Buying A Guitar – Learn what to look for in the perfect guitar!

There are so many options to choose from when buying a guitar – Let us help you narrow down your options!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 7 tips for buying a guitar
  • What kind of strings you should start playing with
  • What a ‘setup’ is & why you need one!
  • What to look for on the second-hand guitar market

What Should You Look For When Buying A Guitar?

So you’ve decided to buy your first guitar!

Congratulations, and welcome to the wild and amazing world of music!

  • Buying your first guitar is a process that takes time and consideration if you want it to last you a long time – and you should!
  • Your first guitar is one that will (hopefully) stay with you forever, and help you learn and evolve as a musician.

If you’re buying a guitar for the first time, there are a variety of elements to consider if you want something that will last you more than just the opening phases of learning guitar.

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A lot of what we should be looking for when buying a guitar centers around feeling, but there are a number of things we can check for that we will elaborate on further down. Ask yourself:

  • How does this guitar feel? Is it too light? Too heavy?
  • Is the hardware well-kept? Is anything loose on the guitar? (Check knobs, bridge, tuning heads)
  • Are the frets sharp at all? (This is a red flag)
  • Do I like how it sounds?

Asking these questions will help us be critical of what we are buying, and that’s important at every stage of guitar playing.

Do your research and you’ll find yourself buying a guitar that will stay with you and help you learn for years to come!

Now, let’s get down to the fine details, starting with feeling.

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Buying A Guitar Is About Feeling

We know what you’re asking:

But I’ve never played guitar, how will I know what feels right?

Fair point! There are a number of things that we can consider right away without having to know anything about playing the guitar itself.

  • It’s been said by almost every guitarist ever that they were instantly attracted to something in their first guitar, but they could never tell what.
  • Every guitar is different; and even if you play three of the same model guitar, you will notice differences in all of them.

Buying a guitar that is right for you means that it will feel good in your hands, and feel easy to move your fret hand around on.

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Two things to look out for in your quest for buying a guitar are:

  • Weight: Grab a guitar strap and stand up with the guitar strapped to you.

Is it too heavy? Does your back hurt?

These are red flags that you should avoid in order to not incur any damage to your back. Most guitarists will be playing standing up at some point, and it’s important to make sure your back can handle it.

  • Smoothness: Run your fret hand across the strings on the fretboard. Pick a note and slide up or down across the string.

Does this feel good, or is it uncomfortable?

The right guitar makes it easy to move around on, and doesn’t feel at all uncomfortable. We want our first experience buying a guitar to be fun, not damaging!

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Buying A Guitar With Good Fretting

The topic of smoothness leads us perfectly into examining the fret work on your new favourite instrument.

Pro Tip: When we say ‘frets’ we are referring to the wire that separates one fret from another.

This is also called fret wire.

Buying a guitar with good fretting means that the fret wire does not extend past the fretboard edge, and has been shaved down for comfort.

Fret wire that has not been properly shaved on the ends can cut our fingers when sliding across the fretboard, and nobody wants that.

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If you’re buying a guitar second-hand, this is especially important to look out for.

  • Bad fretting leads to all sorts of discomfort, and is enough to stop us playing altogether.
  • Your frets are one of the most important elements of your guitar, so make sure they are clean and well-maintained!

Frets can wear down over time, so if you’re buying used you should ask the seller when he or she last had their frets dressed.

Writer’s Note: Many people selling their guitars online will have the frets newly dressed before selling, meaning you can get a guitar with brand new frets that may play better than the ones you find for brand-new in your local music shop!

I tend to buy many of my guitars off of the used market for this reason.

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Tips For Buying A Guitar I: Check The Hardware

This is something that is often overlooked and can result in a poor experience with your first electric guitar.

  • Good hardware means that our guitar will function better and easier, as well.
  • We want to be able to focus on learning how to play the instrument, not figuring out where that strange buzzing sound is coming from.

Guitars with poor hardware can cause a whole mess of malfunctions that diminish our first experience with the instrument.

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When buying a guitar, look out for the following:

  • Does anything feel loose on the guitar? Are things moving that don’t look like they should be moving?
  • Are the tuning heads secure? Do they wiggle at all?
  • Besides the string, is anything vibrating on the guitar? Do you hear any rattling?

Once again, this goes for both new and used instruments alike!

  • New guitars that have been sitting for long periods of time in guitar stores can accumulate dust if not properly looked after, and this dust can settle under the hardware.
  • Many guitar stores treat their showrooms for moisture and dust, so this isn’t a problem you should run into. However, it’s important to look out for it either way!

Also, always check for rust – everywhere!

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Tips For Buying A Guitar II: Get Yourself A Good Set Of Strings!

Strings are important!

  • Often, the strings that come with our guitar when we first buy it have been on there for a while.
  • These are well and good for a little while, but they may rust out on us easily or flop around quite a bit.
  • It’s important to get yourself a good set of strings when buying a guitar.

Pro Tip: We recommend that everyone begin playing on Light or Medium gauge strings, as they won’t fight your hands the way Heavy gauge strings will.

