Picking the Right Guitar

A quick guide to buying the right guitar.

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Ultimate Guitar
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"My son wants to buy a guitar that's all pointy and covered in flames, should I buy it for him?"

The answer, of course, is a resounding "YES!"

But why? What if you're not sure about the quality of the guitar for example.

Well, buying a guitar is a lot like buying a car or a coat or a bag. If you don't like the way they look you're not going to use them. In some ways the functionality of the item comes second to the look of it.

You're always attracted to the way something looks before you buy it. Once you've decided that you like the way something looks you will then take it for a test drive or try it on.

Here's my top tips for buying the right guitar for you.

Do you like the way it looks?

As discussed above, this is quite important.

Try to play it if you can.

I always recommend that you try to play a guitar rather than buy it off the Internet, or at least try the guitar in a shop before you buy it on the Internet. All guitars are set up slightly differently but it will at least give you an idea of the general feel of the guitar.

Does it feel comfortable to hold?

What style do you like? Strats feel very different to Les Pauls or hollow body jazz guitars, or for that matter Flying V's (which are very hard to sit with). Pick a style that you're comfortable with and suits the style of music you want to play.

Is it fairly easy to push the string down onto the fret and make a note?

How far the string sits from the frets is called the "action." The higher the action the more difficult it is to play the guitar. If the action is too low the strings will buzz and possibly even generate wrong notes. You want something that isn't too hard to push down on but also doesn't buzz either.

Do all the controls work?

If you are buying a new guitar in a reputable guitar dealership the most likely will, but its always worth checking that the volume, tone controls and switches do what they are supposed to.

Recommendations on where to buy a guitar.

Not Ebay, only buy from Ebay if you know what it is you are buying. It is NOT a good place to buy your first guitar. Usually they are second hand guitars, you have no guarantee and you really don't know what you are going to get in the mail.

There is nothing wrong with buying a guitar on the Internet, but try to buy guitars from reputable guitar retailers such as Guitar Guitar, or GAK to name a couple. These will come with a money back guarantee if you are not satisfied and they have excellent customer support.

But the best idea is to just go and try a guitar in a shop, and buy the one you fall in love with!

So YES! Buy your son that pointy guitar with flames on it!

Happy Practicing!

