What to look for when buying your first guitar

By Michael Korte

Buying a guitar can be a huge milestone on your journey of becoming a guitarist. So, it is normal, that you might be scared, about doing something wrong with your first guitar. Let me tell you here: That is totally unnecessary.

Not only because your first guitar will not stay your most important guitar, that is sad but (almost always) true. But also, because you cannot really go wrong if you buy a guitar that you truly like.

So, no reason to get stressed out about it.

There are models for every budget, but let me say one thing about so called “beginner guitars”:

The only real difference there really is, is the price. Most beginners are not sure, if they will stick with it, so they go for something cheaper. That’s it. Beginner guitars are not easier to play or easier to handle. Else, the pros would also buy “beginner guitars” only.

Your first guitar will be a first step into discovering what you like and what feels good to you. If you are already able to play something, test different guitars in a shop by taking a small selection of instruments that you like visually and experience yourself, which guitar feels best.

Deciding for a guitar comes down to a few critical points. What style of music do you want to play in the short or long term: What technical gadgets are needed? Do you need whammy bar or not? Do you need to have separated volume controls for each pickup? (Ask the personnel in the guitar shop about the difference)

Listen carefully to the sounds or watch videos of bands that you want your playing to be like and pay attention to what kinds of guitars they use.

If in doubt: ask an experienced friend or someone who is knowledgeable about that topic.

What kind of guitars are used? Acoustic or electric guitars? Do you need both or can you learn on one but also play the other? It is not super important on what guitar you learn. Acoustic is a bit more difficult to grip the strings, but electric guitar does not sound so nice without amplification. Keep in mind, that a lot of things you play on one type of guitar can be easily transferred on the other type of guitar. So, in that regard, it is not super important, for which guitar you decide. Just go with what you think you will play the most.

When you have determined what accessories you need on your first guitar for the style of music that you want to play, ask yourself:

How does the guitar feel? In the beginning you don’t have much experience so it is ok to go by look and price, if the guitar has all the features you need.

Do I want to play acoustic or electric the most? (Unless you want to buy both)

Do I want to record someday or play in front of an audience with the help of an amplifier? (Answer this based on what you WANT to learn, not based on what you think you CAN learn)

Then you need a cable input on your guitar.

Do you play mostly rock songs that require an electric guitar?

When you found answers to most of the questions I asked here, you are for sure more than ready to go into a music shop and get your first guitar!

However, there are a few tests that you can do with the new guitar before you buy it and you need some equipment for that.

Tuner: Test if the notes are stable and on pitch in all the frets, so if the frets all have the right distance.

With electric guitars try them with a strap while playing standing up. Some guitars have the tendency to have a really heavy neck, so it might be that you will need to hold it up with your left arm while playing, which can become quite exhausting.

How do the Potiknobs respond? Are they altering the volume and tone evenly or does barely anything happen for the first 80 % of the twist and suddenly all sound is gone?

About the author:

Michael Korte is an experienced live musician and guitar teacher from Tampere, Finland. He provides at kitaratunnit in Tampere for dedicated students, who want to improve themselves and need guidance in how to find the fastest path to achieving their playing goals.