The Golden Rules of Buying Your Second Guitar

Because buying instrument number two isn't as simple as you'd think...

Ultimate Guitar
Everyone talks about buying first guitars. Perhaps the most daunting moment for a beginner guitarist, there's a sense that, if you get the first axe right, you're somehow innately attuned to savvy instrument purchasing for the rest of forever.

When I was writing my beginner guitar buyer's guide a few months back, I realized this simply was not the case. In fact, it's in many respects easier to fuck up buying a second guitar than it is a first. The problem is that we don't always understand why exactly we need a second instrument, and end up picking up something completely inappropriate for our purposes.

If you've bought axe number two and are already regretting it, don't feel bad. For the record, I fucked up royally buying my first, second, third and fourth guitars before settling on lucky number five (and then buying another piece of shit before striking gold with number seven, which I funded by selling all of the shitty ones - god, teenage me was a fucking idiot!).

Fortunately for you, I make these mistakes so you don't have to. And, through my past guitar-buying misadventures, I've been able to work out what exactly people should be looking for in a second instrument, and the pitfalls they most commonly encounter when buying one.

So without further ado, here are the four things you've got to remember to not fuck up buying guitar number two. Stick to these and you'll end up with a second instrument worthy of your first. Of course, that's assuming that your first guitar wasn't utter bollocks, but we'll come on to that...

Work Out What It's For

Before you buy your second guitar, ask yourself why you want it. This probably sounds like an obvious point, but I've seen so many guitarists pick up a second axe on impulse, only to regret it.

In my experience, there are four different reasons for buying instrument number two. If you're in the market, then work out which of these applies to you.

1. You want an upgrade

Perhaps you feel that you've reached the limits of what you can do with guitar number one. You did the classic newbie guitarist thing of picking up one of those $150 starter packs, but now you've started gigging and your made-in-China plywood Strat copy, replete with warped neck and microphonic pick-ups, isn't up to the rigors of playing live.

Even if you did the smart thing and avoided an all-in-one-box combo deal, you may be wanting something a little extra than you're getting from your first axe.

What you're looking for is an upgrade: a guitar that can take you to the next level.

2. You want a back-up

Guitar numero uno is still working out great for you; you maintain it was the best $500 you've ever spent. But, you're a gigging musician now and string breaks and hardware failure are weighing on your mind. Maybe you've written a sweet new song in DAGDAD, but don't want the hassle of retuning every time you play it live.

What you're looking for is a back-up instrument - a gig-ready guitar to alleviate the need for tuning and to step in if things go wrong with your weapon of choice.

3. You want a different sound

You're a country guy or gal at heart, and chickin'-pickin' on your Tele is one of life's great pleasures. But, last week, a friend lent you his copy of "Passion & Warfare" by Steve Vai and you were blown away. Two-handed tapping, whammy dips and swept arpeggios are your new guitar-learning goals, but Leo Fender's first great masterpiece just isn't cutting it for you.

What you're looking for is a different sound, a guitar to give you something that your primary axe doesn't.

4. You want a project

Gigging has never been that high on your agenda when it comes to guitar playing, and you can't see yourself ever needing a back-up axe. Guitar number one does pretty much everything you want it to. But you love fixing stuff, have been reading up on luthierie, and fancy the challenge of turning trash into treasure.

What you're looking for is a project. A diamond in the rough guitar to shine up, testing out your truss rod adjusting and pick-up soldering skills in the process.

If none of those reasons apply to you, and your current justification for buying a second instrument one of the following:
  1. It looks sparkly

  2. You've got money to burn

  3. Jimmy Page has one
...then walk away. You're on the path towards buyer's remorse.

Set Yourself a Budget

Once you know what sort of guitar you want, setting yourself a budget for your second instrument is vital. Going into a store with no expectations of how much money you're intending to drop will inevitably lead to over or under-spending on a given axe. Either way, you'll end up regretting your decision.

What should your budget be? Well, that depends on what you're going for. If you're looking for an upgrade, you'll probably want to spend more than you did on your first instrument. If you're looking for a back-up or a different sound, I'd imagine you'll be spending something similar to what you did on your first guitar. For a project, you'll likely spend less, though you'll also need to factor in the money for parts and materials.

As always, I'd recommend spending no less than $300 on any given instrument. Anything under that money and you're dicing with unplayability, along with the propensity for serious issues that can hamper your playing (again, this works slightly differently for a project guitar, but see above point about extra expenses). With that in mind, your budget it up to you. Just make sure you decide what that budget is, and stick to it.

