough to dedicate time to practicing, then I recommend a simple entry level acoustic guitar. If you are sure you want to start out with electric, I suggest dedicating more of your budget to the electric guitar purchase, and go with a beginner’s practice amp.
Guitar Body Size:
An important concern in regards to purchasing your first acoustic guitar would be the size of the instrument. Buying a guitar for a beginner does not necessarily mean buying for a youngster, however, young boys and girls may have issues reaching around a dreadnought style guitar, which has a larger body and may be a hindrance to them. A smaller person would be able to manage an auditorium guitar with a smaller body. The auditorium style would likely be easier to manage. The general difference between the two guitars is that the dreadnought will sound deeper, accenting bass frequencies, whereas the auditorium style will have less bass, but enhanced midrange frequencies. For a beginner, comfort is king. Pick a guitar that will be comfortable in size.
Guitar Neck Size:
Another consideration would be your hand size versus the neck size of the guitar. There are different neck sizes and shapes. You can research the different size options while keeping in mind your hand size. If you are concerned, as many beginners are, about having a small hand, you simply can get a guitar with a smaller neck radius that’s compatible with your hand size. Possibly, some fully grown beginners will feel more comfortable with a larger size guitar neck. The general idea is to consider comfort when purchasing your first guitar.
Options- Acoustic or Acoustic/Electric:
When exploring your options relative to acoustic guitar choices, be aware that an acoustic guitar can have electric options. These guitars are called “acoustic/electrics”. This would be a great option if you feel you may want to amplify your acoustic. This feature would be a good choice if you want to go to “open mic” nights, since it is much easier for a soundman to work with the guitar’s electric pickup than having to use a microphone in a live situation. It is always good to determine what your goals are, down the road, when trying to decide what the best acoustic guitar would be for you to buy. You will encounter many types of electronic options depending on the price range you are working with. At the entry level, the acoustic/electrics cost only a modest amount more money for the same quality build as an acoustic without electronics.
Is type of wood important:
Choosing an acoustic guitar with a specific type of wood or woods, is not a likely concern for a beginner. Over time you will learn that there are woods, like spruce, that among other characteristics, project a louder, brighter sound than, for example, a cedar wood acoustic. The beginner will be concerned with three things main things. First is playing cleanly, second is understanding the art of music. Finally over time, develop an appreciation for the timbre the instrument emits.
Buying your first electric guitar will be a bit more involved than deciding on an entry level acoustic guitar. The most important thing is that the neck must be stable, since a bad neck can result in the notes not sounding, or, if the strings are very high off the neck, it would be very hard to play. For such reasons, my advice is to stay away from used electrics and acoustics if you are a beginner purchasing a first guitar.
A new guitar purchased from AMS will come with a warranty that will cover you in the event issues like those mentioned above would occur. Only an experienced player that has some understanding of pieces and parts of the instrument should purchase used guitars. A technique called “bending the strings” will be one of the most common techniques used with electric lead guitar playing. When a bend is performed on a bad neck, the likely result would be the bends “choking” or dying out.
How to choose an electric guitar for a beginner will involve more than the body size and condition of the instrument. The pickup and bridge types will help define the guitar. First thing, again, is to anticipate down the road, the type of electric guitar music to which the beginner ultimately would gravitate. For example, to play heavy metal or hard rock styles, the guitar will need to be equipped with “humbucking” pickups. Less heavy styles, like pop, country, and blues, can use humbucker pickups, but very often, single coil pickups are the preferred choice for those styles. Some models have a humbucker and single coils. This makes them more versatile, but in some instances, less dedicated to a style than a guitar that is loaded exclusively with either humbuckers or single coils.
For most beginners, a less expensive entry level guitar is the instrument to learn on. Once you have a better understanding of the tonal options and some experience, and the opportunity to compare opinions with other players and instructors, you will be equipped to make the right choice. For now, when testing out an instrument and simply gravitating to one of which you like the sound, will be a good choice, until you totally “get it”. You might consider an entry-level purchase if you are undecided on pickup choices, so that, down the road, when you upgrade to a more professional level instrument, you will not have over invested out of the starting gate.
Some electric guitars have a set bridge, while others have a “tremolo” system with springs underneath the body, attached to the bridge, where you can grab the bar and manipulate the sound. The more advanced bridge is the tremolo. If the style of music you may ultimately play relies on a tremolo system, it would be a desirable feature to have. However, the tremolo system is a more tedious one with which to tune and adjust . I recommend a new guitar player to steering away from it for now.
Color and Shape:
Once you have explored all the things in this article to consider, do not forget its appearance. Whether it is acoustic, acoustic/electric, or a dedicated electric guitar, make sure you like how it looks. A guitar is an instrument, but an instrument is a true work of art, and you will want to own something of which you are proud. You will respect your guitar and want to practice more when you are excited about its shape and color.
These top 10 things you should consider when purchasing your first guitar are great guidelines. The AMS buyers guide and catalog will also give insight and definition about the many concerns and questions you will have while deciding on your purchase. At the end of the day, for a beginner’s first guitar, it should be functioning correctly. The guitar should fit your wants and needs. Either an acoustic or electric, you will be inspired by how it looks. Your first guitar will not only be your instrument, but also a wonderful work of art.
About the Author
Freddy DeMarco is an international guitarist/clinician session player, instructor and engineer. He has worked for various music companies such as Korg, VOX, Blackstar, Marshall, CAD, and Warm audio. Freddy has had the honor of performing with Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Jani Lane, Mike Mangini, Erik Norelander (Asia). The DeMarco Brothers band has played tour dates with, Michael Schenker, Nuno Bettencourt, and Zakk Wylde. Freddy has worked as Sherman Helmsley’s (George Jefferson in the hit TV show The Jeffersons) music director.
Freddy studied music at Ohio University as a string bass major and at Cleveland State University as a guitar major. Currently Freddy runs “DeMarco’s School Of Music” and “DeMarco’s Studio”. He performs live in various bands. Freddy plays the role of Angus Young, in one of the country’s top AC DC tribute bands, Dirty Deeds. Freddy also plays in the local blues/Classic Rock act “Humbucker Blues” and Jazz Fusion acts “Seven O’clock Chicken”, and the “Juxtaposers.”