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    theogonia777
    There are few things that I hate more than people that try to downplay the aesthetics of a guitar or any instrument. Having an instrument that you like looking at and being seen with is huge. You'll be more confident, more careful with it, more wanting to play it, etc.
    Ghiklnos
    As a pianist, I concur. I like one with purple and magenta keys, you can be sure as shit I'm gonna buy it.
    Pastafarian96
    As a future piano technician, I will give you dirt cheap tunings and reconditioning regularly if I can play it.
    KennyM79
    When I first decided to start learning guitar, I did all kinds of research about how to figure out what guitar is right for me. I kept seeing all kinds of different answers, and after getting bombarded with all kinds of different answers, I just decided to go my own route. I thought about who my favorite guitarists are, and then looked up what brands they used. In my case, I'm a massive Alice In Chains fan, so I looked up Jerry Cantrell. Cantrell uses Deans and G&Ls. I couldn't afford any G&Ls, but I saw some cool-looking Deans. The Dean ML-X was my first guitar. I bought it used from the Guitar Center. A buddy of mine kept reminding me that my first guitar is like my first car, meaning I'm going to beat it up a bit while learning, so I didn't want to invest too much money on something that's going to get abused along the way.
    carljohnfred
    "My son wants to buy a guitar that's all pointy and covered in flames, should I buy it for him?" I thought you said he wanted to buy it.
    kevinwo72
    Hogwash. When I first started I had to buy my own gear. I am not rich. Functionality is absolutely everything in a first guitar! We all know that if you have the worlds most beautiful, comfortable guitar if it does not stay in tune will you play it? NO!!!! First make sure you get a quality instrument that stays in tune. Looks are secondary. Important to the player but second when it comes to learning guitar and sticking with it.
    BlackDeath92
    "Flying V's (which are very hard to sit with)."Classical position people! I'm so tired of dumbasses saying that Vs are hard to play sitting down. It's not fucking complicated! End of rant. Ah...now I feel better.
    Explosiontaster
    Totally agree, I learned classical first and now I can't play sitting down without using classical position, it's so much more comfortable.
    thebrokentoy
    I found Flying V is more comfortable than other shapes of guitars as long as use classical position. Prop that V between your leg and you are good to go.
    MaaZeus
    I too wish this myth would die. Flying V are hard (even impossible) to sit if you are hellbent on playing in western posture but for classical posture its perfect, hell I would say its the most comfortable way to sit. Only a footstand may be required depending on what kind of V you have. For example Rhoads needs one, the small lower wing does not help to keep the guitar in good upwards angle so you have to use your leg.
    BlackDeath92
    I've never needed a footstool for my Rhoads. Then again, I sit in a chair that keeps my legs at a 90 degree angle relative to my waist. It forces the smaller wing to partly rest in the seat of the chair. It sounds odd, but it's actually quite comfy.
    MaaZeus
    Of course if you can keep it up otherwise then do so. You can always just elevate your leg with your foot too and its fine for shorter practice but on longer sessions prepare for a painful cramp.
    Xomar
    "Picking The Right Guitar" - haha, I get it. I think you also forgot to mention the price of the guitar. There's one thing I always tell people when they're starting on guitar: you can go buy a BMW for the name, or you can buy a KIA or Hyundai that are of a higher quality for less $ IF YOU'RE JUST STARTING OUT ON GUITAR - DONT PAY FOR THE BRAND NAME In reality, you should never just pay for the brand name but I realize a lot of us will never be able to get past the fact that it doesn't say "Gibson", "Fender", "Jackson", "Gretch", etc. on a guitar. Do your research online, buy from a smaller brand that's not trying to gouge their customers on prices because they have some ethereal brand name value, and GET A BETTER GUITAR FOR LESS MONEY. I own a REVV RPX-1, a REVV Maverick MV-X, and an Agile 3100M. Please look into either REVV or Agile before dropping $200 on some garbage starter kit from Squier or Epiphone.
    bit64
    Brand names can mean a lot to some people. Owning a Gibson or a Fender can be something special. "-Sorry man, but this Les Paul is really low-quality, you 've been ripped off. -I don't give a fuck, it says Gibson in the headstock." I totally agree that smaller names can be much better than the fancy brands, but it is not always about performance. It is sometimes about feeling. So I would say that "do not fear to buy a guitar just because it is not big-brand". However, I don't rule out the feel-factor. And, btw, there is not a Kia or a Hyundai better than any BMW.
    Xomar
    I take it you're not a car guy or either just really like your big brand names.
    bit64
    I just told you how some people feel about brand names, and not about myself. And as for the cars, give me one example. Just one. Kia and Hyundai make overpriced junk, sorry.
    Xomar
    Kia sells the K900 for $54k. It comes equipped with much more than a BMW 5series does at the same price. That's my argument. Most people would rather have the 5-series because they can't see past the brand name, and in the world of cars, I would consider the 5 as well. But in the world of guitars, to someone who is just learning, you shouldn't buy the base model of a big brand name when you could get something better at the same price. That's my argument. And yes, I worked in the auto industry for years at advertising agencies. The big brand name price v smaller brand quality is a widely recognized point in the auto world. xoxo
    bit64
