Music can be a great outlet and opportunity for bonding, and a guitar is an easy place to begin — if you choose the right one.
The guitar is the most popular instrument in the world, and for good reason: it’s portable, easy to learn at a basic level, and can be played in a variety of styles.
I have been teaching guitar for nearly twenty years. Despite the wide variety of students I’ve taught, they’ve all had one thing in common: they needed to find the right guitar to suit their needs. All guitars are not created equal. When you choose the right guitar, you will become a better player because the instrument is a good fit for you.
In this post I’ll share three keys to choosing the right guitar. Keep these in mind when you’re shopping for a guitar for yourself or someone else.
Key #1: Purpose
What’s the purpose or intention for the guitar? The style of music and the situations where you’ll play have a great bearing on the type of guitar you need.
For instance, if you play classical or Flamenco music, you’ll need a nylon string guitar. If you’re playing on a church worship team or an acoustic-type band, you’ll want a clean, clear sound. If you’re playing in a bluegrass or country band, chances are you’ll want a bigger, fuller-sounding guitar. (None of this is set in stone. I’m just making broad generalizations.)
In addition to thinking about the style of music, think about where you will be playing. If it’s a second guitar to keep at home, one you’ll take camping, or just a knock-around guitar, you probably don’t need an expensive one. Even a used one will probably do. But if you’re touring or recording, you’ll need something nicer. If you’ll be playing with a PA system, you’ll probably want a guitar with a built-in pickup.
Many beginners don’t give much consideration to these questions when purchasing their first guitar, but they have a huge impact on your selection.
Key #2: Player
There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” guitar. To the untrained eye, all acoustic guitars seem basically alike, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the fact that they are made mostly of wood, have six strings and a neck, guitars can come in an almost endless variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. There are several questions you should think about:
How long have you been playing? If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want something on the more basic side. After you’ve played for a while, you’ll have a more discerning ear and are probably ready for a guitar in the next price range.
What size fits your body? Many times over the years I have seen kids and smaller-sized adults try to play guitars that are too big for them. Get a guitar that isn’t too big or too small, but just right for your body. When you sit down it should fit comfortably on your lap. If you buy your guitar from a music store, the staff should be able to assist with determining the right size.
What do you like? You won’t always know why, but there are certain guitars you will be drawn to, for whatever reason. There is a strange unspoken connection between a musician and his or her guitar. Pay attention to your gut when you go guitar shopping.
Your experience, body shape, and what you like are all an important part of choosing a guitar.
Key #3: Price
Guitars are like any other consumer item: you get what you pay for. It’s tempting, especially for beginners (or parents shopping for Christmas), to want to find the best deal possible. But it would be a mistake to get an inferior instrument just to save a few bucks.
Guitars are not like electronics. They are not meant to be discarded and replaced every few years. If you buy a good quality guitar and keep playing, you can easily spend 10-20 years, or longer, with the instrument. A guitar is like a mattress: buy the very best you can afford because you will be spending a lot of time with it. I bought my Taylor 414ce in 1997 and it has been my main guitar for 18 years. It’s a high-quality instrument, and it has aged well and sounds better than ever.
Keep I mind that a high-quality guitar not only sounds better, but it’s easier to play. That will have a direct impact on your enjoyment and desire to spend time playing.
So what do you get at different price points? For under $250 you can get a basic beginner guitar. If you are spending this amount or less and are a beginner, take along an experienced guitar player to help you find a quality instrument. From $400-$800 you get better quality and sound, and most guitars in this range come with decent electronics. When you get above the $1,000 range you begin to have very high quality guitars that will last a long time.
I personally recommend Taylor guitars, a company that makes high-quality instruments at every price point. If you’re a beginner, I would recommend their newer GS Mini model for around $500 retail. Some of the artists who play Taylor guitars include Steve Vai, Taylor Swift, Vince Gill, Jars of Clay, the Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews, Kenny Loggins, Mick Jagger, Switchfood, Jason Mraz, and the list goes on and on. I’ve even spotted Katy Perry with one.
But the truth is that there are plenty of great acoustic guitar manufacturers: Gibson, Martin, Ibanez, Yamaha, Alvarez, and many others. (I also love James Olson guitars, but those are out of the price range of most people I know.) No matter what the price of the guitar you purchase, look for playability, a good sound, and a name brand manufacturer. Get the best you can afford because hopefully you’ll be spending a lot of time with this instrument!
According to the site The Guitar Buzz, Jimi Hendrix once said, “Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” If you follow these guidelines when choosing a guitar, you’ll be well on your way to joining the millions who have found a lifetime of enjoyment with this instrument.
Photo: Flickr/Ben Grey
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