UG editorial team. A group of people who are passionate about guitar and music in general.
Posted on May 17, 2016 09:22 am
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:
It looks sparkly
You've got money to burn
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.