Buying Your First Guitar

This is a topic that comes up very quickly for everyone who thinks of learning to play the guitar, and even for some who never intend to learn at all. There is something magical about the idea of owning your own guitar, and many people are willing to work very hard to raise the money to invest in their first guitar.

Still, whatever your motivation for buying one, there are many things that you need to consider before committing to a purchase, including what type you would like, the size and finish, where to buy it, and what you will need to pay.


image from here

Here’s a nice article that I read recently that gives some great advice on what to look out for, and what to think about before you buy your first guitar:

Every year thousands of people get guitars with the hopes of learning to play. But truthfully, not all guitars are suitable to learn on. If you are serious about learning to play yourself or if you’re buying the guitar for someone else to learn on, the following information is what you must know to properly select a guitar.


The most important aspect of any guitar is that it must have a good playable action. What this means is, the strings must be close to the fretboard to make them easy to press. When the strings are too high the person attempting to learn to play usually quits in frustration. They find it too hard. The saddest part is they think that it is something wrong with them. As a sales consultant at a music store I’ve heard so many adults say, “Yeah, I tried to learn when I was a kid, but I just couldn’t do it.” I then put my right hand fingers under the strings at the sound hole and lift the strings away from the fretboard. I’d say to them, “I’d bet the strings were up like this.” They almost always say, “Yes!” I am emphasizing the playability of the guitar so strongly because strings that are too high is the #1 reason why a person quits.

A Simple Test for String Height

The quickest and easiest way to check for the proper string height is to stack two quarters (25¢) and place them under the 1st string (the thinnest string) at the 12th fret (two dots). Ideally the distance should be the equivalent spacing of 1½ quarters. Two quarters that just fit without lifting up the strings is the maximum acceptable height. Anything above this is too high.


The next thing that is crucial is getting the guitar in tune and it playing in tune. A clear indicator of cheap tuners is seeing the tuning gear exposed. Better quality tuners are die-cast which are completely encased. Also, if the strings are too high at the nut (near the guitar tuners), the guitar will sound out of tune even when it is played properly. This is common when the guitar is very inexpensive.

Should You Buy Acoustic or Electric?

When it comes to purchasing a guitar, you have two immediate choices; whether to buy an acoustic guitar or an electric. They may look somewhat different, but the finger positions for chording, picking and strumming are identical. If you can play an acoustic then you can play an electric and vice versa. It is identical in the way that if you can drive a car you can drive a van. The differences are in the body of the guitar.

An acoustic guitar has a hollow body and doesn’t need an amplifier. The topboard if it is laminated (plywood) must have each layer made of solid strips of wood. The “toy store” variety has particle board for the middle layer. This does not provide the proper support for the strings so in no time the strings will become too high and the guitar will become unplayable.

Electric guitars normally have a body that should be solid wood. Electric guitars are designed to be used with an amplifier.

There are people who will tell you that it is better to learn on an acoustic guitar first. This is simply not true. You can begin on either one. If a person wants an electric, buy an electric. If they prefer an acoustic, buy an acoustic. If a person “loves” their guitar they will practice more.

Guitar Sizes and Finishes

When you select a guitar there are a few different sizes to choose from. A three-quarter size acoustic has a smaller body so it is ideal for younger people ages 8 – 12. The folk or parlor size is an adult guitar that is marginally smaller than a full size and is well suited for young teenagers and preferred by many women. The full size dreadnought is comfortable for anyone who is an adult or young people who are adult size.

At the entry level stage of beginning to play the guitar, the woods and finish of the guitar are the least important providing they meet the previous criteria. Of course, I wouldn’t buy a guitar that I didn’t like the sound or the look of but that determination only comes after the playability and tune-ability have been assessed.

Where to Buy a Guitar

If you truly want to learn to play the guitar, your best bet is to buy from a music store. They are staffed with musicians who are qualified to help you select a good beginners instrument. They know what you’ll need to get started.

If you are buying a used guitar from a second-hand store, pawn shop or privately, it would be to your benefit to take a guitar-playing friend with you to access the guitar. If your friend has even a couple of years of playing experience, they will know if the guitar has a playable action, if the guitar tuning heads seem to be working fine and if the guitars “nut” and “bridge” are OK. Their experience will tell them if the guitar is generally OK.

How Much Should You Pay

You would be wise to purchase a guitar from a company who makes guitars that are used by professional musicians. These companies know what a beginner needs for an instrument in order to succeed.

For a good quality beginner guitar the retail price is generally between $175.00 and $375.00. In that price range you’ll get a playable guitar action as well as all of the other necessary components. Naturally the closer to $375.00 the better the guitar will sound. Guitars above the $375.00 range are entering the intermediate level and are not necessary at this point. As well, you can get complete electric guitar packages (guitar, amp and accessories) within this price range.

For buying used, the rule of thumb is to pay around half of the guitar’s new retail purchase price. This includes everything. The guitar, the case, the strap and the tuner etc.

Buy the best instrument your budget can afford. Select the kind of instrument the person learning wants to play and get some good instruction.

Buy a Guitar Tuner

It is important that your guitar is in tune. Tuning is a process that is learned. Nobody automatically knows how to tune a guitar. Fortunately, there is a small battery operated device called a “guitar tuner” which by picking a string and watching the meter you’ll get your guitar in tune easily and quickly. They are relatively inexpensive, starting at around $20.00. Remember that even professional musicians sound lousy out of tune. Using a tuner and always being in tune helps to train your ear and you will sound better.

Article Source:

Hopefully this article will help you on your mission to get your very own first guitar, and make it easier to avoid some of the common mistakes that many people make when buying their first guitar.