Buy From Someone You Trust

As with your first, or indeed any guitar, you want to buy from a retailer that inspires confidence in you. If your premiere axe was the motherfucking nads and you got good service when buying it, then this one is a no-brainer - the store where you bought guitar numero uno is the place to start.

If your first instrument was a plywood piece of shit, sold to you by a sleazebag swill merchant, then don't go back to the same store. Start speaking to friends and checking out reviews to find out the best guitar stores in your area.

Online is always an option, but, as I said in my "buying your first guitar" article, I'd always prioritize going to a real life location. Actually being able to pick-up and play the guitars is a vital part of the experience, and building a good rapport with a trusted local guitar retailer pays off in dividends down the line.

Try Lots of Instruments

Even if you've got a fair idea of the sort of instrument you want, make sure you set aside ample time to try a variety of guitars. Buying a guitar is a big purchase and there's nothing wrong with taking your time and savoring the process. Again, this is where a good guitar shop comes in handy. Get them to set you up in a comfy chair with a nice amp (ideally, you'd bring in your own - after all, you want to know how your prospective second instrument sounds through your rig) and play away. Take as long as you need. Hours, an afternoon, the whole day. If it's a good guitar store, they won't mind. In fact, they'll understand the importance of the process.

Taking the time to put a variety of guitars through their paces will give you a much better idea of what you're looking for. When you do make your eventual purchase, you'll leave much more confident that your decision was the right one.

