There are thousands of options to choose from for your first instrument, and it can be hard to know how to pick the right one. If you know the typical mistakes to avoid when buying your first acoustic guitar, you can shop with confidence and be better able to choose a guitar that you will love to play.
Wrong Size, Wrong Style
First, you want to make sure you’re buying the right kind of guitar. True story: my first instrument was a shiny red Yamaha BB300 bass that I had confused for an electric guitar. I don’t want you to be as disappointed as I was when I found out I wasn’t going to be playing lead in a rock band on that thing.
When buying your first acoustic guitar, keep in mind these common mistakes:
Confusing a classical guitar for a steel-string- Many beginners don’t know the vast differences in sound and playability between the two. Listen to examples of each before you choose.
Buying too small- I know some folks who held a dreadnought one time without being taught proper playing posture before deciding it was too much guitar for them and buying a mini acoustic, or worse yet, giving up guitar altogether. Most people can handle a dreadnought if they learn the right way to sit with a guitar.
Buying too big- Conversely, if you do have a small frame or small hands that simply won’t wield a full-size guitar, don’t make the mistake of buying a dreadnought you’ll never be able to play comfortably.
Buying it Broken
All guitars, no matter the price range, should be checked for defects before committing to a purchase. Manufacturers offer warranties and return policies to cover guitars ordered online, but if you’re buying in person, make sure to check the guitar for common build problems. In addition to obvious cracks, chips, or scratches, be sure to go over this checklist:
Neck- Look down the guitar vertically from head to bridge to ensure the neck is straight and free from bends or twisting. A truss rod adjustment can often correct minor arches, but if the neck is badly misshapen, pass on the guitar.
Fretboard- Ensure the fretboard is free of dents, cracks, or excessive wear. Gently run your finger down both sides of the fretboard from nut to sound hole, checking that the edges of the frets don’t protrude.
Tuning machines- Give each machine a full rotation in both directions, looking for a smooth turn with no lag between the twist of the knob and the movement of the roller.
Intonation- Checking the intonation requires you to play a natural harmonic on the 12th fret of each string while comparing the between the pitches of the harmonic and the string when fretted at the 12th fret. They should be the same pitch, or so close to the same that it’s a struggle to tell them apart, in order for the guitar to pass the intonation check. If you can’t play a natural harmonic, watch a video before you go to the shop or ask the salesperson to demonstrate this technique for you.
Action- Lastly, check the action, or ask the salesperson to show you that it’s in good shape. Bad action is easily fixed, so just make sure you get it looked at before you leave the shop with your new guitar.
Diving in Without Dedication
Before you go spend a lot of money on an acoustic-electric combo pack plus an amplifier and a small library’s worth of instructional books, check in with yourself to make sure playing guitar is a hobby you really want to take on. It’s not the most expensive past-time, but it will require you to spend hours of your time practicing, with the occasional purchase of a pack of strings, and optional accessories galore should you wish to indulge.
Even the least expensive guitars aren’t exactly cheap, and beginner guitars have a huge price range, from nearly worthless $100 junkers to semi-professional acoustic electrics.
Before you buy a guitar, learn what it’s going to take to actually learn guitar. It’s not rocket science, but it does take dedication to be worth the money it will cost to get started.
Looking Out of Your League
This goes both ways: you can buy a guitar that is of such poor quality as to be unplayable, or you can buy a guitar that’s much better than you need to get started.
Make sure your guitar passes the playability checklist described above, and don’t settle for anything less. If your guitar sounds too bad, you can get discouraged in your practice and give up before you even take off.
On the other hand, there’s no need to bankrupt yourself to buy a Taylor or a Martin as your first guitar. Guitar production has never been as low-cost and efficient as it is today, and there are hundreds of high-quality models for beginner guitarists to choose from. Don’t be swayed by the allure of big names when you can get a guitar, oftentimes with superior tone and playability, for a fraction of the price from entry-level competitors.
Overall, buy within your means, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, and make sure your purchase choice will be able to meet your musical needs. With the right amount of research and forethought, you can guarantee that you won’t make any of the typical mistakes to avoid when buying your first acoustic guitar. The best place to start your research is www.beginnerguitar.pro – a blog about guitar lessons and gear tutorials for enthusiastic beginner musicians!