Ernie Ball Slinkys are long-lasting and reliable, and help us break our hands in easily.

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If you’re buying a guitar second-hand, you should definitely be picking up a new set of strings immediately following your purchase.

Ask the seller what gauge of string that have the guitar set-up for, so that your new strings won’t damage the neck at all.

Pro-Tip: Whether buying new or used, always find out what gauge of string is on the guitar.

Putting strings on our guitar that are heavier than what it is set up for can cause damage to the internal parts of the guitar, and even the neck itself.

For a tutorial on stringing your guitar, click here!

Speaking of guitar set-ups, that reminds us…

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Tips For Buying A Guitar III: Get A Good Set Up!

A guitar tech is a super-valuable contact to have, even if you’re just starting out learning to play.

  • Many guitar stores have an in-house guitar tech that can set your guitar up so that it’s easy to learn on.
  • This guitar tech can also put those new strings on for you so that you don’t have to worry about it!

Some will even show you the proper way to string a guitar!

Pro Tip: Do yourself a favour and ask your local guitar shop if they offer a free setup with the purchase of a guitar – Many will offer this as an incentive, and it’s well worth it!

Tips For Buying A Guitar IV: Learn The Different Types Of Electric Guitar

Not all guitars are made equal – In fact, many are made quite differently!

The three main styles of electric guitar to concern yourself with are the following:

  • Fender Stratocaster Style – 6 tuners on one side of the headstock, with a bridge that you can attach a whammy bar/tremolo arm to.
  • Fender Telecaster Style – Different body type than the model above, 6 tuners on one side of the headstock, with a stiff bridge with no whammy bar attachment.
  • Gibson Les Paul Style – 3 tuners on each side of the headstock with a ‘hard tail’ two-piece bridge design. Better note sustain, but no whammy bar.

These are the three most common styles of guitar than you will encounter in the starter electric guitar world.

A fourth option you may encounter early on is the Ibanez-style guitar design.

  • This design is similar to a Fender Stratocaster design, but Ibanez make many of their bridges with what we refer to as a “Floyd Rose” style bridge.
  • These guitar bridges can attach a whammy bar that moves both up and down instead of just down like the Fender style guitar.

These bridge styles are quite popular in the Rock and Heavy Metal world, but the trade-off is that they are much more difficult to maintain.

Pro Tip: We typically do not recommend that you start out with a Floyd-Rose style guitar, as it will require too much regular maintenance to keep it in tune.

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Tips For Buying A Guitar V: Try Before You Buy!

Not only is this the most fun part, it’s the most important part too!

Even if you don’t know a single lick of music on the guitar (yet), you should still play around with your options to see how they feel in your hands, as well as how they sound.

With zero knowledge of the guitar, your ear and hands will still gravitate toward what is most comfortable for you personally, and it’s important to pay attention to the small details when shopping around.

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Don’t just try your local guitar shop! Shop around!

You might find a local music store in the next town over that has a better and wider selection than the store that you’re used to, and that can lead to better options (and maybe even a better deal)!

Do your research online as well. Watch demos of the guitars you like on YouTube, and read what people have to say about them.

Many times, the online reviews for a specific model of guitar will tell you exactly what you need to know – Internet critics never hold back!

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Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

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Tips For Buying A Guitar VI: Look For The Right Sound

Even if you don’t know what you should be listening for, the right guitar will stand out to you.

Everyone is different, and we won’t know what we like in a guitar until we hear it for the first time.

This is one of those ‘you don’t know until you know’ scenarios, but it helps us to keep our ears open for what we like in the sound of a guitar.

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Writer’s Note: The first time I heard the sound of a Fender Stratocaster through a clean amp, I fell in love. The dynamic and almost ‘spanky’ sound of the strings is what pulled me in, and the way that I could just strum the open strings and enjoy the sound of it made me confident that it was the right guitar for me.

It’s always something small that pulls you in, so don’t be afraid to try as many guitars as it takes to find the right one for you!

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Tips For Buying A Guitar VII: Tuners Are Important

Our final tip on your hunt for the perfect instrument centers around the tuners on the headstock.

  • Tuners keep us in tune, and should not ever be overlooked.
  • If you’re in a guitar store, ask the clerk to tune the guitar for you (or tune it yourself if you know how) and begin to play around with it.
  • Does it stay well in tune, or are the notes slipping?

Pro Tip: If the tuning knobs are loose, or if they ‘slip’ and go loose when you tune the guitar, this is a sign of a guitar with poor tuning knobs.

Tuners should be tight and should grip our strings to keep them in tune – don’t overlook this!

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A Reliable Guitar Should Last You A Long Time

The right guitar should grow with us, and teach us many lessons along our guitar journey.

When buying a guitar, it’s important to do your research.

Try before you buy, talk to others online and watch YouTube videos to determine what the best ‘fit’ is for you! Don’t hesitate to rent an instrument to try before committing to a decision!

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Where Do I Go From Here?

Looking for more info on what to look for when buying a guitar?

Check out these videos from some of our favourite YouTubers!

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this free lesson on buying a guitar, you’ll love some of the other free content we have in store for you!

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