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How To Buy A Guitar

Things to consider when buying a guitar

So, you want to learn to play guitar? Or maybe you already know how to play and are ready to buy a new one, but would like a little guidance. Well, I'm here to help.

Here are a few things to consider when buying a guitar:

  • Playability
  • Sound 
  • Cost 
  • Features 
  • Appearance 
Lets examine each of these in more detail:
  1. Playability - Without this all other things really don't matter. A guitar that isn't very playable won't be played, right? You can be flexible on the other points, but this one is simply too important to skimp on.

    By playability, we're talking about ease of playing (known as action), feel of the neck and body, and the ability to play any note up and down the neck with clarity. A good guitar dealer will set these things up before the instrument is even offered for sale.

    But keep in mind that every person is different, so there may have to be a few adjustments to suit your particular style, but the overall playability of the guitar should always be there.
  2. Sound - This is really what it's all about! The sound is a close second to playability for the guitarist who's been playing for awhile, but even beginners should be concerned with sound. Does this instrument have good sustain and evenness in the full tonal range?

    Even when unplugged, an electric guitar should have these qualities. Bear in mind that certain aspects of the sound can be changed with strings, pickups, etc. but you shouldn't purchase a guitar with a less than desirable sound expecting to drastically improve it by making modifications.
  3. Cost - This is the great equalizer. Of course, everybody has a budget, but try to remain open to all possibilities. The cost of the guitar will determine many factors, and in some cases you're better off saving your money to get the qualities that are important to you.

    The money you can spend will certainly limit what you can expect, but there is no reason to compromise on playability. A lower budget amount ($175-$350) will still get you a fine instrument, typically one made overseas and suitable for the beginner. Any less than that and you won't get an instrument that you can learn on.

    Medium price ranges ($350-$700) will get you some nice guitars with better construction and hardware, and these instruments would be suitable for performing.

    The upper price range ($700 and up) will allow for fine, professional instruments with superior hardware, finishes and overall high-quality construction. The differences can sometimes seem minor to untrained eyes, but the quality of the instrument is in the details. These are general guidelines since there are far too many variables to be more specific.
  4. Features - What is it that you want in a guitar? Locking tremolo equipped guitars will typically cost more than non-locking ones. Solid wood acoustics will sound better and cost more than laminated. Active electronics will add to the price but aren't suitable for everybody.

    This is the point where you make your shopping list. Not all companies offer all features, and some features are more practical than others. For instance, a curly maple top will look great and cost substantially more but add no real sound benefits.

    Simply put, what are the "must-haves" and what is negotiable? Does your next acoustic guitar have to have a pickup/preamp for performing or is that something you won't use very much. Make out a list if you feel you need to.
  5. Appearance - A great looking guitar will make you want to play it. If all other aspects are there and you have the choice between two models, one in that cool day-glo orange you love with matching case or that plain white, lumpy shaped one, which should you choose?

    Once the other criteria are met, why not have something you enjoy looking at, showing off, and being proud of? Go on, you deserve it!
There are some other aspects to buying a guitar that have more to do with where and how you buy rather than what you buy.

To paraphrase Hartley Peavey, CEO of Peavey Electronics, "in our over 35 years experience, we have yet to encounter any magic. Not one manufacturer uses special wood that is grown only by leprechauns on the east side of Mt. Whatchawhosit and harvested during the 3rd week of the wood stretching festival".

There are so many good guitar manufacturers out there using high quality components that no single company holds a monopoly on good sound. In fact, most companies offer such similarly built instruments to one another that the same type of sounds or features can be had across several different makers. You'll do well to keep an open mind to alternatives.

Second, deal with someone you can build a relationship with. If someone gives you a hard time or won't answer your questions, don't buy from that person. If they don't know what they're talking about or won't stand behind what they sell, don't buy from them.

Even over the Internet, you still deserve special treatment. It may just be another guitar to the sales person, but it's your guitar! Don't put price above service or you will pay in the long run.

Thirdly, keep in mind that with price often comes service. What I mean is, the dealer who offers you a rock bottom price may not be giving you something else - service.

Anyone can place a shipping label on a box, but not everyone can setup a guitar, tell you about the smaller details, and personally stand behind the instrument. That is service.

Even when buying a guitar over the internet or through mail order, you still should expect certain treatment. It's not uncommon for people to pay a local music shop to set up their guitar once they receive it from a mail order company. This is money you're not saving!

Service is not simply fixing something when it goes wrong. Does that mean you have to pay a lot more to get good service? Not at all! Most businesses that have been around for a long time stay competitive but still strive to take care of their customers. Aren't you worth being taken care of?

About the author:

R.A. Campbell is the owner of Campbell's Music Service of York, PA.

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