Buying a guitar for a beginner
The key to buying a guitar for a beginner is to get one that the player enjoys and is excited about. If the player does not enjoy playing their guitar then it will be more difficult to continue. They will get frustrated easier and give up easier. Getting a guitar that the player will not be frustrated with will help naturally encourage or allow the player to be the best they can be.
A guitar that doesn't get played is worthless at any price.
Whether you are buying a beginner guitar for yourself or a parent buying a guitar for your beginner child it is not worth spending any money on a guitar that the player won't enjoy.
Acoustic or Electric?
Let the player decide since if they don't enjoy the guitar it will be less likely that they will play. For rock music an electric would be most appropriate.
An electric will typically be better for a beginner because it is easier to play (meaning that the strings are easier to push down and pluck), so feelings of success will come much sooner and frustration will be less likely. These things are important for a beginner.
If the player is excited about an acoustic guitar and feels they can overcome the more significant learning curve(compared to an electric) then they will find in the future that playing an electric guitar will come much easier. On the other hand the more signifcant learning curve on the acoustic may be enough to frustrate the player and cause them to lose interest.
Where to buy the guitar
In this day and age guitars are sold by many vendors. The place you choose to acquire the guitar can be as important as any other choice you make. Acquire (but don't steal) a guitar from these places:
(1) A trusted friend or relative - often a friend or relative who had a beginner guitar but has since upgraded still has that beginner guitar. If they recommend that guitar and will sell it for a good price then this is ideal. Simply take this guitar to a local music store and have it professionally 'set up'.
(2) A local guitar or music store that seems to have plenty of satisfied customers. If you can find a deal on a guitar you are comfortable with from a store like this, go for it. If they tell you that they do 'set up' on their guitars before they leave the store then this is a good buying scenario. Lookup 'musical instrument retail' in the phone book to find one of these stores. Even a used instrument from a local store is a good idea.
More experience with buying guitars is required to buy in any other scenarios.
(3) Online guitar superstores or mail-order guitars. The major difference between these and a local store is that the player cannot hold the guitar in their hands before they buy it. Just like some tall people cannot comfortably drive a 1990 Honda Civic, some people's hands are bigger than others. Luckily the necks of guitars come in all shapes and sizes. An uncomfortable guitar is less likely to get played so contact a local music store and try to find a similar guitar to try before you buy. If you must buy without ever seeing the guitar, first verify that the business has a liberal and long (preferably 45-day) return policy then cross your fingers and order. If the return policy works well then if the guitar didn't fit you could send it back for the cost of shipping.
(4) Pawn shops or eBay are not a good idea for buying a beginners first guitar. There are a myriad of problems that can arise from these situations and, while good deals can still be found, unless you really know what you are doing, it's not a good idea for a beginner guitar.
What else will you need?
Once you've chosen the guitar there are accessories the dealer will want to sell you. You will probably need:
(1) Guitar strap to enable the player to play standing up (~$10USD)
(2) Some picks (5 standard (the standard size is .46 mm but it doesn't really matter)) (~$1;a local store will throw in some for free) -- though picks are not necessary for fingerpicking
(3) A guitar stand to set the guitar on when its not being played, or a guitar hanger to hang the guitar on the wall (each $10-$30USD)
(4) A tuner of some kind - preferably an electronic one with a built-in microphone and guitar cable plug. (~$20USD)
(5) Several extra sets of strings (~$15USD) These are not strictly required at the time of purchase but will be necessary soon after since a beginner should probably change them about every 2 months (probably more often but that doesn't really matter as long as the player is comfortable)
(6) A case or a gig bag - These are protection for the guitar. The case ($50-100USD) is a hardshell case suitable for airline transportation and is an excellent protection(if you get a case a gig bag is not required). A Gig Bag ($20-$50USD) is typically a thick padded(1-2" of padding) zipper bag in the shape of the guitar which provides good protection and is necessary to avoid large scrapes and dings, but a gig bag is not suitable for airline transportation. If you are fine with the scrapes and dings, and/or you do not plan on transporting the guitar often, gig bag might not be necessary.
That adds up to quite a bit of money for accessories.
- You won't need guitar polish.
- You won't need a humidifier unless your guitar is acoustic and quite valuable (and a valuable guitar is probably not best for a beginner anyway)
- You won't need a string winder (these can be useful but can be purchased at any time)
Virtually all guitar dealers (like mattress or car dealers), mark up the price of their products but their prices are negotiable (consider saying "I've been thinking about this item what's your best price?"). Most of these accessories (including a gig bag) can be thrown in for free. The hardshell case is usually an exception. Don't forget to calculate the sales tax on top of all that.
For a beginner in a practice setting, an electric guitar does not explicitly require an amplifier. Electrics can be heard audibly, if not very loudly, without an amplifier, but the player will not be able to get anything like the sound he wants to achieve, as any electric guitar sounds on music CD's is very different than simply the acoustic sound of the strings. It might be fruitful to buy an electric guitar with no amplifier and then consider the amplifier a reward for achieving some learning milestone or for playing regularly until the holidays. Buying an electric guitar with no amplifier can be a way to get a player a good guitar of the type they want without spending too much at first. A mediocre substitute for an amplifier can be playing the guitar trough a computer's sound card, and there is some decent guitar effect software available.
All guitars require some maintenance over time since wood changes with pressures and humidity.
Yes, this probably adds up to a large sum. However, there's a saving grace. Whenever you buy a guitar from a guitar shop, you can usually get some of your accessories for free with minimal or no haggling. Just tell a salesperson that you want to buy a guitar, and he will probably start suggesting things he can throw in for free, and if not, you can suggest some accessories yourself.
Buying a new guitar for someone who already plays
A guitar is an excellent instrument for almost anyone. A difficult guitar is not a good choice for a beginner. It takes dedication to learn and if the guitar is not difficult for the player then it is easier to learn.
Buying situations to avoid
- The player may not be comfortable with getting their hand around the neck of the guitar.
- A guitar that is difficult for the player to play is often a poor choice for that person, and is almost always a poor choice for a beginner.
Here are some "don'ts". These may seem to provide a guitar at a very low price which may seem like a good deal, but they will possibly provide you with a difficult, damaged, or poor sounding guitar which is a bad deal at any price.
- Don't buy from a pawn shop (possible undetectable damage)
- Don't buy from any department store (difficult to play, damage easily, don't last, poor sound)
- Don't buy from eBay - There are too many ways to get scammed out of a lot of money
Examine your local options by looking up "musical instruments" in the phone book and finding out which ones have guitars(electric or acoustic or both). It is recommended to get the player to feel and play many guitars before buying. There are so many varieties that it's hard to know what's desired even after playing many different guitars. Also remember (and this will be obvious after visiting several shops) every single guitar is different so even if the guitar is exactly the same make and model and color, it may play completely different than the next. The way the shop or the manufacturer sets up the guitar is related to this but is not the whole picture, and in some cases one guitar will be great and another seemingly identical guitar will be a dud.
(Courtesy of Wikibooks)
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