Ultimate Buyers Guide. Part 1: Your First Guitar

Choosing and buying a first guitar is impossibly difficult. There are literally hundreds of them out there and among them there are the the damaged, the expensive and the downright crappy guitars that you have to wade through to find the one that you love. Luckily, we are here to help!

Ultimate Guitar
Hello, and welcome to UG's definitive buyers guide! Here at UG we believe that everyone has a perfect partner, and more-often-than not it's a guitar! In this series of guides, myself and other members of the UG columns team will help you to find your perfect guitar and try to save you some money as well. Over the next few weeks there will be specific articles on the best guitars, amps and stuff for beginners. Later, we hope to move on to more advanced gear creating what will become an undeniably quite fantastic guide to wasting money. Enjoy!

Part One: Your First Guitar

Choosing and buying a first guitar is impossibly difficult. There are literally hundreds of them out there and among them there are the the damaged, the expensive and the downright crappy guitars that you have to wade through to find the one that you love. Luckily, I'm here to help! Most people don't even know what kind of guitar they're looking for, easpecially when you're looking for your first guitar. Jazz players need big hollow-bodied guitars. If you play metal, you'll be wanting humbuckers (more on this later). So look at your heros' guitar, ask the shop assistant and try to find a guitar which shares some of the character traits of the music you want to play. Don't go into this too much, as no two guitars are the same which is one of the main reasons for not buying a guitar you've never seen. You can take two strats and one will play like a dream and the next of the production line could easily be a dud. Now that you've cut out guitars which are of no use to anyone, it's time to find your new best friend.
  • Finding Your First Guitar This is the really tricky bit, and before you even start you will need to know your budget, at least 150 for a first guitar, more if possible. You will also need to know what kind of music you play, as this will help you decide what kind of guitar to buy. For more advice on this, see the salesperson which brings me to the next point. Where are you shopping, make sure that the staff are friendly, and not pushy. Tell them about your situation and they will be more than happy to help. Also, check prices of some common brands in a few different places to see where the expensive shops are. That done, you're ready to shop.
  • The Next Step If possible, take a friend who plays guitar, and go to the guitar shops you have deemed worthy of your business. Attract a member of staff and let them know you are going to be playing some guitars. Choose something that takes your fancy, knowing that it's in your price range and suitable, and check it over. Firstly, check it's not completely useless by playing each fret and checking for fret buzz. Then give it a good hard strum and listen for anything moving around (this is most noticeable with the volume turned down. Now look it over, any dents, cracks or bumps? Look down the guitar as if looking down the barrel of a gun to check for neck warping. If this is all fine, then strum yourself some chords to see how it sounds. In the case of an acoustic, fingerpick a few notes to see if you get a very trebly sound and if the guitar is nice and loud. With an electric, check each pick-up works and that the tone and volume controls work fine. Don't worry about sounding crap, people understand if you haven't learnt to play yet, it's why you're buying a guitar! Everyone went through a point when they couldn't even play Smoke on the Water, and some people still can't! Now this is where you friend/shop-assitant comes in. Get someone to let rip with a complicated solo, some harmonics and other fancy stuff that you can't do yet to get a real feel for the tone of the instrument. Once you've done all this, feel free to look at the price! In the case of shop-assistants, if they're not friendly, and if they push you to buy a particular guitar, get out of thier shop. Also, haggle like there's no tommorrow! If you're spending 250+, then try to get a strap or lead free by saying something along the lines of "That seems a bit much...". Rather than decrease the price, they will often chuck in a free lead or tuner. I ended up with a strap, lead, tuition book and capo for about 20!
  • And once you've done that! Well you'll need an amp and leads plus other accessories, and to tell you more about those there's a whole bunch of articles on choosing the right gear coming up, so why not bide your time and watch out for more great advice on buying guitars and amps from the UG columns team. Hope to see you soon, - Geldof the Grey (aka Steve - steevo_baby@hotmail.com)
  • 64 comments sorted by best / new / date

