5 Tips for Buying Your First Guitar

Buying Your First GuitarSo, you’ve decided you want to learn how to play guitar, but how do you go about choosing or buying your first guitar? You may have noticed already if you’ve been in any music store that there are hundreds of options before you. However, it’s not as overwhelming as it might seem.

1.) Consider Your Learning Goals

Before you drop some dough on a guitar, you need to think through what types of music you want to be able to play or the style of music you want to play. Somebody who wants to play jazz guitar isn’t going to get the same guitar as someone who wants to play metal. And somebody who wants to play folk music is going to stay far away from the guitars a metal guy/girl is going to look at (well, generally, anyways!).

Who are your favorite artists? Who do you want to sound like?

If you can start to answer these questions, it really starts eliminating the type of guitar you might consider buying.

2.) Budget, budget, budget

Another really good way to eliminate your options is to consider how much you are willing to spend. In other words, what’s your budget? You can buy a guitar for as much as $100 or $10,000!

While determining your budget, you do want to keep in mind that you generally “get what you pay for” when it comes to guitars. In other words, a $100 guitar is going to sound, feel, and play a lot differently than a $1000 guitar or even a $500 guitar.

If you go too cheap (under $200) you run the risk of getting guitar that isn’t built well. How do you know this you ask? One good indicator is how well the guitar stays in tune. Another is how the frets feel as you move up and down the neck. Do the frets jump out and rub really sharply on your fingers? Cheaper guitars also might not have the best electronics (that is if you’re looking at an electric or acoustic-electric guitar).

However, at the end of the day, don’t let a small budget stop you from learning how to play guitar. Simply, set your budget and stick to it, or consider saving up some more.

3.) Consider buying used (or borrow)

If you’re on a tight budget, check out Craigslist or eBay for used guitars. However, before doing this, go into a store and play some guitars (or if you can’t play yet, bring someone who does know how to play to help you) to see what might be a good fit for you. Once you have some options, start doing some hunting on Craigslist or eBay. You would be surprised at some the deals you can find!

Another viable option is to find somebody you know who plays guitar and who might let you borrow their guitar. This way if you try to learn and decide it’s not really for you then you haven’t lost on a huge investment, but then again…

4.) Consider buying a guitar an INVESTMENT

I think one of the fears is that you’ll spend a bunch of money towards learning guitar and then end up not enjoying it as much as you thought you would. However, even if you end up completely hating playing the guitar (which is not very likely), if you’ve made a good investment, you can usually resell it and get a significant amount of your money back.

My family actually owns some nicer, higher-end acoustic guitars that have increased in value the past ten years. If I sold them, I’d actually be making money off of them!

5.) Choosing a Guitar: Electric vs. Acoustic

Fender Standard TelecasterOkay, so you’ve considered your goals, budget, buying used, and your investment. Now, how do you choose a guitar? What’s the best bang-for-the-buck?

You might recall from our Frequently Asked Questions by Beginning Guitarists we looked at some considerations on learning on electric guitar or acoustic guitar. I mentioned that a lot of your decision to learn on electric or acoustic (or in this case, buy an electric or acoustic) will depend on your learning goals or the types of music you want to be able to play.

TakamineSo, if you’re wanting to rock out and crank up the distortion, then you’ll obviously want to buy an electric. If you want to be able to strum along to your favorite songs on the radio, then you probably want to buy an acoustic.

One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that learning on acoustic guitar can be cheaper because you only have to worry about buying the guitar and tuner and don’t have to worry about buying an amp, cables, effects, power supplies, etc. Here are some advantages listed out between electric and acoustic:

Electric Guitar Advantages
  • Because strings are generally a lighter gauge (thinner), they are easier on any soreness you might experience in your fingers when you first learn guitar
  • Diverse sounds: because a lot of your guitar tone is shaped by your amp or pedals, you’re not locked into one type of sound like you would be with an acoustic guitar
  • Volume: with a multi-effects unit and some headphones, you can play as loud as you want without disturbing your neighbors
Acoustic Guitar Advantages
  • Potentially cheaper to learn on because you don’t have to worry about a lot of extra equipment.
  • Extremely PORTABLE
  • Stylistically versatile: for example, you can still play “rock” songs, even though it won’t sound exactly the same, while also having the option to fingerpick the blues or a classical guitar piece

As you can see, a lot of these advantages (or disadvantages) will ultimately depend on your learning goals and type of music you want to be able to play.

Now, let’s look at some potential options.

Acoustic Guitar Options
Electric Guitar Options
Pop/Country/Blues
Rock/Metal
Jazz

As you’ll notice, some of the electric guitar recommendations go across different musical styles and genres. I can say I’ve played about half of these recommendations or have owned some of these at some point in time. The other half I recommended based on good things I’ve heard from other people and positive reviews.

Conclusion

Again, you have a lot of options before you when it comes to buying your first guitar. However, if you consider your learning goals, budget, buying used, and investments you have a really good starting point for choosing your first axe. If you have any friends who play guitar, talk to them too. They might have some good recommendations based on their experience.

Got a question about a potential guitar your looking at? Post a comment so our readers can take a look and get you their thoughts!

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.