By Alec Plowman

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    "building a good rapport with a trusted local guitar retailer pays off in dividends down the line." Of all the things in the article, I feel this should be one of the main points. They've done things for me that GC employees would / could never do to keep me as a customer - better service than the chain stores.
    daisy.1149 · May 18, 2016 06:08 AM
    I couldn't agree with you more. I almost exclusively buy from a local guitar shop called Billy O's Dynamite Music in Griffith, In. He always has great used gear. I'll hang out just messing around with whatever catches my eye or ear. He always gives me really good deals and will set something aside until I have the dough because I've built a rapport with him. Can't beat a great local shop man
    1. "You want an upgrade" I started with an Epiphone Les Paul, upgraded with an actual Gibson - much better! 2. "You want a back-up" I started playing professionally and got a second Les Paul (a custom, this time) as a backup 3. "You want a different sound" Felt the need for some single coil tone and bought a cool Fender Strat 4. "You want a project" Got a Danelectro 12 String, because why the hell not, they're cool and quite inexpensive. 5.... Now I've got too many guitars, according to my wife -_-
    helenwilson52 · May 19, 2016 06:46 PM
    I can't emphasise the first point enough. I once spent 3 months looking for an octave pedal, trying out different ones at different stores, even trying the same one multiple times. When I noticed I kept going back to the same one I bought it.
    annaharris54 · May 17, 2016 07:12 PM
    angelinadean444 · May 17, 2016 07:38 PM
    jasminrenteria45 · May 17, 2016 10:31 PM
    The Tempest
    I think I've got quite lucky with my buys. Haven't got one that I deeply regret, only a minor point. 1: Cheap shitty strat copy. My OG guitar. Still have it, still play it. It's awesome. 2: ESP LTD MH-1000 NT. Knew exactly what I was looking for when I dropped the best part of a grand on this. Something that could shred, with a much rawer/metal tone than the strat could give me. Plus 24 frets over 21 on the strat. This is my main axe of choice (although it's getting a little dusty due to guitar number 5 which I purchased recently) 3: Freshman acoustic. Technically this was a birthday present from my parents, but I played it and chose it in the shop, and I've got nothing to complain about. Comes with a couple of flaws but it's a 200 quid beginner's acoustic rather than a top spec piece. Plays fine as long as it's maintained properly, used it live, still play it all the time when I just want to muck about. 4: Schecter Omen 7-string. Probably the guitar I've got the most regret over. Bought it when I joined a 'djent' band (sigh). Ordered online (second mistake). Actually for the money I paid it's a really solid guitar, but it simply doesn't get the use it deserves. Would recommend to someone serious about taking up extended range though. I got some definite usage out of it but since I discovered the AGCFAD tuning that Periphery (among others) use it tends to sit in the case a lot nowadays. 5: Ibanez Artcore, not sure of the exact model offhand. Bought very recently. Beautiful hollow body and surprisingly versatile, can hack a whole load of different styles. I tend to use this as my main axe at the moment although it'll probably drop again in favour of the LTD (currently used as my drop-tuning guitar). On the other hand I know a whole lot of people who HAVE fallen for the 'Jimmy Page has one' thought process, so it's definitely easily done. Top article!
    sallyallen456 · May 19, 2016 01:55 AM
    rebeccaswift98 · May 19, 2016 08:41 AM
    Invest in quality and you can't go wrong. There is a place for every guitar if it is not a piece of crap. First guitar was a sears catalog Sebring when I was 13. When I was 16 I got a job and saved up for a Les Paul. I still play that guitar today, 24 years later. After the LP, it was a PRS Custom years later because it feels 100% different than an LP but is also extremely high quality. Took me a while to get the cash for that one but it is 100x better than owning 3 knock offs. So go to Sam Ash or Guitar Center, play as many guitars as you can. Find the one for you regardless of price, then save save save. Don't get short sighted and cheap out just to get the thrill of the purchase. EDIT - and oh yeah, never ever buy online. I refuse to do that. Every guitar feels different, even 2 guitars of the identical model. Perfect example - years ago I was in a store and played a Fender JazzMaster. I had never wanted one or thought of one before but I was just fooling around and played one. It felt tremendous. Set up perfectly for me. All 3 switch positions had an awesome sound... I was loving it. Almost laid out the $450 that day but didn't and kind of regretted it after I left. Thought about buying one online but didnt. A few months later was in a different store and played another JazzMaster... it felt like a brick. I absolutely hated it. I was so glad I didn't go online based on that one experience. So play your guitar before purchasing!!
    jessicarogers58 · Jun 03, 2016 08:04 AM
    juliediaz524 · May 31, 2016 06:26 AM
    janetbutler52 · May 31, 2016 03:48 PM
    loriperry54 · Jun 01, 2016 04:55 AM
    jessicaperez421 · Jun 01, 2016 02:16 PM
    juliaperez4 · Jun 01, 2016 08:10 PM
    mariediaz545 · Jun 02, 2016 03:23 PM
    janebrooks452 · Jun 03, 2016 01:40 AM
    Ahem... Because Tony Iommi Custom SG... AND STILL THE BEST PURCHASE EVER!
    gloriawatson74 · May 28, 2016 04:07 PM
    lindaparker582 · May 29, 2016 06:38 AM
    jacquelynsaunders444 · May 29, 2016 06:36 PM
    willieburton44 · May 29, 2016 09:59 PM
    francesclark5412 · May 30, 2016 05:49 PM
    lorilarson45 · May 24, 2016 07:47 AM
    kristahoward45 · May 25, 2016 01:21 AM
    marlenesalazar999 · May 25, 2016 10:36 AM
    sandrarogers421 · May 26, 2016 08:05 AM
    saragreen522 · May 26, 2016 03:00 PM
    lillianmartin52 · May 26, 2016 11:06 PM
    denisehall421 · May 27, 2016 01:59 PM
    sharonbrooks42 · May 27, 2016 04:40 PM
    Not all starter guitars are crap, and not all expensive guitars are worth a damn.
    Ok Guitar Number 1 Kit-set guitar and for some strange reason its actually good, even the guy that sells retail guitars thinks its great. Guitar Number 2 that was a POS but baught it as a project (jammed truss rod appalling fret work crappy pick-ups shoddy neck pocket and heal of bolt on neck) swapped in some better pick-ups, made a bone nut fixed the truss rod and fixed up the neck angle a bit it was just a polished turd. Put the original pick-ups in swapped it for a real project (new owner it plays right for them) Guitar 3 the project replace the nut shim the neck fix the jammed pot and its a 1984 peace of mojo. Guitar no 4 the wife’s Start with a POS strat clone body that had been bastardised (neck pocket) use the pick-ups that where in guitar 2 Get a neck from somebody elces 3rd or 4th project, fix all alignment probs with neck pocket and neck, find a slightly crappy 6hole squire bridge and some crappy tuners, take out the locking nut and replace it with a fits Gibson graphteck nut put it all together and magic (I was ready to sell it if it was crap). Oh then there is the two acoustics with smashed headstock that i put back together, and the steel string that I did a fret job on. one word "HOPELESS" describes my GAS
    A little bit too late for me
    mariathompson54545 · May 20, 2016 11:00 AM
    lorigriffin4552 · May 20, 2016 02:41 PM
    alyssachristensen444 · May 20, 2016 04:21 PM
    joycegonzalez4 · May 20, 2016 06:22 PM
    sifiyaaliona45 · May 20, 2016 10:16 PM
    mianancys · May 21, 2016 10:37 AM
    cynthiaromero777 · May 21, 2016 12:54 PM
    jennanorman · May 21, 2016 05:58 PM