So, you want to shred. Welcome to the family! Here, we learn the benefits of a life lived with a guitar awaiting you in the bedroom after a long day at work. We make new friends as we learn to experiment playing music with others. Marvel at all the choices in our local music store, perplexed by all the possibilities. So many colors, shapes, sizes…price tags, pickups, acoustics, electrics, oh my!
Don’t fret. This article is designed to familiarize you with some aspects of the guitar that you should be aware of when looking to buy your first guitar. And, to better help you, please take a moment to view our interactive table which contains some of the guitars we will discuss in today’s article.
What Type Should I Buy?
This is a question I cannot answer for you. If you are a beginner guitar player looking to buy, chances are you’ve heard a guitar before, right? Okay, that’s a good start.
There are essentially 5 types of guitars available for purchase:
Acoustic Guitar – An acoustic guitar is a hollow-bodied guitar, immediately recognized by it’s hole in the center. An acoustic guitar is able to be heard by anyone nearby without the use of an amplifier, excellent for singer/songwriter musicians. It lacks the ability to add effects and is a little more difficult to play than others due to its relatively larger string and neck size. Buy if you want a purely acoustic sound. This is also the cheapest option, for you will not have to buy anything else to get started playing, lest a guitar pick if you so choose.
Acoustic Electric Guitar – An acoustic electric guitar is an acoustic guitar with the added benefit of some type of hookup for an amplifier. This would be beneficial for a player who regularly plays out, or plays with a group of people and doesn’t want the added headache of using a microphone. Keep in mind that a non-electric acoustic can always be made into an electric, but will cost a bit more to do so. Acoustics with electrics included will cost a bit more as well, and you cannot take advantage of it’s electric capabilities without access to an acoustic guitar amplifier. Otherwise, it is for all intent and purposes the same as an acoustic guitar.
Electric Guitar – The electric guitar is the most versatile instrument in existence, except for the synthesizer. With outboard effects pedals and processing, you can emulate nearly any sound you wish. As a listener of music, you know when you want an electric guitar, and probably have some players in mind you particularly like. Keep in mind that there are excellent and affordable choices on the market for electric guitars, but you will also need to purchase an amplifier and guitar cord to fully enjoy it. This makes the electric guitar the most expensive option for the beginner guitar player.
Bass Guitar – Available in all three variations as the aforementioned options, the bass guitar is the heartbeat of any band. The bass makes up much of the lower frequencies of any radio-ready recording you’ve heard. Bass guitars traditionally have 4 strings (as opposed to 6 on a guitar), but there are dozens if not hundreds of variations of the bass. I will not be reviewing bass guitars in this article, but it is important to recognize it as a specialized guitar with a very important task in music.
Classical Guitar – Classical guitars are normally used in – you guessed it – classical music. There are incredible players who challenge this notion, however. You hear it used in flamenco, jazz, traditional and classic music alike. I will discuss the classical guitar in a separate article.
The main distinction you will want to make is between the acoustic and electric guitars. You should have a basic idea of which way you will want to swing; it is important that the two are distinct from each other in their application.
Does a Lot of Money Need to Be Spent?
No. Does the best, most expensive handmade knife-set produce the best food? Do more expensive puppies love you more?
I do not want you to fall for the notion that success in music relies on expensive instruments. If you are starting out as a guitar player, you will be thrilled with options in the lower price ranges.
The answer to this question lies in the space between your ears – and only there. I cannot think of a more absurd or objective question to ask in any art form. “Does this sound good?” “Is this a good guitar?” “It’s too cheap to sound this good!”
You are in an excellent position as a new guitar player. You have a chance to learn a new hobby/passion for a relatively low price while still investing in a quality instrument. The same cannot be said for those who want to begin learning a more expensive instrument, such as any member of the woodwind/brass family.
What Should I Look For as a Beginner?
I know, buying a first (or even second) guitar can be a daunting task. The best thing to do is to go with your gut. Your gut should make that decision based on a few things though:
Sound – Even the most novice beginner can decide this one. I do recommend, however, that when you go guitar shopping that you bring someone with a little experience. Not for their opinion, though; to help you gauge how good the guitar sounds. Your ear will pickup on the differences after a few different runs. Have your friend play each guitar and decide for yourself how it sounds as you stand a few feet away.
Looks – Don’t feel shallow! You want your guitar to look incredible, right? Don’t bring a shoddy date to prom, you want to show up with best in show. This is the easiest to decide, but it is important!
Feel – This is all about body shape. As a 6’1” slim kid, I prefer the size of a larger bodied acoustic, but stay away from Dreadnaught acoustics – the typical monster-sized acoustic. You will find that guitars come in literally thousands of different shapes and sizes. I recommend holding/playing a bunch of different ones to gauge what size in general works for you.
Playability – Again, don’t hesitate to bring a friend. But you need to decide this one for yourself as well. Does the instrument fret easily? Or do you have to work really hard to press down on those frets?
Overall Value – Are you going to want to play this guitar, even through all of the unavoidable frustrations of learning a new instrument? If you can answer this question with a resounding “yes” and can eat and pay rent next month, you’ve got a great value.
Here is a modest selection of instruments I find are suitable for beginners, or really anybody with price in mind. But remember, don’t take my word for it. Go shopping at your local music store and play, play, play!
