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Tips for buying your first guitar

What to look for when you're buying your first guitar

Dave Jo Al V2

It's wonderful to have audience members, at the end of the show, talk to us about how they've been inspired to pick up a guitar - and where should they start?
Here's Dave and Joe's tips for making the start of a lifelong passion an enjoyable one.

1. Electric, Acoustic or Classical?


The differences in these three main types of guitars isn't immediately obvious, but there are a few areas that can make the guitar quite unenjoyable to learn. Ultimately, you need to enjoy the new hobby if you're going to want to continue with it and if there are factors that make the time you spend with your instrument unenjoyable - what's the point!!! It's supposed to be fun.

For new players - and it doesn't really matter what kind of music you ultimately want to end up playing - we recommend starting with Electric Guitars. It's true that you will need a small amp and a lead to be able to hear it properly, although the big advantage is that you can plugin headphones which means that you can practice without making much sound at all.

The benefits of Electric Guitar:

• Narrower necks

To be able to make all of the basic chords work correctly, a player needs to be able to get their hand around the neck and for their fingers to reach all of the strings. Guitar teachers will instruct players to hold and play in particular ways to make this easier, but if you're not taking advantage of lessons in the early days, narrower necks help.

Acoustic guitars don't suffer from this, but Classical guitars do - the necks are very wide which makes playing them quite difficult if you're not playing in a "Classical style". Kids are usually bought Classical guitars to start with, and it's so difficult to watch them struggle!!

• Lighter strings

Acoustic guitars generally have heavier (thicker) strings, often made of Steel. When your fingers are not used to holding down the strings to voice chords or play notes, the harder strings can be very taxing on your fingers. Over time, you build up a resistance to it but, at the beginning, it's hard and uncomfortable and that's literally the opposite of what you need to enjoy something!!

Electric guitars are more often strung with Nickel strings that have a lighter gauge (thickness) and are so much easier to play. Your fingers may still take some time to adjust, but it won't be anywhere near as taxing as steel strings.

• They're Quieter!

Ironically, for an instrument that's capable of squealing loudly, electric guitars are a lot quieter than the other two. This can be a major advantage if you don't want people to hear you play while you're working things out. Without an amp, all you'd hear is a light sound. The guitar isn't capable of amplifying itself like Classical and Acoustic guitars. You can plug them into either amps or effects boxes (which are a lot of fun) and plug in head phones so you can make all the noise you want in your head, without annoying anyone!!

2. Things to look out for when you're buying a guitar

• Go into a music shop and try some out.

This is actually more important than you think. Guitarists will rarely buy mail order - they'll go and try a few instruments and see which feel the best to them. For a newer player, you might not experience that same connection yet, but you need to feel comfortable with your guitar. So play a few and decide which feels better against your body and under your fingers.

• Pick a guitar 'style' used by your hero!!

This is probably more automatic and subconscious - the guitar's style (Make and model) can often affect how you connect with it. Our show is largely about how the Stratocaster became such a popular instrument - and it's because we bought them because we saw our heroes play it, and our heroes play one because they saw their heroes play one! If you're a Joe Bonamassa fan, you'll probably connect with Les Paul; if you're a Santana fan, you'll love playing a PRS, etc. Ultimately, it might determine what is available in your price range, but I think most of the mainstream guitar builders have an entry level model.

• Pay attention to the 'action'.

The "action" refers to how close the strings are to the fretboard. There's a tendency with budget instruments for them to be shipped with the strings so high up that you need to call a taxi to get from the string to the fretboard.
This isn't a major issue - if you're buying an instrument from a retailer, you'd be quite within your rights to ask for them to 'set it up' for 'lower action' before you take it home. If they refuse - go elsewhere!! Instruments are a very personal thing and there are a huge variety in preferences. Guitar stores will usually respect this, but there may be the odd lazy store!! Even at the lower price points, it's not unreasonable to ask them to set up to make it easier to play (and also for it to maintain better tuning).

• Ask about tuning stability

The lower price point instruments have to scrimp on some features to keep the costs down and make the instruments more affordable. Guitars are highly engineered instruments and tuning in a delicate engineering feat! Maintaining a solid tuning can be one of them. If the guitar is constantly going out of tune, it'll be less enjoyable to play. After all, if it constantly sounds horrible, you won't enjoy it.

Asking the store accomplishes two things: 1. With any luck, you'll get an honest employee who'll give you an accurate representation of whether your chosen instrument has a reputation for good or bad tuning stability. And the result should be buying an instrument that stays in tune on its own. But also 2: if you ask specifically for an instrument that stays in tune, and you're told that the instrument holds its tuning well, you give yourself a right to return it if doesn't stay in tune. (Sorry - the Law Grad in me is kicking in!!) If you ask specifically for a product to do something, and you're told that it does by a sales person, then the Consumer Rights Act 2015 confers you to the right to a refund or a replacement if the product doesn't perform as you've asked for it to! (Sections 10: Goods not fit for purpose and 11: Goods to be as described). So ask questions - and take a witness!!!

• Don't always go for the cheapest

There can can be a tendency to look for what's cheapest, just in case you don't enjoy the experience. But there's a chance that you might self fulfil the prophecy. Cheaper instruments are more likely to have problems and be less enjoyable to play - and that'll make you not want to play them!! Ask the store for good quality instruments.

See the boys play with DS:UK…in Tribute to Dire Straits.

Click here to be taken to the Tour Dates

3. A couple of suggestions from us

• Fender Squier Affinity FSR


Screenshot 2023-06-18 at 10.28.45

An example from Absolute Music in Bournemouth. Squier has been Fender's 'Budget" brand for a long time. At the lower end, they're a bit hit and miss, but when you get upwards of £200, they start to get a little better.

• Fender "Player" Series


This one from PMT - the Player series are made in Mexico (With American and Japanese being the higher quality) and made very well to a popular price point. Dave and Joe also use Mexican Strats in the show (Dave favours Japanese in general) and they generally feel great and sound great but they're also worth having set up before you leave the store.

4. Buying Second Hand

If buying new is a little out of the price range, and you're looking for something better, there are plenty of guitars on the pre-owned market. Generally, you'll find that guitar players really look after their instruments so you're more likely to get a good quality bargain.

All of the advice from earlier is still valid: go and play the instrument; ask questions about it; examine it closely; listen to it through and amp (and try the volume and tone pots, listening to scratchy sounds).

You can usually pick up the MIM (Made in Mexico) guitars for around 350 - 450, cheaper than in the stores. And make offers as well. Typical Facebay technique is a price higher with the expectation of an offer!

Don't be afraid to look for a bargain.

Pop us over a message at our Facebook page if you want a little advice!

5. Talk to Joe about online lessons

The Lockdown taught musicians one very important thing - remote lessons over the internet are not impossible. You can take lessons right in your own home through Zoom, with a player that you'll enjoy learning from.
Joe teaches private and school based lessons, and setting up sessions over zoom are not a problem for him. Pop a DM over to us via our Facebook page to discuss lessons with Joe.

Come and see us at our next show

Click here for Tour Dates