Beginners Guide To Buying An Acoustic Guitar

A guide for beginning guitarists who want to start out with an acoustic guitar or those guitarists looking for thier first acoustic guitar.

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Ok, so you play guitar, or at least want to. And you're thinking, What should I look for in my guitar? Well if you are looking for an electric guitar I suggest looking here. I am here to help you if you want an acoustic. As you are reading, keep in mind this article is directed more towards people who are just starting out, but many of the principles can be used for any acoustic guitar purchase. Well, here I go.

How Much Do I Spend?

This is a tough question. If you already play guitar and know it is something you like doing then you can spend a good amount of money. If you are just starting out and want to see what guitar is like then don't bother spending a whole lot, but spend enough to get something decent. If you have already playing for a little while but it is your first acoustic, I would say at minimum $200 but more toward $250 or $300. Remember these are just guidelines and not set rules. Spend what you want just don't get a hunk of unplayable junk.

Nylon Or Steel String?

This depends on your style of play. Ask yourself what you see yourself playing more, classical or something else. If you said classical you will want a nylon string guitar. Nylon string guitars have a neck that is wider with more space between each string. The body of the guitar is also slightly smaller. Another difference in construction is that the neck connects to the body at the 12th fret. Nylon strings produce a softer sound and are easier to push the strings down for beginners. Steel string guitars are used for most other music, such as anything rock or blues related, as well as country and jazz. Steel string guitars have a neck that tapers toward the headstock, and the body is usually larger. Also the neck connects to the body at the 14th fret most of the time. Steel string guitars are usually louder, and harder to fret. The two types of guitars attach the strings in different manners and require different stringing techniques.

Types Of Construction

With an acoustic you can either have solid wood components or laminates for the body. Solid wood sounds better but is also more expensive. Laminates don't reflect your sound as well, but are cheaper to make and therefor cost less for the consumer, you. The thing is though, laminates are actually stronger than solid wood. If you are looking for an inexpensive guitar then it is going to be made from laminated parts, which is fine as it will be durable and sound ok. A step up would be to get a solid top and laminated back and sides. This will cost you a bit more, but since the top has the most effect on the sound it will improve your sound quality.

Checking The Quality

No matter what type of guitar you want to get, you don't want it to fall apart and you do want it to sound like it is supposed to. First I suggest going to a well-lit area and looking into the guitar. If you happen to have a flashlight with you, definitely use this as well. If the inside of the guitar looks like crap, then the whole guitar probably is. Make sure that the gluing job is well done and there aren't globs of glue all over the place. A lot of sawdust is another indicator that the workmanship is a bit shoddy. To make sure the guitar sounds good you need to check the intonation. Now, many new guitarists may not know what to look for in this so I will try to explain it as well as I can. Play the note at the 12th fret (the one with 2 dots). Then place your finger over the metal fret wire just towards the body of where you just played but don't push down, touch lightly. Play the string now. The two notes should have the same pitch. If they don't, put the guitar down and go find another. Check this on all six strings, it's extremely important so if you can't do it yourself ask for help in this. This does not mean that you are tuning the guitar, but checking to make sure that it will sound correct when in tune and playing later. Because acoustic guitars don't have adjustable bridges, bad intonation is much harder to correct and for a beginner the trouble isn't worth it.

Other Doodads

Some acoustic guitars come with extra little things that make them cost more, but add to the guitar. Look at these features and decide if it is worth the extra money, how much will you actually use it? One such feature is a cutout. Now I know that these are on electrics, but how much will you use it on your acoustic? If you plan on doing a lot of work on the upper frets, then this is a definite must. If you just want your acoustic for strumming a few folk songs or open position chords then don't worry about it. You can also get built in electronics for you acoustic. If you want this then defiantly get it built in now, it costs much more if you want to add it later. This is useful if you want to connect your guitar to an amplifier, and the guitar usually has a built in pre-amp. In my experience I find it requires the use of a 9v battery for the pre-amp but this might not always be the case.

Play It!

So you followed all this advice and found a well-built guitar that can hold a tone and has the features you want. Now play that guitar and see if it sounds good to you. Even if you don't know how to play anything just push some strings down and play one note at a time. Or strum all the strings open. If you know some songs play them. Listen to the way the guitar sounds and the way it feels. If the guitar is comfortable in your hands then you are gonna be happy. If it sounds good then you are gonna be happy. If it is both then buy that sucker!