      the fendernator
      just get a 2nd hand gitar with an amp. my 1st song was 12 bar blues and then buck rogers. those were the days...
      The First Song i learned was the bass line to "Smells like Teen Spirit" Nirvana
      umm... I think a lot of us here already have our first guitar. 1st guitar: ibanez. 1st song: Hit the floor (Linkin Park) nice and simple.
      damn i cant even remember what the first song i learnt was. something random. probably some exercise. meh i guess that doesnt count.
      Geldof the Grey
      nasty santa: I think you mised the point. This is a SET of articles. If you give us a few months, we will get to advanced level gear.
      Tom Martin
      hehe, my first song was 'what do we do with a drunken sailor' hell yea! rock on! first guitar = ever so trusty squier strat
      my 1st song was Buck Rogers By Feeder, 1 of the easiest songs ever
      that's true most of the time, bubonic... but the other half of the time it's like this: Teacher: so what kind of music are you into? Student: you know, that really hard stuff, like sum 41, and the intro to "what's my age again." Teacher: ....riiiight....
      good article but you assumed people want to start with an electric. you need to look at things like the gluing on the inside on an acoustic. ill never regret starting on an acoustic so that is another thing to consider.
      Geldof the Grey
      ^dedicated acoustic column coming soon, the guide has fallen flat on it's arse at the moment, but it'll be back soon
      man good article, First guitar: Fender Strat, Just like Hendrix and my main man Clapton play, my heros in music. and my first song was a tie between Layla and Iron Man, both of which i memorized so i wouldnt look like a retard when i went into a guitar store to play on the sample guitars.
      You did a great article. I've been on this site for a few weeks now and I still don't own a guitar (though I tend to borrow my friend's every now and then). What's the best acoustic guitar for a beginner who wants to be a jack of all trades? My first tab =Pink Flyod's Breathe (haven't mastered though)
      far out good article man my first guitar was a Samick Strat..yes i know they suck balls..but not mine..mine is unique..its completely black..body and shell...but neway good article
      I think its a good article.... Ive been playin like a year and Im lookin to buy my first acoustic.... Some people cant play smoke on the water? ... man thats odd... Bye
      The first thing i leared to play was californication by the chillis- then smoke on the water lol. This is a good article, I was gonna take a bassist to get my first electric. Probably not a good idea.
      Ive had the same squier strat for about 9 months. I think its about time for a new guitar and i will keep these guidelines in mind. Gread article.
      Punk Rocker
      my first song was twinkle twinkle little star like 20 minits after i got my first guitar. my first real song was either smoke on the water or wake me up when september ends, cant remember. o yea good article i sent it to a friend and i hope she likes it.
      Friggin Jerk is right. Some Teachers are real " Lets Play some fun BB King!!!!! " ( Not that I got anything against BB King )
      hehe. I have a buddy whose gonna be buying his first axe in the next few months, so I think I'll point him towards this article.
      and I cant wait for the advanced ones. Like to hear what you guys have to say about amps and effects.
      booyah. good stuff Geldof. keep 'em coming, and try for two a week if they are ready to go. i'm pleased that there weren't any brand names mentioned, or anything like that. and it's definitely a good idea to bring a pal who plays, or ask the staff for help. good to see that the Columns Forum is turning out great articles.
      At least 150 for a first guitar? Why?? I've been playing a 120 strat for two years and it hasn't done me any harm. Other than that good advice.
      Geldof the Grey
      thanks everyone. It's great to get recognition for something I'm good at, rather than people beating me up for it... although frigginjerk keeps staring at me funny... beginners amps are next, guys, and then guitars. there'll be 4 beginners articles, so the first intermidiate article will be up around mid-february if all goes to plan. If you are interested in writing any of the articles for intermidiate level amps/guitars or effects, then PM me with your suggestion and an outline of what you would like to do.
      Tom Martin
      how many people will be looking at a guitar tab website before theyve bought a guitar?
      Very nice geldolf, i ended up getting a strap, tuner and an amp for 30 more dollars after i haggled the guy. This was 2 years ago but still, saying something about the price being high at a good guitar store can score you some extra cool gear.
      Geldof the Grey
      Tom Martin: Well many people are directed here by others. I have directed 2 people here, but they want me to be their "guitar playing friend". Abe: Well then you're lucky, I paid 160 but it was a pretty sweet copy of a strat.
      chaz man
      I looked up tab before I had my own guitar, but then again I was useing my uncle's acustic till I bought my own guitar.
      Good article, bringing a friend really helps. Your advice on checking the guitar was very helpful.
      this is why this site is ultimately great because you have people like Geldof to give some insite into the music world. thanks
      Geldof the Grey
      Actually, I'm not writing the article on amps, dgonz is. My next article on this particular topic will be on Effects and Accessories. There's one for guitars coming very soon as well but these articles are all beginner associated.
      i traded in my first car for the first guitar that i bought (I had a guitar given to me).