first guitar

Too afraid to buy your first guitar?

Choosing the right first guitar when you are a beginner guitar player is almost impossible. There are so many different guitars. Just go to a music shop and you will see walls full of instruments. Which one would be good for you? The fact that you cannot really play on the guitar does not help.

Imagine this scenario: you walk into a music shop, there is a suspicious looking carbon copy of Eddie Van Halen behind the counter, and this guy looks so cool. In the far left corner, there is a 10 year old kid shredding like Slash, and the sales assistant comes up to you with a cool look on his face – “what’s up bro? ….. “ And your response – “errrr…. I am looking to buy a guitar, an acoustic one ….”

When you go to a good music shop, ( a good example is Anderton’s in Guildford UK), the sales assistant will take you to a private room, or at least somewhere where it is quiet, will bring you a bunch of guitars and explain the differences between them. Usually it is not that easy. Some of the folks in guitar shops refuse to even look at you! Not to mention give you any help.

So let’s build some basic knowledge that will help you choose the right first guitar for you. Guitars come in different sizes, colours, etc. The first thing you need to decide on is whether you want to buy an acoustic guitar (this one has metal strings) or a classical guitar (sometimes called Spanish, with nylon strings).  The acoustic guitar is the way to go, at least in the long run. Let me explain the differences. Of course, this is my personal opinion.

The classical guitar has for a long time been suggested as a beginner guitar; it seems to be a little bit easier to play on it. The Spanish guitar has nylon strings which are quite soft and do not hurt fingers as much as metal ones (on the acoustic). But, the neck is very wide, (the neck is where you play the chords- the long timber stick attached to the guitar with those metal frets on it), and it does not sound particularly good. Like most of my students, you will probably sell this guitar within one year (if you last for that long!)

Now the acoustic guitar is a little bit different. It has metal strings and they hurt! But only for a few weeks, after that initial pain time frame, your chords and everything you play on it will start to sound better and better. The neck also is a little bit narrower – now here is interesting point to consider.

A wider neck may feel like a good choice for the beginner (this is why music shops usually recommend them). The spaces between the strings are bigger and you will be less likely to mute adjustment strings while you play the chords. But here is the down side – you have to stretch your hand much more for certain chords. On the other hand, a narrower neck on the acoustic guitar will make playing the chords a little bit easier, but you are more likely to mute adjacent strings.

In my personal opinion, practising on an narrower neck (acoustic guitar) will make you progress faster because it will make you more aware of where you place your fingers and it will help the transition from acoustic to electric guitar. The rest of this article will focus on the acoustic guitar.

The body of the guitar is responsible for creating / amplifying the sound. The bigger it is, the louder and more bassy it will sound. Smaller bodied guitars are quieter, but the sound can be more balanced. The size of the body will determine how comfortable it will feel. You need to remember that you will wrap your strumming hand around the guitar, so if it is too big, it will feel awkward.

I like medium sized guitars because they are a little bit smaller, feel better and more importantly, are easier to carry around. You do not want to feel like you are walking with a double bass (a double bass is the huge upright instrument with four strings that you may see in jazz bands).

We are back in our music shop, now look around you, can you recognise the differences between the guitars?

Choose a few guitars that you like and start to test them.  Does it feel right when you play the guitar?  Do you feel comfortable holding it? One very important point is to pay attention to how far the strings are from the fretboard. If the strings are too
far away, it will make playing the chords very difficult.  It can be adjusted in some guitars, but honestly a guitar straight off the shelf should play well.  Do not be ashamed to swap between the guitars, you are the boss; you are bringing your money to the shop, so you have the right to test different options.  The sales assistant is here for you and not to look cool and wait for the end of his or her shift.  Trust your instinct.  Does the guitar feel right, do you like the colour, does it sound good?  You will spend a lot of time together with your instrument, you do not want to hang out with something ugly – you’ve got the point.

Some guitars have a built -in preamp and tuner system. We called these guitars “acoustic-electric”. The easy way to think about it is that it is more acoustic than electric, this is why it is not called an “electric-acoustic”.

It is a very handy feature, if you can get one with a build in system, then go for it. Later, you will be able to amplify the guitar and force the world to listen to your music – do you remember the beginning of the old Michael Jackson clip? – The young boy destroying the wall with an electric guitar.

Hopefully you will understand a little bit more now.


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