Fender CD-60 – $200
I have reviewed the CD-60 in past articles before. Truly, this guitar is outrageously cheap and easy to play. I recommend this guitar for someone who isn’t entirely sure what musical style they want to play in as of yet. This axe features a solid spruce top. I have recommended this guitar to new students for years because it is incredibly easy to play. The fretting hand won’t have a chance to grow tired, and newer players won’t become discouraged. The player can choose the dreadnaught size, which is much larger than the auditorium model. I recommend newer players try both sizes to feel how their body contours to the instrument.
At $200 and a limited warranty, go ahead and take this one home as a great beginner acoustic guitar.
Squire Strat – $200
Squire guitars are an excellent choice for anybody who like the look of a Fender. Squire is owned by Fender, and many models are simply remakes of their bigger brother. The Squire strat features all of the appointments of Fender’s flagship electric guitar, just using a different combination of wood and electronics.
I think this is another excellent choice for a new player who wants to own a guitar capable of playing in many different styles. The Stratocaster has made itself known in blues, rock, jazz, metal – you name it! I would even recommend this to a player who wants an electric almost as bad as an acoustic; you’d be surprised how much a strat in the right situation can emulate some acoustical properties. Overall, this is an excellent choice for a new player.
Epiphone Dot – $430
The Epiphone Dot is a monster of a guitar. This is an excellent choice if you find it to be comfortable to play, but not everybody will. Perhaps some larger framed/taller folks will, and this is why I included it in our list.
The Epiphone Dot is a semi-hollowbody electric that features twin hum bucking pickups. This means that you won’t have to worry about unwanted noise and feedback as much as you would if it featured, say, P90 pickups like the Epiphone Casino hollowbody. I have played, tested and owned various Dots over the past several years and always find them to be setup just perfectly. Furthermore, the tune-o-matic proprietary bridge on the Dot is very easy to adjust depending on what you are comfortable with; just ask a tech to show you the ropes when trying to adjust the height of the strings to your liking.
As far as sound is concerned, this guitar is suitable for many different genres of music. Concerning looks, I find the Dot to be absolutely beautiful to behold. It’s available in a variety of different colors and finishes. If your local store doesn’t carry the particular style you are looking for, just ask them to ship your favorite in. They should be happy to oblige.
Fender Standard Strat – $600
The Standard Strat is perfect for anyone who wants a strat and prefers the sound and feel of it over the Squire Strat. Available in many different colors, you’ll be sure to find one that suits you perfectly. In addition, you can find one with either a maple or rosewood fingerboard. This is a nice variation that can compare or contrast with the rest of the body depending on your style.
If you find one, I recommend you try the SSH version. SSH stands for “single coil, single coil, humbucker.” This is a pickup mixture that I find takes the strat to a whole new level of tonal variation. The 5-switch hardware allows the player to seamlessly switch between 5 different combinations of pickup activation, which further increases the amount of tonal possibilities in this guitar. I recommend trying it out for yourself; see how you like the sound of each position on both dirty and clean channels with your amp of choice!
Epiphone Les Paul Standard – $420
Featuring two Alnico humbucker pickups, the Epiphone’s take on the Gibson Les Paul is sure to please those of you who daydream of playing like one of dozens who favor the LP. Every Epiphone Les Paul that I played at my local music shop plays true to legend. However, you will find that LPs are quite heavy. If this is not a turnoff, you will find LPs to be an extremely ergonomic guitar to wield.
Whether you are interested in playing country, blues, rock or jazz, you will be happy with this guitar. The neck is a little bit narrower than that of a strat, so I highly recommend playing both to see which you prefer. Tonally, the LP has a little less “bite” than a Strat. If you are into playing blues, I’d personally go for the Strat.
Seagull S6 Original CH – $400
In my eyes, if you want the best acoustic guitar in a beginner’s price range, this is the way to go. Seagull Guitars make some of the best acoustic guitars I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. This Canadian company manufactures their instruments out of 100% ethically sourced materials. This could be why they sound so darn good!
Furthermore, I think this model in particular is very well suited for a beginner in terms of its playability. It’s so easy to play that you’ll want to keep playing it through all of the trial and tribulations of being new to guitar. That, in my opinion, is the most important factor to look for when buying a guitar as a newer player; why would you want to go back to it if it were a pain to play? The sound itself is magical. If you choose to go acoustic over electric, I highly recommend you check this out along with some other Gulls.
The only Con: Every headstock Seagull manufactures looks like a pinhead. You may find the overall look of a Seagull guitar to be slightly off when compared to the exotic “fancy” woods used in may other brands. But let me assure you, don’t be put off by the materials used in any instrument. It’s all about the end result, and this guitar is an absolute killer instrument.
As a beginner guitar player, you have a long but exciting road ahead of you. After you’ve chosen your first guitar, get to work. I always tell students its important to get right through the basics of chords and finger style pieces to really understand how the guitar works. After getting comfortable, learn a song you love and really dig into it. After you’ve mastered your first piece, its time to keep playing, practicing, and increasing the size of your repertoire.
I’m excited for your musical journey, anonymous reader, and you should be too. Playing guitar has been one of my life’s greatest enjoyments. I sincerely hope it will become that for you as well. Cheers!
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