Posted May 18, 2005 12:32 PM What kind of guitar should I buy?
Okay. Do you prefer quiet, peaceful, beautiful acoustic guitar music or loud, raunchy, rowdy, roof raising, electric guitar? I myself prefer the latter. There's a tip for the guys right there. Get a nice acoustic guitar and the ladies will swoon in appreciation (or so they lead me to believe).
Back to the subject at hand. There are so many, repeat, so many guitars out there to purchase that it's nearly impossible for somebody other than you to pick one out and say, "This guitar is for you." All anybody or I can do is point you in the right direction. I can give some advice and pointers but actually recommending that you purchase a Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, Peavey, or any make or model is beyond the realm of realism.
Guitar bodies can be made from various woods, which include but are not limited to koa, ash, mahogany, poplar, and alder. Each type of wood gives a certain tone or sound that may be bright and punchy or warm. Some woods weigh more than others causing the guitar to be heavy and become uncomfortable for some. Here is a quick list of some woods used to make bodies.
1. Alder - a lightweight type of wood that produces a warm sound and is fairly inexpensive. Usually painted in solid colors due to the grain pattern.
2. Poplar - also a lightweight wood which has a sound similar to alder but lighter in color. Usually painted.
3. Mahogany - a hard, heavy wood with open grain and reddish in color. Sounds bright and provides good sustain.
4. Ash - medium weight with open grain and light in color. Sounds bright with a bit of punchiness in the bass. Makes a great wood for bass bodies.
5. Maple - generally used as a veneer for bodies due to their "flamed" and/or "quilted" appearance. Not good for a whole body.
Guitar necks can be made from a variety of woods just like bodies. Maple is probably the most common. Rosewood, koa, and others can also be used with varying degrees of sustain, warmth, and brightness characteristics. Fretboards (also referred to as fingerboards) are usually made from rosewood, maple, or ebony. Rosewood is the most common in this category due to the highly accepted sounds it helps produce coupled with the cost. Maple necks with maple fretboards are generally one piece with the fretboard portion being finished in some fashion with a sealer. Rosewood has a more open grain compared to ebony and is more often than not reddish in color while ebony tends to run more of a black in color. I myself prefer ebony fingerboards due to their smoothness.
So what should you look for in a guitar? What should be first and absolute foremost in your mind when looking for a guitar is feel and comfort. If the guitar is not comfortable to play, you won't want to play it. Does that make sense? Hey, I never said the book contained groundbreaking, earth-shattering, revolutionary thoughts out of left field! If the guitar that you fall in love with looks-wise is not comfortable to play, you may be able to push on and persevere and become an amazing player anyway. I just suggest you find a guitar that feels good in your hands and begs you to play. Try to be shallow at first and go with a guitar that looks cool to you. However, don't buy something just because your best friend thinks Johnny Guitarhero's the best so you should get his Wooden Wonder brand guitar with the killer apricot speckle finish. Try not to fall into that trap. The fact is that the company they represent is paying many guitarists and they may not even play the company's guitar but once a night because they aren't fond of it any more than you may be. Just be careful.
I mentioned in the previous paragraph about being shallow in choosing a guitar. What I mean by that is try to find a guitar that you find irresistible. You see the guitar and you want to play that one! Go for looks first. Am I contradicting myself? Not really. My whole point is to find a guitar that you want to play because it looks so good to you that you can't help but pick it up!
One area that is not common knowledge to many beginning guitarists (or even told to them) is the subject of necks. A guitar neck may be the single biggest determining factor in comfort. Guitar necks come in a variety of shapes from a thick, oval shaped neck (known as boatneck or V), to being extremely flat. When I say "shape," I'm referring to the backside portion of the neck. A flat, thin neck is usually preferred by players with smaller hands and thicker necks by people with bigger hands. A thin neck will make a larger hand tired prematurely to the point of pain and smaller hands will have a difficult time wrapping around thick guitar necks. There are necks that are wider (fretboard wise) than others and they are usually preferred by people with larger hands as well.
Lower priced guitars are considered those that cost up to $500 (many guitar magazines have picked that price range and it's become accepted thinking). These will generally have lower priced materials (woods, tuners, bridge) and electronics (pickups, switches, input jacks). Higher priced guitars will usually have a better grade of wood for the fretboard and body, higher quality tuners, stronger pickups in the case of electrics, and possibly just better overall quality control when they were assembled. You can sometimes get a feel for the quality of an instrument just from talking with others that have owned a certain make or model, especially if they bought theirs new. Did they have to make major set up adjustments, if any at all, when they received their pride and joy from the factory? I know of one major company that produces a signature series line (you know, the guitar has the name of the artist) that when they arrive at the store, they require little or no adjustment by the store personnel before hanging it out for sale. That's quality control! Are there other companies that put that kind of effort into their product? I'm sure there are, so just do your research.
Going back for a minute to the lower priced fare that's available, price doesn't always reflect quality. A $200 guitar manufactured and assembled properly can perform quite well. Many people bash guitars made outside the United States when the fact is many quality instruments come from outside the US.