Gotta Start Somewhere
It happens every day. Someone sees a cool video on YouTube, hears a song on the radio, listens to someone talk about the many feats that can be performed on the guitar, or just plain grew up around someone that played. Then inspiration strikes and next thing you know some hot shot wants to start playing the guitar him/herself. And furthermore anyone that’s played for more than a day has been asked about the initiation into guitar playing from a would be rock star.
Having been asked a number of times myself it was high time I compiled my perspectives on the subject for others to benefit from. While these may not be one-size-fits-all views, but they will be a good starting place.
Be it your own foray into the world of the guitar or if you’re buying the first for someone else there are a number of things to consider from price to style.
First things first. Money. It’s going to come up sooner or later, so we may as well hit it first. It’s good to set a practical budget. New guitarists don’t need top of the line gear or even a lot of gear. The muscles in their hands just aren’t developed to appreciate the feel of a good guitar yet, so don’t be afraid to set the budget a bit on the lower side.
Plus these days attention span may as well be put on the endangered species list. I hate to say it, but some people just don’t stick with the instrument be it because it’s a passing phase or, dare I say, because they just don’t like playing the instrument. This doesn’t mean assume the worst, but just consider all possibilities before you dish out money. The difference can come down to the clumsy piece of wood and strings that hardened your muscles for next to nothing or the most expensive paper weight that just collects dust.
Personally I’d recommend somewhere around the $100-$300 territory give or take. Everyone’s budget is different, but these days the industry has become well refined to offer something accessible to nearly anyone. Even a guitar purchased at Wal-Mart or Best Buy can work. Anyone that loves the sound of a good melody or the feel of strings giving his or her fingers callouses won’t be held back.
Another alternative is buying used guitars. Since Scott Collins covered that topic I’ll let his article do the talking.
Acoustic or Electric
This one is pretty simple. Most people I’ve talked to already had an idea of which they wanted to start on. That all comes down to the style you want. The only heads up anyone really needs here is a list of minimum requirements. For an acoustic or a classical guitar all you need is a guitar, some strings, and a pick if you’re not going to finger pick. Picks are inexpensive and if you negotiate some places will even throw in a pack of strings with the guitar, so don’t be afraid to test your luck there.
Electrics are the more complicated instruments. Unless you’re fine with just practicing on an unplugged guitar until you’ve got the extra cash (which is actually not that bad of an idea) you’ll need an amp and cables at the least to accompany the instrument. For amps and cables the same principle applies. Don’t clear out your bank account. Some guitars come packaged with an amp for around the price I’d suggested and those can make for decent starting points themselves.
Look and Feel
Looks tend to matter to younger people it seems to me. Which is fine. Newer guitarists most likely aren’t going to have a miracle in their hands and even if they do they won’t know what to do with it, so I say what’s the harm in putting aesthetics a bit higher on the list in this case?
Having said that appearance probably shouldn’t overshadow feel and sound. The best cure for this is to swing by a guitar shop or two and play around on a few different instruments within your budget and consider how they feel in your hand. Each guitar from each brand has a style of its own so you’ll want one that feels like it belongs in your hand. Unfortunately there is no guide for this. You just have to get out there and put your hands all over a few guitars. On top of that this is a constantly growing experience. As the muscles in your hands develop guitars that felt uncomfortable at first might suddenly feel remarkable and vice versa.
Where to shop. There’s a good question. There are two different angles to take here. In store and online.
With a store you can go in, talk to people about guitars, and try a few out. As I’d mentioned above this is the way you begin your conquest to find what sounds and feels right to you.
With online retailers you can find a much wider selection than a lot of shops tend to have (depending on your location) and often for very competitive prices. The downside is that with the wide selection of guitars available you sacrifice the chance to feel what you get before you pay, though I think retailers tend to have solid return policies for such an occasion.
Finally multiple opinions. As far as opinions go mine says that perspective is the key to true knowledge and if you’re searching for a good starting guitar it can never hurt to seek out the opinions of others. This article is just a compilation of my views. Other guitarists, employees at guitar shops, and even other guitar web sites can offer different perspectives on this topic that might very well shape the end result differently than just walking into a store and hoping for the best.
It all comes down to what helps you get what you’re looking for. With that happy hunting.