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62 comments sorted by best / new / date

    gary666
    i know how to buy a guitar, so i didnt really read much of it, sorry! But i bet it was really interesting for people who are just starting out!
    thumbwar123
    i have a CF Martin Dreadnought Mohagony and it sounds swell. i got it in the middle of last year and have played it every single day since, well in exception of a couple days.
    roo6339
    great article! i'm a bass player.. but that was extremely helpful as i would like to buy my own acoustic one day (i'm using my dad's and my nanna's... but they're both pretty dodgy...)
    fingerpkngood
    My "beginner" guitar is a steel string (I put BEGINNER in quotations because it really wasn't my first time playing guitar, BUT it had been a LONG TIME since I had played). It is an Alvarez BLK-??? (BLK meaning it's black). Payed $170 for it and it sounds GREAT. It has a great feel too >>> user-friendly. I thought to myself, "If Jerry Garcia played Alvarez guitars, then I should check them out." I'm glad I did. I was pleased at the sound and the price.
    BMAN12688
    good article, also if u know how to play violin, viola, cello, or bass (like me) then picking up the guitar doesn't really matter what type of strings you get since you play other instruments. But yes, classical is perfect for beginners. Ebay is the man and use it
    smell_my_cheese
    It is an Alvarez BLK-??? (BLK meaning it's black). why didnt u just write black instead then instead of wasting our time you twat!
    Mick Mackler
    anyone heard of a takamine G series guitar? I have one it cost me 350 but I hadnt heard of takamine guitars before then. Highly recommended though it sounds beautiful!
    Yeah, Takamine are nice guitars. Not sure where they're made but the ones I've heard some great.
    jof1029
    ^ there is one already, i even gave the link to it in the first paragraph. if that doesnt help drop me a PM and ill try to help you out.
    Desk Jocky
    i would suggest to all canadians getting an Art & Luthrie. They play well and are very cheap. They sound so good and are inexpensive for the sound.
    Red Shift
    Id suggest you start with cheap hard to play steel stringed guitar, once you can make that sound good everything else will be cheese.
    Lick_Soloist
    i play like loads of electric and want to start playin acoustic solidly, to practice rhythm skills, but it was about a bigginer starting, my bad!!
    Contraband
    Umm, I don't find this guide useful, but it might be to someone who knows nothing at all, which is a good thing to do, cause it works. I'd just look around the internet, and if I normally don't find anything there (doesn't matter if I did), I'd go ask someone who knows something about acoustic guitars (not electric only, acoustic) whether it be a close friend or family member, or that guy at the guitar store. Just don't buy it right away. You have to like it, and be assured it won't break into pieces before you can play a string.
    urthunderstruck
    i recommend getting a smaller guitar if you already own an elctric. i have a baby taylor, its an excellent guitar and easy to move around. guitars like those are good for times when you want your guitar there the whole time (like the tv room)
    pop princess
    i found one that was $130, i got it on holiday and it worked about 78 at home, normally at home it is like 120, so thats cool
    Tara
    ^change them back and buy a steel string guitar! unless you want to wreck your guitar of course!
    Floyd93
    why the hell talk about the person's "playing style" if you're talking to beginners who don't have styles yet?! if you're telling people what to buy, DONT GIVE A MILLION OPTIONS ON EVERYTHING! they'll be worse off than before!
    jof1029
    why the hell talk about the person's "playing style" if you're talking to beginners who don't have styles yet?! if you're telling people what to buy, DONT GIVE A MILLION OPTIONS ON EVERYTHING! they'll be worse off than before!
    when i wrote about playing style, all i said was classical music or something else. thats pretty basic information, not what they do play but what they plan to play. im not going to tell someone who wants to play some bethoven to buy a steel string just like i wont tell someone who wants to play rock music to buy a nylon string. its not how they are playing but what they are playing
    Mosquitocoil
    Really great article man! I've got a couple of guitars now, but back when I was in that position, I wish I had some of this info. As it was, I forked out for a Fender acoustic...still brilliant and sounds awesome! At the time it was pretty expensive, but now I see it was well worth it! I'm planning on buying my girlfriend an acoustic for christmas 'cause she always picks mine up and tries to play...I've been trying to teach her lately as well, but steel strings really kill her hands...maybe best for nylon to start with no??
    yeller56
    ^just tell her that pain is what she is gonna have for alil while nylon meh unless you want to go through the trouble of teaching her classical and stuff and believe me chicks i know want to play something they hear on the radio alot (barring like a bitch) haha
    ChordProgressiv
    Id suggest you start with cheap hard to play steel stringed guitar, once you can make that sound good everything else will be cheese. That's exactly what I did. I got an old, old steel string from a friend and now that I've got that down I'm buying one of my own in January. Plus, playing electric is so much easier holding chords.
    Will27
    Ahhh EMERGENCY!! lol i so need help from you's guitar experts...alright i get most of the stuff in this article...so yeah im planning to buy an Acoustic guitar that will play songs like umm DC (dashboard con...) so im opting with the Steel strings.....but umm yeah lol i so dont get the "checking the quality" part...like i know the frets are those lines...and i know 1st fret is the top one (or so i think)..and i know where the 12 fret is but what are you supposta do?? i dont get it lol.."Play the note at the 12 fret" so do i press down on the 12th line with zee left hand... and then play it with zee right hand? or do i umm pick it at the 12th line?? me confused...haha and for the second part..lol im not even gonna try to say what im thinking..lol SORRY for this EXTREMELY newbish post but someone please clarify things for me
