BUYING YOUR FIRST GUITAR

 

Buying Your First Guitar
Congratulations!! If you are reading this you have probably decided to begin learning the most beautiful and rewarding of all instruments. These brief guidelines come to you with the compliments of your guitar tuition specialist to help you sort through some of the probable questions you may have regarding the purchase of a new instrument.

Where to start?
Most guitar teachers deal with one or two music stores with whom they have developed some trust or business relationship.
These stores will be offering advice on your purchase, so you need to have confidence in them.
As with any purchase, if you feel unsure about the advice you have been given, seek another opinion.

 

Guitar Types

(1) Acoustics


The Classic Guitar:

(a) Has nylon strings 
(This means that three strings are plain nylon like fishing line while the other three are a silver compound that is wound on a nylon thread.)
These strings are generally soft on the left hand fingers. This makes these instruments ideal for beginners.

(b) Wider neck than a steel string 
A wide neck can cause problems for someone with small hands because of the reach required to play some passages of music and particular chord fingerings. The wide neck may be an advantage for players with chubby fingers as they have more space between each string. Your music dealer should be able to advise you of the best choice for your hand size.

(c) Soft, mellow tone
The classic guitar has a particularly warm and sweet sound and is great for classical, Spanish and fingerstyle playing. The sound is not particularly suited to strumming styles, however the ease of playing more than makes up for this in the early stages.
Steel strings should never be used on a classic guitar as it is designed for the lower tension produced when strung with nylon strings.

The Steel String Guitar:


(a) Has steel strings 

(This means that two strings are plain steel and the other four are metal wrapped around a steel core.) 
The steel strings give the guitar a bright, brilliant tone but 'cut in' to the fingers. This makes playing a little painful in the early stages until calluses are developed on the fingertips.

(b) Narrower neck
The narrower neck on most steel string guitars makes it easier and generally more comfortable to play. A player with large, stout fingers may find difficulty producing a clear tone. 

(c) Great Rhythm guitar sound
The steel string guitar has a full, ringing tone quality that is not possible with a nylon string guitar. This makes a steel string a good choice for modern pop, or rock music where the guitar is usually strummed.

(2) Electrics

The Solidbody Electric:


(a) Has steel strings
Although the electric guitar has steel strings, it is usually easier on the fingers than a steel string acoustic. This is because the strings are thinner (a lighter gauge) than those required to vibrate the top of an acoustic guitar.

(b) Narrow neck
See above.

(c) Bright, versatile sounds
The solidbody guitar is the most popular of all electric guitar sounds because of it's ability to be used in so many styles. It is an excellent choice for rock, blues and most modern styles.

The Hollowbody Electric:


(a) Has steel strings

(b) Larger body
Generally the hollowbody, (or semi-acoustic) guitar has a larger body than a solidbody instrument. Many people find this to be both cumbersome and uncomfortable, but is one reason why this guitar has such a beautiful warm, jazzy sound. (They also look really cool!!). Some companies are making smaller bodies to accommodate players looking for the jazz tone without the large body shape.

(c) Warm, rich tone
The warm, rich tone of the hollowbody make it the most used style of guitar in jazz.

Where to next?
The acoustic guitar requires no further equipment once your initial purchase is made. You should aim to get the best deal you can that includes:
carry bag (essential)
strap (optional)
picks (optional)
extra set of strings (optional)
capo (optional)
pitch pipes for tuning (optional)
electronic tuner (optional)

Many music shops will include some picks and a set of strings with your purchase. Be sure to ask for them though, as this is not automatic.
The electric guitar requires an amplifier. This is a considerable extra cost on top of the guitar. A first amplifier need only be a 'practice' amp. These are small and relatively inexpensive although you will need to take the cost into account when deciding how much you want to spend. 
Note that 'small' does not necessarily mean quiet!!

My advice is to not spend a lot of money on your first guitar purchase. Resale is not that good. (If you find out you're not going to be the next Eric Clapton!!) While it may make a nice conversation piece to tell people how much you spent on your new guitar, it won't make learning the instrument that much easier.

Up the Steps

Most guitarists move up in steps from the beginners model, through a middle price range up to the more expensive models.
For example: 
When I began playing in the late 1970's, I bought a $15 classical guitar (second-hand from a friend). It was pretty hideous, but it was a guitar and I thought it was great.
After about a year of playing, I traded my old one in (for $10) and bought a new steel string for $65. 
In another 6 months I was ready to trade up to an electric and spent a whopping $110 on that one!! ($50 trade on the old one).
This process cost very little and my initial outlay was small.
At the time of this writing, I advise my students to jump in steps of $400- $500 except for their first instrument. 
1st Guitar $100-$150 (usually nylon string classic guitar)
2nd Guitar $500-$650
3rd Guitar $1000-$1500
4th Guitar $??!!
Some students require different motivations than others and a new guitar, (or even the promise of one), can work wonders in encouraging the student to work harder. I have seen many students who lag behind a little with their playing and, (if it is appropriate), I will suggest a new instrument to the parent. This often brings about a whole new dedication to practice and performance.  
Other players are self-motivated and will not need this type of encouragement for some time, however, when they receive a new instrument they work even harder as the sound and feel of the instrument is better.

 

New or Second-hand?

I only advise a beginner to buy a second-hand instrument from a music store recommended by their teacher unless you know someone who can help you choose via Gumtree or Ebay. A pawnbroker or general second-hand store can not offer the same follow-up service and specialized knowledge on every product they sell.
Most music stores are willing to back up their sales with a reasonable warranty on second-hand instruments.
New instruments, (if they are well looked after), give better resale or trade-in value.

Coda:
I generally recommend a nylon string classic guitar for beginners. Ease of playing is an important factor for beginners and it can be painful until those calluses develop. 
You could expect to pay around $150 for a reasonable quality beginners guitar with a carry bag, picks and spare set of strings.

I don't usually recommend that a student begin on electric guitar.
There are two reasons for this opinion:

Cost. You can expect to pay around $600 for an electric guitar, amplifier and hard case.
Tone. Many guitarists who start on electric guitar have trouble producing a good strong tone. They may also struggle to play any other kind of guitar well.

The desire for an electric guitar is normal (especially in boys 12-16 years of age!!), and may help provide motivation when the 'going gets tough'.
Your teacher may also know of someone who wants to sell their instrument privately.

I hope you have found this information useful.
Please feel free to email me with any feedback, questions or ideas.