    Equipped better? As a base price, yes. What about overall quality and handling (really important)? What about keeping the value over time? And 54k? For a Kia? It's a joke. But anyway, if you are living in the US, you might have different views and experience on the car industry. And about the guitars, I totally agree with you.
    Ottmeister
    The car is a tool for me. Point A to point B. Sounds like you consider it a part of your personality and thats also cool. I'm a fan of reason > emotion myself but what do I know right? Go get that BMW, Tiger. Also you are the only guy I have ever seen comparing KIA/Hyundai to a BMW and calling the former overpriced over the latter Classic.
    K33nbl4d3
    The price of a brand name is mostly imagined. Diminishing returns certainly applies - doubling a $1000 budget clearly won't have the effect doubling $500 will, but for the most part the big brands do a decent job for the price, though thankfully there's always healthy competition and options. Gibson's the exception, I'd say, because they've traditionally preferred time consuming, inefficient manufacturing processes, and over the years they've started to drop these (the fret nibs being an obvious example), marketing the cost-cutting exercise as a feature, and continuing to charge about the same in real terms. If you go on the forums and ask for advice buying a Gibson, you'll probably see a half dozen other brands mentioned that do more or less the same for cheaper and with more reliable QC (which has been a major issue for Gibson recently). The other brands you mentioned tend to have a couple of obvious competitors worth considering, but are generally agreed to do a solid job for the price in their respective niches. That having been said, if you're not willing to pay a good couple hundred on your first guitar, yes, your choices from the big brands tend to be pretty weak; that's simply a matter of getting what you pay for, though. Shopping around for different brands (and yes, Agile is stronger than the big brands in this price range, as is Yamaha for the very cheap stuff) is simply a matter of mitigating exactly how shit a guitar you end up with. The best advice for getting a decent first guitar is to save more than the bare minimum required to get a functioning guitar, find someone who knows their stuff, and shop secondhand. And never buy starter packs, because they're pretty universally utter shite, marketed as they are to people who don't play guitar.
    Fatewhip
    Good article, but what I would've done would go something like this Step one- Buy a PRS The end
    Jimjambanx
    *Step 0.5 - Get $5000 There fixed. Now don't get me wrong, I love PRS, but don't you think it's a bit stupid to assume that: a) Everyone wants a PRS, what if they want to play death metal? Or they don't like flashy guitars? Or they want a hollow body, or they want a thick beefy tone etc? No guitar is perfect b) Everyone is rich enough to afford a high end instrument as their first guitar. Even SE's aren't cheap enough for a first time buyer, not to mention you need an amp and whatnot, that alone would push it out of most first time buyers' budget.
    Fatewhip
    Take everything I say with a grain of salt, as I am rarely serious. I'm just a PRS fanboy.
    BledGhostWhite
    With you 100% buuuuttt.... Ryan Knight (Black Dahlia Murder) Paul Waggoner/Dusty Waring (BTBAM) Emil Werstler (Daath) Mikael Akerfeldt/Fredrik Akesson (Opeth) Paul Allender (Cradle Of Filth) And so on...
    Jimjambanx
    At what point did I say that you can't use PRS for metal? I just said that not everyone likes them and that no beginner has the budget for one.
    slapsymcdougal
    Depends on the beginner, doesn't it? And a used SE would likely be $500 or less, so very achievable for anyone whose main source of income isn't their parents.
    franciscanv
    Start them on an acoustic first, at least? It's more difficult to play and if it's a first guitar, playing Amazing Grace is more helpful to development of a beginner player than trying to learn Far Beyond The Sun..
    JG1992
    If they aren't interested in acoustic guitar, they will probably quit pretty quick if you only buy them an acoustic guitar. If they really want an electric guitar, I say you should buy it because they will be much more motivated to practice.
    Jimjambanx
    That's got to be the most 'old wives tale' of learning guitar. Either way you'll learn how to play, your hands will get used to fretting, and you'll learn helpful songs, so why waste time learning an instrument you have no interest in when either way you'll get to the same point? Most people quit an instrument early on, so what do you think is more important/what the player cares about the most? Playing something that's more helpful to development, or playing something they actually enjoy and will make them want to continue playing? Start on whatever you want.
    mondobong
    I remember shopping for my first electric guitar more than 40 years ago. I desperately wanted a Gibson Les Paul but simply couldn't afford it. So I bought a cheap copy. I still have that guitar which is now worthless. If only I had worked hard and saved I could have perhaps bought a Gibson which would now be an expensive relic. As for looks versus functionality. I had just spent two years playing a £7 acoustic with incredibly high action on which I could barre chords and play simple solos. Any guitar would have been a dream to play after that, even a poor quality Gibson. Just like today's kids with their branded clothes, brand mattered to me then. However, when I got my first "real" guitar, a Fender Strat, I was disappointed to find it didn't play as well as my old Les Paul copy. Different neck, different feel, different sound to what I was used to. Quickly sold it (at a loss). I discovered that brand didn't matter after all and that the key to buying a good guitar was to go into the shop and try as many as possible till you find "the one".
    tomrogue13
    Action can be adjusted. I just adjusted mine a few weeks ago and it's soooo much easier to play