    cosmosandwich
    i have a yamaha fx-310. sounds really good but i get a bit uncomfortable playing with it. it looks good but i think the body is kind of big for me.*sigh*
    bigalreturns
    not a bad article, but how about recommending some guitars that are good within their price range. I started out with a 3/4 nylon string and played this til i was 17, then worked and saved to buy a fender acoustic, and it was worth every penny (300, but reduced from 500! thats about $550!!)
    jof1029
    ^ recomending certain guitars or even brands starts huge debates. i didnt really want that to dominate the comments section, but it happened anyway with everyone saying what kind of guitar they have. love the feedback everyone, and im glad this has helped people.
    Witchdoctor
    Beginners by any guitar new $100 & under elec or acous. They don't make bad guitars anymore. Intermediate guitarists have a smorgasbord to chose between $200 & $350 and the all play great. Amps are greatly priced with the features all have now. I use all vintage tube amps but hey I'm 55 and stuck in my ways. But I go round and play all the new junk it's good fo the money and when I was a kid all you could afford was the high action crappy junk that was over priced that didn't make you want to play. YOu really had to love guitar to make yourself play. My most used pick up grab and play guitar now is an old $15.00 Silvertone parlor. Heck it ain't bad as long as you stay in the country chord positions. Happy Trails all you nose pickin string slapping git pikin, tikes!
    Alex_rocks
    i would definatly suggest buying a classical for a first guitar. Not only are the nylon strings softer on your fingers but when you move onto a steel string youll find it a whole lot more easy when it comes to move round the fret board and making chord shapes because the classical has a bigger neck than the steel. Also most classical are cheaper and therefore would be much more cost effective to buy first off to see if you are gunna carry it on. This is what i did and now have gone on to buy a tanglewood eltro acoustic for almost 400, is a great guitar!
    rockinlewis
    good article although id spend less on a first acoustic just in case you give up. for instance my Aria semi acoustic only cost 170 and i was pleased with it
    IllegalPanda
    haha i like how you esplained the 12th fret by saying(the one with two dots) lmao i dont think anyone is that much of a dumbass
    Strummin4him
    for instance my Aria semi acoustic only cost 170 and i was pleased with it
    thats 306 in US dollars
    Diceman42
    I'd like to add that there are two type of nylon strung guitars: classical and flamenco. There are slight differences between the two, mostly peg positions and general body construction, as flamenco guitars are made to withstand the tapping and hitting and strumming of flamenco pieces. Play an flamenco piece on a classical guitar, and it'll sound like shit, and vice versa.
    CryingNut
    thats 306 in US dollars
    wow thats expensive no? im canadian i got like yamaha for like 250 canadian dollars and it kicks ass
    monoshoe
    no wrong, the quality of the guitar makes it easier to play and improves the sound...but obviously most of it is still down to skill
    jof1029
    sweet, my article is up. but um, the ammount of money you spend isnt as important as the quality of the guitar. you all seem way too fixated on the cost.
    Lymbe
    Well written dude, i liked it. But hey, i'll make it easier. Go buy a guitar with a friend who already knows how to play. He will check the sound, not look like a total retard trying to count until the 12th fret and could squeeze inside the total package some new strings or some other sh##. Worked for me
    jof1029
    taking a friend along is often invaluable, as long as they know what they are doing. the only problem is, they will gravitate to what they like and not always what you want. same with salespeople, they will show you what they want you to buy, not always what you think you want. so just take everyone else's advice with a bit of caution and go for what you really want.
    Lymbe
    I get your drift dude but this is a first-guitar-trial we are talking about right? you don't know what u like or want unless u played guitar for some time. Also it was good that u mentioned the differences between steel and nylon strings (showing that u know your technical sh##) but u left out a big something: a beginner should know that playing on steel strings hurts like hell since the contact skin hasn't had a chance to roughen up yet, whereas nylon strings are of course much softer. Having said that, i bought my guitar with steel strings, and hurt through every minute of it. And i f#ckin loved every minute of it
    americanpig11
    i got a bestler elec acous for 100 bucks(shipping included) on ebay and it is inredibly. it would rival most 500 dollar guitars. i would definatly reccomend it. they are brand new and the company puts them out on the web. check em out!
    jof1029
    i guess luckily for me i didnt get a guitar untill i had already been playing my friends for a month or so. i also think its good to start with steel strings but i am starting to really love playing classical. playing on steel strings is only bad for a few weeks, and nylon still hurts a little, although much less. thanks for all the feedback lymbe
    Necronomicon
    People should start with classical guitars, especially if they're young. I started with a steel string acoustic in grade 6 and it was hell. The strings were really hard to push down and that meant the chords were hard to do. And of course when you're learning you start out learning chords. Later on when you go back to it it's not that bad but it's not a good idea to start on.
    IllegalPanda
    yeah that would be hard to explain itonation to begginers tho i think most know what enharmonics are
    sloweffect
    i got my guitar at $50.... its my first guitar and only one.... well,i learn a lot from this guitar its not the price of the guitar that make the diffrence,but how skillfull you play it.... right??
    Vinura
    far out i hear all these people bought thier first acoustic for $200-$300..my dad found a pretty decent nylon string acoustic for 10 bucks...mind you it was pretty old...maybe mid 50's..says Suzuki inside it so im guessing it is pretty old but good article...great for beginners