Sunday, August 21, 2011

No BS Buying Advice For New Rock Guitarists

Things the store won't tell you:

Do not buy a guitar with your eyes. You have to buy a guitar with your hands and your ears. Hands and ears are the things that matter for playing music. The guitar will need to feel good in your hands and will have to sound good to your ear. You can do all that with your eyes closed.

So what goes away when you close your eyes? Looks and brand are the two biggest things. I'm not saying that those things should not matter at all, just that they are way overrated in the scheme of things. The body and headstock shape will have more effect on how you play from the way they feel than they will from how they look. Pointy guitars may look mean, but they also can be really uncomfortable to play. Particular brands may be known for quality but every guitar is a little different in material and feel and how the parts go together. If every guitar is different, then every guitar could be great or could suck. You won't know until you pick it up and play it.

When you are playing it, pay attention to how it sounds and feels, but even more than this make sure that you get a tuner and tune the guitar as well as you can and then play notes all over the neck and see how well those notes stay in tune. Check especially to see how close the tuning at the 12th fret is to the tuning on the open string. If they are off you need to find out if the place you are buying the guitar does free setup with every purchase and if they will set it up before you buy it. If the guitar goes out of tune as you move around the neck then there is either a problem with the setup or there was a mistake made when the neck or bridge were put on. Any of these things can be a problem. Buy the guitar within your budget that plays best. You will care less about the looks over time and fall in love with how it plays.

More of your sound comes from your fingers and your amp than comes from the pickups. You want decent pickups, but a guitar with adequate pickups will still sound good if you have a decent amp or, better yet, a good computer setup that gives you a wide number of virtual amps and effects to play with while you learn and figure out what sounds inspire you. You can worry about the perfect pickups once you have figured out what sort of player you are and get a second guitar that fits your personal style.

Non-electronic hardware is easy to replace, but it is also way more important than most salespeople will let on. Try to figure out how well the tuning keys stay in tune and look for guitars with better quality parts. Prioritize these over style. Staying in tune and sounding good is much cooler than looking good and sounding like crap.

Truth be told, the most important thing you can learn with your first guitar is how to make friends with the strings and fretboard. This is everything for a player. If you are comfortable playing and can make sounds that inspire you without cringing at how out of tune your guitar is you can really learn a lot with that first guitar and once you outgrow it you will know what things matter most to you as a player.

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